One tool I like to use is large cardboard cut outs of various shapes. it’s a great way to add some variety to your mark making.
Have you ever noticed that when you are making your art and it is all working out that it is almost as if you are not entirely there? You are driving the bus but it seems like you do not have to try very hard. Almost like it is driving itself. Art making sometimes can feel that easy.
I love it when that happens but it rarely stays that way for long. If I overthink and concentrate too much I lose that ability to just let the art unfold naturally. Instead it feels hard and somewhat forced.
I realize I tend to tighten up when I am over focusing on a new technique or, perhaps, trying something I haven’t before. It seems like the making of the art just goes slower. It becomes more effortful.It takes a long time to become young -- Pablo Picasso Click To Tweet
However once I have learned that new something, once I have done it a few times it starts to become second nature again. I think it just takes time to integrate new information. And then I start to get those days that art making feels super easy again. It is like I am not even trying.
It reminds me of how I did things as a child. I remember just naturally getting involved in something, following my curiosity wherever it wanted to lead me. There was no agenda. No particular reason to do anything except for the simple joy of doing it. Everything was approached that way.
This is actually how I wandered into art in the first place. It was simply enjoyable.
I found this quote the other day by Pablo Picasso “It takes a long time to become young”
Which got me to thinking.
Maybe that is why it feels so refreshing to occasionally get totally in sync with our creativity. When our art just flows. It feels good, especially now, as busy adults with a world of concerns and long to do lists following us around. Maybe when we fall into that easy place where art making is simply effortless it is a reminder of what is still possible. The way it is supposed to be. Or rather the way it all started out being in the first place when curiosity and joy were simply enough.
I just pulled an older piece of mine out from storage and was immediately struck by how similar the marks were in terms of value. Not that this is bad necessarily, but when compared with my more recent work, I quickly saw how this older piece was not as engaging. I knew I had to change it.
Watch the video, and leave a comment. What do you think of when you look at your older work?
In gratitude, Nicholas
In art, just as it is in life, more is not necessarily more. This is a hard one for me to remember. My default in may art making is to just keep adding things. If one kind of shape or mark feels good then surely 37 more will feel even better!
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work. Somewhere along the way—just enough, becomes too much. Do you know what I am talking about? You can tell, when you look at your art from across the room and it tires you out just by looking at it.
So the obvious answer seems to be to remove things, but this can be tricky especially if you love so much of what is there already.
So here is another way to look at it …
It’s not that you can’t have lots of shapes or elements; it’s just sometimes visually too much when everything is equally noticeable. In other words, all the shapes are high contrast (different in light and dark; value difference) then all of them will be competing for the viewer’s attention.
And that, sometimes, can make you’re painting look like a garage sale. In a garage sale everything is thrown on the table and nothing is curated. We should always be aware the elements or areas that we want to make the most noticeable. And let me say, there is nothing wrong with a busy garage sale kind of painting. It is of course your preference.
But if you desire to restore a visual calm to your art, we have to edit the values of the shapes or areas so the viewer is not overloaded visually. We need to make the value differences of all the things that you don’t want us to notice at first glance so that their values are closer in value to the surrounding area’s values.
For example if you have a dark background and you have dozens of light shapes that are over crowding the painting, try making half of them darker so they sit more quietly with the background. (They are now closer in value and as a result are less noticeable.)
So next time your painting feels too busy, remember that you don’t necessarily have to throw anything away, just change some values of what is already there.
This is a very cool thing to learn so if it is unclear leave a question below and I or someone in the community will answer it!
Also pop on over to the new FB Art2life page:
Tomorrow, Friday July 14th at noon I will be doing a FB Live all about this topic and I can answer your questions there too!
See you tomorrow, Friday
I’ve been working on this giant blue painting for some time, and while I like where it’s at currently, there’s still a long way to go before it’s finished.
Watch the video and see how I start to shift the composition. Leave a comment and let me know what you think!
In gratitude, Nicholas
There is this really cool shop in Portland that I accidentally wandered into last week. At first blush it just looks like a metal junk shop but peering in the window as I went past, I realized that this just wasn’t any old junk shop. This shop was only selling old metal letters, the kind that you always see on top of buildings. Think of the letters that make up the words Wells Fargo Bank, Ace Cleaning, Popeye’s, or Safeway, etc. When buildings get torn down so do these old signs. Now imagine of all those individual letters all separated, gathered from various junkyards and randomly arranged upon a wall.
This is what this store looked like. The first time I passed it was closed and but it was so intriguing I just had to go back a second time. And this time it was open. Turns out the owner – a heavy set, super friendly guy in a faded orange baseball cap – used to just sell anything old and interesting. Originally he had only 5 letters. He hung them on the wall. They didn’t get much attention till one day a customer connected him with a guy in New Mexico who had a gazillion of these old sign letters. He drove down there and returned with a pick up truck full of them.
After hanging about a hundred on the wall and moving a lot of the other metal junk stuff to he back of the shop, people could clearly see this alphabet wall. The owner does not consider himself an artist, nor is he particularly interested in typography. He just hung them all up randomly on the wall. What happened next surprised him.
People would come in, stand in front of the wall and visually try to make sense of all these fragments of letters. People would read into them what they wanted. Accidentally he spelled “PIG” and he ended up selling about 5 sets of these. People would find their initials. The wall was just kind of suggesting all kinds of associations for anyone who took the time to look. Everyone would ask him what he meant to say, but for him it was just absolutely random. He just hung them up without any thought at all.
Despite this, people would still just find their own meaning in what they saw or would re-arrange them into their own words. And then much to his surprise people would buy them. He sells about 50 letters a week.
This all kind of reminded me about how when we make our own art we often wonder whether people will in fact get or understand the meaning we intend. I know this is true for me. We put so much thought into what we make that it seems important everyone, or at least most everyone, gets it. But now I am not so sure this is so important anymore.The value you receive from your Art is given to you when you make it.- NW Click To Tweet
I know it matters to me to stay focused on the thinking behind my art, especially as I am making it. But maybe it doesn’t matter that much, if after it leaves my studio, people understand it in the particular way I meant. If they connect with it in any way seems to be a far more likely outcome.
When I let go – even just a little – about worrying whether the world will understand exactly what I am making, I do feel slightly concerned. This feeling, however, is soon followed by a sense of liberation. It feels similar to when, finally, in your studio you get to that point where you can actually say to yourself that you really don’t really care what anyone thinks about what you are making right now. I am doing this for me because it just feels right. When this occurs, suddenly your art making becomes recharged, the possibilities are once again infinite, and your once smallish studio suddenly becomes significantly bigger.
In the end maybe the value you receive from your Art is given to you when you make it. Maybe as the artists, we don’t have to worry so much about how everyone else will receive theirs. We are all so totally different from one another. People will find meaning and value in your work in their own particular way. To me, this feels perfectly ok.
Right before I left the shop I couldn’t resist asking him if there was one word above all others that people would create and then buy from his wall. He said actually there were two. “Eat” and “Love.”
Maybe we are not so different from one another after all.
The store is called St. Salvage located at 3576 SE Division St Portland, OR 97202. There is no website.
In gratitude, Nicholas
One element that appears throughout my work is line – it’s such a simple concept and yet can add so much to a painting.
Given that, I thought I would share with you my favorite tools for making lines.
Watch the video and leave a comment. Do you find certain marks or shapes consistently appear in your work?
In gratitude, Nicholas
And it doesn’t feel so good. The real problem, however, is that this discontent sometimes never goes away. If we are not careful it can follow us around. It sits just out of sight with us in the studio when we are making our art and it even can follow us home if we let it.
Never feeling good enough is pervasive. Lots of people have this feeling.
It takes time to change this habitual way of thinking. But it is worth it if it even partially brings back the joy, and the ease of making your art again. If we can, then there exists the real possibility of bringing amazing, personal artwork into the world. This issue, this feeling of not being happy with where we are presently, needs some attention.
Here is how I like to reframe the narrative so that I can feel more content with where I am…
There is a very, very long road. It starts at the bottom of a valley and gradually winds its way up hills, and then eventually, it goes all the way to the very tip top of the mountain.
This pathway or road represents the entire creative journey you may take in your life. When you start exploring the possibility of making art you are in the very beginning. As one climbs this pathway the view becomes greater. The experience is heightened because it is more expansive in beauty and vistas the higher you go. You can see more and more. It can take years, decades, a lifetime even to climb this road.
The most fantastic thing is to be on the road. It doesn’t matter where you are on the road, only that you are on it. Some people are further up the road and others are further down the road. Your place on the road has more to do with time spent walking, not talent. Even though the road slowly gets better the further along the road you go, you don’t want to short change yourself by magically appearing someplace further up the road than where you are right now.
Each and every step forward is to be savored, because you will never get to move through this part of the road again. You get to do each part only once in your lifetime. You never get to go backwards. Only forward.
Here are just a few of the first steps possibly encountered along this path:
The first time you realize you can make art, the first time someone that matters loves what you have made, the first time it feels hard then incredibly easy, the first time you have a show or you give something you made away as a gift, the first time you teach someone something you have learned, the first time you get interviewed, your first solo show, and especially the unforgettable moment when for the first time, you know in your heart of hearts, that you are an artist
There are of course infinite steps you get to take but the most important thing to remember is that you don’t want to miss any of them.
The value of the next step you are about to take or discover is in part determined by the prior step.
So in this scenario, if you can imagine wherever you are on the road right now, then why would you feel you want to be anywhere else? The reason you are not at mile 50 is because you are only at mile 25. It has nothing to do with talent, lucky breaks, tailwinds, money etc.
What has helped me is to take all my dissatisfaction, my impatience and all the limiting negative thoughts about where I think I ought to be and re focus back to what I am making and where I am right now. Not surprisingly, this frees up a lot of energy, which now can be channeled back into your art.
So if you feel that sinking feeling of judgment or dissatisfaction creeping back in, take a breath and re look at what you are making right now. Take a chance, re commit to making it the best thing you have ever made so far. Savor this moment, this opportunity because it actually will never be here again in this certain way.
Do you sometimes feel dissatisfied too? What do you do about it?
A few nights ago I had a handful of people over at my studio for a night of art making. My friend and sculptor Joe Brubaker brought a bunch of small wood pieces with him, and everyone had the option of glueing them to their paintings.
Adding this dimensional element to my work was at first very difficult! I found that no matter what I did, the little wood piece dominated the overall composition and threw everything off balance. Then a simple, but effective, solution hit me.
Watch the video, and let me know what you think. Do you add any sculptural quality to your paintings, or vice versa? I would love to hear.
In gratitude, Nick
PS Be certain to check out the amazing work of Joe Brubaker at http://www.joebrubaker.com/
The tricky part in life is making the right decisions. Everyone struggles with this. Lately I feel like I have been not doing so well at making decisions. It is hard to know because what might, at first, feel like a mistake, maybe down the road, will feel right. I hope so.
Of course a huge amount of what makes something right is what we create around the decision. “The grass is greener where we water it” is what my daughter just told me. I think that is true.
Making art is a practice of being ourselves. The more time we spend in this place, the better we get at making creative decisions. They generally get more refined and sensitive. Our improving art is a testament to this idea.
In times when things are uncertain or difficult it is a pretty safe bet to go back into your art. Let it remind you that you have been here before. I can hear myself so much easier standing in front of something I am making. Your art is like a mirror. It is you but in a different form. It stands beside you, like a friend, encouraging your best self to speak up and to know clearly when to say No, but much, more importantly when to say Yes to what you truly desire.