This letter is a bit more difficult to write because it hits close to home. Apparently 15 percent of the general population are what psychologists now call “Highly Sensitive Persons,” or HSPs. Among creative types the percentage is much higher. In part, it’s the sensitivity that makes us creative. Carl Jung suggested that we are just introverted, shy or depressed. Recent research indicates that HSPs are genetically programmed to be that way. Getting rid of the condition would be like changing our eye colour. HSPs have valuable assets that have traditionally been given a bum rap by the not-so-sensitive majority.
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Recently, a subscriber wrote to ask about a letter he called, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Artists. Sounding familiar, I took to the Painter’s Keys search bar tool, but came up short. A quick pass at Google gave me a seminar aimed at 3D computer graphics animators, and so I wondered, might it be time to take a closer look at the “habits?”
First published in 1989, Stephen R. Covey’s best-selling self-help manifesto The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People triumphs character over personality in the achievement of goals.
We’re all familiar with the problems associated with Sunday Painters. Cranking up the old machine once a week may be okay in the vintage car hobby — but it’s bad news in the creativity game. The steady worker who applies his craft daily is more likely to make creative gains than an intermittent one. Even when tired, or even because of it, the rolling creator can generally squeeze further.
Depending on your point of view, he was either one of the world’s most important painters, or the original amateur. J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851) influenced many artists, particularly the impressionists. (Monet and Pissarro were knocked over by his work) His paintings of luminous vapour have etched their way into the popular imagination.
One magic day years ago I stood in front of the real stuff at the Tate in London. Ever since then I’ve been wired for Turner — both the artist and the art. I always feel I owe him a visit.
Last weekend I attended an exhibition of the work of a wide range of painters. A lot of it was photo-derived — some of it really crackerjack — others not so hot. Why is it that some people can take photographic reference and make it exciting, while others only succeed in reproducing a photo?
A lot of it has to do with the analysis that an artist gives to the reference prior to picking up the brush. Here are a few ideas you might find useful
Every few days someone asks me to send a personalized checklist of things they need to do and think about while they’re painting. As everyone’s creative concept is really quite different, this is a tough order. Even though I may have looked at the work, their continued flourishing depends on a unique vision and a sense of individual entitlement. We are all specialists of some sort, and specialization demands we make our own checklists. In our game there’s no silver bullet, no one size fits all.
Near where I live there passes an ancient pathway called the Semiahmoo Trail. It was first used by native peoples — the Semiahmoos — then by gold seekers, and later — not much more than a hundred years ago — by the first settlers in our area. Much of it has now been overtaken by urban sprawl. Some sections have been designated a heritage trail, bike path or nature walk. In some places it calls for a strong heart — small posts mark kilometers and encourage citizens to use it to increase their heartbeat.
More than a few of us report that our first inspiration to pick up a brush was Les Automatistes of Quebec or Kandinsky and Der Blaue Reiter. Fast, intuitive strokes invite access to a spontaneous and visceral creative experience — an appealing prompt. Others first fell under the spell of the carefully planned masterworks of Neoclassicism, the incremental chiseling of a hunk of marble or the specific strategy required by conceptual art that leaves the end fabrication to a team of minions. This slower system, set in stages with rules and requiring concentration, focus, observation and accuracy, may have felt the most natural.
As a little girl in South Ohio, Nova Scotia, Maud Dowley suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which kept her small, with almost no chin and other physical differences. She spent her childhood at home with her parents and brother, and when her mother encouraged her to make hand-painted Christmas cards, Maud found that she could fashion a world of her own and depict the abundance of rural life.
“If you want to be an artist — try being artistic.” This deceptively minor slip of info was given to me by a fellow painter, Maurice Golleau, somewhere in Provence many years ago. I’ve come to realize that it’s the life breath of our business. In other words, don’t just paint the boat, paint the most expressive boaty-boat you can drag out of your reference or your imagination.
How to do that? Here are a few ideas to think about and perhaps apply to your own subject or style: