In order to see the birds it is necessary to become part of the silence.
– Robert Lynd
Among the many things that have been keeping me occupied, reading is one that is always a pleasure. I’ve recently finished Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life – Learn it and Use it for Life (Simon & Schuster 2003). This engaging treatise is both a practical guide and a focused glimpse into her own experiences with the creative process throughout her long career as a dancer and choreographer. Combining creativity research, historical wisdom and personal anecdotes, Tharp breaks the creative process down into its components and shows the reader how to navigate the many challenges intrinsic to any creative endeavor.
The book is divided into twelve chapters, each one examining an aspect of the process by which an individual can combine her talent with hard work to generate creativity. Tharp begins the first chapter by addressing the conflicting feelings people have when faced with the empty room/canvas/page, laying down her essential argument that establishing a creative habit will help one begin and ultimately work through the creative process. In subsequent chapters, she explores ways to develop creative rituals and overcome fears and distractions. She challenges readers to discover their “creative DNA” and harness their memory in order to view their world and their creativity through the lens of metaphor. She continues by discussing the importance of having an organizational system to collect creative ideas and materials, “scratching” for small, tangible ideas with which to get a creative project going, and learning how to embrace creative “accidents.” The essential elements of skill and spine (the underlying message of a work) are outlined in chapters eight and nine. Chapters ten and eleven bring the reader deep into the creative process and provide some strategies for dealing with getting stuck in a creative rut and working through failure. Finally, in chapter twelve, Tharp projects the reader into the realm of mastery by showing how all of the various aspects of the creative process come together in a “bubble,” the single-minded place where there are no distractions to keep one from working freely and maintaining the creative habit.
Tharp’s core message is that it takes skill – developed through the creative habit of exercise and repetition along with learning and reflection – to bring an idea into the world. Her premise, which she backs up with a plethora of real-life experiences, is that “when creativity becomes your habit; when you’ve learned to manage time, resources, expectations and the demands of others; when you understand the value and place of validation, continuity, and purity of purpose – then you’re on your way to the artist’s ultimate goal: the achievement of mastery.”
The Creative Habit is a motivating and encouraging guidebook that offers inspiration and practical support to any reader who wants to achieve her fullest creative potential. If that sounds like you… I wholeheartedly recommend it!
untitled work-in-progress – 24″ x 36 ‘ x 1.5″ – acrylic on wood
When I saw that the topics this week over at Inspire Me Thursday (Action Painting) and Illustration Friday (Multiple), my immediate thought was to bring both topics together and share a little bit of the process behind my paintings.
journal page – 2/1/08
Most of my paintings are conceived in a small 5″ x 7″ journal, the place where I go to play without the big elephant of artistic performance anxiety sitting on my chest. Although I rarely have any idea what I want a page to look like, I always start off with brushed, smeared or sponged-on leftover paint, experimenting with color combinations and application processes. As the background takes on a personality, I start getting an idea of what I want to do – perhaps add paper elements, drip some ink, paint a figure, stamp in texture, draw with pens, scribble with crayons. Sometimes I finish a page rather quickly, and other times I keep layering on the elements until the original background is pretty much obliterated. It starts out as an active, intuitive process that becomes more and more focused as I see what’s appearing on the page. If it really speaks to me as the journal page above did, I decide to go forward and recreate the page as a larger painting.
Like my journal pages, I build my paintings from the background forward. The large painting at the top began as a wood panel my DH made for me a while back. After applying the gesso and sanding it smooth, I used my favorite Blick’s mega-brush to paint a base layer of cadmium red and quinacridone crimson. I let it dry completely, and then used a fabric paint roller to randomly apply diarylide yellow, cadmuim yellow medium, and titan buff paint over the red. Between “rolls,” I spritzed the surface with water and blotted with a paper towel. When I had added and subtracted paint until I had a nice balance of yellow and red, I spritzed again, sprinkled salt on the surface and dried it with a heat gun. Finally, I rubbed off the salt to see the little dots and star designs it left behind, and finished the background by using a texture stamp here and there.
Creating the background was a very active and loose process, in contrast to the very deliberate and focused work I did on the figure. The final stage of this painting will be to add the details – the floral designs, and patterns in her hair, and whatever little surprise elements I might think of before I feel it’s done. I find that I lose my concentration after several hours, so a painting this size ends up taking a long time to finish! In fact, I am going to put her aside for a while and start the background for another painting.
journal page – 12/20/07 & Spirit– 18″ x 24″ x 1″ – mixed media on wood
Above is another example of page-to-painting. In this case, the backgrounds began with collaged torn paper. Below are two other page-to-painting images that I have already posted individually.
journal page – 9/9/07 & Migration– 12″ x 16″ x 1″ – acrylic/mixed media on wood
journal page – 10/10/07 & Enchantment – 12″ x 16″ x 1″ – acrylic/mixed media on wood
More Action Painting here… and more Multiple(s) here… Enjoy!