How to start making artwork after a break .
Last week I wrote about the importance of stepping away from your work to produce better results. This is just as true in real life as it is in painting. A break in concentration allows you to re-evaluate what you are doing and produce a more considered outcome.
But what do you do if that break has been a long time? How do you restart producing art and what is your best approach?
Well, let me first explain that what is holding you back is fear!
It happens to everyone and in every aspect of our lives. Fear of failure, fear of being ridiculed and fear of success too, will stop you from trying.
In classes I teach I find adults are the worst for this. To try and re-assure them I remind them it is only paint and paper, and no one has to see it but them. Most of the time I am able to help people past this stage but sometimes it doesn’t work. Just watch small children with paper and crayons. They are not worried about what people think; they are delighted that they have produced something. Sadly, parents will often be critical of their child’s artwork, thinking they are helping but by their teenage years many children have only heard ‘not good enough’ so they give up. It is fear.
If you have managed to get past that stage and you are comfortable producing work, it is often the case that after a break, for any reason, getting back into the swing of making art can be difficult.
There are a couple of things I suggest to people like this.
Firstly, I will ask them to produce a piece of bad art.
We all know the rules: don’t have a horizon line halfway down the paper; don’t have your focal point in the middle of the paper; have darker colours to the outside of the page and light colours towards the centre to keep the viewer’s eye from drifting off the page; don’t have two focal points of the same strength and value; don’t repeat the same shapes or marks over and over again; remember to have tonal differences etc. etc.
So, because we know the rules, I tell people to break them all and give me a piece of artwork which is as bad as they can make it.
It’s fascinating. 99% of the time the work they produce is not bad. It isn’t great but it is a way of breaking through that fear and helping people realise that their work is really not that bad.
For advanced artists who find themselves in this difficult position I suggest they just simply learn how to play again.
Grab a few sheets of paper or canvases, square works best (you can turn it any which way around and you don’t get stuck in ‘making a painting’) and have at least six, preferably more. I tend to work in series of nine. I don’t know why but I find that works for me.
Get all your paints and brushes out but also grab some other mark-making tools. Sticks, old credit cards, pallet knives, decorating brushes, sponges, I think you get the idea. Then just play.
Start applying paint to the first page/canvas. Move the colours around to see what you find interesting; no-one ever needs see this work, it is just to remind yourselves that you can do this, it is fun and you will also come up with results that you hadn’t expected.
When you have done with the first page/canvas move onto the next one. This is meant to be quick and intuitive, not something to laboured over, you are playing and experimenting with paint and what you can make it do. Also, don’t think of the first layer you put down as being your last. The more layers you apply the more texture you will achieve and that can be really interesting. Once they’re dry you can carve into the layers to expose what is beneath or you can use sandpaper to reveal them.
Then work over them again. If you find you have a bit you like, work around that in your next layer or, better still, work over it and you will see that you can create something even better.
I took an online course earlier this year which really worked at helping people improve their art and much of what I discussed above was advocated there.
Much more was discussed as the course was designed to help artists produce stronger work. Many of the artists on it had been producing work for years and had a wealth of knowledge already but this course really helped define our knowledge and understanding of how to construct a piece of art, how to make sure that it is interesting and how to produce work which people would want to buy. I am happy to share details about this course if you are interested. Just message me.
The point here is many of us get into that rut of having not made any art for a while and then being frightened to start again.
Another great strategy for getting back into making art is to buy yourself a concertina sketch book. I have one that I draw in every night. I have set myself up in my living room with a large drawing board and a couple of baskets with Posca pens, Sharpie pens, a variety of black drawing pens and some watercolour paints and one of those paint brushes with a water container in the handle. Every evening I sit in front of the TV and draw in my sketch book. Sometimes I will prepare the pages ahead of time with inks; sometimes I will glue things into the sketchbook and include that in my drawing. But I do something in that book every evening. I then share that work on my Facebook and Instagram pages so if you follow me there you will already know this.
It is where I can play without making a mess, I leave the other paints in my studio but I can also test out colour combinations, interesting shapes and just experiment before going ahead and working on my larger bubble pieces. Each page can stand alone but, equally, the pages can run into each other too.
So put the fear away in a box somewhere. You don’t need it and it will only hold you back. Get the paper, pens and paints out; play; surprise yourself and then do it again and again. Have fun. Only then, will you shut the fear out, when starting to work on the kind of art you would really like to make.