I have been pretty good about setting goals, but I haven't given much thought to motivation because I like what I’m doing. I’m motivated by my happiness to paint. Artist and teacher Robert Henri urges us to dig deeper with some simple introspection to think more about the reasons we paint and, in turn, make better artwork. I feel a list coming on!
I happen to be in the midst of writing an artist’s statement—a necessary document for entering competitions and shows—and it’s hard to write about myself. For the last two years I’ve been painting a lot without thinking much about why. I started out wanting to see if I could just sustain the enthusiasm and discipline needed to do this full-time. While I struggle with discipline daily, I can still confidently say "Yep."
I picked up Henri’s The Art Spirit last night to thumb through while watching a Cubs game (Cubs beat Atlanta 4-3), and I came across a passage that pointed directly to this lingering item on my career to-do list. Seemingly simple, but requiring a lot of concentration and time. He said, “Find out what you really like if you can. . . There is nothing more entertaining than to have a frank talk with yourself.” This is just what I needed to think about to help with my artist’s statement, as well as consider my next steps in artmaking. Ok, Self, let’s talk.
Amanda: What do you like about painting, big and small? Also, I’m really proud of you for eating so much fruit this morning.
Amanda: Thank you for noticing. I’m just going to rattle off my answers here.
1. Making art. The feel of the paint, pastel, pencil, etc. on a surface.
2. Problem solving. Getting over a problem (and another and another) leads to euphoric, a-ha moments.
3. I’ll see something with my two eyeballs and feel the need to turn it into a painting. I can’t explain that. A dozen times a day I see something that makes me say to myself, “Could I make that interesting in a painting?” Often the answer is “no,” but I think it all the time.
4. Draghtsmanship. I’m often so pleased with my drawings (this step takes the most work) that I don’t want to paint over them.
5. The harmony that can be achieved with the elements of design. When lines, space, light, color, texture are put together to form something interesting to stare at again and again.
Amanda: Go on.
6. The style between realism and abstraction. It’s the difference between knowing and feeling a subject.
7. Composition above all else. This is usually where a painting starts for me.
8. Juxtaposition and contrast
9. Small moments within a picture
10. An unusual point of view
11. The shape of shadows. Light and dark create immediate drama
Amanda: Wait! “The Shape of Shadows” should be the title of your autobiography!
Amanda: I love it!
12. Blue. I really like the color blue and then adding its complementary colors.
13. Silhouettes because they create great shapes and dark/light contrast.
14. Figures. I’ve always liked to draw/paint people. They have the most unusual lines and bumps. Body parts create great shape of space. I see them as objects instead of as people. That’s why portraiture doesn’t interest me. I’m not interested in the likeness of a person—I’m interested in the shape of a person and the space it fills.
15. Landscapes offer me room to play with abstraction. This is where I loosen up, which is difficult, but I like it.
20. Cats and dogs
22. Water towers
23. A-frame roofs
24. Telephone poles
25. Striped blankets
27. Shirt collars
Amanda: I see that my list can be divided into two sections: stuff and things I can do to stuff. And I have a lot more to say about the latter.
Amanda: Well, you know what Henri would say: The subject of a painting is not the object you’re painting. It is your pleasure in painting the thing.
Later is what?
After settling into various desk jobs, I always said I'd get back to painting later in life, and later is now. Again means that I tried once before. I decided to write about my painting endeavor, too, as a learning tool, an accountability tool, and to stay sharp in case I have to go back to a desk job. Again.
I love periodicals, and if I weren't trying to devote more time to painting I'd mail paper copies. Sign up here, and I'll conveniently send it (blog posts, sales, and new work) by e-mail instead.