Some of us, mature and otherwise, beg daily for greater foolery. Others, beginners included, often feel that’s what we’re doing anyway. This letter is about the business of fooling around as a vital part of the creative process.
With accumulated understanding, the hard-won building of technical skills and the knowledge that you can accomplish the same ends with a variety of approaches, you give yourself permission to just “do it.” Here are a few ideas:
Artists tend to get used to doing things in a certain order. Reverse, or at least vary, your usual order. The starting order, particularly, can often be quite arbitrary.
You may have a tendency to finish certain areas or subjects within the work. Try to leave some passages unfinished in the knowledge that you will return to them later.
Many of us have a tendency to “conceive and execute.” The “foolery way” is to make it up as you go along. Leave your options open.
We also have a tendency to over-involve and obsess about things. Back off, move around, look around, loosen up.
We all have areas in our work that disappoint and tumble toward the substandard. Often, another time, another piece of music, will reboot the quality.
If your work depresses you, and depresses you more as you go, you need to get happy. Count your blessings. Count your winnings. Take a few minutes to fly the flag of optimism. I don’t know about you, but I often feel I’m getting drunk on a painting. It’s better to be a happy drunk than a mean one.
We also have the tendency to get too serious. Besides asking “What could be?” you need to ask “How can I play here?” “Play,” said Martin Buber, “is the exultation of the possible.”
Take chances. Fooling around includes making boo-boos. In most media you can pretty well always cover up your boo-boos. In this way, ours is a unique sport.
Creativity, invention and exploration all stem from the same root. Not every member of the community puts forth these shoots. The business of invention is the act of trying this and that. The making of art needs to be a dynamic, evolving event, of joyfully trying this and that. To keep both yourself and your viewers interested, it has to be.
PS: “Whoever wants to understand much must play much.” (Gottfried Benn)
Esoterica: As most people know, I paint the landscapes of my life — mountains, lakes and motifs of the West Coast of Canada. While I try lots of otherworldly things that turn my crank, I try to include the ideas mentioned above, whether on location or in the studio, from life or out of my head. The same principles apply no matter what you’re painting. On Monday, I chose the theme, “Emblems of the Coast.” This morning I framed and hung them in our hallway.
Emblems of the Coast
Favourite work comes from play
by Linda Muttitt, Fort Langley, BC, Canada
What I’ve discovered for myself to help me loosen around the edges, from the blurry to the sharp ones, is to play. I grab watercolour crayons, the ones that feel in hand like the wax crayons I loved to colour with as a kid, stick my finger in water and smear them around, cut the pages of my journal and find ways to express something without planning it out. It’s like a playbook for adults. Another thing that works for me is waking up, grabbing some water to slurp, head into the studio and grab any inspiration along the way and begin to move my brush — no drawing, no pre-sketching, just allowing myself to hardly wake up while I splash the watercolour around. Some of my favourite work has come with this play. It brightens and loosens my spirit, and I carry that joy into my larger paintings. The world feels new, so my paintings are looser and fresher.
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Switched to giant paintings
by Jeri Lynn Ing, Red Deer, AB, Canada
After painting a One-A-Day painting for a year I realized that I had learned a great deal about perspective, color, brushwork and discipline. What I needed to relearn was the “fun of painting.” I decided to experiment with large, 6 x 4 feet canvas and pour, dip, throw, roll and drip the paint. I used the paintings from my previous year as the inspirational thumbnails and let the paintings carry me to their own conclusions. The results delighted me. I was both amazed and excited by the process. I did 17 of these large paintings and decided to show them as a group. I will always be thankful for this experience and I will forever carry this process with me to each of my paintings — while having a great amount of fun.
Break out with graffiti
by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada
This letter arrives at an unusual time. I have a few embers in the fire, some projects for the fall and a commission or two may happen but I’m twiddling my thumbs and trying to recapture my youth. Art supply stores are always a great inspiration to me, then again, so is a paying client. The other day I was intrigued by some graffiti supplies I found called “KRINK.” These are used by the young, hip-hop crowd for tagging and marking their territory. There are cool pens, squirt bottles, spray paints and all sporting different nibs and nozzles. The colours are supersonic and inspire images that pop with colour and drips. I am now looking at street tagging in a whole new way and rethinking my approach to canvas. So, I have my ball cap turned around backwards, I am wearing HUGE pants with my boxer shorts exposed and I have dusted off my Chuck Taylor’s.
Ok, ok, I’m almost 50, I don’t look it, but I am fighting it every step of the way.
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Early bad advice
by Vivian Chamberlin
In my early days of painting, a well-known artist in our town said, “Vivian, you should find your way to paint, stick with it and you’ll do well.” But I decided that was really boring. Although I have done representative paintings at times, sometimes I just “fool around.” What fun! I remember one painting I did in a class, a still life, colourful but “blah” so I put a dark coat over it and started wiping it with paper towel. Suddenly it was a city scene at night!
Let the dreamer come through
by Angela Treat Lyon, Kailua, Hawaii, USA
In my 100-paintings project I started a couple months ago , I started out tight as a drum. I was so careful to get the details look just so, copying coast lines, boats, plants and people. After a couple of weeks of being so painstaking, my back hurt and I was bored. I had to loosen up and let the Dreamer come through. Today I had a breakthrough and scribbled my painting-of-the day #38, I Missed You. What fun! I don’t claim to be a great painter by any means, but I sure love it when I get to turn myself loose, fool around, have fun and paint something I like!
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by Shirley Fachilla, TN, USA
I’ve been fooling around with very static poses for about three years in an open portrait studio. There’s my problem. I want it to be a figurative life painting opportunity. I’ve tried several different avenues to make it more how I would like to play. I’ve painted the seated person from the back. I’ve incorporated two views of the same model on the same canvas. I’ve taken it home and put in a famous painting as a part of the composition. This is a lot of fooling around. I mostly love the open studio, I do fully love the people I paint with, the studio I paint in, painting people from life and the built-in play aspect, making a painting when you don’t know the model until you get there.
But I am once again bored, bored, bored with the pose. And yes, I’ve tried for more posing variety but the studio owners won’t go along. Do you have a way for me to get more play into this open studio?
(RG note) Thanks, Shirley. “Everything perishes, everything passes, everything palls,” says the old French proverb. While there’s truth in this for much of life, there need not be for us. You need to be on a mission. You, the artist, have been put in charge of not letting this happen. That’s why we’re so highly paid by those others who tend to get bored.
Blown away with music
by Brenda Behr, Goldsboro, NC, USA
In 2003, I moved from a large northern U.S. city to a small rural Southern town. That September the local arts council invited me over to do some plein air painting at Swinefest, a barbecue picnic fundraiser. “You make us look so real,” the executive director uttered. “What to paint, what to paint,” I asked myself upon arriving. “Aha! Those bluegrass musicians aren’t going to walk off that flatbed truck on which they’re performing.” In not too long a period, I did about eight of these paintings, some with three colors, the others with two. All but two of them sold that day. The remaining two paintings met with much success and opened a few doors for me. And all because I went a different direction that day, painting as fast as I can and in time to the music. If we can dance to music, certainly we can paint to it. In fact, I’d rather paint to music than dance to it. How ’bout we all start a show called “Painting with the Stars”? RG can take the lead.
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Fooling around out and about
by Alex Nodopaka, Lake Forest, CA, USA
I’m a week away from going to Arles to act out Spartacus in the infamous coliseum. Then I’ll whisk myself and my Muse to Venice. I hear the floating detritus in the canals is picturesque. Of course I’ll try to counterweigh Pizza Tower… oops I mean Pisa. But the best time I reserve is for Mougins, France. I want to weewee where the famous & infamous have evacuated before me. And yes I’ll dance en rond on the Pont d’Avignon avec les Demoiselles d’Avignon. I hope Pablo won’t mind me picking one or all and turn a trick on each upon returning home by constructing my own erotic monumental sculpture.
Boo-boos and ‘maker’s marks’
by Jim Lorriman, Shelburne, ON, Canada
As a woodworker who, somewhat successfully, messes around with wood I am constantly looking for different ways of doing things. Sometimes a new way ends up being a mistake. The public does not get to see these — the fireplace does. However, our “boo-boos” are a little harder to cover up than a painter’s might be so we call them “maker’s marks.” We are human after all although at times we feel like gods!
The wisdom of fun
by BJ Bjork, Foxborough, MA, USA
This week I found out that a painting I entered in a show at a very respectable venue had been rejected. This is a place where I am respected and have had many successes. My reaction at first was shock, then anger, and disappointment, until it hit me! This particular Juror wouldn’t know expression of joy and fun if a pie hit him in the face! I’ve been painting for over fifty years and have all the credentials, including the most important, the joy of discovery! This particular painting was done thoughtfully but very fast and in “the zone.” I studied it for weeks and found there was nothing more or less to be done to it without ruining the great value of freshness and expression.
I have found in my years of painting and teaching that:
1. More rules, less fun.
2. More knowledge and experience, allows more fun.
3. Create, don’t copy!
Some people just can’t have a good time. I see fun as a very integral part of wisdom. Watch the kids play. They win, they lose, but if they’re having fun it’s always a good game. “You wouldn’t worry what people thought of you, if you knew how seldom they did.” (Mark Twain)
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Enjoy the past comments below for The fine art of fooling around…
Featured Workshop: Dee Beard Dean
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 Win Dinn of Creston, BC, Canada, of the Painter Turtle Gallery who wrote, “Of course we want to ‘fool around’ — that’s the joy of being an artist. When I abandon playfulness, I feel I’ve lost a vital part of what makes painting enjoyable. The creative process, for me, is essentially taking my inner child out to the playroom in the back of the gallery, throwing her a boxful of paints, mediums and collage fodder, and letting her play for a couple of hours. Yippee! Yahoo! Hooray!”
And also Mel Malinowski who wrote, “One of my regular maxims to my students is, ‘If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning.’ ”
And also Don Cavin of Sutton, ON, Canada, who wrote, “Guilty of being overly serious a lot of the time and frequently in my workshops, I must give the impression that ‘it HAS to be done that way’ or the world will come to an end. We must all try to loosen up when needed.”