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.
Here’s a word for your own checklist — and how to make one. Checklists are not recipes. They’re self-generated lists of thoughts and ideas that just might add strength, value and importance to the work. Based on what one knows about the better works of others, the vastness of human potential, and one’s own personal ideals, it’s an elevated to-do list.
Contemplation is the key. The artist arrests herself at any stage in a work’s progress. Short notes clarify processes and indicate directions with further potential. It’s a temporary sidestep from the “zone.” For those with this kind of intuition, it’s a self-taught facility to be both in the flow and observing the flow. Practitioners can have the eerie feeling of watching themselves work.
Before anyone phones those guys in the white coats, here are some examples from my current list:
Paint with your eyes
Think what things might become
Let the brush talk
Be in love with change
Find the elegance
See the big picture
Make it a pattern
Identify the extraordinary
Don’t get gauche
Keep it fresh at all costs
Take your time
This stuff is all about a personal search for truth within one’s own vision. Getting there is half the fun. If it were a recipe, everyone’s truth might be the same. Only you can make your checklist and join the search for your own truth. Start your checklist now.
PS: “Between truth and the search for truth, I choose the second.” (Bernard Berenson)
Esoterica: When I was much more immature I used to hand out checklists with abandon. Several years ago a friend made me aware of a long-lost checklist that I’d dropped off before the Internet Age. “I’ve used it every day,” she told me. It reads, “Compositional integrity, sound craftsmanship, colour sensitivity, creative interest, design control, gestural momentum, artistic flair, expressive intensity, professional touch, surface quality, intellectual depth, visual distinction, technical challenge and artistic audacity.”
This letter was originally published as “Checklist” on June 8, 2007.
“My only ambition was to create an honest picture that would interpret nature as she really is, as she ought to be seen.” (Joaquin Sorolla)
Mary’s interest in pastel painting began during her years at Whitworth College in Spokane, WA where she majored in art and elementary education. Though she has worked in watercolor and oil as well as calligraphy, her interest has consistently turned primarily to pastel because of the medium’s potential for glowing, vibrant color and the harmony achieved in bringing together lights and shadows.