Head game


Dear Artist,

When recently asked what studio task on tomorrow’s agenda she was most looking forward to, Bulgarian painter Oda Jaune replied that she preferred to think she had zero tasks, even while finishing preparations for a show. “When I go to bed, I never think that I will have any specific task in the studio the next day.” Jaune said this freedom makes her feel like anything is possible, and allows her “to not know how the work will turn out.”

Where sky shines, 2015 Oil on canvas Size: 190 x 280 cm by Oda Jaune (b. 1979)

Where sky shines, 2015
Oil on canvas
190 x 280 cm
by Oda Jaune (b. 1979)

I thought about my own bedtime-thinking ritual. If the day has been generous with triumphs, a kind of personal momentum curls up into a happy slumber, in anticipation of more fun the following day. A day of setbacks, however, makes for a genuine feeling of starting over. It’s not a terrible feeling – just a familiar one – one that requires a good head game. A good head game is what my doubles partner mentioned on the pickleball court the other morning: “You’ve got to have a good head game,” she said, right after zenning her way through three sets. Appropriately, I was the only one sweating.

House 2 Oil on canvas 65 x 50 cm by Oda Jaune

House 2
Oil on canvas
65 x 50 cm
by Oda Jaune

If one were a painter of fantastical oils depicting unconventional worlds like Oda Jaune’s, for example — a good head game might involve a nightly reset of the subconscious mind. Think of blank-slating as a useful stop-gap to procedural roteness, box-ticking, paint-by-numbers. Mind its dangers, though: destinationless meandering, or perhaps a failure to complete, brought on by the Groundhog Day-like sameness of each beginning. Then again, perhaps not knowing where one is, an effective path to discovery. If one struggles to know where to begin, however, a few “to-do’s” in the morning can work as a kick-start. “Always leave something a little unfinished on the easel each night,” my Dad would advise. “It gives you something fun to get on with, first thing. Before you know it, your coffee will be cold.”



Evermore, 2017 Oil on canvas 230 x 180 cm by Oda Jaune

Evermore, 2017
Oil on canvas
230 x 180 cm
by Oda Jaune

PS: “I love the morning, I love entering the studio, taking a first glance at the works that have just spent the night on their own. I love mixing fresh colors on my pallet. My eyes are rested, I am full of dreams and courage. I see my brushes touching the canvas for the first time, and that makes me the happiest in the world… feeling that it all begins now and that everything is possible!” (Oda Jaune)

Esoterica: “Full of dreams and courage” is the name of our art game. We, alone with only our ideas, are spared the head game of GM Ian Nepomniachtchi, thumped by GM Magnus Carlsen at the 2021 FIDE World Chess Championship last month. Nepomniachtchi left the room after each of his moves, so as not to watch his opponent advance. I took this to mean that to stay would be too painful. In painting, there is no adversary – but like chess, there is a wonderful and infinite puzzle to work out, to love and honour, and to live with, forever if it suits us. It waits, with no clock, for us to enter the maze, or to build it, or to try again. For our effort, we’re granted knowledge – of ourselves and the technology. “I started by just sitting by the chessboard exploring things. I didn’t even have books at first, and I just played by myself,” said Magnus Carlson. “I learnt a lot from that, and I feel that it is a big reason why I now have a good intuitive understanding of chess.”

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“It is above all by the imagination that we achieve perception, compassion and hope.” (Ursula K. LeGuin)



  1. I believe creative people create a unique way to get their work done…lists, picture notes, calendar marks, reminders of various forms, unfinished work left on easels or in hallways, etc. The word “task” doesn’t register as I get more done by just doing it. Words on paper may help as reminders but they do not motivate me – my heart does – so I make sure that is where I look first. It is possible to know the way to your work and not be able to explain it. Just do it and be thankful for the day! Thank you for the letter and unique artwork to start my day with.

  2. “Always leave something a little unfinished on the easel each night,” my Dad would advise. ”
    I love that advice I have found it useful to have 3 to 5 paintings in various stages of development on multiple easels in my studio. This allows drying time between layers and assessment with fresh eyes later since my attention is given to the other works in turn. When I finish one, a new canvas goes on the vacated easel and I get started on the initial drawing/design work. I have found this really helps a lot with white canvas syndrome. I can’t allow myself to get too satisfied with a just finished work and go into a period of rest. The other unfinished works demand attention and working on them seems to beget new ideas for the next one.
    Thank you for this post. I enjoyed reading about Oda Jaune’s process.

  3. “In painting, there is no adversary.” I beg to differ. In painting, as with any creative endeavour, there is always at least one adversary. More often than not, there might be several. Sometimes it’s the tools or materials. It might even be the artist themself. Or the idea. Either way, an act of creation is a concrete way of *overcoming* an adversary. What better ‘victory’ can there possibly be than creating something that did not exist before? As musician Neil Finn insightfully declared, years ago, in one of his songs with Crowded House “colour is its own reward”.

  4. Ah, a good head game, yes that’s what I will work on for 2022. I was asked last month if I wanted to do another show with the gallery that represents me for Fall 2022. The last time I did one was for Fall 2020, which meant I climbed on the wild painting ride in the beginning of the year, right at the same time Covid pandemic announced itself on the world. Among other hurdles around here, I recall well the stresses and nightmares of that giant deadline looming, feeling and hearing that inner voice.. I can’t I can’t I can’t… that kept me awake at night. I did manage to paint some good paintings, a miracle I never quite fully understand, but there it is, the magic of art, eh. But I was a mess by the end of it, crashing lows and highs my ego couldn’t control. Looking back, it didn’t need to be that way. So, since I am a firm believer in the miracle of art, and a relentlessly stubborn problem solver who can’t give up, I said sure, I’d love to do a show. I can hear my mom saying I’m nuts, she never could understand how I kept on with painting after all the whining I’d unload on her on the phone. A good head game, thank you, Sara, this time I will be better with my good head game. :)

  5. “Always leave something a little unfinished on the easel each night,” — I love that, It is something that I realized with my watercolors…. I would do one a day in my car, I would finish one and start the next to be finished the following day. something about the colors maturing and coming together on their own in the quiet of night perhaps. Also in ceramics, after a throwing or handbuilding session, the next morning always produced surprises I was unawares of the night before. And so now with oils I find the same holds true as the pigments and oils merge and co-mingle on a level imperceptable as I gaze, but develops in the quiet of the night.

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