Starting an art practice can be daunting. Here are my best tips and ideas to help get you set up for a sustainable practice. “How did you decide your art was your art?” This is number eleven in my series on How to Create Your Art Practice.
A great question came up in conversation the other day. Danielle asked me how I decided my thing was my thing, which art was the art I wanted to make with my whole heart. And I told her the short answer was practice. Here’s the longer answer…
Having work displayed in a museum was always the pipe dream for me. A thing so unattainable, it might as well be me wishing to be an astronaut or an Olympic competitor in artistic swimming. For the way my brain works, having work in a museum was/is validation of my work like nothing else. Is that a good/healthy thing to think about and wish for? Maybe, maybe not but wishes don’t really operate according to logic.
I have always been particularly drawn to art that is framed and hung on the wall. By its size and color and force. Images on the wall are incredibly good at evoking a whole range of feelings for me. I was REALLY into Salvador Dalí as a teenager. When all of my friends were hanging boy band posters in their rooms, I was hanging “The Persistence of Memory” and figuring out how to turn it into a halloween costume. I collaged my school notebooks, art for my walls, I made things and gave them away. Working with color and images seems inevitable for me, in retrospect.
The Make Something Every Day years
When I started my “Make Something Every Day” project in 2013, I did so with the intent of exploring whatever caught my fancy. I wanted to make things with my hands and I wasn’t terribly picky about where I jumped in. I started with a lot of paper crafts: artist trading cards and postcards mostly. But I also made shrines out of Altoid tins and crocheted things. I was trying out things that I saw in books and online chasing a sense of “This is the Thing!” I was desperately wanting an art practice and I was willing to put the time in on it.
Making something every day is both a challenge and also completely liberating. The challenge is to figure out what to do every single day and the liberation comes from putting it down to work on something else the next day. You can’t get too precious when you spend 20 minutes on something. It allows you to start creating a large body of work quickly. And you can feel very confident that almost nothing you make in 20 minutes a day is going to be very good. That too is liberating. Making a lot of bad art allows you to find the rhythm to your process without being tied to an outcome or product.
I heart color
What I really came to understand through the blur of those first few years is that I love color. The whole rainbow. I am going to make colorful things and they are going to be bright as heck. I don’t do watered down or muted colors. If it’s not screaming chartreuse, sparkling teal, or quinacridone magenta it’s probably not me. I’m into analogous colors, complimentary colors, colors not found in nature, and colors that don’t photograph well because they make it feel like your eyeballs are bleeding. I am in deep with this quote from Larry Poons from the documentary “The Price of Everything”
My only defense against fate is color.
Honestly I could write a whole dissertation on this quote because every time I think about it I come up with some new way to parse it and I think about it nearly once a day.
I also heart books
During that time, I also came face to face with how much I love books and making books and using books to tell my artistic story. I love old books I can repurpose. Also I love books I’ve stitched together from Frankenstein parts. I dig coming up with themes for smaller books so I can make them all in one sitting. I’m obsessed with the book form and try to learn new book making techniques regularly. I feel like I could explore this avenue until I have arthritis so bad I can’t hold my tools any more.
I often call myself an abstract mixed media book artist because I feel like those are the defining descriptors of my artistic path these days.
Looking at what I make right now and thinking back over my development makes it seem so obvious that I would make colorful things to go on the wall and books to hold but it’s all been an evolving process marked by being willing to try so many different things.
So what should I do?
Make a lot of stuff. I just can’t say that enough. Just keep making and making and making. When you get tired of exploring one avenue, find a new one to run down. Notice what you are naturally drawn to and want to explore. I think printmaking is just so very cool but I’m intimidated by the process so I haven’t spent much time on it. It’s not likely to ever be my go to event. Gluing paper together in a collage though? That’s my jam. I can do that all day and then talk about it all night. I have a good friend who cringes when we talk about collage. She hates it that much, but she can draw faces all day every day.
Notice what you are good at and what you love. Read books and take some classes around those things so you can find out what you don’t know and start learning. Experiment and keep notes. I say that as a terrible note taker. Although I’m working on getting better at writing down things that I think I might need to reference later. What is so interesting to you that it makes your fingers itch to try it? That’s the rabbit you need to be chasing.
Notice what you find tedious. I love to crochet but I don’t make things with very dark yarn or yarn that is exceptionally tiny. I don’t like very dark yarn because unless I’m crocheting in direct sunlight, I can’t see the stitches. That limits when I can work on the project and since I’m mostly a watch tv at night and crochet kinda gal, I don’t make progress on that project. Similarly, with very small yarns I struggle to see the stitches and because things are so small, the project takes forever. Because I find these things tedious, I steer around them and don’t tackle projects that include those elements. If you know what you find tedious, chances are that those projects aren’t where your passion lies.
The exception here is that as you build your skills you might also build your capacity for tedious. There are book binding methods that were WAY too hard for me when I started that I’m more than willing to tackle now because I know that I can manage more because I have more experience.
As you experiment in these ways, you are going to figure out what your art is. It might be one thing, it might be five things. Those five might be things you can do individually or you’ll figure out how to merge some of them together in some way. In my Women’s Work collection, I merged my love of painting and love of crochet. I felt like the idea of women’s hand work and all the hours that go into that was a great juxtaposition with the kinds of work women are not traditionally accepted in doing: astronomy, painting, writing, or military defense, to name a few.
Once you’ve spent some time making and you have a better idea of what you love to do and what excites you, you’ll be ready to zoom in. Figure out how many ways you can make your thing. Make it BIG, make it tiny, make it extra long, make it really tall, exaggerate features that are interesting to you, leave off features that annoy you, make it black and white, make it only blue, make it backwards, make it slow, make it fast, make it with your non-dominant hand, make it in a different location, make it with an unusual kind of material, show your bestie how to make it and make one together. Iterate, iterate, iterate. Until you feel comfortable with it and then look up something new about it that will send you straight back to the beginner stage so you can see it fresh.
Back to the short answer
Remember the short answer was practice? Yeah, that’s what I’ve got for you. As you practice, these things will become more clear to you. Some might be a long-time love that you further develop, some might take you by surprise you as you try out new things. But you won’t know for sure until you dig in and make some art.
What are your questions?
Hopefully you’ve been reading along with my How to Create an Art Practice posts. What’s coming up for you? Are you feeling energized to start or are you sagging in the middle? Do you have questions that you are hoping I’ll answer in this series? Send me an email and let me know what you are looking for or wondering about.