A fellow artist recently asked for advice on how to keep creating if you don't feel "in the mood"; have general malaise or just feel stuck.
I don't experience a lack of ideas but I definitely can relate to hitting walls when working on a piece. Funnily enough the day after I gave her advice like "visit galleries for inspiration, take photos of anything that interests you and your muse will follow, take a class in a new medium" I reached an impasse with a few smaller pieces I was working on. I COULD NOT get them to convey the energy that was present in some other works. Some of it was an initial composition/scale problem. Fixing that did make an improvement but I still wasn't satisfied. What to do? I picked up a magazine I had while pondering the problem and started noting pages and colours I liked and was attracted to. Eureka! My brain had a new focus and I had a breakthrough. I tore out the pages, picked up my scissors and began cutting the shapes I had previously been painting and varied them slightly. Excitement replaced frustration. I now had a solution to my mixed media works.
Collaging is inexpensive, eco-friendly and great for getting inspiration for palette themes. There's something playful about it too because for many of us using scissors to cut out things when we were kids was one of our first forays into making art. Using it as a tool when you're stuck in a work can be a great way to resolve a piece and even if you don't intend using collage elements in your public work - keeping a visual diary using collage can definitely be a valuable tool for informing future work and stoking your creative embers. When in doubt ... collage it out!
The month of May threw several challenges my way ... an accident on the property (note to self ALWAYS wear farm-friendly footwear); a family illness which was very alarming; then a charming bronchial virus which I'm still recovering from. Like my border collie, I'm not a great fan of lounging around but when forced to, it does provide time for deep reflection and assessing priorities and goals. One of those was committing more time to spend in nature. That means not just gazing out the my studio window at the gardens and forest but getting in amongst it - so I've been tending to flowers, climbing through the forest, watching a hedgehog as it meanders down the country lane, collecting interesting leaves and observing the growth of plants we have put in over the last few years. After a rainy spell we've had some fine weather, so I also took the opportunity to put in a couple of native plants as part of my "planting hope" initiative when artworks for $100 or more sell. Connecting with nature is soul-food for me and always provides fuel for tackling the hurdles that come my way - outside or inside the studio.
This article was first published on the Parkin Drawing Prize website this month. The award promotes drawing in all its forms - as discovery, a testing of ideas and decision making.
After graduating from Auckland University with a MA (Hons) in Sociology I ventured into social policy which later opened a door to an interesting career in photojournalism. The travel bug bit me and I headed overseas where I was fortunate to absorb some amazing art and culture in Europe while living there.
Back on Antipodean soil and now happily hitched, I established a Fine Art gallery with my husband. Curating up to nine exhibitions annually and wearing many hats occupied my life 24/7 for nearly eight years. Although I had a desire to show my own art, my creativity was channelled into promoting other artists and the gallery.
Life served up some significant changes with the passing of some dearly loved family members including my father, followed shortly after by the arrival of my beautiful son. A few years passed as did our interest in suburban life. My paternal ancestors were Bohemians who settled in Puhoi and my maternal ancestors also immigrated to North Auckland. I felt called to move north and ended up in the Rodney district on a property which includes a magnificent nine acre forest filled with covenanted majestic native trees and “pinch myself” wildlife. The expanse of my new landscape was also the catalyst for a great surge in creativity.
Conservation is something I have been very passionate about for a long time and now I’m surrounded by nature, it has become increasingly important to me. In my work as a multi-media artist with a diverse portfolio encompassing painting, collage/drawing, sculpture and object art, I frequently reference nature in my work – seeking to highlight its beauty, dynamism, energy and its importance to our wellbeing. I have also featured endemic endangered flora and fauna species in my work and completed a series last year based on New Zealand’s rivers, inspired by environmental historian and writer David Young.
My studio is nestled into the forest and I’ve been greening its contents with low to non-toxic art materials; recycled and Fairtrade papers, mid-century and op shop finds for collage materials and substrates.
Sales from my art are helping to re-wild an area around a large pond on our land with our “planting hope” initiative. Three years ago the pond was gorse-laden. Since regeneration began ducks, geese, kingfishers, frogs, dragonflies and bumble bees are all making a welcome return and it’s so gratifying to watch the transformation.
I also support individuals and businesses with sustainable philosophies and am a proud member of Forest & Bird and The Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand. In fact I am going to meet my heroine Dr Goodall when she visits New Zealand in July on her tour here and feel deeply honoured.
With socio-political turmoil and climate change revealing their devastating effects daily, I feel driven to be an “artivist” – an advocate for artists and creatives harnessing their individual and collective power to make a difference. The scale of the problems can feel overwhelming but there are some really gutsy and talented people who inspire me. Being a mother and knowing I have a responsibility for future generations is also hugely motivating.
The art scene has changed dramatically with technological advances not only changing the way some artists create but also the way art is viewed. I think juried shows are increasingly relevant as they provide a physical space for the community to engage with work and for art to be reviewed by experienced judges who bring critical analysis to the table.
I look forward to entering the Parkins Drawing Prize this year with a piece that took several months to complete and epitomises the conceptual and emotive nature of my work as I seek to do justice to my muse.
Do you find it hard to title artworks? Excruciating even? You can actually have fun titling your work! Yes, it's true - it's not an oxymoron!
I've always enjoyed creating titles and when American abstract artist Jane Davies asked for ideas from other artists about how they title their work, I offered suggestions. She presented a series of different artworks on her Facebook page and followers contributed potential titles along with their own ideas about what tools they use to name their own work.
People who contributed titles she selected for her paintings were sent a piece of original art. I was fortunate to be one of them and the above image is the abstract piece Jane sent me which I CAN’T WAIT to frame and hang in my art studio. Below is the acrylic painting on canvas (600 x 450 mm) which Jane sought a title for.
I chose the title Paving the way because I responded to the figurative elements (stones) I saw which conjured up an image of a path. Note the “road-like” red motifs in the top left corner too and the feeling of a journey/movement in this work. Jane also runs workshops and often shares insights about her artistic process on-line with followers so I also saw the title as a metaphor for her act of generosity in helping to “pave the way” for other artists.
I have a background in journalism, writing and editing and during my time as a gallery director I used those skills to assist artists with naming their works, writing their artist’s statements etc. Many had long established careers just like Jane and were not “newbies” - naming their work was simply something they struggled with.
For artists working in a realistic style, often they have a direct reference (for instance a known landscape/place) which they can allude to. For other artists who work more abstractly or intuitively, there may not be an object/place/figure or memory that inspired their work and that’s when the journey for a title becomes a little more challenging but it doesn’t have to be sweat-inducing difficult!
Often I have an intention/subject/concept before I start a work or series and that will give a lead in to a title(s). If the work is more intuitive, sometimes the composition will provoke ideas or the emotions I felt as I had the inspiration for the piece or worked on it will give a lead. I sit with it for awhile and then the right one becomes apparent.
Here’s some tips I use:
• LISTS, LISTS and more LISTS. Jot down ideas without over-thinking it … look at the work and write down emotions, thoughts. Leave the list beside your work and give it some time. The right one will become clear and easier once you practise this.
• Keep your eyes/ears open to interesting phrases/words – books, poems, dictionaries or everyday life. For instance I had a work that was inspired by my love of jasmine which grows abundantly in our garden. An acquaintance wrote to say she couldn’t come to an event because she was “ensconced in X” (I will keep her location a secret). Hmmm “ensconced”. I liked that. Synonyms include “concealed”, “located”, “protected”, “nestled”, “sheltered” …. it was perfect for my work! So my painting was titled Ensconced in jasmine. A bit more interesting than Jasmine in the garden or I love jasmine. You get the idea? As an aside can't you pictured Miranda Hart turning to the camera saying "ensconced"? Another reason why I like that title so much!
Ask yourself what are you really trying to communicate in the work? You don’t have to bare all but a clue into how a piece can be interpreted does invite the viewer to have a kind of connection to a work or an entry and this can be very important for abstract artists.
I worked with an artist who created ceramic pieces which were a love heart; a circle; and an "x” motif sold in sets that were previously untitled. I suggested the phrase Love, embrace, journey. The response was so interesting once those works had an identity. Some people saw them as the perfect wedding or anniversary gift; one person bought a set after they had been through some challenging times and were embarking on a new career; some parents bought a set for their child leaving home and going to university; another bought one for a friend who was grieving the loss of her husband. One woman saw it as an affirmation of her spiritual journey. You know what? They ALL mentioned the title as one of the key attractions to the work. Titles matter!
When you think of songs, books, movies, plays, people, restaurants … those names often attract us and make us want to find out more. Art isn’t any different.
If you want to put “Untitled” by your artwork that’s fine – after all it’s an artist’s prerogative BUT if you’re doing that because you’re STUCK then hopefully these tips have given you some tools to start creating titles that reflect your personality, style and vision.
For more info about Jane, visit: www.janedaviesstudios.com
Many of my works are painted on circular substrates. It's nothing to do with "trends" and circles can arguably no longer be seen as trendy since they have appeared alongside their rectangular and square cousins in the New Zealand art scene for a long period now. It's a lot more complex than that for me.
Firstly, I think abstractly - I'm a "think outside the square" kind of person so it seems natural that I'd be drawn to something that's a literal manifestation of that.
In earlier works I used a lot of dotting which was symbolic of my vision of a subject imprinted on a work - a representation of my pupil if you like imprinted on the surface and an acknowledgement of the very subjective nature of painting. It was suggestive of the atomic nature of everything and my endeavour to capture the very essence and energy of my muse. The circular substrate reinforces this idea too - that what I'm depicting is very personal to me and my experience of the subject, story or feeling I try to convey when working in the studio.
Perhaps there's a kind of "Galilean" undercurrent too ... everything I experience is based on my presence on this round earth, so the ideas that emanate from my terrestrial time are referenced on a globe. That's not to say my art practice doesn't have a spiritual component because at times I truly feel a divine connection as I work and there have been many deadlines or challenges I've met due to the assistance from the spiritual world.
A circle has this wondrous feeling of wholeness and completion which I find very satisfying.
I imagine circles will always remain a constant in my work and no doubt they'll be joined by other fluid forms in the future.