Friday, April 17, 2009


What a great response to my request for information regarding the Starting Point!
One of the great rechargers for me is to go and see good Art and that’s exactly what I plan to do next week: I’m off to New York City for 8 days!  Unfortunately 4 interesting shows all close on Sunday so for the first two days I’ll really be racing to catch them: Bonnard at the Met, Third Mind (influence of Asian art) at the Guggenheim, the current exhibition at MAD, and SOFA.  I’ll write more on these when I get back.

Like many of you I keep files marked “Ideas” – they are stuffed with all sorts of things: pages ripped from magazines, print outs of various photos, rough sketches, sometimes just a title or a few words, colour swatches – for time management’s sake I don’t keep actual whole magazines any longer, as I read I rip!  the latest folder is on the table, and the picture or jotted thought goes straight into it.  At one point I had piles of journals, half open books, scraps of paper pinned on the board, notebooks of varying sizes…but now I find: one place is best, and it should be Very Easy to Access!!  After all, I want to spend my time looking at the stimulus material, not looking for it!  I love Ruth’s idea that the Idea files/sketchbooks/notebooks etc should be seen as a compost heap!!  We’re all waiting for that rich mulch to be ready!

I teach a workshop called Coaxing the Muse…and in it we explore  stimuli to as many different senses as possible – obviously pictures, but also poetry and music, stories and words, or even letters (I had a calligrapher in one class and letters were her starting point), sensations (smell, taste, emotion, physical movement), doodles, and even relationships.  These experiences are all added to that compost pile!

Playing with new media – like crayons, felt tips, paint, or thread – embroidered or arranged – works very well.  Fill up a page or a piece of cloth with colour, or with doodles, or just shapes….when you go and look at fine art, you can often see that’s exactly where many successful artists began.   I once gave a dozen people a small square of linen and a few  needles threaded with floss  and just asked them to stitch any old how!!  Came up with some interesting things – especially from people who’d never handled a needles before.

Yes, just Playing!!! That’s the good thing about a workshop, you’ve given yourself permission to play.  You’re not thinking I’ve only 2 hours in the studio today and I MUST achieve Something!  There’s a place for that, but not at the outset.  The beginning should be slow with lots of horizontal thinking (as opposed to vertical).  Vertical is good when you know your goal and you want to figure out the quickest way to it.  Horizontal is good when you’re looking for the goal.  It’s good to be able to switch thinking modes deliberately, and to stop the Critic when in horizontal mode.  Yes, we are allowed to play. Yes, yes yes!

Playing  can include playing with new techniques – but it’s important not to become a technique junkie!  find the ones that fit, and stick with them, at least for a while.

Playing with the fabric, arranging it on the floor or pinning on the wall is a great way to come up with exciting colour schemes.     Other ways are looking at art books, or books of photographs and seeing what colours you respond to – then trying to pull out those fabric from your stash.   Open your wardrobe!!  what array of colours is revealed?  How would that colour scheme work for a piece?

I’ve noticed that a lot of people  have a “favorite” type of image  or object they collect.  Deb Anderson loves dumpsters!!!  and Jeanne Williamson loves construction fences!  I do remember one night in New York helping her to “rescue” an interesting sample from some roadworks!!   She’s now produced a wonderful series of quilts all based on those fences.   magsramsay likes crumbling doors – and so does Sean Scully, interestingly.  He’s actually published a book, not of his art but of his inspirations – strange doors from all over.    I did a series on half timbering and went through my and many others’ photographs to get as many samples as I could – of half timbering in old UK houses.  I think it’s a great help to have a particular theme, but collect anything that intrigues!!     Nina-Marie responds to movement in others, it’s good also to be mindful of the feeling of movement in oneself.   Stand up and stride! How does it feel? How could  that be rendered in visual terms?  what colours would portray it?  what kind of lines?

Many people begin with a belief or a statement.  For centuries most art was related to a need to express religious thoughts or feelings, now we see more political statements than religious ones!  but perhaps the two are not so different?!!  Beans Gildorf has made many pieces about  the problems resulting from gun proliferation; Wendy Huhn has made pieces about the problems of extremely high haemoglobin.  Sue Pierce made a piece about deaths in the Iraq war.

I think it would be much harder to begin with an amorphous inchoate feeling that something needs to be expressed…I wonder if people who begin that way, actually don’t.  But rather that they play with the medium (whatever it be) and then, as they play, ideas and memories begin to emerge and a statement emerges.

So, in summary!, a compost pile of ideas….a willingness to  open oneself to stimuli of all kinds in a most mindful way, and then to play and to cogitate!

I’ll be back the week after next!  Filled with compost!!
so, if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth


Sandra Wyman said...

Meant to leave a comment on the previous post. Like many of us I find the ideas come all at once or not at all. Oddly, I also find writing helps to generate ideas. But having stuff on scraps of paper or dotted around in different sketchbooks/notebooks means it gets lost or mislaid. I now have a journal/sketchbook/commonplace book which is totally private, A5 size so it fits into a bag or even a large pocket, where I can draw paint write scribble stick photographs bits I have picked up whatever seems to work for me: a sort of Pensieve (as in Harry Potter) where I can store thoughts until I need them and develop them through sketchbooks or whatever. It works well for me, anyway.

I also agree with what you say about walking: I find loads of inspiration in the natural world even in the city, and act of walking (maybe the rhythm of walking) can get me into right-brain mode better than anything.

Katherine in Australia said...

Enjoy New York. Look forward to what you will share with us on your return.