Did you ever notice when you’re driving a car over familiar territory you can fail to notice high-profile landmarks such as tunnels, bridges or bypasses? Distracted by the car radio, fantasy, or in-car conversation, the miles can wind by in blind oblivion.
On the other hand, truly alert and engaged driving is often reserved for new territory. Around-the-corner surprises make the trip more interesting.
Something similar happens at the easel. While creativity depends on curiosity and discovery, the expression of art also benefits from some form of mild distraction.
We’re all familiar with the value of music, discs, audio-books and radio. With benefit of speakerphone or headset, a few painters spend time on the telephone. Some others encourage studio companions — often family or fellow travellers. Even a studio assistant, bookkeeper, canvas primer or a non-vacuuming cleaner-upper is a welcome presence in many studios.
During some periods of high easel activity, the Southwest painter R.C. Gorman was reported to have employed a foot-masseuse.
The “painting telebuddy concept,” as pioneered on this site, is still in its infancy. Two or more artists agree to work together over the phone or by Skype. In the telephone version, wide ranging back-and-forth conversations set the creative brain into a kind of soporific free flow. Generally a specific time frame is chosen. Amazing things can be accomplished together over the phone in one hour. Skype has the added feature of pleasant, companionable periods of dead air, which may or may not be beneficial.
Requirements of the telebuddy system include the avoidance of questions. Right-brain, free-flow creativity is made more effective with the benefit of gossip, anecdote, or some sort of mutual stroking. Leave the questions for the art. Creative questions and answers to the work at hand need to snake automatically through the neural ganglia.
Quality art cannot be made completely in the automatic zone. That’s why, when the phone is hung up or Skype is closed down, you need to drive down that road again as if you are in new territory. Fact is, you really need to become fully alert at least several times in the production of every work. That’s just another reason to go down several roads at the same time.
PS: “Art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction.” (Saul Bellow)
Esoterica: Regarding studio companions, Susie Cipolla of Whistler, British Columbia writes, “Four or five painters get together weekly for ‘Masterpiece Tuesdays.’ Some days there are just two of us and other days all five show up in my studio. There is no agenda and all conversations are welcome. We talk or listen and paint at the same time. Some days there is lots of chatting and other days very little. The casual critiques and one-liners (‘try glazing that’ or ‘get rid of that tree’) help us to see things we might not see until it’s too late.”
While talking on the phone
by Becky McMahon, Surrey, BC, Canada
I thought I was the only one who painted while talking on the phone! I have a weekly phone call to my Mother and we catch up on what’s going on in our lives. While we talk I often pick up my brush and paint on whatever is handy. I’ve done so well I even received an award for one of my paintings in a juried show. I am completely relaxed when I do paint, perhaps because I don’t have any expectations for the painting. I am “just doodling.” I have always doodled when talking on the phone or in a meeting. I find it helps fill the time and helps me sit still. I’m glad to hear it works for other people as well.
There is 1 comment for While talking on the phone by Becky McMahon
When the talking stops
by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA
Sounds like a dubious idea. With computers in every corner of our lives, I guess some will latch onto this and run with it. This seems to be going toward a future I will not be a part of eventually. The new technology has invaded every segment of society and now cyber paint-buddies. I think these already exist in the form of art clubs around the nation. Many of the members of these groups either don’t have the time or the knowledge to use computers. Also computers take time away from the painting process. I prefer to have my “buddy” sitting beside me on a porch in the shade chewing the “paint” fat. Even with buddies today, our time together isn’t used discussing art. We’ve learned that art is something done when the talking stops and you lock yourself up in the studio to hammer out your ideas.
There are 3 comments for When the talking stops by Rick Rotante
Interactive and stimulating
by Barbara Allen Frost, Westerville, OH, USA
I teach metal enameling at the Columbus, Ohio Cultural Arts Center two nights a week, with very full classes, up to 15 students at 5 kilns. I find it is very, very interactive and stimulating to be in that situation, and I know that all the others in the class feel the same, especially the beginners. On occasion, I have friends or family over to my tiny basement enameling studio, and we have terrific enameling days with a lot of give and take going on even as we bump into each other.
You are so right about having the buddy system, although I never thought of it that way before. Too bad my computer is on the second floor and my studio is in the basement. But, maybe I could use a speaker phone. I am in an online art club, but there are only 4 of us doing it now.
There is 1 comment for Interactive and stimulating by Barbara Allen Frost
Real-life painting buddy
by Rebecca Stebbins, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
Real-life painting buddy works for me — and gets me out, as well. She and I have also had multiple 2-person shows of our landscape paintings, “One View, Two Visions.” When I’m in the studio alone I have a variety of music, with and without words, so I can dance back from the canvas for a different view. Sometimes I don’t even hear it, and other times I do.
Plein-air painting buddy
by Brenda Swenson, South Pasadena, CA, USA
There’s nothing like the real thing when it comes to a “Sketching Buddy.” Last month I got out of town for a 4-day sketching trip to Ojai, California. My good friend Judy Schroeder joined me. Judy and I have been friends for years and sketching with watercolor has always been the driving focus of our trips. We look at these trips as a way to recharge our creative battery and look for new subject matter. We have gone on road trips to Napa, San Diego, Sedona, a boat to Catalina Island, flown to North Carolina, and traveled on a river barge from the Czech Republic to Dresden Germany and I can’t forget wonderful Tuscany.
I cannot express how important it is to have a sketching buddy. Neither of our husbands enjoys travel like we do. If I did not have a friend like Judy I wouldn’t have visited most of the places I have. Judy works faster than me but she is generally happy to do two sketches to my one. We are drawn to similar subject matter and seem to keep a pace that suits us both. I can’t say most people would like to sketch and paint as much as we do (more than once we have had friends join us only to have them drop off quickly). In the evening we finish what we started during the day. Often we will critique each other’s work. I trust Judy’s friendship and good eye. Judy is the owner of the Schroeder Studio Gallery in Orange, CA.
Another reason it is important to have a sketching buddy is for safety. I hate to admit it but there are people out there who would like to do harm. Having a buddy nearby creates another set of eyes. I am very careful not to make myself an easy target for any crime. Most of the people we meet are genuinely interested in what we are doing and very friendly. Final reason to have a sketching buddy is it is always more fun to share the experience with a friend!
There are 2 comments for Plein-air painting buddy by Brenda Swenson
Best buddy on same wavelength
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Port Moody, BC, Canada
I am relieved that you added at the end that attention is needed a few times throughout the work. I was afraid that you were promoting zombie art.
I don’t know very much about the brain, but I read about an experiment of measuring (some kind of?) brain activity while people did various things and different zones of the brain get “fired up.” Interestingly, driving to and from work showed no activity at all (of the kind they were measuring). Incidentally, that is the time when people reported to come up with solutions to difficult problems they were not able to solve during the working hours. So you have got something here — for creative solutions the brain seems to prefer doing a predictable, well known activity, rather than concentrating on a problem.
For the studio buddy concept, your assumption is that the buddy is someone you can trust to have a similar mindset as yours, soft voice and overall a calming effect. That could work. I am okay alone, but a day is more enjoyable when there is a buddy in my studio. Mine produces a low level of pleasant noise, a feeling of happy self-sufficient activity and occasionally a cup of tea and a snack.
Getting into the zone
by Moyra Ashford, Hereford, UK
What a wonderful letter today! Of so many devices I use to get into the zone, your letters and the responses are one — knowing that there are people out there who think my thoughts is like having a buddy. I love the idea of “driving down the road again as if you are in new territory.” Sometimes when I find myself in the stuck/tight place, I find closing my eyes and reciting the Lord’s Prayer can do the trick. Can I offer three things that help me on the way to “snaking automatically through the neural ganglia”? One is going to art classes. As against getting friends together, I find the formality of a fixed time in an outside venue very helpful and, although I’d term myself in the professional category, being in a group of very mixed ability, sometimes doing quite basic exercises, under the guidance of a sympathetic teacher, is a wonderful balm. There is nothing quite like that silence of an art room full of people concentrating on the day’s task. It has often shown me new possibilities and knocked me out of habits I was not even aware of. The hard bit is abandoning everything I know to follow the teacher’s instructions to the letter as if I’m a total beginner. (Of course, one needs a sensitive teacher — ours is Jenny Lagnado from Hounslow, UK, who I’d love to pay tribute to on this site). The second thing I do — in fairly short bursts — is sketch while watching television. Most of the results are truly disastrous, but just occasionally I’ve captured something — a wicked-eyed Keith Richards, a gasping Andy Murray. I sometimes try to work really fast to capture movement — from programs like competition gymnastics or ‘Strictly Come Dancing.’ Finally, my third helper, a bit like the Lord’s Prayer, is the Alcoholics Anonymous pledge of ‘Just for today.’ As you can imagine, (to paraphrase AA philosophy) there are many things one can do for a day that would terrify us if we had to do them for a lifetime!
There is 1 comment for Getting into the zone by Moyra Ashford
No multi-tasking while painting
by Sheila Minifie, Hereford, UK
Honestly, Robert, that sounds horrendous to me. I need time to get into the ‘zone’: into listening to the depths of my own inner voice/vision and also to being aware of what is on the painting or not on the painting. If I’m not attentive and can’t change it, then maybe some chore in the studio or a break might be in order. I don’t need or want distraction. Am I bored that I should want it? Am I painting the bathroom?
I know that while in the free flowing of painting or sculpting you experience ‘things’ or ideas that you didn’t intend and are outside your surface but I wouldn’t want them mixed up with someone else’s thoughts and feelings however right-brained. Some people believe these new aspects come from the subconscious, from the Inner Self, or from God. Whatever you believe, the chances of them coming through, I feel, are lessened by your mind being pulled or pushed by another, however simpatico or usefully different. Perhaps one’s attitude to the limitations of the conditioned inner dialogue (art theory, art history, what to cook for dinner) and a positive view of a meditative consciousness helps. I can drift quite easily without distraction and not into unconsciousness but into the atmosphere of my own world or the voice of what is in front of me.
A phone call from a creative friend might refresh me, but I would stop work to do that. I can’t listen with two ears or speak with two voices at the same time. I multi-task at other times.
I do admit to sometimes using music, but that can be a two-edged sword. Am I listening to someone else’s vision or my own? I think I must be very introverted, because I wouldn’t want anyone else in my studio with their own atmosphere or their own priorities, feelings and ideas.
The foot massage sounds fun but how distracting!
There are 4 comments for No multi-tasking while painting by Sheila Minifie
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 Dee Poisson of Alberta, Canada, who wrote, “A distracted right brain lets the left brain work.”
And also Carol Putman of Northern California, USA, who wrote, “I am so easily distracted that when I paint with anyone else, I cannot get anything done and come home empty-handed. I’m one of those people who can’t paint and chew gum at the same time.”
Enjoy the past comments below for A painting buddy…