A friend of mine told me that 80% of a piece is already decided by the time you make your first mark. I told him that I believe that, and I do. It's actually integral to the way I create visual artwork. I begin by making a mark and bringing out what lies within it.
I've only ever planned out one painting from start to finish. I was 16 and it was the first painting I ever made. A stormy seascape featuring a red bucket half buried in the sand. It may still be dimly pulsing in a back closet at 89 Mountain Road, or it may have long since been buried itself.
From 16-20 there were paintings, I know there were, but I really can't remember them. Most of them were half finished landscapes or still lives that I'd abandoned in boredom, or frustration. Creating realistic looking images didn't inspire me and I also wasn't great at it, but I had no idea what else to paint, so I let painting slip away for a while.
When I picked up the brush for another time at 20, my process revolved around making a mark.
I would turn the canvas and strengthen some aspects of the mark. I would turn it again, and again, adding to it without forethought. I created line thickness, or added dots and squiggles where it looked and felt asthetically pleasing to do so. Then, suddenly, I would see IT, and I would stop turning the canvas.
From then on I focused on bringing out the image that had made itself known. In a way, its a lot like cloud watching. I look and don't look at the mark I made, and let my mind fill in the gaps.
The painting above is the first painting that I create this way.
The first time I experienced this alternate way of creating, it felt like a breakthrough for me. I had busted into a new world where I didn't have to do anything but find some stillness, make a mark, and play until I found what was already there. It didn't matter what it was. It wasn't supposed to be anything except for what it was naturally unfolding into and becoming.
I continued to paint like this, because it revised my role from creator to co-creator, and I preferred that. By finding stillness and focusing intention, often closing my eyes to make a mark, I felt like I had found a path to one of many places where the veil meets the world. I could stand there, waiting for wisps of images to be passed to me. All the pieces in the "paintings" tab of my website began this way way.
I haven't painted in over a year. During my last bout of painting, the honeymoon was over. The images that were happening were truthful, but I was growing frustrated and discouraged with my technique.
I'm an untrained painter. I've taken plenty of other art courses, but I steadily avoided painting classes.
While painting in the manner I have been creates organic movement and shapes that I find extremely satisfying, I was growing to feel like my pieces were overworked because of their blindly unfolding direction. They tended to looked unfinished in a, "crossing the T's dotting the I's" kind of way, even when it was clear to me they were done.
I was feeling the desire to paint well up again. I wanted to find a way to do it that left me with a cleaner finish, while still remaining true to the co-creative process that I hold so dear.
So I started drawing marks, and they just kept coming.
In the thick of it, if I went a day without doodling, it felt like I grew unfocused and anxious until I could sit down and release an image or two.
I drew a circle(s) with one fluid mark over it, and began to pull out an image from there.
Because they each stem from a single mark, they began to feel like symbols and not images.
I cut them out, laminated them, taped them to the back of canvases, and traced their outline onto the front with my light board shining below.
I realized I was developing a little library of motifs, and I could begin to tell stories, continuing to see and reinvent each symbol anew.
This ever expanding library allows me to create images that feel authentic to my process, but also allows me to address the medium rather than the image on the canvas.
The focus shifted from, "what is trying to be seen?" to, "how should I use the paint?" This broke up the process into three parts:
- Pulling forward a symbol from the "fecund abyss," as Brian Swimme puts it.
- Preserving and combining each symbol.
- Translating the symbol into a different medium
The last stage allowed me to focus on the complexities of color and of paint itself
These paintings were tricky.
They began as a unit and they decided, somewhere along the way, that they would end as a unit.
I began to think of them as a herd. No painting would allow any other to be left too far behind, or move too far ahead of the pack. Each time one canvas inspired me anew, the light behind my insight would eventually grow dim.
I would glance around at the others, seeing which one was waving its hand at me, asking to be tagged in. It was a way to continue forward without having to force anything.
Creatively, I find that the more of my own premeditations something contains and the less it is growing in the moment, the less inspiring it is and the harder it is for me to finish it.
Hopping from one painting to the next, following impulse, was a way of getting myself a little more out of the way.
This was especially important because I don't feel I have a mastery of paint as a medium, and it was easy for me to get frustrated that I wasn't rendering something "the way I wanted it."
Continuously moving from painting to painting allowed me to focus less on my shortcomings.
If I felt like something wasn't going well, I shifted my attention to how I felt I could positively move forward in that moment, which mostly meant turning my brush to a different painting.
It took me some time to recognize the creative rhythm that this herd of paintings was calling for.
I spent the whole week after the full moon ignoring them completely, convinced I was stuck, when in reality I'd just been forcing my focus in the wrong place.
I couldn't force them to be finished either, and it wasn't much of a surprise to me that they wouldn't be done on the new moon. If there is anything that circle work has taught me so far, its that I don't get to choose the size and pace of each projects monthly circumference.
I just get to choose one path and walk it for a while, discovering how long it is, how far it goes, and what kind of challenges lie across it.