Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas




November 2006

"Never be too perfect; leave the way open to your instinct, rather than to your brain." Hans Hofmann, from Hofmann: Abstraction as Plastic Expression and Notes Made in Hofmann's Classes by Emily Farnham.




Getting Started on a Painting: Some Suggestions

Dear Reader,

Just as writers may experience fear when they face a blank sheet of paper, painters can feel the same emotion when facing an unpainted "support" --- a canvas, board, paper or any paintable surface. "Support" seems to be an ironic term when I look at that white, empty area. Artists must devise their own system of "supports" or strategies in order to move into the work. In last month's journal, I shared approaches I use to begin writing; this month, I offer some ways I use to begin painting.

1. The opening quotation from Hans Hofmann speaks to our need to let go of "the masterpiece" that we think will be required every time we set out to make a piece of art. We need to lower our standards, and just make the art. My favorite quotation is a variation on Hofmann's advice-it's Paul Cezanne's "Paint, don't think." I talk to myself when I work, and if you walked by my studio, you might hear me chanting: "Paint, don't think," especially at the early stages of a piece.

2. Music is as essential as paint. It puts me in a place where I need to be emotionally. Virtually every artist I have talked with feels this way about having music when they are working. Classical, blues, rock and roll, opera. You might try experimenting with unfamiliar music, just to see if it has an effect on your work.

3. Choose a color and cover your entire support with it. Forget about the right color. There are no right colors. Whatever color I choose puts me in a mood, and along with the music, I am good to go. If my Muse is stuck in traffic, I can start without her.

4. Grab a sketch book and draw. Whatever comes out of your fingers is fine. When I use this strategy, I know that it won't have anything to do with what I am about to paint, but it gets me warmed up. It's about energy and rhythm and activating those parts of my brain.

5. Sketch from photographs of your own paintings. Play games with color. Grab some colored pencils. Use colors that are opposites from your originals to fill in areas. Load your palette with those colors and paint. If you tend to use the same colors when you paint, this may be a revelation.

6. Begin a monochromatic painting using big brushes or rags . Add other colors later.

7. Collect museum and exhibition postcards. Fill photo albums with them, and begin your time in the studio by just looking, and looking, and looking. Hold the album upside down, sideways and right side up. Absorb color, composition, and design.

8. An old stand-by for getting my visual juices flowing is simply to look at art books. Just browsing through one book is usually enough to make me get up and go to my easel.

What strategies help get you started on making art? Email me: December's journal will be devoted to poetry. If you have any questions or ideas about poetry that you would like me to think about in the meantime, please let me know!