“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.” – Chuck Close
Since…oh, about as far as my memory will stretch, I’ve had some bad habits involving my personal art practice. A piece will be started; the medium might be watercolors, acrylics, or sculpture. A passionate fervor will overtake me. I will plug away at it for days, even months on-and-off. Then, when faced with the reality that I can’t fully translate the vision in my head to paper, canvas or otherwise, I give up and set the piece aside to languish in limbo indefinitely. I’d say a solid third, maybe more, of all the artwork I make in my free time ends up like this. I currently have half-a-dozen half-finished acrylic paintings sitting in front of me, and a number of other kinds of art projects in various states of progression.
It’s different when money’s involved, of course. There is liability and responsibility there to deliver on a pre-arranged agreement. And I do like most of the commissioned work I’ve produced. But any artist can tell you that working for someone else is very different than working for yourself. When making work for my own personal growth and enjoyment, especially work that comes mostly from the imagination, it seems like the slightest snag can cause a massive hang-up in my workflow. So what then, when the piece begins to come into focus and it isn’t precisely how I wanted it to be? The self-doubt, second-guessing, and perfectionism leaves the work crippled and abandoned, sometimes never resolved. The hard truth is that, yes, while there may be “a ha!” moments of sudden unexpected inspiration, you can’t continue to grow and improve as an artist if you aren’t putting in the work.
I think this is a bad work habit that lots of us probably face. Like the toxic myth that one must always be ‘struggling’ to produce good art, we excuse ourselves from the hard labor – the countless hours of work it takes to physically create an artist’s vision. We make excuses like “I’m tired from working my full-time day job” or, even worse, “I’m not feeling inspired right now”. I recognize the problem for what it is, and yet the dozen or more unfinished works are still laying around to remind me that I need to make some changes to my routine – which brings us to the work itself. I thought it might encourage me – and hopefully you, too! – to finish some art if I talked a little bit about the individual pieces I’m wrestling with here. My goal is to finish as many of these pieces as I can before the end of the year (gulp).
I’ll begin with this acrylic portrait of a close friend of mine because it’s been taunting me for years. It began as an oil painting 4 years ago, which was damaged while moving. I decided I might have an easier time with it if I started over in acrylics, then reached about the same point as I had in oils before I hit the dreaded ‘wall’.
Here’s another acrylic portrait just for fun that I began about 2 years ago, then lost the momentum somewhere along the way. I love mori (forest) fashion and nature motifs, so naturally I had to delve into that realm with a painting. I’m thinking the girl’s appearance will change quite a bit as I continue to work on this one.
My best friend & I are big Star Wars fans, so a SW-extended-universe-themed painting as a gift for her was an inevitability. I began this painting last December as a present for the winter holidays, and proceeded to be a bad friend and not finish it. Luckily I have some of the best friends in the world who would rather get a painting as a gift from me 10 years from now than some other random material crap.
Here’s something a little bit different than the other works-in-progress – a diorama. I started with a pre-made paper-mache gingerbread house, then sliced off all the wintry details such as the dripping icing icicles from the roof to make it look more like a regular log cabin. A cabin in the woods with a roaring fire, vegetable patch out back and maybe a few chickens and a goat is my personal idea of perfect harmony; my happy place, if you will. I thought it would be nice to have a little diorama of this magical happy place in my room to look at to cheer me up on rough days. It ended up taking a backseat to other projects and I never made the time to finish it.
Here are two watercolor & ink pieces I started maybe 2 months ago. The subject matter between them is jarringly different, but I tend to do a little bit of everything as far as subject matter is concerned, so that’s nothing new. I love how delicate watercolor paints are, and how much layering I can get away with. Using a medium like watercolor or gouache to portray something disturbing, as in the hellscape of the second piece here, is fun too IMO.
As you may have noticed, I’m always multi-tasking on a billion different things art-wise. It’s how I’ve always been; rather than focus on one piece, I work on multiple pieces on-and-off at the same time. I’m not sure how this began, but I believe I started doing this to avoid getting bored with a piece. Is it detrimental to my ability to finish personal work in a timely fashion? Probably. But my brain has so many ideas bursting out of it every day that I feel compelled to at least ‘jot’ them down, if not starting a more serious piece then at least a rough draft.
Well, that’s all for now! If you follow me on Instagram, keep an eye out for the finished versions of these pieces in the coming months! If I like ’em enough, they’ll end up in my portfolio on the site, too. As always, thanks so much for reading, and I hope that opening up about my struggles as an artist might help someone else out there to know that they aren’t alone, and to keep going!