I tell myself every year that I’m not going to do school work during the summer, but I always end up taking classes, attending week-long planning sessions, putting together presentations, writing quizzes, scouring the internet for cool lesson ideas, and reading articles in preparation for the next school session. This year has been no different.
As I feel the summer drawing to a close (I’m signed up to conduct freshman boot camp in a week and a half.), I realize there are several things that I wanted to accomplish that haven’t gotten done. Some of them are deep cleaning house chores, but several of them deal with creating myself as an artist. So, I decided to ignore the chores and work on the art. That means I’ve spent some frustrating hours rebuilding my new website. (Yes, this is the third time. Cross your fingers; it’s almost done!) It also means sending applications to be juried into a couple of local artists’ groups. Yesterday, one of the applications asked me to describe my “process.”
This set me back for a few minutes while I contemplated how I go about creating anything. The creative process is different for each of us, and I’ve never really thought about what mine looks like from an outsider’s point of view. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s pretty silly and somewhat invisible.
First, I turn on my tunes. I have a 262-song playlist on my computer that I use specifically for creating. It includes the likes of Billy Joel, Garth Brooks, Bob Seger, The Eagles, Neil Diamond, Ray Charles, Bread, Jim Croce, The Fifth Dimension, Rod Stewart, Van Morrison, .38 Special, Simon and Garfunkel, Elton John, Charlie Daniels, Molly Hatchet, CCR, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Journey, and many, many more musicians. The cranked up music usually leads to me singing along (loudly) and dancing around my work room. (Yup! This is the silly part, but it feels good!)
Usually, the theme has been rolling around in my brain for a few days. (This is the invisible part.) I lie awake in the silence of the wee hours of the morning envisioning topics like angels, sweet felines, the ocean, flowers, or butterflies – all among my favorites. In my head, I see beautiful watery colors that swirl and roll together like storm clouds. Thus, by the time I get to my studio space, I have an idea that’s been bubbling up for a day or two, so I start pulling materials while I’m dancing about.
Last January I reorganized my creative space by sorting all of my materials by color. (Previously, they had been sorted by type or theme. For example, all the ribbons were in one box, and all the paper flowers in another.) Now, pulling out a basket of color is a great deal of fun. I empty the basket on to my work table and start sorting through the items to get some inspiration for dressing up my theme.
Next, I leave the mess on my table and head to my drawing space to create the big ideas that I’m going to paint, color, and embellish. While I’m usually a very organized and tidy person, the chaos of the dumped basket with a pile of drawing pens and music playing creates a free and fun atmosphere that lightens my soul. Which, of course, is the point of the whole exercise.
After I have completed the drawing, I take it back to the table and transfer it to whatever background I’ll be using like card stock, a canvas, an old tray, a cigar box, etc. (Recently, I picked up a small curio cabinet with three little shelves which has been calling my name.) Once the main ideas are on the background, the fun really begins. I break out the paint or alcohol markers and sift through embellishments.
At this point, I usually decide I need a couple of other colors or at least some metallic touches to spice up the piece. So, I “have” to break out another basket of stuff to play with. Of course, after a couple of baskets are dumped, the chaos can become overwhelming, and I need to walk away for awhile. (Here, my feline friends hope that I’ll forget to close the door to my work room so they can knock everything off the table and play with it.) It’s usually a day or two before I get back to finish my project, and by that time my brain has sorted out the details of its own accord. So when I open the door, I’m confronted with a “mess” to clean up, leaving out only what I’ve thought about for the last 24-48 hours. I crank up the music, put stuff back into baskets, and move along with my piece.
Allowing my brain time to process something on the back burner, making a mess, and then figuring out how to clean it up and finish what I started seems to be my way of dealing with just about any project I’m working on from planning a dinner party to creating a research unit for my English classes, or constructing a piece of art. I know that it’s really the down time that gets the job done. So, when I feel I have the most work to accomplish, I often have to remind myself to do something else, that walking away for a short time will provide the answers I need.