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How Much Preparation Goes Into Your Art?

March 19, 2010

“Beyond Words” – Acrylic on Canvas, 12 x 12 x 1.5″

The following was originally the answer to a question from Deirdre Abbotts in the blog comments, but I felt it was worth a blog post of its own. What follows is a correct and honest description of how I work. I’d love to hear how you approach your own work.

Deirdre’s question was concerning how I manage to utilize “studies” if my work is spontaneous to begin with. I can see how this might be a little bit contradictory. Basically the question is how can studies play a role if it’s my goal to work intuitively?

Here was my answer:

I love spontaneity, but sometimes it’s hard to get into the groove. So in between times I will play around with images — things that started out as spontaneous and random marks, such as my old squeegees, palettes, paint skins, and table cover. I scan and take pictures of all that stuff. Then I look through these and usually can get really inspired by them to make something entirely new based on their texture, or quality of marks, or compositions I see within them.

Other times I will like something I’ve scanned exactly as it is, and I will try to duplicate it as a painting while still working to keep it “looking” spontaneous. Sometimes I’m successful at that part of it, and sometimes it flops completely. Other times it turns into something that I like even better, and will end up being spontaneous by accident.

That is basically how I work, start to finish. How about you? How much planning goes into your work?

24 Comments leave one →
  1. Cath S permalink
    March 19, 2010 8:34 pm

    Hi Martha. My approach is ‘same but different’! I keep notebooks full of things I have seen that I like; paintings, adverts, colours, photos, words, postcards, shapes etc. When I am starting some new works I sit round leafing through all this inspirations, thinking about what colours I feel like playing with, and how I want the pieces to feel. Then I put the books away and work from within.
    It’s interesting when I write about my approach, how often I say ‘feel’. I really FEEL my art, but when I have done Myers Briggs assessment for work, I am right at the opposite end of the scale – very logical and systematic. Funny..

    • March 21, 2010 5:54 am

      Cath, I wonder how you’d test if you did Myers-Briggs again. Do you think it might come out differently? I think it’s a wonderful thing to have a balance of left and right brain abilities.

  2. March 20, 2010 3:22 am

    White canvas makes me shy. I need traces on the space I’ll work on. My best portraits are painted on boards I found in the street, discarded pieces of a shelf, painted in the most ghastly olive grey. — Sometimes I paint with watercolors or acrylics on paper, stuck on a board; in this case, I have to prepare it and let dry overnight. But what if the inspiration is gone next day? Carpe diem. Each day has its own character. I have to work with what I got and hope there will be a kiss of a muse tomorrow, too.
    I’ll post a link to one of these portraits later.

    • March 21, 2010 5:57 am

      Oh, please do, Eva!

      You’ve articulated the process perfectly. Yes, a white expanse makes me shy too. And I often put a lot of random marks onto it, sometimes the uglier the better, just to get moving through that block.

  3. March 20, 2010 3:31 am

    Oh, I forgot. This turquoise is supernatural. True to the title!

    • March 21, 2010 5:58 am

      🙂 It was probably on a day that I couldn’t come up with a title. But I love your description.

  4. March 20, 2010 10:43 am

    Perfect explanation – thanks so much for describing your process.
    😀 eirdre

  5. March 20, 2010 6:16 pm

    “How much planning goes into your work?”

    Almost none. And years’ worth. And both answers are correct and honest.

    I spend months at a time making what I call “elements”… large and small pieces of paper, fabric, fibers and wonky textiles that I test and play with using quite a lot of different techniques. I tweak, I remake, I refine, I even give up on some notions.

    I might engage in this creative tinkering for months. And then something happens, some kind of fission, and POW- I’m ready to Make Art. I start tearing and stitching and gluing and refining, and at the end of that period, maybe I’ll get lucky and have one or two pieces I can honestly call “art”.

    Then mysteriously the process resets and, after a short rest period, starts again.

    I think it’s important that we’re thinking about what we do as we do it… I applaud and appreciate your honesty about your process. 😀

    • March 21, 2010 6:08 am

      Judi, this is a wonderful description of your process. And mine, actually. What you’re describing applies to the way I do my collages especially. But I guess the textured paintings too, because a lot goes on beneath awareness when paint is not actually involved.

  6. donna baek permalink
    March 20, 2010 6:23 pm

    dear martha,

    i work exactly as you do. this is a timely post because i was just commenting to a friend the other day that i can’t recreate a piece if someone wants another because i work spontaneously. i tried to use a cropped ,scanned successful section of an otherwise weak piece as a starting point for a new work but it evolved into something different as i developed it and the act of deriving one work from another and planning it kind of robbed it of freshness.

    i used to feel kind of …. uncomfortable about the fact that i just “fling paint” so to speak and don’t labor over careful sketches and underpaintings. then i realized that my way is just as valid and that i was being insecure about my ability to create. julie camerson says ” art is not putting something down. it’s getting something out.” that is how i feel about my own art making.

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