Deeper into Art – The Whole Creative Process Part 1 of 2

When lockdown first started I found this wonderful organisation on the internet call Art Prof.

Their mission is…

“to provide equal access to visual arts education on a global scale, removing barriers that exist due to the cost of higher ed & private classes.”

I got in touch with one of the Professors, Prof Lieu, via YouTube comments and she gave me some excellent advice about how to work on references when you have a disability. Since then I have been watching their video’s on YouTube and really using what I have learned. I’ve had no formal art education so finding this organisation was incredibly valuable to me!

One of the important things I learned quite early on was that all of the work you do as an artist in getting ready to create a piece of art is part of the piece. Metaphorically this work is the soil in which your painting is planted.

My Process tends to be:

  1. Intention
  2. Inspiration and Reference
  3. Exploring
  4. Preparing
  5. Creating
  6. Assessment and Review
  7. Sharing

I have been using this new insight a lot recently and I thought this week and next week I would go through my whole creative process, including all of this preparatory work. This week I’m going to look at all of the preparatory work.

Intention

I wanted to make a piece of art for a friend of my family who is also a colleague at work. She is retiring at the end of this academic year. My friend is a Buddhist and we have talked about her practice and she has even “chanted” for me when I’ve been having a hard time. So I thought making a picture of the Buddha would make a good present.

Inspiration and Reference

To make a piece of art I draw on a wide range of resources. Some are personal, like my world view and things which are at the heart of what is important in my life, like my family and the natural world. Some are related to my direct experience of the subject I am working on. So with this piece it was my own experience of practicing Buddhism in the past and how that experience extends into my life now via mindfullness and Quaker Worship. Then there are those paintings and statues all by other artists which I feel a connection with. When I look at reference I’m looking for images which somehow resonate with that as yet unknown something which I want to create. It’s like saying something that really comes from your heart but because it’s visual you don’t need to translate it into words which, for me, always miss the mark somehow. Some people are so skillful with words, but my native language is entirely visual.

Here is a diagram of some of the most important resouces I drew on to make this picture. (In terms of reference I actually looked at approximately 20-30 different buddha representations in detail, but the three recorded here are the three which I found most compelling.)

(Please note the three buddha representations (top and right of the image above) and the picture of Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey practicing Soto Zen are not my own photographs.)

I think a lot of this part of the work is just on the edge of consciousness. It’s like I have a feeling I want to convey and I am looking for examples of objects, memories and images which are associated with this feeling in my mind. In this instance the feeling I wanted to share is a kind of wholeness and peacefullness which I’ve found through just being still in silence and being in natural surroundings.

Exploring

During this part of the work I explored what I can do with these sources of inspiration within certain boundaries. I had a fixed time to do this in – about 2 weeks, which would have been 1 week if I’d decided to send the picture to the framers. It seems like a lot of time but I was back at work by then and having to do a lot of extra work to keep safe during the pandemic so it amounted to a fair amount less than that since I put my work first.

I thought pastels would be a good choice here. Although oils would have given me some lovely creamy smooth gradients I don’t think I could have got the picture properly dry in time, even using Liquin since I would have needed to mix in some titanium white for my bright yellow highlights and it always takes ages to dry. I could have chosen watercolours, or gouache but I thought pastels would be bright and warm.

I had some pastel paper at home, however all of the sheets I had at the time were a red burgundy colour, so I decided to work that into the picture.

I used to wonder if I should try to remove all restrictions and boundaries on my creative process so I could be “free” to create anything. But I now I think I see great value in these limits. They force me to be more creative. It’s very similar in feeling to the way, inside the earth’s crust, the forces of pressure and temperature create metamorphic rock. The restrictions of it’s environment are what make the really beautiful patterns.

Metamorphic Rock -from Wikimedia Commons

So my restrictions were:

  • It had to be done in a specific time period and relatively quickly.
  • It had to use the pastels and paper I currently have, so the background has to be burgundy.
  • It has to relate to Buddhism.
  • I would like it to convey a peaceful wholeness. (Strictly speaking this isn’t a restriction, but an objective.)

I began by sketching out a few doodles of the Buddha, looking at his whole body posture, his head and his hands. Of these I liked the head and the hands most. I decided on the head in the end. Although I had a good idea for a hands picture, it didn’t fit with the paper I have and is less obviously buddhist.

So I made some really quick sketches of Buddha heads to try to feel out the kind of head I wanted…

Most of the reference I saw incorporated a very curved round face. I wanted to change that. I decided on making his face look more distinctly male with sharper more angular features. I did quite few of these. The two at the top of this page were far too feminine, but my last two began to get to the feeling I wanted of a strong man completely at peace.

Next I made a bigger drawing combining the best parts of each of my sketches and then toned it to get a value sketch…

After this I wanted to work on my colour choices so I scanned the value sketch into a digital format and worked on it in Autodesk Sketchbook. I set my background to the burgundy of the paper which I was going to use and set up some brushes to mimic pastels. Here’s my basic colour sketch…

I wanted to have dark hair with a bluish tinge to it and I wanted my Buddha to have golden skin.

Then I started playing around with the composition and framing of my subject. I started with a fairly vanilla centred front portrait and then enlarged it to fill the frame. I tried moving it to the side but, although I liked this it’s the same as a famous Getty Image which is framed just like that. Then I turned it on it’s side. This definitely gave me the peacefullness I was looking for. It also kind of shows a Buddhist Landscape – with the head and neck of the Buddha actually “being” the landscape! I really liked this idea and decided to go with it. Here are some of the compositional ideas I had as I played around with it…

My final exploration on this picture looked at textures in the image.

I made the background textured with a mix of darker brownish reds. Then decided that I would love the Buddha’s face to be covered in dappled light – the kind of light you get shining through the leaves of a tree. This worked really well for me since I have a strong internal link between peacefulness and nature, so having dappled light is a way of having the effect of nature on the image implicitly. To do this I brightened the face and then added the dappled light…

There’s a feeling you get when you find what you’re looking for and I got that with this plan for my painting. So I stopped there and began to get together all of the bits and bobs I needed to make the picture…

Preparing

I got together all of my materials…

… including my “kittycat” helper! (please excuse her having a little yawn!). Then I taped the edges of my paper and I was ready!

Next week I will go through the last 3 stages in my art creation process, Creating, Assessment & Review and Sharing.

Going Deeper into Art

Like many people I’ve been in isolation for a while. At the time of writing I’m still unwell with a cough, bad asthma and a temperature. However, I am managing OK at home and my GP has now put me on steroids and antibiotics in case it’s a sinus infection which has gone onto my chest.

 

 

So, while confined to bed and watching some YouTube, I found a brilliant art channel. It’s called Art Prof Create & Critique. (If you want to look at the channel you can find it here.)

I found Professor Lieu’s teaching on this channel to be really excellent and very useful for improving my art. After watching a number of their videos I began to see art in a new way.

Firstly, I’ve become aware that I favour art which has a single detailed subject with a plain background, or no background at all. I think this is partly just personal taste and partly my interest in scientific illustration coming through. However if it also might relate to me being autistic and, in some sense, needing to see single detailed objects in a blank field.  I’ve always been drawn to this kind of 2d representation.  It relaxes me instantly!  But, while this stuff has it’s place, there is so much more out there.  So I’m going to start thinking beyond this pattern.

Secondly I’ve come to understand that the research I do on a subject is also part of the art!  I had no idea!  So is gathering a wide range of references, and not just references for the actual objects to be painted, but references for textures and colour combinations too!  Added to this is the process of trying out lots of quick thumbnails to find a way into a piece of work and the thinking behind the painting.  All of this is part of the process of art.  It’s something I’ve done, usually quickly and without showing much, if anything, of it on my blog.  I previously felt that this side of the work was just the annoying bits and pieces you have to do to be free to work on something.  Now I see it in a whole new light.   It’s like the soil you plant your painting in.  Good soil = good painting (hopefully)!

So I want to do some work as soon as I can, taking account of this new understanding, and giving proper time and energy to these other parts of the creative process.  I’m not able to work in traditional media right now as the Ventolin I take for my asthma makes my hands shake and, after spilling a glass of dirty paint water on my bed, bedside table and carpet I’m less enamoured with trying to do this while unwell.  So I will try it when I can.

In the mean time here’s a quick animation-styled sketch of the teacher, Professor Lieu,  I’ve been following on Art Prof.  I can’t thank her enough…

 

Art Prof

 

 

 

Process for animation-styled sketches

Here are the stages I went through for each sketch.  I followed roughly the same process each time…

  1. Sketch
  2. Pen
  3. Colour or tone
  4. Lights and shadows

Woman in Bed…

 

 

And here’s the Professor…