Yesterday, Ann Price of Little Rock, Arkansas wrote, “You’ve written a lot about doing versus talking, and how speech inhibits creativity. I’ve been a talker since infancy. My parents swore I spoke sentences by six months. These days I’m repeatedly blocked creatively by my own verbal overload. Have you ever met someone who successfully made the switch from talker to doer?”
Thanks, Ann. Yes, I have, and I can tell by looking at your work that verbalization is something you’re fighting.
I’ve had to make the change myself. When I was a kid I learned that I could get out of scrapes by talking rather than fighting. I had to — I was a puny little guy. Later, after a few semesters at art school, the registrar called me in and told me, “You talk a good job and do a poor one.” This was when I realized I had to figure out how to be more quiet.
Short of stuffing a sock in the mouth, artists with this problem can beat it. They need to start with a courageous assessment of their own work. Look for literary and theoretical concepts that may be dominating creative elan and gestural confidence. Look for places in your art where you weren’t really looking. A good place to start is eyes. Eyes drawn or painted by a talker tend to have clear lids, white sclera and over-linear design. In other words they tend not to be three-dimensional sockets of light and shadow. The overly-talkative artist tends not to be looking at an eye, but rather drawing out the verbal elements that might describe an eye.
The overly-verbal artist is led by his understanding of things — rather than by direct observation of things as they are.
Something else worth watching for is overindulgence in symmetry. For some reason visual equality appeals to talkers — perhaps because of some atavistic need for balance. There’s nothing wrong with symmetry, but the valuable three-quarters views and unequal positioning of elements is more often the creative way. Not only that, it’s the more challenging way. Drawing and painting what you know can be fairly limiting. The idea is to become a visual blotter, soaking up with discriminating gusto what is truly seen. And if you feel the need to say something, kiss someone. Just puckering up can do the trick.
PS: “A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words are superfluous.” (Ingrid Bergman)
Esoterica: Whether we’re talkers or not, most of us have to unlearn habits and reboot our abilities. I’ve met many artists who improved their work by sheer willpower. And, as I’ve said somewhere before, the job requires character. Fact is, most people can draw and paint ideated images based on what they know, but it often takes a dedicated eye and an inactive tongue to overcome some pervasive shortcomings.
Turn off left brain, free the right
by Jennifer Cocke, Burnaby, BC, Canada
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards is key to helping this problem. I completed an English literature degree before I decided art was a better path for me and I found this book to be extremely helpful. It gave me a few tricks to help turn off the left side of my brain and let the right side go on uninterrupted. I found my drawing skills increased quite a bit in a short period of time, a place I thought would take years to get to. It has in turn also helped my painting as my observation skills are that much keener. Read the book, do the exercises!
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Other forms of distraction
by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA
I teach drawing and painting and I always tell my students to paint what they see, rather than what they know. I normally use a glass and talk about the shape of its ellipse. Everyone knows that a traditionally shaped drinking glass has a round opening at the top. That is why young children will often draw the top of a glass as a totally rounded circle rather than an oval when they are in a room filled with chattering peers and other distractions. But put that same child alone in a room and tell them to really draw the shapes that they see and the results will be vastly different.
Drawing is also sometimes taught to medical students and dentists as a way for them to learn eye/hand coordination, but also as a way for them to learn concentration skills. I find that when I am distracted in any way, my work usually suffers for it. This summer we had extremely high temperatures and I painted outside on several days that were over 100 degrees. I realized that even if I had been painting alone and in silence, those pieces needed more touching up in the studio than the ones that I did on more comfortable days. So I have realized that talking is not the only form of distraction that I need to be aware of.
Is this just a stage?
by Robert Backmann, Arrowhead Region, Minnesota, USA
Oil painting seems to be far less laborious than drawing and at times seems deceptively easy, all things being relative. The problem I’m having is I’ll make a stroke that I know is mechanically sound to represent the object I’m attempting to depict. But when I step back and look again, it doesn’t quite look right for some reason and I end up reworking it, and reworking it, and reworking it until I almost can’t remember what the thing should even look like.
Yesterday I made a vow to myself to do what I fundamentally know and not question it until the painting was finished and I had time to tuck it away for a few days. This was after having looked at what I had depicted and how I depicted it and compared my technique with other artists’ techniques that I admire. I found my technique was fundamentally sound but it still didn’t look right to me. My suspicion is that my mind is telling me I need to labour at depiction, that it can’t be as easy as using one stroke. I’m curious if this is a stage a lot of people go through or if I’m just queer and lack confidence in my ability?
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The tyranny of photography
by Don Genge, ON, Canada
My problem is doing vs. photographing. I have a need to see what is around the next bend or over the hill. It’s like painting takes too long.
Sometimes I think creative sensitivity is a curse rather than a blessing. I drive the back roads and highways of the drumlins of southern Ontario, not to mention waterways and trails of provincial and national parks. I actually get an ache in my stomach seeing a perfect painting site go by the car window when we have to be somewhere important. My wife says, “Stop the car! I’ll drive — You look!” So I take pictures. It’s too easy! Paint from the photograph? Not the same ache.
I get the feeling that ache is the thing. What you do to express it is the question. Some paint, write, photograph, compose music, some just indulge by immersing themselves in the experience.
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Seeing what you need to see
by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA
We all started as talkers and evolved into doers. When you first begin the process of being an artist, everything has to be talked out. How else do you assimilate the information? As your skill increases (and the knowledge of your subject and materials used increases) you begin to talk less and do more. One thing to remember as you progress is “don’t draw things” — draw the idea of what you’re working on. What do I mean? Don’t see an eye as an eye. Your mind will trick you into identifying each aspect and convince you that you can’t draw that. You have to see only value, shape, tone, linear movement. If you are working from photos right now, turn the images upside down; look at the photo through a mirror; move them 10 feet away from you. Do whatever it takes not to see anything as it is, only as tone, value, shape and line. If you have use of a computer or Photoshop, turn your subject photos into black and white images with no halftones. Also use your pencil on its side not on the point. In fact, temporarily get rid of your pencils and use charcoal. A big fat piece. One where you can’t easily do any details. Erase with a Kneaded eraser. Try these things and see what happens.
The nature of talking
by Tom Evans, Grandora, SK, Canada
Possibly talking is linear. My thought processes have been linear as in following a path or an outline whereas Jane’s have been “the big picture.” I have expanded my views and understanding of other outlooks by imaging the big picture. A powerful addition for me has been also imaging the scent of the big picture, be it indoors or out. Sometimes it is useful for me to image the big picture in different lights, seasons, weather, times of day, or other situations.
Perhaps compartmentalizing talking and imaging the big picture would be useful.
Cultivation of intuition has also been helpful to me and I find the notion of “women’s intuition” an affront. Intuition helps me pick the best cropping, lighting, colours, scale and other things to use as I image the big picture. It also helps me select my position relative to the big picture.
These things have definitely made my work as a scientist and teacher more fun and they have probably made that work more useful, too.
by Susan Grucci, New York, NY, USA
I realized that I was ‘that’ talkative person — and I am working very hard to rectify the situation — daily! It is amazing how much it has helped me. Thank you for that post!
I did not have to talk about the paintings that I was working on, nor my future ideas; I realized that it did not have to be out there for everyone to hear. On that note, I’d like to share with you this New York Story:
I entered the 86th Street Lexington Avenue Subway one day and I realized that the subway platform seemed different. Everyone down on the platform was standing still, listening to a trio — two violins and a cellist were playing the most magical, original classical/ jazz music that I have ever heard. Young performers with huge smiles and eyes closed were swaying, making sweet music to share with their fellow New Yorkers.
A young lady was taking a video of them and I later walked over told her that I was an artist and that if I had a gallery opening I would love to find out if I could have them play at the opening. The train arrived and we both boarded together, talking up a storm. She wanted the Board of the Silent Auction for the French Consulate to see the video, and she was the Director of Development. She gave me the trio’s website and we proceeded to discuss many, many things.
Upon disembarking from the train, she handed me her card and said she would love it if I could donate a painting to the silent auction coming up and I should be sure to contact her.
All this is lovely and all well and good, but for me the best part was, a few days before, I mentioned to my husband that I would love to have my art help children. The card she handed to me read “French-American Aid For Children, Inc. — added, too, was Help for children of ‘Hurricane Sandy.’
Fast forward, we emailed back and forth, and a painting was chosen to appear in their Silent Auction coming up on Friday.
Because of the ‘chatter’ she got to know my spirit and, sight unseen, knew she would like my artwork. However, I never once mentioned what I was working on. Later, she told me that it was my beautiful spirit that helped her see that my art would be right for the auction. These words touched my heart and soul.
Virtual gallery on artist’s website
by Gregory Packard, Montrose, CO, USA
Have you looked into any of the 3-D software for web sites, which can help an artist create a virtual experience? I found one from a New Zealand company that is very reasonably priced and am really impressed with it. I think it’s the neatest thing to come along for artists to show their work and create a gallery-like experience in a long time. Eventually this stuff will be widely used by artists and retailers, and with much more elaborate features for the room and atmosphere, etc. which are already available on high-end software.
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Enjoy the past comments below for Confessions of a puny little guy…
mixed media, 24 x 48 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Linnette Johnson of Austell, Georgia, USA, who wrote, “This is an eye opener.”
And also Hammi Mussalem of Facebook who wrote, “Well based and informed criticism like Robert has given for the attempted face drawing of Ann Price is the sort of thing we need to see more often on this site.”