People often ask me about my work methods, how I get the paint to do certain things. I just smile and admit that I really have no idea. I start off with a plan every time and I try to follow it, but just as Picasso says “then it becomes something else.”
For many years I fought this phenomenon. But it always happened. The thing is, I usually ended up with a painting that I liked, but I was somehow not proud of it. I guess because it had not turned out as I had originally intended. For me that felt like failure. How could I call what I had talent if I was not completely in control of it. But then as time went by and I looked at the body of my work I realized that I had developed a style and more importantly, I loved it. I found my voice. But truthfully I would have never developed my own style if the “something else” hadn’t continued to happen.
I guess making plans in painting and in life is pointless on some level. My life got so much easier as a painter and as a person when I began to embrace the fact that nothing was ever going to go exactly as intended. Don’t get me wrong, to this day I can’t begin a painting if I don’t have a plan in my head. It’s just that now am not troubled if the end result has little to do with that plan. The same is true in life. I think it is a pretty good idea to have a path – set some goals. But the end results will be much more about how you are able to recognize the opportunities that came your way and not overlooking something beautiful just because it was not exactly what you were planning on. That’s where the magic happens.
Think how boring your life would be if you only ever got what you expected. Remember this, any plan that you can make is always going to have limits, but that “something else” could be anything.
I was the youngest kid on the street where I grew up. Because of that, I often didn’t get to have a lot of say in the games we played or the general shenanigans we got up to. This changed as I got a little older, but when I was actually physically smaller than the other children, I often could not compete or keep up with the older kids.
It was at this time that I discovered “magic.” Let me give you an example of what I mean: if all the other kids beat me in a race I simply informed them that I had actually won because I was magic and had made it to the finish line first. They just didn’t see it because again – I was magic. I guess I became sort of a pain in the ass at that time because if anything didn’t go my way, I tried to change the outcome or the rules in general with my claim that I was magic.
Oddly enough this little coping mechanism actually helped me for a while. It helped me feel like I didn’t always come in last, that I could throw the ball just as far as the others, or that I was able to climb just as high in the tree. Of course these victories were all in my head, but even so they somehow mattered.
I have never forgotten my magic. I think that it gave me a love of reading and imagination and being creative. And on some level I have never grown out of it. In my forties I stood in lines at midnight to get the latest Harry Potter books. I have read Lord of the Rings more than 20 times (how many more I refuse to admit). I watch any movie with a dragon in it or where swords and sandals feature heavily. My nerdy love for these magical books and movies is compounded by the true magic – the creativity and imagination of the folks that produced them. My awe of their ability to create and transport us to other worlds only grows as the years pass.
I guess all that magic is how I ended up an artist.
If you are an artist of any kind, the first thing you have to do it is get inspired. But I think that is true for everyone. Something has to motivate you to get up and face your existence every morning. For some it might be having money and the lifestyle that goes with it, while some people just want to take care of their family. Others want to serve humanity, yet some just want to serve themselves. Being inspired can be the difference between a great piece of art and a sofa painting, but it can also be the difference between a fulfilling career and a workaday job. It can make a marriage happy – or not. It can make you healthy. It can make you learn. It can make you sing. Being inspired by something can turn a prison into a possibility.
I get inspired by the world around me. I try to understand it, but I also revel in the fact that I will never know everything about it. Of course art has always been a part of the search for the answers to life’s big questions. But for me, it’s the simple things that drive my work. The color of a robin’s egg can give me enough inspiration for an entire series of paintings. I tend to leave ideas like the meaning of life to those with loftier expectations. Though I guess it all amounts to the same in the end. After all, when you get right down to it, isn’t the color of a robin’s egg as big a mystery as anything else?
Of course there are times when nothing seems new or interesting. I putter around and accomplish nothing. Again, I am certain that this is a part of life we all go through. You don’t have to be an artist to be uninspired. And I overcome this the same way everyone else does – I just keep going, I keep looking. Sooner or later I see a cloud, or an odd shaped tree, or a pebble on the ground and “click” – I get an idea and the world of possibilities opens up again.
What inspires you? It can be a tricky thing to ask yourself. I’m sure that many a good shrink have labored in vain to get their patients to answer that question honestly.
When I stand back and look at a painting that I have just finished, three things go through my mind: #1 relief, #2 gratitude, #3 dread of having to come up with a name for it.
I would prefer not to name any of them. Unfortunately, I have to because well…I have to. Not only because people prefer it, but because I need to have a point of reference for inventory and such. I guess I could just number them, but again – people like them named.
So I am forced to come up with something. Once I thought about giving them people names, like this painting is Gerald and this one is Tina, but when I mentioned the idea to Vincent he rolled his eyes SO HARD that I knew immediately it was a bad idea. Then I thought about the names they give perfumes like Obsession or Eternity and tried to think how I could adapt that to my paintings. I guess a painting named Infinity might be thought provoking, but I find these kinds of names burden a painting by forcing the viewer to try to find “infinity” in a simple landscape. That just gives me a headache. Not to mention the pile of pretentiousness it dumps on my shoulders.
I always feel sorry for those folks who have to name the paint colors for Benjamin Moore. How many names can you come up with for green? Wouldn’t it be funny if they threw out trying to make the color names sound appealing and just named them what the colors looked like? Color #2786: Mud, color #1253: Greasy Paper Towel (an off-white), or color #7869: Urine.
Luckily, since I choose pretty subjects, I don’t have to avoid using names like Garbage Dump or Oil Refinery. In the end, I usually just stick to basic descriptive names that relate to the work itself, like Autumn Pasture. This kind of name is simple and lovely, but can get a bit repetitive – hence my struggles.
It is one of those problems in life that I will probably never solve, but am indeed lucky to have.
There are many things in life that we learn – some of those things are great truths and some are rather mundane. Not going to see an Adam Sandler movie is something I have learned that would be an example of a mundane truth. The greater truths can come to us in an epiphany or can take years to fully understand.
Well, as young artist I had an epiphany that has also taken me years to fully understand. One of the first times I sold a piece of art, the lady who bought it kept telling me about all the wonderful things she saw in it. But most of what she said she saw had nothing whatsoever to do with my intentions or ideas in making the painting. And that was when I had the epiphany – that the meaning of a piece of art is established by the viewer, not the artist.
This bothered me at first. I wanted to control what people saw in my work. I did not like the idea that someone saw a giant dog in the clouds of one of my paintings. I did not want to hear someone say “This landscape reminds me of a forgotten battlefield.” I wanted everyone to see only what I meant for them to see. I thought that if people didn’t get the exact emotion out of the painting that I was trying to put into it then I had failed somehow.
As I have grown older and my ego has grown smaller, I can now see how much better it is to let people bring their own experiences into things. Their fears, their happiness, their fondest memories… these things can make my paintings far more meaningful than I could ever hope make them on my own. Now, in fact, I love it when someone tells me that one of my paintings makes them think of some personal experience or emotion that has nothing to do with what I was thinking of when I made it. For me this is what gives the painting a life of it’s own, a life outside the limits of my experience.
I guess a good piece of art is like a mirror – in that every person who looks into it is going to see something different.