I’m constantly amazed at the marvelous diversity of the human imagination. Over the past few weeks there have been many letters from artists with different points of view. Some of these letters contain generously shared creative techniques, ideas and systems. I’m reprinting part of a letter which came in response to my last letter about the Tokaido Road. Here it is:
“I have a 35mm camera with a 50mm macro lens. This permits close-up photos as little as 3 cm from the subject. On five occasions now I have given myself a project to cover a given distance of ground – generally a short walk in a provincial park or on a public footpath. One was less than 500 metres but I took a day to do it. I take close-up pictures of everything of interest. This means I spend most of my time on my hands and knees. I shoot with 400 ASA film and use a mirror to increase light when I need it. I take a lot of pictures, weed and crop them carefully, and mount them in a dated album. When I’m taking the pictures I often re-compose the subject to make it better, at other times I photograph things as I find them. I also try to make them color co-ordinated. A typical series includes leaves, flowers, feathers, nuts, pods, insects, needles, sticks, moss, lichens, pebbles, slugs, roots, centipedes, spiders, mysterious holes, bones, coins, human detritus, etc., etc. Apart from the shows I am preparing and mounting, the act is terrific, a bonding with mother earth.” (Wendy Rouse)
When I read something like this I have the feeling that we are really on to something with this little project. There are so many informative letters, and they are so different. I have chosen some of the more interesting ones and set them in the form of “clickbacks” so that you can read them for yourself. If you want to take a look please go to http://painterskeys.com/odyssey/
PS: “Art is everywhere, except it has to pass through a creative mind.” (Louise Nevelson)
by K and P. Neilsen, Wisconsin, USA
I like working in miniature. I begin by deciding the dimensions of my work. Generally 2 x 3 inches works well for me. I cut up an amout of heavy watercolor paper so I don’t have to stretch or mount down. I really pretend that I’m just doing roughs and I work in a totally abstract manner. I go back and back improving and changing them. I start with watercolor and end up with acrylic, opaquing in the unwanted areas. I let the ideas generate themselves. I throw out the ones that are not working. Sometimes I do larger works and cut them up to the size I originally decided. My girlfriend Paula helps me decide which are the best. Although some of them are ABSOLUTE GEMS there is very little market for them. So you know what I do? The two of us make big oils two by three feet of the best and we sell those.
by Susan Holland
If you can get access to a photomicroscope (try a bio-medical facility’s photo lab) you can get even closer. It is absolutely amazing what is there but which our eye cannot see! Take slides of the most ordinary substances and see them magnified many times. You will find a world that defies imagination. Paint it! I did. The results LOOK fairly abstract, but they are realism!
Makes one wonder what else our eyes, ears, noses, etc, are missing!
by Judy Warner
I’ve done a daily drawing that features my morning coffee cup set among things that remind me of the day — some flowers, an envelope, a book I’m reading, a setting on my desk or the coffee table. It’s been interesting to look back on and gets me started drawing every morning.
A draining experience
by Steve Bloom, UK
I was being totally uncreative a couple of weeks ago and felt I had lost it altogether. I went downstairs to the conservatory to un-block a drainpipe which was full of soggy leaves. The moment I got those leaves out and the rainwater started to flow freely through the pipe I felt an immense amount of personal satisfaction. It was the same feeling you get when you are working on a picture and feel a twinge of joy and sense of achievement when everything feels right. The incident reminded me of the nature of my work and what I was missing by not doing anything. The blocked drain might have symbolised my blocked creativity, and it certainly helped me understand the need to be creative again.
I have come through a recent deep creative blockage and have been stimulated to get working again and motivate myself towards a new book project. I have now organised three trips to Africa this year and the fire is beginning to burn again.
Contributed by Carole MacRury, Point Roberts, Washington, USA
The artist appeals to that part of our being which is not dependent on wisdom; to that in us which is a gift and not an acquisition — and therefore, more permanently enduring. He speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives: to our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain.
“Only in men’s imagination does every truth find an effective and undeniable existence. Imagination, not invention, is the supreme master of art as of life.” (Joseph Conrad)
by Judy Lalingo, Ontario, Canada
I moved from Toronto to a small rural village northwest of the city about 11 years ago. While the Grand River initially held my interest as an artist, it was only when I started to make a daily trek on the old railway bed that I truly found “my path.” Over the seasons and the various times of day, I have nurtured an intimacy with this 5 mile patch of heaven. I have spotted an infinite variety of birds, while foxes, skunks, raccoons, coyotes and the occasional deer have all been frozen by my trusty Canon. I have also befriended the neighbours and their horses… all have been photographed, sketched or painted. But the real magic here is the place itself… the fields, the valleys, cedar groves, winding streams, the changing dome of sky and light. What excites me is the adventure… the sense of being aware, connected and feeling a part of nature. I have only to stay alert, and I will be granted something… the cry of jays, the whooshing wings of silent geese, the glimmer of light on water. These lessons have become an integral part of my being. While on a trip out west a couple of years ago with my sister, I would comment “I’d love to see a bighorn today,” or, “if only a raven would fly through this valley now.” She was amazed at how I only had to express the wish aloud, and it appeared.
One small part
by Corinne McIntyre, Ocean Point, East Boothbay, Maine, USA
I went out painting early early Monday morning and thought about my immense good fortune to sit there by the sea on the rocks with the seagulls crying, the cormorants diving, the eiders tending their young, and the putt putt of a single lobster boat. No one was around. I was in heaven. And best of all… I live here. I have probably done hundreds and hundreds of paintings on this stretch of shore a mile or so long. Never do I tire of it. The sky and sea and rocks are always different. How amazing that such a variety can exist in nature in just one small part of the universe.
by Sara Genn, Vancouver, BC, Canada
This morning I simultaneously finished 15 small canvases. They are a grouping, all similar in theme, all unique and happy, dancing and magic. My surfaces have turned magic. I’m admiring them stacked sideways on the floor. I’m having that thought that probably every artist encounters at one time or another — “How can I do this again? These are so special.” Then I thought about it some more. It’s something to do with the simultaneity. Don’t think. Working with a joyous, somewhat assembly line mentality turns off the intellectual, contrived overthinking that bungs up the work and makes it dull and unmagical. I’m working as quickly as possible. It forces me to make decisions confidently. Contrary to popular wisdom, I love the repetition of themes — IF I turn the brain off — there’s a story that the paintings make themselves. Like I said, the surfaces are turning into themselves. A point in the day, definitely.
The art of painting miniatures has been largely lost. In other centuries artists painted exquisite portraits and scenes on small ovals of copper, ivory and other supports. We are in grandiose times. Artists have been advised if they can’t paint good, they ought to paint big. They do.