How creative people discover what to create next seems like a perplexing mystery for most people. I’m often asked, “Melynda, how do you figure out what to create?” or “How did you come up with the ideas for these paintings?”
Trust me-I understand how difficult the answers to these questions can be. During the winter months I have more flexible time, so I spend many hours in the studio navigating my own rough waters to creativity as I find my path to new work. This process sometimes feels like crossing a desert or braving the wilderness as the blank canvases are laid out before me ready for whatever is next.
Through trial and error, I start to find the answers to what is next when I dig deeper internally and spend time in the quiet. I try to give myself permission to wander into my own stories, and engage the things I’m naturally drawn to and love.
Digging Deeper by Art Journaling
But how do artists actually do those things like “digging deeper” or “engaging the things I’m naturally drawn to?” One really important way I explore my work on a deeper level is art journaling. An “art journal” may not be really the right word for what the books I work in look like. They are more a cross of a sketchbook or notebook filled with images, color, text and sketches. For me my art journals really function as an idea generation book.
So I’ve been spending a significant amount of time lately with my art journal/idea generation books. I’ve been cutting images out of magazines, arranging and gluing images to journal pages, and then adding layers of text or paint. Somehow in this very intuitive process of selecting images I’m drawn to, arranging them with poems or written text, and adding color, I start to see themes emerge. I start to notice which colors continually attract my eye. I start to see images that repeatedly show up. This practice of art journaling helps me look inside at the things that deeply interest me. It is one key that leads me down the path to discovering my new work.
Stephen Quiller says in his book Watermedia Painting “I can walk into a museum, look at a painting, and know immediately if Winslow Homer, Edward Degas, Georgia O’Keeffe, Robert Henri, or Johannas Vermeer created it. Why is that? I believe it is because they spent a lifetime of sketching, taking notes, and studying; in short, living their art. As they matured, their marks became more distinct. There came a point when they mastered the craft of painting and let this mastery serve their power of expression. Yet they kept probing deeper inside taking risks, and finding uniquely what they had to say. They all got to the point where their knowledge of craft, their study of other masterworks and periods, served so they could most fully express their vision. In short, they got to the point where they could let their subconscious and spirit take over.”
Sustaining Creativity-Intentionally Taking Time to Slow Down and Restore
Sustaining creativity takes intentionality and occasionally taking extended time to slow down and restore. So this fall, I committed to going on some weekend retreats and I spent more extended time in my studio engaging in my creative practices. After months of art shows, exhibitions, travel, moving and hanging art around the country, I could feel internally this longing to slow down and re-engage my creativity in a deeper way. It’s not always easy for me to stop and rest, but I knew I needed a season of longer and deeper quiet. I needed time for restoration and rejuvenation, that was a bit more than my normal weekly creative and self-care practices.
Art Journaling, New Supplies, Inspiration Boards
Over the last few days and weeks, I spent time working in my art journals, while watching the maple tree in my neighbor’s yard turn a glorious shade of scarlet. I experimented with some new art supplies. I cleaned through old files. I unearthed old ideas, thoughts and projects. I sought inspiration in books. I painted, cut, glued, sketched, and jotted down insights. I replenished the art supplies I had consumed during the year.
I made an inspiration board from cut-up magazines and art reproductions I love.
Quiet, Walks and Organizing
I went on walks in the prairie taking photos as I went. I cleaned up and organized my studio space, desk and office files. I sorted and put away all the things where they belonged. I spent time in quiet and solitude.
After engaging in these practices of paying attention to my daily world, my personal physical spaces, and looking deep within at my own interior life, it rejuvenated my creativity. Doing these practices with intentionality helped me to be ready to begin my personal painting process again.
“It seems to me that a large part of painting is longing,
a fluid movement ahead,
a pouring forward towards the unknown,
not a prying into things beyond
but a steady pressing towards the barriers,
an effort to be on hand when the barriers lift.
A picture is just an on-the-way thing,
not something caught and static,
something frozen in its tracks,
but a joyous going towards what?
We don’t know.
Music is full of longing and movement.
Painting should be the same.”
Hundreds of Thousands: The Journals of An Artist by Emily Carr
And, so I’m now creating “on-the-way” work as I transition into a new season of possibilities, opportunities and challenges. We often under recognize the power of these practices to heal our weary bodies and souls, while simultaneously sustaining our creativity. But, this type of work allows the creativity to rise to the top after the internal sifting work is done.
Sustaining Creativity from a place of Quiet and Rest
I’ve been capturing this moment in time full of open-hearted space in color and texture on canvas. I’m creating from a place of quiet and rest rather than creating from the space of deadlines or exhaustion. I’m pouring forward towards the unknown right now. It’s never easy to step into the unknown…it being “unknown” and all…but, my deep underground work of creative and restorative practices makes my creativity sustainable and pulls me into the unknown future. It doesn’t follow a straight line. It is not linear work. But, it is fruitful. And, since we are all heading into the unknown together, I’d rather go in posture of “joyous going” while meandering my way here and there, listening deep and following the inner movement of my rivers of inspiration.
Someone encouraged me recently that as an artist I should be noticing that I notice what I notice. I’ve been noticing lately the many reasons why I paint. There are so many reasons NOT to paint…but, why have I chosen to dedicate so much time and energy to the practice of painting?
One reason that I paint is that it is a sensory experience for me. I experience the vibrancy of the colors flowing out of the brush across the canvas and the feel of the lines pouring out as thick paint moves across the surface.
But, creating art is also so much more than that for me. When I am creating, I take the time in quiet to listen to my own internal landscape and translate it to the canvas. I allow what’s inside to flow out through my hands. I process my world in a healthy and life-giving way.
Painting is meditative and centering. It is a time for me to sift through what is important and what needs to fade away. Sometimes it is a safe place to wrestle with unknowns and mine the depths of my life experiences-the good, the bad, the gifts and the tragedies.
I take this long, hard journey deep inside my thoughts, my heart, with brushes, pigment, water, and time. I paint this inner excavation-down through the layers past all the junk that gets in the way. I take these sensory, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and intellectual journeys time and time again through the years.
The finished painting is not the journey. The journey encompasses so much more. But, the painting is an important by-product of the internal processes. Maybe it’s like the postcards sent to friends and family along the way while traveling?
But, so what???
So, I’ve taken these journeys…why could that matter to anyone else?
Isn’t it self absorbed?
A giant waste of time?
A waste of precious resources?
A waste of art supplies?
Who really cares?
How can a few more paintings in this world make anything different?
These questions are just the tip of the iceberg hinting at issues that creatives battle against. They are only the beginning of the thoughts that can and do haunt or stop our creativity from flowing into our world.
But, still I paint.
Because I can. Because it is part of me being alive in this world. Because it keeps me healthier. Because I am human. Because you are too. Because art reminds us of who we are. Because it helps us all to heal. Because it activates our senses. Because it reminds us that we all have stories. Because it builds community around us that helps us survive the perils of life. Because we all have the task of figuring out who we are in this world and what kind of life we wish to create. Because we are all in this journey together.
Exciting Happenings from the Studio
I have three exhibits available for viewing the next couple of months. Freedom from the Core is on view at the Becoming Free Semeiotic Gallery in Chicago, IL. This gallery space is a beautiful and historic church building in north downtown Chicago. The exhibit will be on view until October, 2019.
Nuances of Freedom is on view at Harvest Vineyard in Ames, IA. They will be hosting an Artist Talk & Reception on September 15, 2019 from 12:30-2:30 pm. Come join us at the Harvest Cafe if you’d like to hear more about my work.
Final Art Fairs of 2019
Finally, I have my last couple of art fairs of the year this month. This weekend I’ll be Rockbrook Village in Omaha, NE and on September 22 you can find me at the Octagon Art Festival in Ames, IA. This will be my only Iowa art fair this year.
After a winter season of painting in my studio, I’m pleased to share with you my new Inner Core painting series. Last year I found myself painting a recurring image of a spiral shape. These spiral shapes were different from other spirals I had painted in the past. The shapes began in the center, but rather than spinning counter-clockwise around a center point, the lines flowed outward and came back to the center again. This movement repeated itself again and again around a central point.
Because it had continually been showing up in my work over and over, I let myself be more curious and continued to explore this shape-especially experimenting with multiple spiraling and overlapping shapes within the paintings. And, I challenged myself to paint these spiral shapes on a much larger scale. The shapes were bold, flowing, overlapping, multi-dimensional and soothing. I began working on four large canvases by pouring lines of acrylic paint from bottles and then adding layers of translucent paint. Slowly over the time I’ve worked within this imagery, the more I’ve become aware that a theme of focusing on the inner core of life was appearing before my eyes on the canvases.
Speaking into our current culture
Simultaneously, I’ve also been thinking about the concept that artists are often responding to the shifts, trends and realities of the culture within which they live. Sometimes adapting their work to the cultural norms and sometimes reacting against or speaking into the current cultural flow. As I reflect on our cultural life together, I’m increasingly alarmed by the way our communication with each other and knowledge of our personal selves is being eroded right before our eyes.
Awareness is one of the first skills I teach in creativity classes. And, I’m still somewhat incredulous how important it is that I teach this- how important it is that I teach people to “look”, to really look at the world within and around them. As a culture we have forgotten what it looks like to really pay attention to our particular physical and non-physical world. We are so absorbed in what other people think, what other people are saying, how other people are reacting to current political and societal ills that we have forgotten how to slow down and look at what is happening in our own hearts, in our own personal relationships, and in our own backyards.
We are afraid to look too deep, because there we might find the things we don’t want to face. As a culture we are numbing out with reactive living, technology or other mood altering habits. These invasive habits are our escape mechanisms.
New Inner Core Series
My new Inner Core Series has arisen from my own journey of choosing an alternative path-a different way of showing up in the world. It is a path that involves focusing on my own inner core. My art practice is one of the crucial pieces of how I figure out who I am- who I am going to be in this world and how I am going to show up. Art gives me a healthy place to make all these explorations and process my world. It is a sensory experience-the intensity of the colors, the movement of the brush, the vibrancy of the creativity flowing through me.
It is in my art journals- in the gathering of visual information and sketching that I begin to quiet down the outside world and allow myself to explore my own unique visual ideas. I filter the ideas and sketches in my art journal and eventually some of the ideas end up as paintings. This process requires paying attention to my own heart, emotions, thoughts, decision making, responses and reactions.
Creativity Research Project
This vulnerable journey feels like a giant creativity research project that I’ve been investigating for years. I don’t want to keep the results of this work to myself, so I keep sharing my discoveries and creations with you. Thank you for joining in with my on-going creativity research project. If you’d like to see more of the new series, the paintings are available to view in Paintings. Interested in purchasing a specific piece? Please contact me on our Contact page. Finally, if you’d like to see me at an art show this upcoming spring/summer season, the schedule is below.