Wanna know the most common dirty little secret of many a professional artist?
We aren’t always the picture of discipline and unwavering dedication to our vocation of aesthetics and beauty (however we bring those into the world.) To us as with everyone else, life happens: birth, death, marriage, divorce, a move, school, new job, sickness, or some other life event barrels in to lay siege to our perfectly laid art making plans. Overwhelm sets in and you switch yourself to cruise control to focus on coping with the storm, telling yourself (maybe not altogether convincingly) “someday I’ll get back to my studio.”
If you are not like this I congratulate you – and welcome you to leave some comments about how you achieve your stellar focus. But if you find yourself ready to get back into the studio but aren’t quite sure how, here are a few ideas that can make it easier to find your groove again.
Freshen Your Studio
Purge, update, organize.
Practice Your Scales
If it’s been awhile since you’ve picked up a paintbrush or mixed colors or drawn accurate shapes or successfully compared relative values, chances are you’re going to be a bit rusty the first few times back. It happens. Do some color scales. Go to a life drawing class. Find some fun ways to re-orient yourself to your tools and techniques. It’s not quite as automatic as riding a bike, but with a little effort you will get your chops back.
Do Something Completely Different
When people tell me I must have this dream life because I’m an artist, I like to quote Degas: “Painting is extraordinarily easy – until you learn how.” We put decades of effort into our work, slowly teasing out our talent and honing our own styles. “Miles on the brush,” I like to say. “10,000 hours,” a popular saying goes. However you describe it, it is fun! However, because we get so focused it is important to have some experimental time to try new things, and just getting back from a break can be a great time to delve into learning some new techniques you’ve always been interested in but haven’t yet found the time to learn. Gilding? Painting on mylar? Checking out those new water-mixable oils? Busting out with some abstract designs?
Explore the Style and Techniques of Someone You Admire
Trust me – you’re not going to stunt expression of your own unique voice or damage your originality by doing “master studies.” I have done a few of these over the years and the understanding I got from them was tremendous, and immediately applicable to my own work. (As with a lot of my “studies” I don’t sign these, but label them on the back with something like, “Julie Petro’s study of “Chicos en la playa” after Joaquin Sorolla, 12/10/2014″)
Revisit Some Old Work
Instead of starting off with a blank canvas after a long break, maybe you have an old, half-finished painting laying around that’s been bugging you since you stopped painting. (One that made it through your purging process in step 1!) It was always almost right, but you just couldn’t quite bring it together. Throw that thing up on the easel, and go for it. Chances are the time you spent away from your studio will actually work in your favor here. You’ll see it with fresh eyes and will not be as emotionally invested in the work you’ve done on it, so you’ll be more willing to take chances and try new solutions. This is one of my favorite first tasks when getting back into painting. For me it has proven very effective.
I absolutely adore painting on little canvases. Not only is the process fun and challenging, if the end result works you’ve got this intimate piece of art that can nestle snugly into a cozy corner of someone’s house. If after an extended break from painting, larger canvases seem intimidating to you, there’s nothing wrong with working on some 6″x6″ or 6″x8″ canvases for awhile.
Take a Class
This could be workshop, an online class, or a video demonstration. Or go to a demo offered by an artist in a local gallery. The possibilities are endless and are sure to get your creative juices flowing.
Set Some Goals
Not everyone functions well with setting goals. Some people feel hemmed in by the expectations that goals create. For me it’s helpful to have a few goals. Even if I don’t meet them perfectly I find I perform better with them than without. Make them SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Oriented. Your goal could be numbers-oriented (I will produce 2 small still-lifes this week), or performance-oriented (this week I am going to deepen my understanding of the anatomy of noses so I can paint them with confidence from any angle or orientation), or time-oriented (I will paint for at least three hours today, and will set my timer for 20-minute increments so I can step back and take a breather and stretch). Set a few at a time, then check them off. Then set some more!
Set A Timer
Speaking of timers, you might want to set a timer for discrete tasks when you first get back into the studio. You won’t need this all the time but when I’m getting back into things it creates a sense of urgency that can help keep me focused until my focus is second nature again. It also makes it a little bit of a game to me. For example: getting settled into studio – 5 minutes. Setting up palette – 10 minutes, etc.
The More the Merrier
This particular one doesn’t work well for me, but I know plenty of artists who love to get together with others to paint. If this is you too, dear introvert, consider inviting a few artist friends over for a group critique. Nothing like socializing with fellow creatives to get your inspirational juices flowing.