Insist on the Beauty of Form

Insist on the beauty of form and color to be obtained from the composition of the largest masses, the four or five large masses which cover your canvas. Let these things above all things have fine shapes…Let them be as meaningful of your subject as they possibly can be. ..Remember that the greatest beauty can be expressed through these masses, that the distinction of the whole canvas depends on them.
~ Robert Henri in The Art Spirit

I passed by this stand of tall, slender pines while driving on a back road in Wisconsin a couple of summers ago. I stopped and took a couple of photos and had every intention of painting them—until tonight.

Every composition is an arrangement of shapes, but the shapes aren’t always obvious. In the photo above, the trees are full of interesting details, and those details disguise the big shapes. That’s when making a notan (the process of reducing everything to two values—black and white—can be a best first step before diving right into a painting. The notan eliminates details and leaves only large shapes.

When the 30-minute notan study was done, I felt less than thrilled with the four large shapes that remained. There is nothing outstanding or beautiful about any of the shapes and I decided not to do the painting

I still love the scene and the memory attached to the photo, but creating a painting requires a significant block of time and effort. So, I’m not disappointed about letting go of the notion. The 30 minutes it took to do the notan drawing was a good use of my time.

 

Ready, Set, Go…Well, Maybe

The success of any creative effort depends on your expectations and how ready you are to do what you want to do.

What are your expectations for yourself? For the outcome of your effort? How prepared are you to meet your expectations?

Playbook strategy

There’s often a gap between where you are and where you want to be, what you can do and what you want to do. In other words, you may not be ready to do what you want to do. But don’t let that gap stop you. Just start where you are now. Ready, set, go!

 

 

 

Are you creative?

Good Measure-process img

Yes! If you feel desire (and we all do), you are a creative person. We tend to confuse “creative” and “talented,” and they do overlap, but they’re not inter-changeable. You can be talented and creative. You can also be creative and have little or limited talent, which I define as “an aptitude or skill.” The desire to create something, anything, is all you need to be creative.

Playbook strategy

For a week, keep a list of the times you cause something to happen.

Fields and Clouds

Don’t try to paint good landscapes. Try to paint canvases that will show how interesting landscapes look to you — your pleasure in the thing.
~ Robert Henri in The Art Spirit

When I passed by this Wisconsin farmstead on a summer day in 2015, I had to stop the car and just take it in. The cumulus clouds floating above a field of ripening grain was, as they used to say, “A Kodak moment.”

The small 6×6-inch oil painting was done on a birch board in 2015. I leaned into this painting, using a palatte knife to paint the field. I say “leaned in” because I’d only started painting again after setting aside my paints and brushes for 30-plus years. But something about this landscape gave me the courage to try. I gifted the painting to a friend, and it remains one of my favorites.

I’m painting the landscape again. This time on a 9×12-inch linen panel. The house is hidden, protected behind the windrow of trees. The small barn and silo, once so common in rural areas, are an anomaly in today’s world. Many of the older barns and silos have fallen into disrepair, or they’ve been replaced by sheet-metal barns and shiny aluminum silos. My motive for painting this little landscape (which still needs a little tweaking) is reason I stopped my car and took the photo — it was a beautiful summer day for watching clouds sweep past, high above the field.

Be Yourself

velveteen rabbit

I read two articles today about being “authentic.” The author of one article, a psychologist, said people misunderstand what it means to be authentic. She believes we begin life as a blank slate and create, or author, ourselves. She bolsters her argument that we create ourselves by referencing the fact that the words author and authentic share the root word “auth,” which means “to authorize.”  If I’m following the author’s logic, we can, if we choose, author ourselves, because we are blank slates.

I don’t agree with that starting point. Anyone who’s been around infants knows they’re born with likes and dislikes and they’re very ready to let everyone around them know what’s what.

The second article focused on how difficult and scary it is for us to be our authentic selves. The author of this article said we are afraid to let people see our true selves, because it’s not safe to share the truth about our struggles and challenges. We’re afraid we’ll be scorned and ridiculed if we show our vulnerabilities — how we’re real.

That got me to thinking, and what I remembered was the Velveteen Rabbit. In this children’s story, the rabbit wants nothing more than to become real, but the only way he can be real is if the boy loves him. How to be real was as much of a conundrum for the Velveteen Rabbit as it is for us. Being real is scary.

Over time, the boy does come to love the rabbit and because the boy loves him, the Velveteen Rabbit changes into a real rabbit. He then leaves the boy, joins the other rabbits in the forest, and lives like a real rabbit.

How can we be ourselves? Walt Whitman offers some insight.

You shall no longer take things at second of third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the specters in books;
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me;
You shall listen to all sides, and filter them from yourself.

Do we, like the Velveteen Rabbit, need to be loved to be real? I think being loved helps.