Friday, February 7, 2020

Creative Process

I would love you to believe that all of my creative experiences look and feel like the pic above. 






They don't.  

My creative process never looks like that.  

It does look a lot like this:

That pic was taken last summer, but my painting corner right this minute looks pretty much the same, and I've painted more than a hundred pieces since then.  

A hundred pieces.   

The vast majority of them ended up in that bin under the table on the left to be chopped up into art journal pages or used for firestarters.   

It's all part of the process.

Artists think and talk a lot about the creative process.  We need to be aware of it so that we're working with it and not against it. 

Discovering my Creative Process

The creation of art from conception to framed piece is a messy process, internally and externally.   

Over the last few months, I've kept track of how I work through things, what is satisfying, what isn't.  I'm identifying the reality of my own creative process and where the gaps are.   My goal is to fill in the gaps with things to help me bridge the parts that I have a hard time with or with things that help me feel more peaceful about the process.

I've been searching for a routine.  A ritual.  A structure to hold onto when the creative process dictates that I need to let go of so many other things.     

The ideal structure for me would be broken down into easily identifiable parts, so that I know what part I'm in, what part I need to do next and what parts I need extra support for because they scare the hell out of me.  This way I can stack the deck in my creative favor.   

This is what I discovered.

Robin's Usual Creative Process
  • Get an idea and jump right in and paint, paint, paint.
  • Fail a lot.  Learn a lot.
  • Get frustrated and feel like a failure a lot. [A lot.]
  • Accidentally produce something pretty good. 
  • Feel like a failure because I have no idea why that one turned out so well.
  • Wonder if I can ever do another one.  A lot.
  • Feel bad. 
  • Frame the good one and feel pretty good about it.
  • Hang a show and be grateful to the people who come, are lovely and who don't say how mediocre my art is, even though I know it is.
  • Come home and panic and start painting a lot.
Why do I keep doing this? 

Why do I keep painting when I feel so bad about it so often?

Because now and again, I can tap into that flow where my brain feels great - working out the creative issues that arise in a piece. 

Also, I love learning and I'm learning a lot as I study painting. 

Also I've painted enough decent pieces now that I am almost convinced that I can do another nice piece, eventually, even though I'm on draft #8 and it still looks like crap. 

Also I've learned to believe that 'a breakthrough is right around the corner'.   

Even so,  I want to move from being a 'sort of promising' artist to an actual 'accomplished' artist.  If I can get out of my own way, and find the right teachers and put in a million more brush miles, I am confident that can happen.    

Part of getting out of my own way is to outline a new and improved process.  And I have found one.

Robin's New & Improved Creative Process  [The 7 P's]

  • Pause:  Be still and just think about the work in general.  Let things float and sink in my consciousness.  A quality 15 minute meditation to some nice music is good for this.  I don't have to plan any work, I just have to be still with it. [Note: Even though I know this works, I almost always skip this part entirely and jump right into painting.  I am terrified of inaction and feel such an urgency to paint Something.  Anything. Painting horrible art is better than doing nothing. It will take discipline to make this Pause an anchoring part of my practice.]

  • Play:  Try some new brushes or paper or other materials.  Get messy.  Get to know some new colors.  No product or goal in mind.  No judgement.  It's play for heaven's sake.  I need to have this stage because I need to allow 'purposelessness' now and then. [Note: I skip this stage, too, because I'm all worried about wasting time or materials or that it's not 'serious'.  Being 'Serious' is important. I have a long history of being very serious and earnest about things. One Must Have a Purpose. Those skills have paid off in important ways, but it's time to give over to play.]  
  • Peruse: Look through reference materials [I have sooo many].  Don't stress.  Trust that the next subject is there.
  • Pull out:  Select a few of the ones that spark my interest.
  • Plan: Sit down with the reference material and Do The Plan.  Composition sketch, color test, notan, whatever.  [Note: This *always* pays off and is actually quite enjoyable, except I often rush past it to start another draft.]
  • Proceed to Paint: Do the drafts. I always edit and refine and do another draft. Just like I never expect my first session of writing to be the only one I need, I don't expect that my first painting of a subject to be the best one.  I allow and will do as many drafts as necessary.  I keep records of this process: the number of drafts, sizes, paints, what I liked, what I didn't.  [This is the stage I get stuck in.  It feels 'productive'.  There is plenty of evidence that I am *doing* something.  See that pile of duds?  I've been busy doing. It helps me justify the time, effort and resources spent in this pursuit. That pile of duds may be evidence that I'm a crap artist, but at least I'm busy working on it.]
  • Put final touches on:  Sign, Photo, Record, Mat, Frame and Share.   [This is my favorite part.  I love framing.  I love photographing. I love recording the details on Artwork Archive [record keeping software.] I love seeing the pieces all dressed up and finished and ready to hang.  I love sharing: web, social media, blog.  I love all of it.  But as soon as I get it done, I get anxious and start to panic.]

And then...Because I'm afraid of inaction, I usually jump right into the painting phase again.  

That's right.  I skip phases 1-5 and just start painting.  Out of fear. 

This is when I need to remind myself to begin at the beginning and plan for and allow that sacred Pause.  And then Play.

I need to allow an ending and a beginning.  This means I need to stop panicking at the end and jumping back into the middle.   I can honor that transition from ending to beginning instead of pretending it doesn't apply to me. 

If I can learn to allow that, to stop rushing, I will increase the peace I feel about the whole process, which in turn should help me have greater insight and do better work.

In addition, I can lean on this structure.  After the Pause, I know what I'm going to do next.  Play.  And then I know that I will Peruse.  And Pull Out.  I know this process works because I know what to next. 

That's my plan.   I'm going to stick to it for the rest of this year and see where it takes me.

What does your creative process look like?


  1. Robin, you have your own style and it's lovely, so never think your work is mediocre. Artists are their own worst critic! :-)

    1. You are so kind and so right about artists being their own worst critics!

  2. I love this. I love it so much I... get stuck in my own process. I go meta about my meta! I'd write if only I had this or that. Then I get it and I find another bug. Then I analyze the bug, and the bug that's a parasite to the first one, and... shit.

    And your workspace is neat and clean, super organized compared to my own office (turned art supply room, kids's art room, storage room, floor of multiple hazards...). Wasting materials? Ha! I have here a beautiful box full of watercolour tubes (unopened), a great mix of "imperfect" brushes and a pack of paper (expensive, and a present from my mother). I'm not wasting them: I take them all out once in a while and *look* at them. I'm in some kind of awe.

    Issues? What issues? :-)

    I hope your new process makes you feel all kinds of good. I also hope you can shrug and keep on smiling if you find yourself not following it to the letter sometimes. I too love the part where you share!

    1. Oh, Helene! I understand! I am learning to just Do the Art, not Judge the Art. So far, this new practice feels really nice and is helping me subvert my natural tendency to catastrophize and stress. I've learned lately that when I feel 'stress!', what I really feel is 'vulnerable' and trapped. When I plugged that insight into the creative process, all sorts of light bulbs went off. Doing anything creative is an act of courage in the face of tremendous vulnerability.

    2. How serendipitous! Just yesterday I found the right word to describe what blogs were when they first started and are no longer, and that word was vulnerability. The form allowed it, and the crowd was thin and naïve at the time, so it worked. Since then I've added layers of armor and shell and kevlar on top for so long... well for so long I'm only realizing it now. (Insert here all my good reasons for doing so - and some were indeed valid, but maybe aren't quite as valid 20 years down the road...)

      Stress/anxiety as a convenient blanket label for what's really going on -- whoah. I'll need to reflect on that. There's something under that rock, and it's potentially huge. Thank you!


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