Monday, July 29, 2019

Artist's Block revisited

It was back in May, 2017 that I wrote about Painter’s Block. I had it then.  I have it now.  Back then I cast about the Internet for other painters that were suffering from Painter’s Block.  I used their discussions to make a list of ‘reasons’ that might apply to me. I never did find a good match between their problems to my own situation.  All the analysis and list making didn’t help with my problem.

I have difficulty in getting started on the next painting.  No lack of ideas.  No lack of materials.  It is a paralysis of actually starting. Everything is ready to go and I would turn away from the easel.  I would sit down in my comfortable chair, and browse the internet or an art book.

I tried posting my problem on one of the art forums I follow.  “From Finished to Start” was the title of the thread.  No, it’s not backwards.  The problem I have exists in the space between the finish of the current painting and the start of the next one.  A few interesting posts but nothing I could use.  Another source warned me that other artist’s work methods wouldn’t work for me.

Having revisited this problem my subconscious must have been working overtime.  I may have found a solution.  I envisioned a painting that was very quick and very simple to start. Completing the middle stage requires little if any thought.  This stage of painting does need an enormous amount of effort and time to complete.  I can start or stop painting at any time.  I also don’t need a large block of time to be productive when painting this middle sequence.

I did start it and even worked on the middle state for a few minutes. I then set it aside so I could work on a pair of abstracts for the great room to flank the fireplace.  Got to work on the big abstract that Jill has requested.  And I also started on my third series of paintings.

Four projects on the go.  Painting every day now.  Loving it. The block is gone!  And what of the solution to my Artist’s Block painting you may ask?  It sits in the ready position, untouched.  Neglected and unneeded.  Gathering dust.  It is ready to move to the easel if required.  The thought of it being there is enough to ward off the dreaded Artist’s Block. 

I hope this mojo continues to work for me.  You or your muse may be able to conjure something like help you over your Artist’s Block.

Monday, June 17, 2019

A Tribute to Franz Kline

I’ve been suffering from a form of artist block for several years.  I have an abundance of ideas, but it is only with considerable effort that I can force myself to the art table and put brush to paper.  It is not too much effort to paint once I get going.  And finishing a painting proceeds at a good pace.

Unfortunately once completed, I will wait a month or three before forcing myself back to the table and another start.  The Internet is to blame to some extent.  Besides the e-mail and the regular websites I follow, I will revisit art sites and blogs from my bookmarks.  Sometimes this will kindle in me a desire to paint, but mostly it is a time waster.

Then I stumbled across a couple of images of some small abstract paintings that had been arranged in a grid.  Totally unbidden, the idea of “a tribute to Franz Kline” popped into my head. 

Let us get the record straight: I don’t like Franz Kline’s work.  I have looked over photographs of his work on on several occasions, but I never took a shine to it.  Until my muse kicked this idea into me, I had never even read his bio or looked at his Wikipedia page.

It is without a shadow of doubt that I can state that creating this collage/paste up was effortless.  I quickly figured out the size that individual drawing needed to be and produced a stack of 18 cards.  It seemed to take no time to locate the first 6 or 8 images and produce my own interpretation of the originals. The next few took a little more time.  The last four were a bit labored, taking as 3 or 4 times a long produce.

I mounted them in the same order that I ‘created’ them.  Top left being the first and bottom right being the last.  On reflection, #5 and #6, second row from the top, left-most and the drawing adjacent to it, look to be of the same subject.  It’s possible as I didn’t reference any of the previous drawings when producing the next one.  Having said that, #2 and #16 do appear to have been created from the same reference image.  I guess I just was very impressed with the Franz Kline original.

Individual drawings are 6 ¾ by 4 ¾ on Saunders Waterford 200# C.P. mounted on a full sheet of Saunders Waterford Bright White 200# Rough.


p.s. I’m almost finished with a second painting I started immediately after finished ‘A Tribute’.  It is early days, but perhaps my block has been overcome.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

I am a Compositional junkie

I am a Compositional junkie. I can waste an entire day of paint time following up on a will-o-wisp article with a minor mention of Visual Composition. I will studiously look up every artist mentioned, their website, read the bio and artist statement hoping to add a trivial amount of composition knowledge to my large and growing and sadly, only partially digested collection of articles, notes, images, and online references on Visual Composition.

In the manner of a beginner painter who asks endless questions about paint, paper, and brushes trying to discover that significant secret, tool, or technique, I pursue every reference found in the most insignificant note on Visual Composition. Just as the beginner painter knows that if he or she buys this signature brush, the one that will suddenly transform their paintings into masterpieces, I continue to look for the Philosopher's Stone of Visual Composition.

The beginning watercolourists should decided on a good quality paper, a few serviceable brushes, and some reasonable quality paints, and then should just get on and paint. In the same vein I already have a compositional framework that works for me: the Picture Planes 0-6. I have a process that gets me from an idea or view of a scene through a series of composition sketches, I use Notan, to a large value or colour study with detail, and finally to the scaled up drawing that is ready to paint. Why should I continue to search for some additional compositional techniques when I have a full toolkit that works for me?

I have finally decided to take the pledge and stop ‘Snipe Hunting’ and just get back to painting. It is time to stop searching the Internet and spinning my wheels in what may well will turn out to be a fruitless search. Am I going to stop learning? No! I am just going to go back to painting using to composition LRPGI, laws, rules, principles, guidelines, and ideas that I know and understand. LRPGIs that work for me. My LRPGI may only partially work for you or they may not work at all. I know that the LRPGI, framework, and process, that one adopts or is comfortable with, changes with: subject, time, evolving style, even time of day. 

By the way, there a very vocal group of artists/critics that deny that any LRPGIs exist. They are welcome to their own opinions. I pledge that I will not engage in debate as to whether or not LRPGIs exist or not. Nor will I debate whether or not LRPGIs detracts for one’s own spontaneity. It is sufficient that within my chosen genre/style/framework they work for me and I do not feel any constraints of my spontaneity. Your mileage may vary (YMMV) as they say in automobile adverts.

Friday, May 11, 2018

OCA is not for me!

The Open College of the Arts ( has been offering distance learning art courses since 1987 and they have been part of the University for Creative Arts ( since 2016. The offer 16 undergraduate degrees and a MA in Fine Arts.

I had bookmarked their website some time ago when searching out online painting and/or design courses. Right now I’m literally between two places. Our current house in Ypsilanti is for sale and I’ve moved most of my art materials to the new house in Plymouth but we haven’t moved there (yet). So my frustration of not being able to make art was moderated somewhat by browsing through my bookmarks and clearing out some of the junk and dead links when I followed the bookmark to OCA.

Maybe it was all ego, but for the past couple of weeks I’ve been giving serious consideration to going back to school! Yes, a really old fart, is considering going back to school, no less University! Most university students would consider anyone 25 or older, really old. Really old in this case is someone that could have had their ‘Bus Pass’, 4 years ago.

Maybe it was all ego but the thought of earning a BA (Honors) in Painting is/was a big incentive. But the more I investigated the less the idea appealed to me. Firstly, I read through the curriculum several times and a first year course ‘taster’ that appeared to be the first couple of weeks example notes/assignments. Interesting, but it did not engage me and it did not make this a ‘must have’ course. This could just be my reaction to this subset of a full course.

Then there was to omission of a visual composition/visual design course. Perhaps elements of these subjects are incorporated inside one of other courses. The first course you must take is a drawing course. Nothing wrong with that except that you must complete this course before you can start on any of the other courses. As a mature student, I have reasonable facility at drawing and would embrace a drawing course to add polish to my existing skills and as a fundamental element to a painting course, it is a good idea. I do object to it being a gating function to all other course. I am here to learn painting. It why I’m taking this course. Don’t make me wade through 400 hours of drawing coursework before getting to do any painting.

Looking deeper into the course work description, I find repeated references to a ‘learning log’. Documentation of your work on each assignment, results, thoughts, musings, whatever. The suggestion is that you should spend 20% of your study time writing this ‘learning log’. You can not view the learning log documentation until you have registered, so you really don’t know what you are committing to. So do the math: .2 * 400 = 80 hours of writing a learning log.

Then I find that 2d and 3d year courses have a large written component in what appears to need to be written in ‘art speak’.

“You will need to undertake your own research into these areas by doing a lot of reading and researching, and by developing research strategies.”


“You will develop a broader understanding of your work within a range of contexts, including an awareness of the social or ethical impact you have on the world or how other contemporary practitioners operate”

This isn’t what a painting course is about IMOSHO. But I haven’t completely dismissed the idea of taking this course so I did a bit deeper digging and look over the tutors, their education, experience and art making activities. I surveyed more than 20 tutors connected with the BA (Honors) Painting course. Most of the painting tutors don’t paint as their primary art making exercise!

And then there is this statement: “you are expected to move towards taking more responsibility for your own learning and demonstrate this through more personal explorations and personally led project work, with increasing independence and through your own initiative.”

I’ve been have taken responsibility for my own art making and painting education and have been doing so for the past 8 years. I have to ask myself: “what could this course of study provide me that I could not find locally or online?”

The final blow came in a weekly e-mail newsletter from OCA that I had subscribed to in an effort to better understand why I should enroll and what I could expect from the instruction provided. The e-mail newsletter was titled: “What is drawing?” The following quote drove the last nail into the coffin of “not for me”:

“... he attached traditional drawing tools to the bottom of weeping willow tree branches and allowed the elements to dictate the marks created.”


Postscriptum: While reading Jackson’s Art blog I came across “Are Art Schools a waste of time?” (ref. Hugo Grenville says: "... right up until the late 1960s, anyone could go to art school and be robustly assured of being taught to draw and paint. From the mid 70s onwards, art schools abandoned their commitment to educate students in practical and technical skills, in favour of a conceptual approach. The result today is that anyone wanting to learn how to paint will have to attend a private art school."

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The artist that has most influenced me

The artist that has most influenced my art is Ian Roberts and his book “Mastering Composition”.  Before I read his book, I did not know how to design a composition. Oh I knew about the 7 elements and the 8 principles, how to use a viewfinder, centres of interest, the golden rectangle, lead-ins, blocks and exits, tonal value and contrast, the oblique, and many many more LRPGI, laws, rules, principles, guidelines, ideas, but I realized that I lacked a design framework and a process to follow inside that framework to produce a painting.

I have worked on Internet projects from a time well before the World Wide Web became the Internet in most people’s mind, so quite naturally I start my search for this elusive framework there.  Over the course of many months I found many quality references to the 7 elements and the 8 principles. The actual number elements and principles varies, depending on the reference source you choose, but a framework and a process for composition remained elusive. The few online references, to visual composition, that I located, consisted of examples of good or bad compositions and a dialogue to support the goodness or badness of that particular example.

Ian Roberts' “Mastering Composition” is the only book I've found that provided a clear and usable (for me) framework for visual composition.  Before the first chapter of his book, he defines “What is Composition”. After reading those two pages, I knew I now had a framework for composition that I understood and could apply to my paintings.  The proverbial light bulb was lit. This is where I first started to understand visual composition. Ian’s five bullet points, describing the 5 Picture Planes, presented a nearly complete, visual design framework.
  1. The Dynamics of the Picture Plane. Each proportion and scale of every painting - square, vertical or horizontal - has its own special dynamic that affects and is affected by every mark or shape you put on it.  The edges of your picture plane are the four most important lines in your composition since they, in the most basic sense, define the foundation you are starting with.
  2. Armature: The fundamental lines of direction or flow that connect the main compositional movement to the picture plane.
  3. Abstract Shapes: The building blocks of the painting. Each shape is interacting with every other shape.  Resolving this interplay is the main arena of painting. This really is where the success or failure of the painting lies.
  4. Subjects: Bottles, mountains, people, a river...
  5. Details: Highlights, wrought-iron street lamps and almost anything else painted with a little pointed brush.

It is my opinion that the 5 picture planes should have been the 5 chapters in Ian’s book.  Somewhere along the line, he got sidetracked and wrote a book about painting landscapes including 30-40 page filler: “Gallery or Greats”.  Personally, I also don’t like Ian’s style of painting. IMOSHO, neither of these negatives, detract from the importance of his description of the 5 picture planes.

Does this framework work for all genres of painting? No!
Is this framework complete? No!
Does this framework work for everyone? Again No!

...but it does work for me, so it  is important to me, and I can honestly state, that Ian Roberts, through his book, is the artist that has had the most influence on my art.

Monday, January 1, 2018

When you are “in the groove”, stay there!

After a very long hiatus of almost 2 years away from art making, the new house is almost done, the old house has been sold, we have moved, my “art room” is almost back together, and for the past couple of days, or evenings, I’ve been getting back into painting.  First an abstract for Jill for the bathroom.  Not much thought. (sorry) And it didn’t really do much for my soul but it was a start/restart to painting.

Between arranging my supplies, hanging up some old favorites, and a little painting, I was back in my old habit of reading blogs, and articles about art and making art, and art education when I came across an article on recovery from artists block.  It offered simple advice: make a list.

Make a list of the art things you should be working on.  So I did.  About 10 small items to start with.  Before I even started on it I added 6 more.  Then the list took over. I was making art and enjoying the process.  So much so, I forgot to update the list for several days.  When I finally checked, big surprise.  I had to cross 7 items off the list as completed!

Reading WetCanvas: CafĂ© Guerbois: someone had asked about ‘Resolutions’.  I’m making a list and checking often, and revising it for completed items and adding new one.  Well at least for the time being.  It really helped be get over a reluctance to step up the drawing table and start painting.

So what has this to do with being in the grove?  My art making block is in the past. The make a “to do” art list, works for me and I am happy to say, that this morning, I was back in the grove or was for at least a couple of hours while I tackled the start of a new painting.  Then I decided to take a break and order some art supplies.  In retrospect this was a bad decision.

Googled my way to two different online suppliers both whom I have used in the past.  I need some new matboard to re-frame some paintings for the new house. I easily found what I needed, added a couple of items to being the total up to the free shipping level and applied a discount coupon I had recently received.  “Sorry, but discount XYZZY cannot be applied to your items”.

Alright, Internet chat with someone to find out why.  It seems that the major items I wanted to purchase were already “on sale’ and no further discounts were possible. All this took 20 minutes of back and forth and left me in a bad frame of mind.  I was angry at the retailer about the discount and similar events from previous purchases.  So much for being “in the grove’.  All thoughts of making art were gone.

If you are ‘in the grove’ and making art, don’t stop unless the house is burning down around you, or some other life changing event is happening or about to happen.  Keep making art.  After the grove concludes naturally, or you exhaust yourself, or some external event ends the session, then is the time to pick up those mundane task like ordering art supplies, but not while you have that “I must make art” mindset and tempo.  It’s hard enough to get there with the distractions of the day so don’t voluntarily end a productive session for any trivial, trite, tasks that can wait until later.  YMMV

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Painter's Block

I have got Painter’s Block and I need help.  It’s my own fault; a self-inflicted injury. I stopped painting to study design of composition.  Then when I finally had a personal breakthrough, finding a compositional framework that worked for me, I found that I had difficulty in painting.  Not from lack of ideas but the actual act of painting.  I’ve had this blocked for a couple of years now.  I still paint, but nowhere as often or anywhere in the number of finished pieces I use to produce.

A number of changes in personal circumstance attenuated my Painter’s block. As Spring approached, I decided to find out if I could solve this problem and regain my mojo for painting. I Googled ‘painters block’ and uncovered some hints that helped me.

Robert Genn in “Fighting Painter’s block” said; “you have to try to figure out which species of block is getting to you”.  He described a number of different types of blocks you may encounter.

fear of failure after previous success: This one doesn’t appear to apply to me. The little I do paint is as good or better than previous paintings.  No fear of failure there.  Jill, my SO, agrees, particularly my use of colour which she thinks I have a totally new take on it.

fear of success due to a sense of unworthiness: This may be close in regards to unworthiness but it’s not on target regarding fear of success.  Elsewhere on the Internet I found a discussion of unworthiness in regards to self-doubt.  The suggestion was to write down one's self-doubts and feelings of unworthiness. Did that help?  In my case, it did.  Exploring Painter’s Block and writing about my own experiences of my own block helped to get me painting again.  If you have an artistic block of any sort, try writing about it and analyse your own blocking agents.  It helped me. Writing about your block can/may help you.

lack of potential venue: What?  I’m not worried about displaying the few paintings I have recently painted.  I just want to paint again.

jaded attitude:  Yes! It’s an attitude problem, but I don’t think I’m jaded but then...
jaded  adjective:  tired, bored, or lacking enthusiasm, typically after having had too much of something.  Lacking enthusiasm to paint.  Yes that is close to the point but not from having had too much painting.  I’ve had far too little.

crisis of confidence:  No!  From the little I paint, I’ve still know how and can produce if I can get started.  Getting started is part of my problem.  Even the mechanics of starting a painting is a problem for me and most of my materials are out and ready to hand.  I just have to walk into my study, pick them up and start.

evidence of persistent poor quality:  No also to this block!  People like what I paint. I like what I paint.  Quality may not be show-winner but is a damn site better than the average hobby painter from what I have seen locally at a number of different venues and online forums.

lackadaisical motivation:  lacking enthusiasm and determination; carelessly lazy.  Yes, lacking enthusiasm to paint and determination to get back and create and I guess I am lazy. No cancel that.  I am lazy.  Note to self:  You are not getting any younger.  Just get on and paint!

common everyday shortage of ideas: No problem here as I have far too many ideas to paint all of them in this lifetime.  My imagination has always exceeded my grasp and ability to execute.  I can recall trying to paint a tile-hot plate for my mother when I was 5 or so. I think it was Kindergarden but it may have been First grade.  I recall wanting to paint a sailboat, a cutter, under full sail.  What i painted was a child’s boat with sails and a smoke stack. A horrible mess that finally got lost in one of the many house moves we experienced before I finished high school. Never had a lack of ideas of things to draw or paint.

over intellectualizing:  We know so much and have learned so much but it doesn't come off the brush.  I have my doubts as to this being the root of my problems.  When I decide I need to apply my compositional framework and development methods it works.  My chances of success are better than any previous methods I have used but the passion comes from the application of paint.

Personal problems.  Creativity demands focus and it’s hard to concentrate if you’re getting divorced, dealing with toddlers, battling an addiction, falling out with your best friend, grieving someone special, moving house, locked in a dispute with a neighbor.

Yes! A 3 year legal battle for my SO to gain access to her grandson.  Emotional stress of coping with my SO’s son and his demands and rants.  House hunting and then I have the problem with SO being a negative muse.  There!  I’ve said it. Having said it, just today, she asked me to dig through some of my old paintings. I can’t remember why.  She found one of my failures and wants it framed! Not only framed, but she specified the colour of the mat! Then she saw #1 of my tree series; the Skeleton Tree and also wants it framed.  This negative-positive muse is going to be tough to work with and I realize that I am going to have to work with my SO as there doesn’t seem to be an alternative solution.

Along with all my stress related problems, there is one I didn’t mention.  I’m an Internet Addict. I need a 12 point plan to temper my addiction.  I managed it with alcohol.  Not reason I can’t control my Internet Addiction.

I’m not just talking about money, although a lack of cash is a perennial problem for creatives. You could also be time-poor, knowledge-poor, have a threadbare network, or be short of equipment or other things you need to get the job done.

I’m time poor and I have a non-existent Artists network.  Maybe it’s time to join a local arts society and attend their monthly meetings.

This one has two possible solutions: either save up the time/money/or other resources you need; or make a virtue of necessity and set yourself the creative challenge of achieving as much as possible within the constraints you have.

Saving up time?  You must be kidding.  That’s impossible.  Once the hour is past, there is no going back a re-living it.  It’s gone forever.  This made me realize that I was going to need to change my painting schedule.  When ms SO was still teaching, I had a 6-8 hour window each day to do as I pleased with zero distractions.  I’m not going to get that back.  I will have to work-paint within the constraints I have, and that may be doing the design and layout work on the kitchen peninsula downstairs and not in my ‘study’ or painting small passages where I can break off after a couple of minutes if necessary.

Overwhelm.Sometimes a block comes from having too much, not too little. You have too many great ideas.  … If you suffer from information overload, start blocking off downtime or focused work time in your schedule.

My creative vision and always exceed my ability to portray it.  I may be over intellectualizing but the alternative to having too many ideas seems to be an artistic dead end that should be avoided at all costs.  It only becomes a problem if I let it be the reason I’m not painting.  I don’t think it would be healthy to try and block or in anyway limit one’s creative vision.  It’s a distraction that I’m happy to live with.

Ignore uninformed feedback. Not everyone is equally qualified to serve as a judge of your work. Carefully select a knowledgeable instructor, a sensitive and experienced art appreciator, or another artist who shares your artistic viewpoint. The list won’t always include your spouse or best friend!

In the case of my SO, a single utterance can pronounce a death sentence on one of my paintings that is under development.  Even when she likes what she sees, her comments are not always helpful: “You should more of colour XYZZY in that painting”.  If I did, it wouldn’t be the painting I wanted to paint.  I just have to take the hit, pause for the pain to recede, and carry on painting my vision.

Limiting who you choose to take advice and criticism from may sound self-serving in that you only pick people who say kind things about art.  Not!  You are looking for critical advice to help grow.  Sugar coated comments will not help in this endeavour.  Then again overtly harsh comments art not beneficial.  Critical comments that point out weaknesses in your painting show where you have to improve and praise from the same source strengthen your resolve to continue painting.

One piece of advice that known to work is persistence.  Once you start to paint again, you feel that you can continue to paint.  Look for a visit by the dual muses, Passion and Excitement.  The more you paint the more you want to paint. Nothing succeeds like success.  This is where the magic of persistence kicks in. Nether reading about painting, thinking about painting, talking about painting nor staring at a blank canvas can overcome Painter’s Block.  You have to pick up a brush and paint. Painting will rekindle the Excitement and Passion you had about painting.