If we are thinking about other people’s work when we are making art, then we are not really making our own art. The activity of comparing, admiring, and imitating other people’s work is a very different activity than making your art. These two activities should be kept far apart as they don’t help each other. Making strong art is accomplished more easily by looking within ourselves.
Where do you look when making your art?
In gratitude, Nicholas
When working on a new body of work, I try to start my paintings by first putting in the larger shapes and then using those as a guide going forward.
How do you start a new piece?
Do you know how sometimes make something that is so good that it even surprises you? It seemed so effortless, and till this day you still kind of wonder how you made it? It is that good.
I have often wondered why I can’t do this more often. I discovered it has to do with my thinking…
Sometimes in making my Art I am overly concerned with results. This usually happens after an absence, when I have not been making art for a week or two. I keep thinking about how it is going to turn out. This mindset doesn’t ever produce my best work. When I am too focused on the outcome, I am simply not present. And then I am no longer able to fully experience the small miraculous thing unfolding in front of me. If my decisions are not based upon what is happening presently, then they cannot possibly all work together to make a cohesive whole in the future.
At some point – usually day two or three – I remember that it is more about enjoying the moment and paying attention to what is happening now, that oddly results in my best work.
Now I no longer wait so long to get back to this understanding. I simply have changed my process.
Quantity over Quality
For me, the way to quickly come back to this understanding is through quantity, not quality. I just start back in doing 5-10 paintings, instead of just one, all at once. This is almost more than I can possibly handle. But this is a good thing. If I can’t possibly understand entirely what I am doing in the present, then having a clear understanding of the future or clinging to an outcome is next to impossible.
In other words, when you are trying to control everything, at least for me, it just kills my art. However, when there are just too many balls in the air to control everything, intuition, spontaneity, and just plain fun creep back into my process. Once I am re-engaged in this way, then and only then can strong work become possible.
My best work oddly feels like I made it without caring. It just kind of happened by accident while I was playing with art materials. And in fact it was…
Art, like life, teaches me again and again that all possibility, all things worthwhile are available if I just can let go and surrender, happily to the present.
It seems to good to be true. But I think it is.
Wandering through the northern Italian town of Tirano, I am struck by the very old, stonewalls. They circumscribe every property, miles of village roadways and impossibly steep hillside terraces. They are simply beautiful. Utilitarian but incredibly artful, their refined quality I can still see. This was how hillsides, roads and olive orchards were delineated and terraced centuries ago.
I imagine it took decades to complete many of these walls. But since they have existed for centuries, the investment of time and energy seems totally worth it. Whether the wall is in a forgotten corner of the city or lining a barely used road leading up the hill from the center of town, they are all made with the same degree of refinement. Stones are chosen and composed within these walls to complement one another. Large massive stones give way to patterns of smaller ones. Repetition of stone shapes and sizes are as varied and surprising as the pattern or passage of any painting I have ever done.
Walking up these steep village roads linking these tiny mountain Italian villages, the stonework accompanies me for miles. Although the maker of this wall is long forgotten I can feel his calloused but sensitive hands even now. It was only one of many moments in a single day of many but in that moment he, no doubt, held up a stone, felt its weight, considered its most smooth, most flattest side and then for time memorial, placed it just so into this wall.
These walls were not slapped together. You can tell. They are gorgeous displays of craftsmanship, care and design. I wonder if what I spend my time making, paintings composed of questionable brands of store bought oil paint, will last the test of time as well as these walls? How is what I make any different? Like those artisans that made these walls so long ago I too am just demonstrating my selectivity. I too am choosing my preferences in color, shape and line to make something.
Maybe that is just it. That is what all art is about. Whether it is a stonewall, a new recipe, an arrangement of cut flowers or even an abstract painting. It is an orientation to life. That the decisions, the choices we make, do matter especially when they result in something that stands outside of us. When we actually manifest something. It becomes part of the world. We leave it behind as a reminder of who we were and who we became.
Maybe the greatest benefit of our art is not for us. Maybe it is about what is felt and experienced by those who come across what we have made, maybe centuries later. When we too will probably be mostly forgotten. But then, in just a glance, in just a moment they too will get a sense of who we were and what, in the end, mattered to us.
I thought I would take a moment to share with you some of the materials I use most often while painting. They’ve really helped improve my practice.
What tools do you use while working? I would really like to know!
I think the main challenge in art making is remaining objective. How do you totally focus on this thing you are making—a painting, sculpture etc. without losing your objectivity? We need to see it as it appears for the very first time even though we have been staring at it for weeks. If we can see it clearly we have a better chance of improving it by the changes we make.
Here are a couple things I do:
1 I rarely work on something for more than 2 hours. I try to stop closer to an hour for maximum efficiency in my art process. I do my best work in the first hour almost every time.
2 I Post on Instagram what I am making. That forces me to see it small. Once I see it in my Instagram feed I can see it in a way I haven’t before.
3 Allow some distractions, like music, podcasts, and even visitors to interrupt you a little. I find my work is more easily made when I am not allowed to overly focus and obsess.
4 I turn my painting upside down and change the design so it works upside down. Then I flip it over again and re adjust for that orientation. I do this constantly. Each time I change it for one direction it improves it for the other. IN the end my picture can work either way, and then I know it is balanced.
5 I always work on 4-10 paintings on my studio wall. Not necessarily at the same time but I do jump around and I can always see all of them. Seeing so many makes it harder to obsess over one.
What do you do to remain objective? Lets start a list from all our comments…I will compile it and post it in FB and back here next week as a download. This could be super helpful to all of us!
Thanks in advance for all your comments. I read every one even though sometimes I can’t respond to all of them. I am painting a lot right now as I have a solo show coming up at Caldwell Snyder Gallery in San Francisco! The opening is Thursday, 5:30- 7:30 April 6th. If any of you are up here then I would love to see you!
PS The image above is a cropping of one of my father’s paintings. You can see his work at cliffordwilton.com
I wanted to share this little trick I use when I get stuck on a painting. It really helps me get past any road blocks.
What do you do when you feel stuck with your work?
I get a lot of people asking me whether they should sign their art. Whether they should sign it on the front or the back and how big or small or maybe even not at all.
So there are no rules. This is a relatively minor thing but still naming the maker of the art is important. Especially for the artist.
Let me back up a little and talk about how I like to think about pictures, art, that people make. I feel it needs to be authentic. It wants to be as much like that artist as possible.
If most artists are anything like me, that end result, the final stages of the painting will always be scrutinized by the artist to see if anymore anything can be added to convey more strongly whatever is there. Can I make this more like I want it? What could I add or take away that could convey that feeling better?
Now, that same scrutiny needs to be applied to where and how a signature is added to the art.
Can it be added in such a way that it doesn’t take away from that original. idea being construed? So let the art determine how loud or quiet the signature will be. I tend to make mine more second reading. I don’t want to distract from what is going on in my painting.
But however you sign your art, just realize that your signature is a visual addition that can be barely noticeable or hugely distracting.
If the signature is super big, then the painting might suddenly become more about your signature. You might want this. And that too is ok. All I am saying is to be aware of the visual impact of your signature. It is part of the art, not separate, once placed on the front of your work.
Here is what I do:
I sign my last name, usually on the bottom front of all my original art.
Then on the back I write, with a black permanent felt pen (a fine point sharpee)
the following 7 things:
1. My full name
2. The title
3. The size
4. The materials
5. The date
6. A 4 digit unique image code
7. My website
I add these 7 items on the back so I don’t have to ever spend time answering the questions that come up if I don’t. I just say all the information is on the back of the painting. I also want to make it easy for people who see my art, to find me.
And in regards to the front of your art, you no longer need to wonder what size or where to sign your art now. Your signature is just one more mark in thousands that comprises your finished art.
Just use the same sensibility when making your signature that you do in making your art. That will always make it feel and look, perfectly right.
I would love to hear your thoughts on where and when you sign your art.
Please, lets talk about this in the comments below!
Hey everyone! I just wanted to give you a little tour of what I am currently working on – it’s all work in progress, but it’s great to share.
What are you working on? If you like, post some images in the comments section – I’d love to see!
When standing at the edge of the sea in the tropics, the water appears to be a very pale translucent, aquamarine color. The sunlight hits the white coral sand and reflects its whiteness through the water, illuminating it from below. The color is part reflection of the blue sky and part reflection of the sandy bottom. The sun sparkles on the moving surface of the water. Swimming out, feet no longer being able to touch, the waves no longer breaking, the color becomes darker. The reflected light coming from below is lessened and the sea transitions into the most extraordinary deep, deep blue.
Holding my breath and swimming down into this color, I am surrounded. It is simply a blue world. It is just blue. What is this color? Why does it make me feel so alive? There is such infinite spaciousness. This blueness reminds me of possibilities, of being ultimately free. It feels like potential. There are no boundaries. Blue is emptiness. Blue is the sky and blue is also the sea.
When my brush dips into blue and I see it arc across my painting, it always returns me to that day, swimming in the tropical sea. The color blue is a small reminder of that feeling. But blue is just one of the colors upon my palette. There are so many more. However, blue is like no other. Blue is the window out, a square of it upon a canvas conjures up deep space and invites the infinite to enter my Art. Blue is the antidote to the density, and crisscrossing of the louder, stronger colors.
All of them carry their own associations. Yellow is curt, young and not particularly caring of what others think. Deep orange always returns me to the Earth. It is celebratory and carries with it a heraldic beauty. It feels wise. Green is adventure and always, when it can get away with it, breaks from reality. It lives life on it’s own terms and listens to no one, while Red races ahead, on fire and unrestrained in all it takes on. Purple is set in its ways, ageless and cannot escape its royalty. It is all things refined, but quietly so.
These feelings, memories and underlying attributes of Color cannot simply be ignored when I paint. They spill into one another; they cancel each other out while at other times they seem agreeable and complementary to one another. They are not inclined to be together but sometimes when all seems right with the world, they fall into order, they fit seamlessly, agreeably beside one another and I am able to finally stop. The canvas has arrived. It feels complete, and like that perfect day swimming in the tropical sea, it lingers in the present for just a brief moment and then without warning it slips into memory ever so gently behind me.
This excerpt written by Nicholas Wilton recently published in the book “The Color Lab, Mixed Media for Artists”, by Deborah Forman