The Process of Creating a Painting

For the first part of 2013 I was focusing on writing and distributing Don’t Make Art, Just Make Something.  Because of that, my painting studio was ignored.  It wasn’t until November when I realized that I got back into a painting swing and began to spend almost all of my free time working on pieces that I’d left half-finished over the past year.

While I pushed through these pieces and finally finished a few paintings, I realized that I go through a very specific mental cycle every time I make something.  Although painting was the catalyst for this realization, since then I’ve noticed that it also applies to my folk songs and my writing.  And so, because writing is indeed one of my art forms, I decided to share.

Phase One: The Idea

Almost every good project starts with an exciting idea.  When it firsts hit me, that giddy inspiration, I become a fast-talking machine that wants to share with everyone.  The feeling is like falling in love, the same quickened heart beat and butterflies in your stomach, the same mental paths that all somehow lead back to the same idea.

knitted canvas gloves phase one

Phase Two: Starting to Work

For some people this is the hardest face.  The first face-off with the blank canvas or the white page.  But for me, the excitement from phase one is usually so strong that I dive right in.  This means that I associate empty spaces with possibility rather than intimidation, I love to sit down and see the first few lines of text appear on my computer screen or throw the first gash of orange paint on a canvas.

knitted canvas gloves phase two

Phase Three: Infatuation

There inevitably comes a point when, even though I can tell my piece isn’t finished, I really like it.  I mean, really, really like it.  And thus continues the desire to show it to everyone.  It’s tempting to just leave it like that and bask in the first real feeling of success.

Canvas Gloves

Phase Four: Ruin

As soon as I’m infatuated with a piece, I’ll make one move to try to finish it, and it gets ruined.  Suddenly, what was so good becomes something I can barely look at.  An insult.  And this is where all those lovely artistic neuroses kick in.  “See, you always over work things and ruin them!” or “It was never any good anyway because you’re just a terrible artist.” etc.  This is where it is easiest to give up, where it takes all my effort to keep going.  To work on something I hate.  And, understandably, this is where most projects go astray.

(there is not picture of this phase because it was too painful)

Phase Five: Determination

There are two ways to push past phase four.  With small gentle steps, slowly reassuring myself that I can resurrect my ruined piece, or with the more cavalier “fuck this, I’m going to FINSIH it!” attitude.  Either way, this is the hardest part.  When I have to look into the face of something I created that I hate and work on it anyway.  On the flip-side, it can also be extremely self-satisfying if I manage to push through it.

(there’s no picture of this phase because it took too damn long)

Phase Six: There’s nothing to do

This is when I stare at a piece, wanting to work on it, but I realize that I actually can’t think of anything else to add.  I’ll continue to stare for a while, maybe work on something else in hopes that more inspiration will strike, and then I’ll realize, oh so hesitantly, that I might be done.  So I put it aside and ignore it.

Cabled Gloves. 2013. Oil paint on knitting

Phase Seven: Completion

After leaving the piece alone, or taking it out of it’s element, I can finally see if the piece is indeed finished or not.  Sometimes there’s one last thing to add, but usually it’s small.  A mere embellishment.  After that, I can finally acknowledge that the piece is indeed finished.  It sometimes takes me a while to actually like it again, the horrors of phase four often still haunt me.  But slowly, I leave the piece in the finished pile, and I started to get the inkling of the next idea.

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(these photos are from the process of creating my first pair of knitted gloves)

While this has become a particularly clear process when I make things, I am sure it’s not the same for everyone.  If you feel like sharing, I’d love to know what your process is!

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