Where Do the Ideas for Paintings Come From?

I got back into painting today after 2 weeks of having spent more time on my website than my art, and I was starting to feel edgy.  After a short break, even with a project on the go as I have (see first entry: Working Towards an Exhibition) it can be difficult to get back into it.  You’ve lost the momentum and you don’t know where to start.  Well this is how I got back into it.

I started with just sitting in my studio looking at more recent work, looking at it in a detached way as if it’s not my work at all. What do I like and what don’t I like.  I discovered a small painting  which I recently thought was finished but there were some bits in it that weren’t working well enough.  After recognising that the foreground wasn’t coming forward enough, I put it to one side to let that information soak in.

Then I got out my sketch book and looked through that, I was starting to get the feeling of what I wanted to paint, I had no concious idea but could feel the space was right for the idea to emerge.  Then I looked through some photos which I had taken in the past as references for different pictures.

When I am in this creating phase I am completely relaxed, I am in my studio and nothing else exists for me. I am in the present with my thoughts about the picture which I cannot yet see.  It’s a dreamy place, I must be alone or at least have the studio door shut, to shut out the rest of the house if there are other people at home.

The photo I chose was of my sister holding a large reel for thread or rope or string.  I had taken the photo 3 years earlier for an idea which I hadn’t ended up doing. It related to the mythical story of Lachesis and the thread of life. (I may still end up pursueing that idea, but not today.)  Why did this image jump out at me today when I it had not jumped out at me for three years?

In reflection I realise it was because this morning I went to the shops on the way back from dropping my kids at school and  an old woman stopped me in the carpark, (she told me she was 78).  She also told me a very long-winded story about how her car had been stolen last week from the same car park, she was full of fear that it would happen again. I think she just wanted to tell someone, she probably lived alone, so I listened to her story, and told her not to worry.

When I picked up the photo, the word unravelled came to me.  The string being unravelled and the old woman feeling unravelled.  I did not want to paint a picture of the person I met this morning, I wanted to paint the feeling in me which she had awakened. The feeling of being unravelled.

At this point I started my picture its only small but if it is successful this character may re-emerge in larger works at a later date, and then again it may not.

As I planned it out I started thinking of practical considerations which are extremely important as to how the sucessful the picture will be.  Will the figure be on the left or the right how big will she be, I worked from the photo of my sister, but for me it is no longer her, it is now the figure in my painting a ficticious character who emodies the feeling of being unravelled a feeling we have all had at some time.

As I am working out these formal considerations and I start to think of other things people have said to me this week, about situations that they can see happening but in the actual moment they don’t know how to react.  They just watch it happening and wonder what it is they should be doing. They watch the string unravel.

I work on a canvas which I have loosely under-painted already, I have several of these on the floor next to my easel I choose the one that goes with my idea.  This is very instinctual and I have got better at these types of choices with experience. I can hardly descibe it but I just choose the one that feels right.    I work fast, as if it is imperitive I get this information out. When the painting gets too wet to work on any further I choose another background almost without conscious thought, I’m in the zone now. I paint trees in the background and shadowy abstract shapes. I don’t know how this picture will look when its finished but I am now trusting the process.

When this too becomes too wet to work on I move back to my original painting where the foreground was not moving forward enough, I use the technique that has been successful in the newly started painting on the almost finished one.  Perhaps it is finished now.

Four hours have elapsed and it feels like 5 minutes.

I have maybe finshed one painting and I have started 2 more.  The edgy feeling has gone.

Click here to see my artwork.

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