When you speak in front of an audience and you are concerned about how you come off, you often end up hearing yourself speak instead of thinking wholly about what you are saying. The same thing can happen in painting. Painting well means not hearing yourself speak. Painting extemporaneously.
How do you do this?
What I have learned over the years is that an artist must support the factors that lead to creative flow, in the same way that you would create an environment that supports growth of, say, a houseplant. For an artist this can mean several things:
Working consistently. Just as you can’t put on running shoes and run well unless you are fit, you can’t paint well unless you are “in training.” Don’t expect to pick up your tools once a week and not spend some time floundering. Quality time comes by itself from quantity of time.
Knowing your trade. This is related to the first point. When I was learning encaustic, it was very difficult to get into a creative flow because I was constantly fighting the materials and the way they behaved. Stick with it until you get past focusing on the craft, even if it takes months or years.
Doing a “warm up.” I often find it difficult to wake up and go into the studio and start making great marks right off the bat. I find it helps me to clean up a little, squeeze the paint to the top of the tubes, deep clean brushes or maybe do something technical first like mixing medium, mixing colors or starting a batch of linseed oil to refine. (Calcite Sun Oil.) I also find it helpful to look at art that inspires me, either in books or on the web, to help get my creative juices flowing.
Listening to your “boss.” People think it is great that working artists don’t have bosses, but they do, and that boss is Inspiration. Inspiration doesn’t give you a lot of leeway for tardiness – if you are gone when she calls, she takes her toys and goes home and you are left high and dry. When you feel the urge, put everything else aside and make time. You can try to hold onto inspiration with snapshots or notes to recall it later, but there is nothing like the real thing. When you are inspired you can do effortlessly in a day what you would grind out over a week of uninspired time, and the result is better.
Trying not to start from scratch. Usually by the end of a session you are painting better than you are at the beginning. Start another canvas so you are not facing white in the morning. If you have to start cold, begin two or more pieces at the same time so that you can choose which direction to go and are not forced to sweat out a solution to a piece that might be giving you trouble.
Creating an environment that helps you focus. This one is a no brainer, but your lighting, temperature, sounds, and supplies should all be set up ahead of time so you are not constantly distracted. Once I am in the groove I find that a distraction doesn’t bother me too much, but when I am struggling at all I find that distractions can be the deciding factor on whether or not I have a successful day. Turn off your phone and close the door. You can’t share yourself when you are painting well.
I would love to hear your suggestions for what makes your creative sessions the most successful, even if they do not relate exactly to painting. There are lots of creative endeavors in life and lots of ways to access your mojo. Please share!