The puzzle system

Dear Artist, A fellow painter told me her whole approach was intuitive. “Bob, it’s not that your ideas aren’t intelligent,” she told me, “but I just don’t need to know all that stuff.” After telling me once again she paints how she feels, she went on to say that she wasn’t feeling all that motivated. Later, I was wondering if it might be me un-motivating her. Then I was remembering the many painters over the years who reported poor motivation and who also just happened to be from the intuition camp. Looking into old emails I found statements like, “It feels too easy to be worthwhile,” “I can’t be bothered anymore,” “I don’t know where I’m going,” “All I paint is chaos,” and “What’s the use?” That night I happened to be in an airport departure lounge. I couldn’t help but notice a fellow traveller abandoning her half-completed crossword puzzle on the seat beside her. She had that internal smile that betrayed her satisfaction. That was when my banana ripple fell off its cone. It’s not only finishing the puzzle that satisfies, I realized, it’s going word by word that brings the joy. In painting, I use the puzzle system. I commit myself to one stroke or another at the beginning, then look around to see what my next move might be. Thus, I go from move to move — working out the puzzle — until it’s either completed or abandoned. The puzzle system starts with the proposition that you may not know what to do. The nice part is that, deep down, you have the feeling that you can figure it out. The system draws heavily on the skills of focus and concentration, as well as your accumulated knowledge of techniques and processes. A logical order may be desirable but, as in the case of the recently mentioned ice-cream cone, things can go this way or that. In other words, plenty of opportunities for intuition develop during the game. Further, the process is both additive and subtractive. Things you thought you needed turn out not to be needed; and things you didn’t know were needed are suddenly seen to be needed. Balancing it all is quite an art. Best regards, Robert PS: “Painting is the passage from the chaos of the emotions to the order of the possible.” (Balthus) Esoterica: If you decide to play this sort of game, if only as a test, you’ll find there are challenges. Thinking is needed. As things go this way and that, you may, for example, need to dig for reference you hardly anticipated. Constantly asking the question “What could be?” may take you onto unfamiliar ground–maybe an odyssey of walking among the stars. The byproduct of this sort of structured but exploratory art-making is exhilaration. Thus joyfully obsessed, you may just happen to find yourself motivated. As far as I can see, the work is more like play. “Ludere ludum” said the Roman poet and philosopher Kjerkius Gennius (36 BC), “Play the game.”   What’s all the fuss? by Mahsun Haji Taib, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia  

Dato Mahsun Haji Taib
in front of artwork

When you are in front of landscape you’d already know what to paint, similarly, when the artist is in front of  the model. The artists know what to sketch, draw or paint so why the fuss of not knowing what to do? This puzzles me. (RG note) Thanks, Mahsun. If art was just a matter of copying landscapes or models, you would be rightly puzzled. But it isn’t. Art is the business of passing reality through the miracle of the human imagination. This takes a certain amount of thinking, and it also takes intuition.   There are 3 comments for What’s all the fuss? by Mahsun Haji Taib
From: Karen R. Phinney — Jul 23, 2013

I think it is a matter of solving problems….”how do I make this less prominent than that, even though in reality it’s this colour”, etc. What do I do with this space, or that funny little shape that wouldn’t translate well in paint? Moving things around. Changing a bit here and there. It takes experience to know what looks right there and what doesn’t. And you get that after a lot of painting. Having intuition is one thing, but experience and knowledge is important too. You get that by doing it…a lot.

From: Helen Opie — Jul 23, 2013

Right on! If we are lucky, we get to be old and with experience under our belts which makes us dissatisfied with work that comes fairly easily and does not force us to mine our interiors (imaginations) for all the veins of gold hidden in the middens of our ordinary daily-life history. We probably all have to start with some sort of ‘reportage’, and then we get tired of this bland fare and want to spice it up, make it more ours…and it looks like Mahsun has already gone on from bland fare to mining his interior, going far beyond what is in front of him.

From: Anonymous — Jul 23, 2013

It wasn’t a real question, it would be if the person asking was a child. It sounds like Mahsun was just cheeky towards realist art…but Bob’s note was great.

  So you’re not motivated, eh? by Warren Criswell, Benton, AR, USA  

“Go Ask Alice”
oil painting
by Warren Criswell

Not motivated? Stop complaining! You’ve kicked the addiction! Relax, get a job, get used to sanity! Now you can see that art was a bad idea to begin with. Don’t blame it on intuition. Intuition is useless without thinking, and vise versa. It takes both to solve a puzzle or paint a picture. Marsyas and Apollo get together and create a symphony so terrifying and beautiful that your “motivation” becomes as impossible to avoid as gravity after doing a ski jump off a very high mountain — to mix a few metaphors. It doesn’t matter if you’re driving a Bentley or living under a bridge, there is no 12-step program. And this brotherhood-sisterhood Bob talks about won’t help either. It’s just you and the canvas in the end. So be thankful! You’re clean! Take a deep breath. Go into investment banking. There are 4 comments for So you’re not motivated, eh? by Warren Criswell
From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Jul 23, 2013

This made me laugh- Warren- so thanks!

What intuitive painters often don’t grasp is that you still have to be your own critic- both during the art-making process and near the end- when it is your left-brain that will take over and sign the piece. Your left-brain is also responsible for framing- sending it to a gallery or entering it in a juried show- and then even selling it. So if an intuitive painter can’t do all the other things required of an artist- the painting won’t ever go any further that the studio wall.
From: Anonymous — Jul 24, 2013

Intuition gives you something to think about.

From: Michael McDevitt — Jul 24, 2013

Nice to see Alice grew out of those old duds, but who is this guy that failed to eat the ‘larger’ pill?

From: Warren Criswell — Jul 31, 2013

Thanks, Michael. I know that bottle is around here somewhere….

  Confessions of a puzzle person by Judith R Birnberg, Sherman Oaks, CA, USA  

original painting
by Judith R Birnberg

I found this letter revealing of my own approach: I think of myself as an intuitive painter, but I also do the NYT crossword puzzle every day and have a certain way to do them. The crosswords and artwork seem to mesh.

You wrote, “I commit myself to one stroke or another at the beginning, then look around to see what my next move might be. Thus, I go from move to move — working out the puzzle — until it’s either completed or abandoned.” My beginning crossword “strokes” are to find the clues that contain blanks and fill in those answers. (I have read this is what most inveterate puzzlers do.) That’s the easy part. Then I look for the three- and four-space answer slots and do those. Also easy. So far my crossword “painting” has small spots of words here and there — no developed areas. Next I go through all the across clues and do what I can. My painting is looking a little healthier. Then I do the same for the down clues. The painting is developing. I do a fair amount of guessing — that’s the intuitive part–and often it accomplishes a great deal. On Sundays, the puzzle always contains a gimmick, referred to in the title of the puzzle. Figuring out the gimmick can do a lot to get me to the end — or it can waylay me. I never look up an answer. My paintings and collages are developed along the same lines: I do the easy parts first, the ones I know are right. But a fair amount of intuition and guesswork is also involved, and usually those places add to the developing whole. I used to have problems deciding when the painting was finished, but now I see when the last “word” has been filled in. There is nowhere else to move. And I didn’t have a gimmick/theme to trip me up. There is 1 comment for Confessions of a puzzle person by Judith R Birnberg
From: Anna Rolin — Jul 23, 2013

Hi! I love your painting. Do you have a website where I can see more? Your work is inspiring!

  Just stop! by Gail Caduff-Nash, Mountain home, NC, USA  

“Glads of Summer”
original painting
by Gail Caduff-Nash

Sometimes people ought to just stop. My brother once bought a ton of stained glass equipment. He created the most delightful lamp shade. He never made anything after that. He’d done what he wanted to do and that was enough. Production art is not what it’s about for everybody. Or even that attempt to scale our own personal Mount Everest. I painted a gannet once. I don’t want to paint another one. It was good. If you believe in a creator (and I don’t), “He” looked and saw it was good. And stopped apparently because we’ve never found another planet like our own out there in the galactic art gallery. Nature is wonderful in her ability to make no two snowflakes alike. There are 6 comments for Just stop! by Gail Caduff-Nash
From: Catherine Stock — Jul 23, 2013

Very nice painting, but I am bothered by the diagonal ripple in the cloth that cuts between the vase and the peach. Was this deliberate?

From: Nan Fiegl — Jul 23, 2013

The ripple of cloth immediately bothered me too.

From: Sarah — Jul 24, 2013


From: Gert — Jul 25, 2013

I am more concerned that you do not believe in our creator.

From: Moike — Jul 28, 2013

It has no soul. It is just a picture.

From: Jeanne Rhea — Aug 20, 2013

Gert, I do not understand why you would make such a comment. If you personally knew atheists and agnostics and see the value that they bring to society and humanity, I think that you would not be so concerned. At the very least, you would keep that concern to yourself. I see no reason in this situation for you to post this comment. If you are so concerned, maybe you could send a private email. Then you would have my respect.

  A process of self-discovery by Linda Murray, Bath, ME, USA  

“After The Rain”
acrylic painting
by Linda Murray

I’ve never heard the intuitive process described so accurately. You are right, you do use your mind, although it is not in the controlled manner one might think. Keeping it at bay and only allowing it to interfere when needed is part of the challenge. When you straddle the line between intuition and thoughtful reference it is a game that is addictive. While many may choose to carefully plan a painting, I find beginning with no idea but with trust that it will all turn out alright the best approach. This game is also a process of self-discovery. A challenge of “Can I solve this puzzle?” “Do I have the tools and skills?” “Where will I lead it to completion?” It’s exciting!   There are 3 comments for A process of self-discovery by Linda Murray
From: Diane Artz Furlong — Jul 23, 2013

I LOVE your method, Linda. It makes perfect sense to me. No matter how carefully I plan a painting it NEVER turns out that way. I go where it leads me.

From: Diane Artz Furlong — Jul 23, 2013

I forgot to say I think After the Rain is very beautiful.

From: McCluskey — Jul 23, 2013

I am also an emotional painter, I let the process guide me, but I know that deep within me is the knowledge to execute my work. My brain does play into it, I feel it in the background, but my emotions are what will dictate the final work, if that makes sense. I found this article quite useful. Thanks

  Fun and reflection by Raven McDonough, Venice, FL, USA  

“Release What Does Not Serve You”
collage, 8 x 8 inches
by Raven McDonough

Here’s my creative process: I start with an idea to get me started and don’t picture the final outcome. I let myself be open to new ideas dropping in (or you could call it the creative process) as I work on the collage or painting. At night, I take the work in progress from the studio to the living room and hang it above the TV. I find watching TV at night helps me to relax. During commercials, I glance up at the art work and look at it with fresh eyes in a different setting, with different lighting. Most times, “things” (what’s right, needs to be changed, or added) jump out at me. I jot down these thoughts on a note pad, to take with me to the studio the next morning. Before declaring a collage or painting is finished, I do the same, hang it over the TV for review. When nothing jumps out at me that needs to be changed or added by bedtime, I declare it finished and sign the piece the next morning. For me, if it’s not fun, why bother torturing yourself? Life is too short with too many distractions. “I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with all my heart.” (Vincent van Gogh) There is 1 comment for Fun and reflection by Raven McDonough
From: Helen Opie — Jul 23, 2013

I don’t have TV, but do the same thing when someone telephones me for a long chat (or I phone them). My ears are in the dialogue with my friend, and my eyes are free to roam without the Inner Critic’s barging in – there isn’t enough room in my head for three!

  The case for adlibbing by Gloria Miller Allen, Idaho Falls, ID, USA  

“Canyon Steps”
watercolour painting
by Gloria Miller Allen

I have never used the words “Puzzle System” before, but that is so the way I work. In every way, that is what drives me. I do love solving the puzzle. In fact, that is where the ‘high’ is for me. I tell my students sometimes… “First you make a mark, and then you spend the rest of the time fixing it.” I have said that so many times, that I don’t know if I made it up, or if I heard it elsewhere, but it sure works for me. I have called myself a “Jazz Painter” for many years. I think it is just another term for the same approach. I found out years ago that if I did thumb-nail sketches, and value studies, I was done with it, and ready for the next painting to ‘solve.’ No, I dearly love working it all out in the process of painting. I have learned from teaching that not every artist can live there, or even wants to, but I love making it up as I go, getting into the weeds, and finding my way out. Like a Jazz musician — lots of adlibbing. I say “Whatever works — use it.” I was happy the day I figured this out about myself many years ago. Got rid of all the guilt of not ‘planning ahead.’ Sometimes, I don’t even need a subject. Now that’s fun. I spoke about this approach in my book I Think ~ Therefore I Art which was published last year. There are 4 comments for The case for adlibbing by Gloria Miller Allen
From: Catherine Stock — Jul 23, 2013

“First you make a mark, and then you spend the rest of the time fixing it.” Love that. I think I’ll pilfer it. Thanks.

From: Sherry Purvis — Jul 23, 2013

What an absolutely gorgeous painting. Your use of light and color are so integrated and sensitive.

From: Jackie Knott — Jul 23, 2013

Some artists make one stroke and never touch it thereafter. I’m not that artist, either, and can’t fathom painting like that.

Your Canyon Steps is stunning, in watercolor no less.
From: Rose — Jul 23, 2013

Your painting mesmerizes me….

  Daily painter by Kat Corrigan, Minneapolis, MN, USA  

“The Green House 2”
original painting
by Kat Corrigan

I have been painting seriously and daily since 2009 when my son was born, because I didn’t want to lose the artist part of me and I knew I had to commit or it would fade into a hobby. One of the habits that helped me stick to this idea is the Daily Painter practice, of painting something every day, even if it is small. I found Carol Marine and took a class from her and it was wonderful! In my methodology I set myself up with problems and figure out how to best represent them. Then there is the thoughtfulness about every stroke as well. I was trying to explain that to my adult painting class the other night, the “intention” of a stroke, the thinking about where it should go and what direction it should be to best represent what you are looking at. I can see having “intuitive” painting as a way of growing your personal mark and getting comfortable with the movement of paint, but I agree that if it is too easy it will get boring and unsatisfying.   The discovery of abstraction by Pam Carter, Wellington, ON, Canada  

“Irreversible Encounter”
oil painting, 48 x 60 inches
by Pam Carter

As realist/impressionist oil painter for many years, I’ve covered all the subject matter in that spectrum from portraits to landscapes and everything in between. In my little corner here of Prince Edward County in Ontario, I’ve enjoyed a happy amount of success, with a good number of repeat buyers. Two years ago, after thinking about it for some time, I decided to try my hand at a big abstract and confronted a 4×5 foot canvas for the first time. It was daunting to say the least. I made no preliminary sketches, just had a big palette, some house painting trays and brushes, and a large bucket of thinners. No amount of past experienced prepared me for this so it was raw motivation/ intuition that dared me to make those first broad strokes across that blank universe, and I had sweating palms and pounding heart the whole time with no idea of where I was going! It was a constant process of make a stroke, step back, jump in with another, smear, smudge, remove, add, walk away, come back. The entire process was so compelling, yet so nerve racking that when I decided it was finished, I was quite exhausted and on all levels! Since that one I’ve done several more, enjoying/cursing each one until it released me!! I can say that the experience of abandoning subject matter to focus on the basics of colour, composition, texture, edges etc taught me so much that carried over to my more realist-based work, most of all to let my intuition and pure love of paint lead the way! I highly recommend it as a great way to jump start a new enthusiasm for this passion we are so consumed by. There are 2 comments for The discovery of abstraction by Pam Carter
From: Anonymous — Jul 22, 2013

Fabulous abstract, Pam! Valuable input for this subject! Thank you.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Jul 23, 2013

This strong painting is visually abstract, but emotionally very realistic!

  In need of inspiration by Marie-Ellen Boolsen, Cape Town, South Africa   I’m an artist and teacher of many years and, at the moment, in need of inspiration. Teaching others is such a joy that I have been neglecting my own art this year and this puzzle is just what I need — a bit of fun with my art materials and a journey that will take me to a place that I cannot even imagine. I think you must be the most wonderful teacher and that is exactly what I feel I need — a teacher in the true sense of the word. I live in Cape Town so it is highly unlikely that I will ever have the privilege of attending your workshops but your charming letters and amazing generosity in sharing your ideas with others is an inspiration to me. (RG note) Thanks, Marie-Ellen. Your lack of inspiration may be because of your teaching. Like your teaching, occasional teaching for me is an absolute joy, but I’m certain too much teaching can give a creative person the blues. I’m not sure why this happens, but, as usual, I have a few ideas. I do know, for most of us, the very best of times are when you’re in your own space sweating, trying to squeeze quality out of imperfect capabilities. There are 4 comments for In need of inspiration by Marie-Ellen Boolsen
From: Wes Giesbrecht — Jul 22, 2013
From: Patsy, Antrim — Jul 24, 2013
From: liz Reday — Jul 25, 2013

Do you have jacarandas in Cape Town? They are always good for jump starting a painting.

From: Patsy, Antrim — Jul 25, 2013

Why would a jacaranda inspire someone more than any other flowering tree? I don’t think Cape Town’s climate is conducive to their growth – there are lots of them in Pretoria, 1,000 miles inland which is 6,000 feet above sea level, if memory serves me correctly, not having been there for many, many years!


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The puzzle system

From: Marvin Humphrey — Jul 18, 2013

I have a number of small “in progress” paintings in my studio. Occasionally I will put one up on the easel, having no clue as to what the next step will be. Looking at it for a few seconds, I will make one small decision, one slight change (a puzzle piece that fits). This stimulates possibilities, and future moves. Motivation and enthusiasm emerge gradually as I stick with it.

From: Jane Smith — Jul 19, 2013

It has been so interesting to me to start reading these letters. My medium is traditional Japanese embroidery. I have found it so useful & have got so much from them already. The puzzle system is exactly how I work. Not being a classically trained artist I’ve often wondered if this was a good way to work. I’m glad to discover that other people work in the same way.

From: ReneW — Jul 19, 2013

Thanks Robert for this insightful letter. Working with a painting as you would work a puzzle is an interesting approach; especially when you are dealing with interlocking shapes. Don’t you think this method is also the basis for design? Just a thought.

From: Tom Semmes — Jul 19, 2013

Fo me, the ultimate puzzle of painting is trying to figure out, what is this painting about? It seems that one should know this beforehand–maybe I do then forget–but I know I am coming down the home stretch when I think something along the lines of “Oh, this painting is about that tree and how the sun is sparkling through it” and everything else in the painting has to support that or be reworked.

From: Sandy McKinsey — Jul 19, 2013

I suspect the “puzzle system” is what causes me to think, mid-work, that my project is almost lost. I’ve learned, however, to keep working, because more often than not I come out on the other side of the Slough of Despond onto firmer ground. The system helps me punch up and push back, contrast and highlight, soften and harden, until I come upon the rendition I need. Seems to me that “overwork” is a critical comment that has little place in making objects. I’d like to believe there is only enough work, or sufficient work. Other than that, the object will merely not work.

From: Dexter Freybe — Jul 19, 2013

All this intuition is okay if an artist has some skills or techniques, but unless the work has some thinking in it–deliberate puzzle solving thinking it will not hold interest or last except with the most shallow and glib.

From: Bill Richardson — Jul 19, 2013

It is the engagement of the mind that keeps artists at it. Without that, just moving paint around soon brings on boredom.

From: George Garesche — Jul 19, 2013

Knowing “deep down” that you can figure it out is reserved for those who have spent time at it and have developed systems for working thorough the puzzle. Many beginners will fail to rise to this status because they are hampered by the idea that it is all about intuition.

From: Susan Collacott — Jul 19, 2013

Your puzzle system works well for me once I start working. Just putting some kind of mark on the canvas eliminates the ‘horror vacui’ and then you respond to that. It takes years to realize that you CAN rely on your own knowledge, technical experience, sensitivity and intuition.

I like my paintings to have meaning or expression. In the last 15 years or more in my work, I have referenced nature: its creation, processes and evidence. There is a strong sense of purpose behind this keeping me engaged. Just as the act of painting comes from your knowledge, expression comes to the work because of your life experiences, your feelings, your visual preferences and references to the world around you. Everyone has a certain fingerprint or quirkiness in the way they paint which has character and perhaps expression no matter how abstract a painting is will come out in the process. I do wonder sometimes; am I imagining it or do my paintings have the expression intended? While painting, I am so wrapped up in the related feelings about the environment, that what I feel, doesn’t come across to the viewer?
From: Cici Porter — Jul 19, 2013

I, too, am mostly an intuitive painter, but that doesn’t mean that your regular missives aren’t incredibly helpful to me. Sometimes it’s the technical advice (which I hope to never be so full of myself as to ignore) but most often it’s the inspiration to continue on my chosen path through the wilds of visual exploration.

There have been times in my life when i had the luxury of painting very regularly, but nowadays, with a day job, (3 kids in college–regular paycheck helps) and ailing parents (only daughter–who else is going to do the heavy lifting?) i have to really work to fit it into my schedule. When days go by without as much as a brushstroke, at least I have your words to remind me that there is more to life than this, and I need to get back to the easel ASAP. You remind me who I am.
From: Todd Butchart — Jul 19, 2013

Women tend to paint intuitively perhaps because they have more intuition than men, whereas men like to think things through and come to the end of the puzzle in a meaningful manner. Just sayin’.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Jul 19, 2013

Todd’s comment here (and all comments that suggest women are ‘more’ intuitive and men are ‘less’) about a gender-split way of doing things- presumably because of this or that hormone- may be valid as a way of describing how things have been done in the past- but unfortunately- it also describes exactly how things should not continue to happen in the future.

And it’s we/us artists who really must make the shift. All humans are intuitive. In some people it’s more developed- but anybody can develop their intuition- and an artist who is connected and open to their intuition will make better art- because the keys behind intuition and inspiration are essentially the same. Unfortunately- men have been taught to both shut down and discount their intuition- while women have overblown their intuition to be so profound that they don’t have to use both sides of their brain to create. And they think that intuitive painting is somehow superior- because… The right brain is useful in accomplishing some things- the left brain is equally useful in accomplishing some other things- and most truly effective artists have a connection to both- respect both and have learned how to use both. And folks who hold onto one side or the other as better miss the point and will never get as far as the ones of us who use both all the time.
From: Rick Rotante — Jul 19, 2013

Working with a process is always a good thing for several reasons. It keeps you focused on what you are doing and where you are in the piece at every moment. I primarily work in three stages: with lay in, rendering and finished stages. Working this way allows me to stay in one stage as long as needed. When I accomplish the one stage to my satisfaction, I move on to another and so on. This helps me move through a painting and I get a good sense of accomplishment when finished. I can say that there have been times when my intention and ideas were shaky where I had to abandon the work only to start over after thinking more about it. To minimize “paintus inturruptus” I work out an idea, either in my head or on paper in pencil as clearly as I can before starting. Then work with an attitude of discovery as I go, but I work in the afore mention stages.

Not finishing is a bad habit to fall into. If you do it in one disciple more than likely you will do it in an other and then in another.
From: Gay Young — Jul 19, 2013

You have described how I figure out my own work. And I work lots of crossword puzzles! Thanks for putting this into words for me.

From: Jacki Prisk — Jul 19, 2013

Your last news-letter was so enlightening to me. I’m a hobbyist painter. While I’ve taken some classes, I’ve mostly read art instruction books and worked on my own. I have always assumed that professional painters such as you, always complete a work. It just never occurred to me that Robert Genn would look at his work in progress and say to himself, “Forget it. This will never amount to anything.” I guess I thought all that natural talent, plus years of education would result in an artist who rarely, if ever, creates an unsatisfactory work. Thank you! I feel so liberated!

From: Patricia Katz — Jul 19, 2013

I do a lot of puzzles, so I can really connect with this idea. In addition to what you’ve observed, sometimes you’re stuck and your own brain won’t get you out of the hole.

You need to consult other references, ask for a suggestion from a partner, or let it sit for a while and come back to it later.
From: Elle Fagan — Jul 19, 2013

You mention a friend who was suffering from low motivation? Did you ask her how sales were going? That will do it. If the art is not selling there is always that moment when we close like a flower with no sunlight and fail to open until the light returns.

From: Mary Champion — Jul 19, 2013

Wow, I have never seen a better description of how I paint when I am “in the zone.” Thanks for putting it into words, I just hope that doesn’t jinx the process!

From: Andrea Loeppky — Jul 19, 2013

Yes you summed it up superbly, this “puzzle” approach is exactly how I work when I am painting abstracts. However I wonder how it works painting landscapes or other representative subject matter. Over time (and after a lot of disappointing results) I have become much more organized and take the planning more seriously, starting with a value sketch to confirm composition and colour palette selection. After that, there is not a whole lot of addition and subtraction going on.

From: Linda Blondheim — Jul 19, 2013

I’ve always thought of painting as a puzzle too. I love the process much more than the finished painting. I like to lay in the big pieces first and then fit smaller elements around them. Every decision I make effects everything else in the puzzle so there are multiple ways the pieces fit. There are many forks in the road, and I believe that the forks I take commit me to the final brushstroke. The thing that keeps me eager to paint, is the suspicion that the fork I took may not have been the best one. Next time!!!

From: Donna Ion — Jul 19, 2013

Before I start a new painting I have in my head an idea of how it should turn out. I have always described the process as a journey of problem solving……much like your puzzle system. Each painting presents new challenges which keep me engaged and looking forward to the next “puzzle”.

From: Elihu Edelson — Jul 19, 2013

It’s an old strategy to put a work aside for a short time and come back to it with fresh eyes.

From: K Dukat — Jul 19, 2013

I was about 3/4 thru this letter, and the right side of my mouth went up in a knowing smile….By jove, I think you (and I) have got it. I’ve oft wondered why I stop painting and put down the brush when I do, because it’s not always when it’s necessarily “finished” by any standard. It’s just finished for me. I stopped caring a long time ago what others said about my “unfinished” works, but I did learn to stop trying to make it finished by their standards. When I put down the brush, it might not be because it’s finished. It’s because I am finished. Chaos or not. (but usually chaos :)

From: Ann Grill — Jul 19, 2013

Your reaction to the unmotivated artist reminds me of my husband giving me pointers on my golf swing. Even before I start my downswing he has given me 3 “hints”. By the time I make contact I have given up on the game. I have played for 50 years and find that when left alone I can hit a decent ball. I try to limit my critique of a student or fellow painter to the one most critical elements, hoping that down the road there will be more time for refinement. On the other hand though, my most analytical student is an architect by trade and his questions force me to think through every step in the process. This is where I really learn. It’s a fine balance!

From: Andy Kozlowsky — Jul 19, 2013

The insight provided by this site is worth gold. Thank you all.

From: Jackie Knott — Jul 20, 2013

Puzzles are my goof off activity when I avoid painting – interesting.

When I work on a painting I may not assign a specific reason why I’m doing something – you could call that intuition. But my predetermined goal for the painting beforehand is deeply conscious. Working through a painting should be enjoyable for the pleasure of it but also the learning process. The puzzle element is electing one solution over another and there is no rule which is “correct.” A lack of motivation might be due to an absent sense of accomplishment. Intuition as methodology is too vague. If you don’t have a clear idea what the completed work should be how do you know if you reached that goal? Specific goals reached by problem solving give one a sense of accomplishment; motivation follows accomplishment.
From: Cheri Isgreen — Jul 20, 2013

Thanks for the spot on post. I used to work intuitively, but the results were never consistently satisfying. Now I do pencil studies which tell me how and where I will put the paint. I learn so much from the study, then like you, I take the puzzle approach, using the connections/relationships I am creating determine my next move. It’s almost like playing a game of chess with the medium.

From: Susan Kellogg — Jul 23, 2013

For a long period of time, in addition to painting, I found that needlepoint was a perfect puzzle medium. Back in the day when I thought that life was endless, that the world I lived in, would never end, I spent a lot of time creating abstract needlepoint images…the best of which started as a sampler. Using two colors, a grey blue and rust, and letting the first stitches lead to the next ones, eventually watched it take a pattern that I later learned from Jungian studies, had a name, a quaternity. It was a puzzle that solved itself.

From: Hernando Davila — Jul 25, 2013

Painters need to understand the difference between “getting it right as it is in nature,” and “getting it right as it needs to be artistically.” While “truth” is important, creative thinking and invention are far more so.

From: Morgan Goldman — Jul 25, 2013
From: Diana Hutchison — Aug 15, 2013

I’m using the “Puzzle System” at least 90% ,each time I begin a new painting. This is my process to meet the challenges I need to keep moving forward. I am a contemporary, mixed media, artist and I love the hunt.

   Featured Workshop: Ingrid Christensen 072313_ingrid-christensen Ingrid Christensen workshops Held in Nayarit, Mexico   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order.     woa

Pallister Valley Mist

oil painting on canvas by Bonnie Hamlin

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