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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My sketchbook is a part of “SKETCHBOOK. An exhibition of artist’s books” at the 33 Contemporary Gallery in the Zhou B Art Center in Chicago. The exhibit opens tomorrow on Sept. 15 and runs through October 14, 2017. My sketchbook with the hand painted turquoise green and gold cover (middle sketchbook pictured below) includes a selection of random sketches, art journal pages and color studies created over the past three years. Keeping a sketchbook is such an integral part of my creative process, but I rarely share them. My sketchbook is the “behind the scenes” place where so many of my paintings and other creative activities are generated.
Art Journal Peek: A place to begin, a place to start…that is January for me. Beginning a new year with a splash of color created last year during Art Camp (you can never go wrong with classic spin art!) surrounded by a path for next steps…one step at a time, one moment at a time, one day at a time…