“You can look anywhere and find inspiration.” Frank Gehry (from The Painter’s Keys)
Dry spells, days without inspiration, lack of incentive can happen at anytime to any artist. You show up at the studio, sit in front of an empty canvas or paper and nothing happens. Nothing is working. You looked to all your usual sources of inspiration and still nothing. So what now? You can give up and walk away or you can look to your fellow artists.
Stories are everywhere of artists who worked in groups. The Impressionists were noted for it. Monet and Renoir occasionally painted the same subjects. Picasso and Braque explored cubism together. The tales of artists gathering together in Paris cafes and bars are well known. The Abstract Expressionists frequently met in New York at various locations. Artists are gathering today. Are you one of them?
Gathering with fellow artists today does not necessarily mean physically meeting in a restaurant or studio. Artopia Magazine suggests, “Following artists on social media is a great source for finding inspiration on many levels.” Taking the time to “like” other artists on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, read artist’s blogs and check out artists websites are all ways to gather with other artists in today’s internet world. Artists are doing amazing things all over the world. All it takes is a couple of clicks to enter a world of inspiration from fellow artists.
Indiemade.com suggests joining a local art group and if you don’t have one, start one. Find a group of other artists and make plans to meet together. You can choose to take a meal together regularly just to discuss art in general. You could meet together for some Plein Air painting. Another possibility is potluck once a month rotating at each other’s studios. Find your fellow local artists and make a plan.
When you are blanking out on inspiration, look around at other artists and see what they are up to. If you find your fellow artist also in a blank place maybe you can inspire each other. And if not, you can always commiserate with one another until new sources of inspiration can be found. Nobody stays dry forever. Companionship during the dry times may help move the dryness on down the road.
“The best cure for a dry spell is simply to keep at it. Good things are happening, soon to be revealed.” Eleanor Blair (from The Painter’s Keys)
Those first thoughts of panic when you find yourself in a dry spell can take over and consume you. What if you are never inspired again? What if this is it? Your artistic life is toast! You’re done. All the art in your soul has dried up and you will have to find something else to do. The love of your life has walked out the door. The cold hand of panic is about to get a firm grip on your throat. Everything you do is dry, dry, dry! You can go to the nearest bar and get stone cold drunk or you can sit down and take a deep breath. While taking that deep breath, check out what others suggest. Or wait until the hangover is over, then check out these suggestions.
Graham Mathews has several suggestions in an article for Artpromotivate. Number six on his list is to experiment with a different style or medium. Following this recommendation frequently leads to new discoveries that can change the course of your entire artistic direction. How many artists have you read about whose experiments in times of drought have resulted in the biggest breakthroughs of their career? If something is not working, that is usually a signal from the artist within that you are not listening. Trying something unfamiliar forces the outer artist to stop and pay attention to the inner one. A new direction can’t be put on automatic. It requires an effort on the part of the artist.
Another technique for breaking a dry spell is to return to original inspiration. PsychCentral.com has a blog post on creative block. Author Margarita Tartakovsky suggests stashing away anything that inspires you. Tartakovsky says tucking away interesting thoughts, quotations, films, ideas that strike your fancy can be a source for watering the drought. My favorite thing to do is collect images from magazines. I’ll tear out anything that even remotely looks interesting and put it in an inspirational images folder. Over the years, I have ended up with a number of folders. Sometimes I get a laugh from wondering why I chose certain images. But it causes me to rethink why I found those images inspirational in the first place.
Not giving in to panic is the best first step to getting through dry spells. Once you make that decision, trying some new things could be fun. It may keep you out of the bar. At the very least it will occupy your hands so they don’t continue moving up toward your neck region. While the hands are occupied, your inspirational wells are free to start working again. Once the wells are working, the water will start flowing. But if all else fails, you can try a rain dance. You never know. It may open up a new career for you as a dancer.
“To me, art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can be explored only by those willing to take the risk.” Mark Rothko (from SusieGadea.com)
Capturing what is in the heart and splattering it all over canvas or paper is what artists do. Facing what others say about that heart is what happens with every work of art placed into the public arena. The risk of acceptance or rejection of what’s in the heart, what comes from a place that in most other people is only rarely exposed, is the daily life of an artist. Some are more able to handle the daily unveiling than others.
For many artists, facing the big “F” word is a major challenge. Fear! And with fear comes the tag, “of failure.” These two big “F” words pack a major punch. What if no one likes my art? What if no one wants my art? Why am I risking my heart if no one wants to see what’s in there? Maybe its better to just keep it hidden. That’s the safe thing to do. Keep it all inside. Don’t let it out to play. That way it can’t get hurt. It stays safe, tucked away deep inside where the outside world can’t get to it.
In her blog, “I paint, I write” Pamela Hodges says, “The little girl wants an A on her paper. A shiny star on top of the math page for not getting any problems wrong.” That little girl or boy is inside the heart of us all. We go into protection mode to shield the child from hurt. So we erect the barriers. For people whose life work does not require the continual heart exposure this is no problem. For the artist, it can be a daily problem.
Dr. Bob Tobin, in his blog, states, “artists show the courage that many of us could only begin to imagine.” This daily pumping out of what’s inside is a courageous undertaking. Pamela Hodges states, “Creating takes courage. Courage to stand out and be seen. Courage to risk failure, and to risk success.” To do less is to give in to the big “F” word. Do we allow that to happen?
No! The courage to conquer the big “F” comes from the same source as the art. Courage comes from the heart. As the art is allowed to flow from the heart, so must the courage. To open to one, is to open to the other. Like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz, it was there all the time. It just has to be acknowledged and out it comes. All the Lion lacked was a medal, an award of courage. Go to the studio and make a medal. You’ve earned it! Then stand aside and allow the courage to flow along with the art as you allow the heart to come out from behind the safety barricades, and step into the sun.
This 20- minute lecture by Dr. Gil Dekel is worth a listen. The feeling at the end is, “How awesome creativity is!” What is the artist really saying in each and every painting? Dr. Gekel tells us.
“Yellow-colored objects appear to be gold.” Aristotle (from Thinkexist.com)
Discussions of the origins of Indian Yellow vary though most authorities believe it to have arrived in Europe from Asia in the Fifteenth Century. Conflicting accounts exist as to the truth of a 19th century investigation into the process of creating Indian Yellow. The disgusting smell of the hard brown balls imported from India to make the paint gave credence to the story of how it was made.
According to a late nineteenth century investigation by The Journal of the Society of Arts in London, the hard brown balls of pigment were made from the urine of cows fed only a diet of mango leaves and water. The urine was collected and dried to form the hard brown balls that were imported intact and later ground down to create the paint. The paint was banned when news of the treatment of the cows became known. The cows fed the mango leaf diet exclusively were severely undernourished to the point of starvation. Synthetic forms of the paint began appearing shortly afterward. Winsor Newton has some of the original imported brown balls on display in the Winsor Newton Museum. However, they are quick to point out that the balls are in a sealed glass case to prevent the smell from escaping.
Indian Yellow is a rich, beautiful color making its origins hard to fathom. Frequently used in glazes and for tinting, Indian Yellow makes jewel-toned greens when mixed with ultramarine blue. Alizarin crimson, zinc white and Indian Yellow make a nice warm orange. The Dutch Masters used Indian Yellow to create the luminescent glazes so characteristic of Dutch painting. It was also a favorite with the Scottish Colourists of the early Twentieth Century. The picture at top by Scottish painter, Lesley Hunter, is a perfect example of the beauty of the warm, glowing gold the liberal use of Indian Yellow can produce.
Fortunately, today’s painters don’t have to deal with the disgusting smell of the original Indian Yellow. In both oil and watercolor, Indian yellow is highly transparent and lightfast. As a tint, Indian Yellow gives depth and richness to the paint. On its own, it is beautifully golden.
Enjoy your Indian Yellow with gratitude for the synthetic process we have today. Thankfully, we don’t have to deal with the smell or the knowledge of the disgusting origins of the paint, true or not. Aren’t scientists wonderful!
For more on Indian Yellow, Winsor Newton has a “spotlight on color” feature on the website with a detailed description of the history of Indian Yellow.http://www.winsornewton.com/resource-cente/product-articles/indian-yellow
More information on the Scottish Colorists can be found at the Scottish Colorist website. A wonderful group of painters! http://www.scottishcolourists.co.uk/history-of-the-movement/
“Art is the Queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world.” Leonardo da Vinci (from The Art of Artificial Evolution)
Does participation in the arts increase knowledge? Since the publication of “The Mozart Effect” study, scientists have been asking this question. Artists already know the answer is yes. The more studies are undertaken, the more the facts will become clear. Learning is enhanced when visual art and music increase the amount of sensory input. Conceptual learning increases with the use of creative problem solving. Adding eyes, ears, and imagination will bring on more cognitive understanding. It just makes sense to add the senses to education.
In her dissertation for the University of Kentucky, Jennifer Sue Shank looks at the effects visual art has on the ability to learn music. Her paper entitled, “The effect of Visual Art on Music Listening,” examined the introduction of visual stimuli to enhanced identification of musical elements by elementary teachers. The results showed a statistically significant increase of music learning among the group exposed to selected works of visual art while listening to music. Shank’s paper is very interesting and well worth reading all the way through.
Karin Evans, writing for The University of California, Berkeley, covers much of the findings of research on the subject of arts and learning in her appropriately titled article, “Arts and Smarts.” Evans covers both research findings and the skeptics’ arguments. One of the issues Evans covers is the benefit of the arts in teaching students the ability to envision solutions. Arts enable students to develop the use of creative problem solving. Evans also covers research on how the arts enhance the ability of students to feel and express empathy with human emotion.
The National Assembly of States Arts Agencies (nasaa-arts.org) discusses the finding of the relationship of increased SAT scores in students who actively participate in the arts. The NASAA-ARTS details the benefits of art on general education in “Critical Evidence: How the Arts Benefit Education“. More than SAT scores are improved through the arts but SAT scores are a telling measurement of the effect of art on learning. Abundant evidence exists on arts and learning.
In spite of this growing body of evidence, schools are drastically cutting arts education. Slowly and methodically, the arts are being removed from courses offered. Science teachers are in demand. Art teachers are not. Yet from da Vinci to Einstein, the greatest thinkers throughout history have actively engaged in both the arts and the sciences. Without arts to engage the senses, will education grow more senseless? It appears so.
“Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up.” Chuck Close (About.com/painting)
Artist’s block is a subject worth repeating because we all go through it. Each time it rears its ugly head is a cue to seek some kind, any kind of solution that will break the back of the evil block. There could be many reasons for a block, such as energy depletion, brain overload, ignoring the soul, not following the heart and on and on. It’s probably not necessary or even worthwhile to search for the cause. The medicine does not depend on the cause. The medicine depends on the action.
Tara Leaver discusses artists block on her blog. She gives three possible reasons for block but for each she prescribes the same cure, a week of studio immersion. Spend a week in the studio immersing in making art without stopping to think about it. Don’t think. Just do. Go for it and see what happens.
Over at Mental Hygiene, Tony Santos has a list of things to do to break through the block. He suggests
- Going to the source
Following the steps outlined by Santos, he believes will lead to breakthrough. Check out his detailed description of each of these steps at the link.
If these suggestions don’t work for you, check out the You tube video at the top. He has an innovative, yet simple remedy. Start drawing something meaningless and abstract. Start putting marks on paper letting them flow. Pretend you are back in the classroom of the most boring teacher you ever had and remember the doodles you drew to get through the monotony. Then say a silent “Thanks!” to Mrs. What’s-her-name for boring you to tears and forcing you to become a creative doodler. She may have been the push you needed to become an artist. Put yourself back in her class and start doodling again. And if you didn’t have a Mrs. What’s-her-name, try the ideas from the other two artists. One of these artist’s suggestions may be the right medicine to cure your block.
“When the color achieves richness, the form attains its fullness, also.” Paul Cezanne (from The Painter’s Keys)
From King Tut’s tomb to 14th century illuminated manuscripts to the luxurious robes of the Byzantine Madonnas, ultramarine blue has been used illustrate the importance of the person or object depicted. Ultramarine blue earned this place in art from the high cost of its chief ingredient, lapis lazuli. The introduction of the semi-precious mineral into Europe likely came from Marco Polo through Venice, say some accounts.
According to the website of The University of Hull (UK), Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) painted only with true ultramarine. Vermeer’s pure whites were achieved by the mixing of ultramarine with lead white. Hull reports that due to the high cost of ultramarine blue most artists had chosen to use a less expensive blue made with azurite. However, this did not have the brilliance of the true ultramarine. Vermeer chose only the pure form. And his “Woman with a Water Pitcher” beautifully exemplifies this choice in the woman’s white head covering and her rich blue gown. Hull’s in-depth description of ultramarine is a fascinating read.
Another website, EssentialVermeer.com has a more in-depth description of the process Vermeer utilized in the painting, “Woman with a Water Pitcher” and others. Essential Vermeer has detailed and enlarged portions of Vermeer’s paintings where the artist has used ultramarine in the shadows of pure white objects to maintain the luminosity of object. The more famous Vermeer painting, “Woman with a Pearl Earring,” also had the characteristic use of ultramarine.
Gamblin states ultramarine is a great glazing color and calls it one of the few mineral colors to be “completely transparent.” Golden Paints gives ultramarine blue an excellent permanency rating and a lightfastness of one (very lightfast). Synthetic ultramarine is what is now produced by both companies, as well as most other art suppliers.
Synthetic versions of ultramarine didn’t arrive until the early 1900’s when the cost came down markedly. If you want to make your own ultramarine blue, the pure pigment can be purchased from the Dutch company, Kremer Pigmente. Kremer specializes in reproducing, as close to exact as possible, pigments of the original Old Master’s paint formulas. Kremer’s pigments are widely used in the restoration process of Old Master’s paintings. A word of warning though, if you are planning to purchase original formula Ultramarine Blue pigment, you will quickly see why it is the rich man’s blue.
Purchase Kremer pigments here
The painting “Woman with a Water Pitcher” is in the original collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.