Is there is a mysterious secret that only artists know about making artworks? I often think that artists themselves like to propagate this myth. The myth that we are special, magical beings who sit apart from everyday people, and everyday life, creating our work in isolation. Maybe if I wasn’t a teacher trying to make art accessible to everyone, I might buy into this myself. After all, we all want to be seen as special don’t we? And yes, there are moments of mystery and magic in the process but I believe those moments are accessible to everyone too, not just the ‘chosen’ ones who decide to devote their lives to art making.
So, how do artists get their ideas and make their work? There is a beautiful cyclic nature to creativity. In my world it is a process with clear, repeatable steps. They are:
During the inspiration phase we are like sponges, soaking up images, sounds, sights, snippets of things that catch our attention and spark imaginings and connections in our thinking. Inspiration can come from the everyday world, from walking in nature, watching the light through trees or how shadows fall on the ground, from spending time in the garden, from books or poetry, from fashion or food, from music, gallery visits or the media (preferably not from hours of mindless scrolling on Instagram or Pinterest!). Inspiration can also come from inner work, from meditation, visualization, dreams or from daydreaming in the shower or while stuck in traffic.
Exploration is the phase of playing and experimenting with these ideas. Taking those imaginings and making them real with paint, paper, canvas, clay, stone or yarn. For me it is a process of wondering, trying different things, intuitively feeling my way. And answering that question ‘What if…’ What if we try this way of representing that thought? What if we put this technique with that one? What if I put that line next to this shape? What happens if I overlap that element with the one underneath? This is the phase when anything is possible. It is about freedom, curiosity and creative joy.
The next step is making. Sometimes the work created in the exploration phase IS the finished work. More often, the work is a series that further explores one of the ideas that has come up during the exploration phase. It may be about a colour theme, a way of mark making or about a place. The making phase includes finishing a piece so that if feels complete in and of itself. Which leads us to the next phase: reflection.
Reflection is both an inner and outer process of anyalysing, assessing the objective aspects of the work but also an inner feeling process. The objective part requires us to step back and analyse the composition, harmony, colours and feel of the work. Is it communicating our original intention? The inner process is harder to define. Does the work feel finished? If there is any sense of wanting to add more or take anything away? Is there a sense of calm satisfaction when you look at the work? Sometimes it takes a few days of just letting the work be, letting it hang on the wall or sit in the studio before I can sense the completeness.
The last step is celebrating! It may be as simple as taking a photo on your phone so that you have a record of what you have made. You could share that photo with friends or loved ones. Or your could share it with the world through social media, your website or a blog. Exhibiting the work is also a form of celebrating the artwork in real life with friends and the wider community.
After the celebration we begin again. The cycle continues over and over. The whole process may take a day, a week or a lifetime. It is like a circle spiraling ever upward. It is yet another way that art can mirror life. The art making process can be playful, or a slog, or a joy, or as Australian artist Brett Whitely said ‘A difficult pleasure’. I hope I have taken some of the mystery out of it for you today!