A Glimpse at an Artist's Studio Practice
What does a studio practice look like? Every artist has a different way of doing their regular creating and producing in their work space. So the answer is that it looks different for every artist and often, practices changes through time. An artist learns what works and what doesn’t. My studio practice has changed through the years as my schedule has changed (becoming a mom really changes your schedule!) and as my methods have changed. I’m sure there will be future iterations and changes, but at this point in my life, here’s what I’m doing now that is serving me well:
--Creation time each day. I’ve found that when I spend time creating each day, I do better in every other area of life. I used to have administrative days and studio days, and what I was finding is that I dreaded the days I didn’t get into the studio. I struggled to do my admin work because I knew it was all day rather than just a small chunk. Some days I have several hours in the studio and some days it’s only 30 minutes, but I do my best to physically make something: painting layers, collage arranging, collage creation and trimming, varnishing and glazing.
--Slowing down and looking. I used to focus on how quickly I could complete a painting successfully. It was all about producing the work. Now, I’ve moved into a practice that is a lot more methodical and slow. I allow for more time for the creation process. There’s more margin surrounding my deadlines. I put down a couple layers of paint, then I let it sit. I spend a lot more time looking at it and preparing where I’m going to paint next. I think this happened rather naturally when I switched over to oils a couple years ago. Oils don’t allow you to work quickly and that was such a good shift for me. When I feel stuck, rather than pushing, I give myself some space for the piece and do something different. This method is so much more loving for me and the work. I create better work when I can slow down and look.
--Weekly clean up. Rather than letting my art supplies lay on the floor or countertop for weeks on end, I’ve started to put things away in their proper place at the end of each week. It helps me stay more organized with my collage materials and I am not sitting in frustration for hours looking for tools, materials, etc. It also makes my space easier to work in. There is also a sense of closure when I can recycle photos I used for reference when I painting is completed, or file collage materials I no longer need for a piece, etc. This process helps the painting feel completely done.
--Creating from the heart. Rather than creating what I think people will like, I’ve started creating what I like and this has transformed the tone of my studio practice for me. This inward focus has led to me producing work that ends up ministering to me in ways I never would have thought. It’s led to a lot of self-reflection and a lot of prayer. Creating from the heart has moved my practice into an act of worship and love as opposed to a people pleasing paint factory. And the funny this is that more people are relating to my work as I draw closer to it through this practice. So, how do I listen to my heart to know what to create? I pay attention to what I’m drawn to when I’m outside in nature. What catches my eye? What stays in my mind as I move through the day? I remove all the outside influential chatter (social media, artist colleagues, questions about selling or whether someone will “like” this piece). Creating from the heart takes courage because you often have to combat internal voices that tell you that it won’t sell, it won’t match the couch, no one will relate to that story, this will offend someone, etc. Rather than stuffing all those dissenting voices away to deal with later, I like to address them and let them know that I appreciate their opinion, but they bring up things that are not of my concern (the next point explains why).
--Listening to my studio partner. Each day, before I ever start writing, collage researching or collecting, collage arranging and then painting, I talk with my studio partner. (God) I share what I have in mind to create and chat with Him about what I think I’m going to do . I ask for His assistance and direction because He’s got a few years on me as an Artist. Then, I move forward in trust and faith, listening to my gut and painting with a confident heart. So, what ends up happening in my studio is never just with my own hands and mind. It is created through relationship and conversation. This has been the most beneficial change in my practice. I am never alone as I create. I’m creating in tandem with my partner and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
--Using reference ONLY as reference. As a younger artist, I wasn’t willing to ever deviate from my reference materials. I had to follow them “perfectly.” Due to necessity with some new work I've been making, I’ve had to let go of this rule and embrace my ability to imagine a scene, re-structure it, mesh reference materials together, etc. It’s been so freeing and fun and it’s pushing me to be a better painter and composer. I don’t feel trapped by a lack of reference anymore and that’s a wonderful feeling.
Do you have certain pillars or principles that you regularly use for your practice? Please share!