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Get Yourself Unstuck

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Anselm Keiffer, Der Rhine, detail 1982
Sometimes you just get stuck. You are painting along fine and then you reach a point where you don’t know what to do. It might be because you have fallen in love and have lost objectivity. It might because the color is off somehow. But usually you stop and pullover because you just actually have no idea what to do. You truly have never been here before.

This is a good strategy in most circumstances. But in art, sometimes you think you can figure it out if you think hard enough, but in actual fact you can’t. It is hard to imagine too many steps ahead in a painting. Having no clear image to shoot for is somewhat terrifying but there it is. You have come to a place in the road that you can go no further. So logically we stop.

And then, since no new clear information is conjured up, we tend to stay stopped. Stuck.

So I don’t know the full answer, but I think I know a small part of it.

And here it is…

When you hit a roadblock, when you can’t keep moving in one direction, instead of stopping, you just go left or right. You pivot. In other words you keep moving in a way that is different even though you might not know the outcome. The important thing is to just keep moving. You might even be pretending to be moving towards something but if you can keep moving, if the dance can continue, the answer, the solution to what was stopping you arrives more quickly.

Interestingly, questions that arise in the process of making your art are often best answered from doing instead of thinking. If you can just keep mark making, faking it almost, then your art continues to change. It is this changing that actually starts to give you the crucial information about what you might do next. The changing art seems constantly new and fresh and as a result you can remain objective. And being objective allows you to see your art and what to do next, more easily.

So next time you find yourself just staring at your art not knowing what to do and minutes are turning into hours, just remember… Move. Take action even if you don’t know what to do. Do anything. Trust your intuition and simply dance.

That is a pretty good answer till a better once comes along.

And from my experience, it always does.

Do you ever get stuck? And when you do how do you get unstuck?

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The Best Version of Yourself

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We all experience ups and downs – it’s part of the nature of life – but I’ve found that making art during the up times is much easier to do than during the down times. I realized however, after going through a bit of a down time myself recently, that getting into the studio was exactly what I needed.

Watch the video to see how I use art to heal.

Let me know what you think – do you ever use art as therapy?

In gratitude, Nicholas

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Please Steal My Art

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image for blog postIt is not clear exactly who said “Good artists copy, but great artists steal.” It might have been Picasso. The poet TS Eliot wrote something very similar in 1920. Regardless, the quote brings to the forefront an idea, a concept that I am consistently highlighting in all my Art2Life programs.

It has to do with creating your Art from looking primarily inside of yourself instead of outside of yourself. I teach a lot of workshops and I understand and appreciate the temporary influence a teacher’s work may have upon a students. While this is to be expected, I am not at all interested in having this be the final result for my students.

When someone is copying someone else’s art, it just means that they are looking outside of themselves more than they are looking within. In the beginning everyone is trying to figure out what kind of Art it is exactly they can make. Everyone is influenced. I surely was and I too copied people’s work because I so badly wanted to create work that I loved. I couldn’t see my own work at that point, as it was still unmade. It is far easier and certainly more visually obvious to look at what others – such as your teachers, past artists, those you admire – are making for the answers instead of where the true answers lay: within yourself.

Everyone – and I really mean everyone – is capable of discovering what their own creativity can create if they are willing to take the time to investigate. Every person walking the Earth is utterly unique. No 2 people are the same. However, to really visually represent this difference one must pay attention to one’s self and not so much to what others are doing.

If you are copying it means you are looking over your shoulder at someone else’s art instead of your own. If, on the other hand, you steal someone art then this is something entirely different. Taking inspiration, taking colors, design, whatever and then using it, modifying it as your own actually transforms it into something personal. What matters in the end is your thinking. Are you inside or outside of yourself when making Art?

It is always challenging to find your own expression. It is mired with half starts, uncertainties and can, over time, wear you down, particularly when your art does not match your expectations.

Looking back now I so clearly can remember all the firsts, all the fun and even the pain, and certainly all the tremendous “ah ha!” moments I found along the way. This is what it is all about. The life of an artist is an unfolding, a peeling away of layers… layers of self-doubt, ego, dreams, hopes and always renewed optimism and faith.

It turns out that the practice of finding your own Art is ultimately the practice of finding your own Life. And finding that makes everything else pale in comparison. I want to say thank you. I feel especially grateful to be part of this tribe.

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Movement and Scale

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Working larger is amazing, but it often requires a subtle shift in your approach to art making.

Click on the image to watch the video and see what I do when I’m starting a big, new piece.

In gratitude, Nicholas

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Making your art great before you begin.

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I teach a lot about differences in art making. Differences between colors, shapes and textures, values and even emotions. The thinking being, that a bright color will look even brighter if paired with its opposite. A dull color. A light shape will look even lighter next to a dark shape. It also relates to states of being. Being careful, cautious in parts of our art especially looks good when paired with an area that has been made by being slightly out of control.

Interestingly, this juxtaposition of opposites, this enhancement of things also works in life too. For example, I can’t stop thinking about this fabulous ice cream cone I had this past Sunday right after crossing the finish line of a particularly, grueling running race I do every year. The sweet, cold ice cream cone and the dry, extremely tiring, 7 mile cross country race, for me, were truly opposites. And experiencing them together improved both. They each become more, in the presence of each other.

This play of opposites enhances not just Art but also Life. Both sides of the equation are positively affected by the richness and variation of differences.

On the last painting I made I used a tiny dental picking tool. I used a #2 pencil and brushes that make fine lines. But then I also used 3 and 5-inch paint brushes. I used a 13 in roll of paper towels along with rags to smear and adjust paint. I have a car window squeegee that is about 13 in wide. I have a 7-inch paint scraper. I builder’s scribe for making large carved circles. I used a 6-inch orbital sander with 60 grit sandpaper. I used 16-inch wide x 5 ft. sheets masking paper to apply paint and adjust its texture. And I also used a house brick to gouge the surface. I have a box of greasy pastels that I constantly use in addition to oil paint.

When I laid out all the tools on the table I was kind of shocked at how diverse they all looked. Just the tools alone are interesting. In fact lining them up against each other is in a way just like a painting. Combining the small with the large. The delicate with the rough.

I realized you could tell a lot about someone’s art by looking at the tools used to make it. Maybe if the tools are varied, if they are gathered over time, discovered one by one based upon the differences in marks they each create greatly contribute to the potency of the final art.

Maybe some of the richness in our work can be discovered before we even begin.

Maybe by making an effort to push our awareness about the kinds of mark making tools we use, we can more easily create art that not only moves us, but everyone else too.

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In Between the Lines

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As you might have noticed, a lot of my work revolves around the concept of difference – a dark shape next to a light shape, a subtle mark next to a bold mark, and so on. Sometimes, however, these elements are too separate from one another, and as a whole the piece lacks a sense of cohesion.

Watch the video to see the little trick I use to bring everything together.

How do you unite the composition of your work? I would love to hear your approach!

Please feel free to share this with your friends, and anyone else who you think might be interested.

In gratitude, Nicholas

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The Value of Sensitivity

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I just pulled an older piece of mine out from storage and was immediately struck by how similar the marks were in terms of value. Not that this is bad necessarily, but when compared with my more recent work, I quickly saw how this older piece was not as engaging. I knew I had to change it.

Watch the video, and leave a comment. What do you think of when you look at your older work?

In gratitude, Nicholas

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How to fix your art. (When it feels too busy.)

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In art, just as it is in life, more is not necessarily more. This is a hard one for me to remember. My default in may art making is to just keep adding things. If one kind of shape or mark feels good then surely 37 more will feel even better!

Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work. Somewhere along the way—just enough, becomes too much. Do you know what I am talking about? You can tell, when you look at your art from across the room and it tires you out just by looking at it.

So the obvious answer seems to be to remove things, but this can be tricky especially if you love so much of what is there already.

So here is another way to look at it …

It’s not that you can’t have lots of shapes or elements; it’s just sometimes visually too much when everything is equally noticeable. In other words, all the shapes are high contrast (different in light and dark; value difference) then all of them will be competing for the viewer’s attention.

And that, sometimes, can make you’re painting look like a garage sale. In a garage sale everything is thrown on the table and nothing is curated. We should always be aware the elements or areas that we want to make the most noticeable. And let me say, there is nothing wrong with a busy garage sale kind of painting. It is of course your preference.

But if you desire to restore a visual calm to your art, we have to edit the values of the shapes or areas so the viewer is not overloaded visually.  We need to make the value differences of all the things that you don’t want us to notice at first glance so that their values are closer in value to the surrounding area’s values.

For example if you have a dark background and you have dozens of light shapes that are over crowding the painting, try making half of them darker so they sit more quietly with the background. (They are now closer in value and as a result are less noticeable.)

So next time your painting feels too busy, remember that you don’t necessarily have to throw anything away, just change some values of what is already there.

This is a very cool thing to learn so if it is unclear leave a question below and I or someone in the community will answer it!

Also pop on over to the new FB Art2life page:
https://www.facebook.com/art2lifeworld

Tomorrow, Friday July 14th at noon I will be doing a FB Live all about this topic and I can answer your questions there too!

See you tomorrow, Friday
https://www.facebook.com/art2lifeworld

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Go Back to Move Forward

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I’ve been working on this giant blue painting for some time, and while I like where it’s at currently, there’s still a long way to go before it’s finished.

Watch the video  and see how I start to shift the composition. Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

In gratitude, Nicholas

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