Yesterday, Grey Darden of Valley Head, West Virginia wrote, “Do you ever just fool around experimenting with your paints, paper and tools? Just for fun? Not trying to stay on style? Would you ever ask subscribers if they might show their experimental work on the Painter’s Keys site? Does anybody take time out for fun stuff?”
Thanks, Grey. I have to admit to a particular deviation. Let me explain. Anyone familiar with the miracle of acrylic has tried throwing in texture-enhancing items like muslin, doilies and leaves. Things I haven’t resisted include confetti, streamers and sparkle. My sparkle period lasted a full summer. While it added body and a crumbly texture and seemed like a good idea at the time, it also added an undesirable tartiness, like a girl with “George” tattooed across her front, especially when your name isn’t George. I didn’t feel guilty. The misguided nature of my sorties is not to be disparaged. For an artist, play is both necessary and unavoidable. Unlike the girl’s tattoo, creative play doesn’t have to be permanent.
Other items I’ve added to my acrylics include spaghetti, tortellini, vermicelli, the internal workings of clocks, radios, cameras, toys, nuts, screws, nails, bones, shells, pebbles, sand, bark mulch, crockery, springs, bathroom and toilet implements, human prosthetics, cellphone parts, computer motherboards, old automobile accessories and vintage engine parts. It’s inexcusable, I know, but I can’t help it. Maybe I’ve got a bad gene.
FYI, acrylics lock down this sort of stuff in perpetuity and seal away the bugs that eat the biodegradable bits.
Practically all the “great ones” have mentioned the value of play. “Play is the exultation of the possible,” said Martin Buber. “Play is the essential feature in productive thought,” said Albert Einstein. The American conceptual artist and minimalist Sol LeWitt declared, “Your work isn’t a high stakes, nail-biting professional challenge. It’s a form of play. Lighten up and have fun with it.” Using the above authorities as backup, I’m sticking to my deviation.
By the way, nail-bitings go nicely into acrylics too. Anyway, don’t say anything about this. I pretty well keep these things between me and my counselor. But if you feel you want to share your own ideas of fun and games, please do.
PS: “Whoever wants to understand much must play much.” (Gottfried Benn)
Esoterica: There’s a kind of purposeful madness when you deviate from your serious path. I see it as a recess from regular labour. It definitely reboots the muse. “Necessity may be the mother of invention, but play is certainly the father,” says creativity coach Roger von Oech. If you ever doubted the value of play, take a look at what the great thinkers, inventors and artists have to say about play in our very own Resource of Art Quotations. (You may even find yourself quoted in there.)
Conceived in the same sandbox
by Susan Holland, Bellevue, WA, USA
If anyone has ever taken time to look at the integrity of the direct, guileless artwork of children, they will see that art and play are conceived in the same sandbox. One of the best things a live model can do is be silly and playful in the warm-up poses. We had a lady of a certain age who got us rolling with such funny quick-sketch poses. This is incredibly powerful stuff with which to start a painting workshop!
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by Dwight Williams, Meridian, ID, USA
I could not just write an ordinary answer to the letter on playing. So, for what it’s worth, here is a group of watercolors that all began with no thought except to move some paint, have fun and see what happens. Some of these have made it into juried shows and more than one received awards. Most of them are about 15″ x 22″. This is one of your best messages yet. Those who write you with various troubles painting would probably find the solution by simply playing.
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by Alex Nodopaka, Lake Forest, CA, USA
Until Marcel Duchamp’s only human hair and bugs caught in drying varnish were sealed in silent compositions. Such additions come with boredom with media and the desire to add a third dimension by making a 2-D work 3-D. Trompe l’oeil wasn’t enough to gratify the eye and was too tedious to achieve, so why not glue in a whale or display a cow in a glass tank. Myself I went overboard with that technique. Now I enjoy leaving some such works for months outdoors and seal the mold and some have blinking lights and windup music boxes attached to their rears. I even incorporated found ready-mades into sculptures and called them Tableaux Vivants.
The Mad Hatter
by Maryann Hendriks, Kelowna, BC, Canada
You go to your creative place, intent on doing something fresh and new, original, extreme, you’re going to spin heads this time, heck, you’re going to spin your own. You unharness that beast, the one that preaches the rules, monitors checks and balances. Now the lizard has no scales; the horse sheds its hide, roping that naked fauna inside the crazy journey begins, imagination has the reins, it’s the chauffer, you’re just along for the ride. This is going to be fun! Slashing strokes. Colour explosion. Canvas covered from top to bottom. Hit it with pigment again, and again. Breathe. Sometimes the ‘fun’ is just so intense you forget to breathe. Don’t know if you are sweating, crying or laughing, sometimes two together, sometimes three. Exasperation or exhilaration? A little more, a bit further, tweak it again. Just one more. Stop! Now you are totally exposed. Did you leave them in the dust, are they laughing, are they laughing at you? “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?” (The Mad Hatter, Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass)
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Intellect takes a break
by Kristine Fretheim, Maple Grove, MN, USA
I call them my “In-Betweens.” I play with them between work on my larger, more “grown-up” paintings, and I pretty much keep them to myself. It’s sweet release to simply experiment and play with color — what happens if this color glazes over that one? Will it pop or recede sitting next to this one? Oops — too dark. Scrub it off. Russian artist, Wassily Kandinsky is said to have experienced synesthesia, a kind of mixing of the senses. I like to play with that idea, particularly color and sound. Colors can invoke tactile sensations and scents, too. These are not your everyday kind of experiences. Sometimes I can get so caught up in busyness my senses go to sleep. Demanding nothing, these play-periods allow the senses to wake up and take the lead, while the intellect takes a break.
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The rise of ‘PlayArt’
by Ernst Lurker, East Hampton, NY, USA
“Does anybody take time out for fun stuff?” almost borders on heresy in the art world, at least in the vast majority. It is true, Bob went all out with powerful quotes on play, and he has an impressive collection of those. But the sad fact is, art dealers, museum curators and even most artists want to be taken seriously. They worry about their reputation, and play generally does not qualify as art. Curators maintain they cannot get funding for such stuff. That’s one side of the story.
The other side is there is hope! We have a vast art movement with more than 1,000 artists called PlayArt. The chronology on the Website shows an extensive and colorful history, with early beginnings at MoMA and a museum project in Berlin that lost its funding. There are numerous images and videos on the site. These people are committed to their form of play and they are trying to educate the public. There were also numerous breakthroughs in the history, such as the Munich Olympics, but the bottom line is PlayArt is still an underground movement and virtually unknown outside its own circles, in spite of the large number of artists. There are reasons for this, and they are explained on the Website.
by Jan Ross, Kennesaw, GA, USA
Sometimes a quirky theme can get the ball rolling to places one never considered. Recently, my work was accepted in a juried show encouraging work pertinent to eggs, chickens and roosters, as a festival in an area with a high number of chicken farms. It’s hard to take poultry too seriously, but I was inspired by a couple of historically famous artists to create two award-winning ones.
But speaking of odd situations, I learned of an artist who’s got more work than she can handle and is making money hand over fist. Very macabre concept to me, but truly ‘creative.’ She incorporates the ashes of the deceased in their portrait! I’m guessing the medium is acrylic. Have you heard of this before?
(RG note) Thanks, Jan. This is a new one to me, with the possible exception of “mummy,” a brown pigment made from the bones of Egyptian mummies from the 1800s to the 1920s. The idea of including ashes in a portrait might impart a unique authenticity. You might expect viewers of the work to say, “That’s him all over.” I once encountered a posthumous painting where the artist had used swatches from the deceased’s wedding dress and maybe even her baby dress. The dress was strong, but the likeness was weak.
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Found objects saved the canvas
by Deborah Dicker, Belmont, ON, Canada
I knifed through a canvas that had frustrated me and in the process I cut through a perfectly good brand new one. It was 3 feet x 4 feet — too large to write off. So I started to play. I used gels and sands and torn canvas, trying different stones and shells. It inspired me to try papers and cardboard plaster and glue. Since then I have molded and sculpted some amazing creations. In the one I’ve attached, I found a bucket of what I thought were permanently abandoned drum sticks.
Painting on odd objects
by Steve Randall, Sioux Falls, SD, USA
Just for fun, and maybe with some curiosity and a sense of adventure, I decided to experiment with acrylics and volunteered to ‘paint’ some rain barrels to be raffled off at local public events. Painting on a curved surface — in the round, if you will — was a great learning experience. I had to add ‘turning the barrel’ to ‘stepping back’ to review my work. Anyway, if you paint on fiberglass and throw on an auto body polymer coating for protection, it should last a while in the back yard and the raffles were quite successful. Now, on to that fiberglass horse.
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Forays into the unknown
by Veronica Funk, Airdrie, AB, Canada
Even though I love to paint interiors, there are days in which I am not motivated or inspired at all. In addition to coordinating and participating in local public art projects (i.e. painting on chairs and murals — www.creativeairdrie.ca), I also occasionally get involved in group-altered media projects for a fun creative diversion. Though I typically paint larger vibrant interior pieces, I find that working in a variety of media helps to open myself to new colour and methods of working. These little forays into the unknown help me to better understand the properties of my materials and also mean that I come back to my ‘regular’ work excited once again.
Letting loose in portraiture
by Sonia Gadra, Frederick, MD, USA
Funny you should mention this! For a recent class assignment, I painted a portrait in the manner of Guiseppe Arcinboldo (1527-1593) “just for fun.” Arcinboldo had a great sense of humor. He enjoyed painting the emperor in a humorous manner of which the emperor seemed to enjoy and never felt intimidated by the manner in which he was interpreted. At first I felt frustration in doing such a portrait but as time went on, it turned into great fun and an opportunity to be creative in a different way. I think it’s important for artists to let loose and not be so serious all the time, especially portrait artists. It’s relaxing and gives you a different perspective on life. Take time to have fun.
Best art quotes anywhere
by Edith Rae Brown, Greenvale, NY, USA
I just had to tell you once again. You and your staff are absolutely amazing! Your e-mails are on the mark each and every time. If I was only able to get one e-mail it would be yours. Your website is fantastic. I just spent time going through the Resource of Art Quotations, which is something I love. I never took the time to go through the Play section. The site is so chock full of wonderful information and so thought provoking. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
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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 Brenda Estill of Alberta, Canada, who wrote, “My best works are when I abandon logic and reason and paint quickly, letting the child in me do my paintings. I can’t wait to get to kindergarten each day.”
And also Mark Hope of Wasaga Beach, ON, Canada, who wrote, “‘The more complex the mind, the more the need for the simplicity of play.’ Quote from ‘Star Trek’ the original TV series.”
And also Peggy Guichu of Phoenix, AZ, USA, who wrote, “I have a problem with my brain. Sometimes it thinks it has a mind of its own.”
Enjoy the past comments below for Just for fun?…