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One painterly idea at a time

For some artists, clarity about the work they're making is just always appears to be there and always...well, crystal clear, and usually that's because they have managed to refine and simplify their concept or idea, and relate it specifically and coherently to the work they are making.

For me though, I have days where clarity about what I'm doing seems to elude me. I show up in the studio only to have a complete mind blank about what's happening. Nothing is really working, sketches and half finished paintings might be scattered all over the place, I can't see a cohesive thread in the work and some days, I start to doubt myself and my ability to call myself an artist and worst of all, my creative momentum is lost and I end up going around in confused circles.

What am I actually making?

What am I trying to convey?

Am I following this idea, or that idea?

Why is this not working?

I know what I want to say, but I can't make it happen....

I have too much going on.....

There are ways around this and whilst I can't eliminate these feelings altogether I can take some practical steps to keep a sense of forward motion and productivity which helps me to push these thoughts to the back of my mind and allow me to get on with the business of being an artist.

First of all, it's important to recognise that genuine clarity will only really surface when I'm actually doing the work. Just thinking about it is not enough. Having a great idea or concept in theory isn't, on it's own, enough to move my work forward. I have to physically work these ideas through on the canvas or in a sketchbook. Envisaging outcomes isn't the same thing as actually creating something that aligns with that vision.

The act of 'doing' makes things clearer. But I know I have to engage consciously in this making process, and be open to eliminating sections of the work that don't align with my vision for that particular piece and yes, that often means painting over areas and blocking them out, even if I see something in that section which resonates and that I'm tempted to preserve.

So the trick to overcoming this problem I think is to focus, in a very simple and singular way, on one aspect of what I'm doing, and by that I mean, holding one single idea, front and centre at any one time as I work.

Trying to resolve too many ideas in one painting at a time leads to me into a bit of a muddle, and that confusion can be evident in the work, making it feel less successful.

Learning to be really specific about what my aim is for a sketch or painting is the best way for me to achieve clarity and make that piece a success, based on a clear objective. Committing to one idea or concept will make the work stronger, give me clarity about what I'm trying to achieve and make it easier for me to get there, because I can keep coming back to a singular question to see whether or not I've found the answer.

Sometimes my sketches or paintings are about form, or other times about lines, or space or contrast. The key to feeling I've been successful about addressing any of these considerations is to just focus on one aspect at a time and to make one sketch, or even a series of paintings whilst holding one of these considerations up as a light which guides and informs the work; and the decisions I make along the way about how best to support that idea within the painting.

Complexity can exist within the primary purpose, provided these details support the main concept and don't detract from it - otherwise the painting can go back to feeling muddled and clarity begins to elude me once again!

Consideration of form has emerged as the primary purpose in my work-in-progress 'Habitat Series', and with that decided and resolved, I can now allow myself to move into working on the finer details that enhance those main forms.

I see now, standing back and looking at these paintings as a whole body of work, that consideration of form is indeed the first thing that captures my attention.

They're not finished yet, but having decided what these paintings are about I have half a chance of making them feel successful - stay tuned!

One painterly idea at a time
One painterly idea at a time

Work in progress detail from my 'Habitat Series'.

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