Balancing Act

It’s a balancing act in my practice of learning to manage spontaneity and planning or knowing when to move faster or slower.

Planning vs Spontaneity: so much of my work is built on the improvisation of gathered materials and then responding to those tiny collections I’ve created for myself. Sometimes that spontaneity is fast, a few minutes, and sometimes it stretches over a few days or weeks. I’m not always sure where in that process the planning kicks in. But it does and then the balancing act starts.

This is a box of paper scraps I pulled from my wider collection for use in this journal.

Work that I really love looks effortless. It looks like it arrived fully formed, spontaneously. It’s my abstract expressionist soul showing up. Cy Twombly’s Blackboard paintings. Helen Frankenthaler’s Mountain and Sea. Robert Motherwell’s Elegy to the Spanish Republic. They *feel* fast even though they likely weren’t.

And there’s where I struggle. Walking that edge of being spontaneous and letting what I make feel free and easy and planning for that free and easy. I’m not sure if this a blog post or just a published conversation with myself because I don’t have many answers. Hopefully it will help you start forming your own questions around this idea though.

Stashing the stash

I’ve spent almost 10 years collecting my paper stash. That includes buying stuff, making stuff, finding stuff, trading for stuff, and saving leftover stuff. It’s MUCH easier to be spontaneous and improvise when you have a deep bench of selections to pull from. I am in the process of creating the same sort of stash for crochet. And lemme tell you that process feels PAINFULLY slow. Because 1.) making pieces for this stash is so intrinsically slow and then 2.) when I do have pieces made I use them almost immediately. So there is this constant “low stash” warning light flashing in my head.

If I would pull more from the vintage crochet pieces I have, I might be able to work a bit more quickly. I struggle with that though because almost all of those pieces are white or off white, and that’s not exactly my color scheme, and/or I want to use pieces that have a more contemporary pattern. And just now in writing this, it occurs to me that I could dye or paint those antique pieces as needed. (Y’all the brainstorming just really never stops even when I’m writing these things.)

So see? I’m still trying to figure out functionally how this new kind of stash will work. How much planning it will take. How much I can improvise and where. A balancing act.

Faster and Slower

I alluded to this in the opening paragraphs, how sometimes finished work looks like it was completed quickly when that might or might not be the case. And it’s becoming more and more clear to me that I work quickly when I don’t have to. I feel this internal pressure to do things fast when it’s not really necessary.

I’ve started watching other artists work in videos and even things that look like fast brush strokes are sometimes actually slow and meticulous brush strokes and sometimes they even practice those strokes while holding their brushes a few inches above the canvas. It looks like some sort of visualization dance as they trace their brush through the air in the pattern or stroke they want to make. It is wild. But it made me realize that things can look like they were done quickly while actually being quite meticulous.

So again, here is balance for me. Learning to slow it down. Planning a little bit ahead of time. Doing a practice run on scratch paper. Especially if I only have one shot at it because of singular materials. Working awhile and then waiting for it to dry so I don’t smear it up by working wet on wet. These seem so simple and yet here I am ten years in and only just now fully understanding them and starting to apply them.

My biggest planning session yet

Currently I’m working on a self-portrait that is a set of nesting dolls. Several years ago I saw a set of more abstractly painted nesting dolls on Etsy and I fell in love with them. I, of course, bought a set of blank nesting dolls to make my own. They sat on my shelf for a few years because I didn’t know exactly what to do with them.

I have a set of tarot-like archetype cards that I am using for ideas and planning. And I made a plan! On paper! With thoughts and ideas! And a color chart! It’s more planning than I’ve done for any project in a long time. I emailed someone to ask if I could use a photo of theirs in the work. Look at all this planning ahead!

But now I’ve kinda lost steam. I’ve painted a few of them and two of them turned out more similar than I wanted and I got a bit frustrated so I’ve stopped work. I haven’t heard back from the person I needed permission for using their photo. Stopping work means I lose the momentum to go back to the project. Then I start sorta-kinda dreading it so I don’t work on it for even more time. I work on other things for longer and longer as I ponder what to do with this project instead of just, you know, working on it.

That balance between planning and spontaneity rears its head again.

Wrapping it up

I suppose this all part of being a practicing artist. Things we work on and wrestle with. Pieces that sometimes work together and sometimes don’t hold together. Learning from both sides of that equation and attempting the balancing act again and again.

What are you balancing in your practice? What needs to be taken out and examined? Where are your points of pride and your points of pain? Share what’s going on with your practice. Share on socials and tag me or email me here.

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