Monday, August 17, 2015

Flailing Around / Accordion Book Sketches 8 and 9

accordion book 8

accordion book 9

I offer up the following post about being stuck creatively and how to possibly get unstuck. Much of this has to do with subject matter selection, a sense of feeling connected to your work, and being in touch with your feelings. Read on if you can stand it!

There are many subjects that I don't paint because I am not especially interested in them. It's not that the subjects themselves aren't interesting but my emotional investment in them is limited. Conversely, there are many subjects that I love but don't paint. The interest is there but the desire to translate the subject somehow is not present. I have a need to connect somehow, on some level with what I am painting. Both the desire to paint something and the interest in that particular subject seems to need to be present for me in order to begin.

Such was the case this weekend as I worked on the accordion books shown above. The images are based on my time spent at Big Trees State Park located in the Stanislaus National Forest. It's a place that I love to visit. There are several trails on the "floor" of the forest as well as other trails farther up in the south grove. The Stanislaus River runs through parts of the park. The river is a spectacular sight to behold in all seasons and it is an important part of our watershed system. The park is attractive to me on many levels and so I felt I could easily start making some images.

Prior to doing any actual work, however, I made some preliminary notes on colors that I associate with the area, on some shapes that I remember and I made some basic sketches. All set to go right? I sat down to work and nothing happened. The ideas were not flowing. There seemed to be a complete disconnect between me, the materials, and my ideas about the park. I wondered for a minute if I had forgotten how to work! Fortunately, I have a lot of time to think and as I did other things I began to sort out the "disconnection" I was experiencing.

That disconnection comes from loving a place (subject matter) but not being able to translate that love effectively with paper and paint (drive to translate the subject). For me, when I look around that park, I don't really see images that I would want to paint. There aren't many views in a densely wooded forest. No vistas. I am an intermediate to long view painter at heart. Close ups are not my thing. (As a side note it's a great idea to figure out which type of views you like best-short, intermediate or long.)  It's difficult to get a sense of distance and even when focusing on how the forest makes me feel (closed in) I couldn't translate that feeling. 

I mention all of this because my inability to make things happen slowed me down and made me think. As I tried to sort things out, I felt like I was mentally trying to re center myself. I can even see in my mind's eye a kind of "wavering" off course, a mental pulling from each side back to center, trying to hone in on what I wanted to make. Once I felt back on course, I was able to let go of some ideas and thoughts that were blocking me. Imagining this "re centering" helped me to proceed.

The above scenario is a reminder that being aware of your thought processes as you work is fairly critical. I tried to recall past feelings that occurred when my efforts were more successful. Doing this helped me to understand why I was flailing around a bit and helped me to get back on course. The ideas started to flow more smoothly once I reconnected with those feelings. And the good news is that I actually think there are 2-3 ideas above that could turn into paintings. I'll just think about that:)

Thanks for reading ad commenting,


  1. Amazing Libby how sometimes one reads something and then has the thought reinforced from a different source. This thoughtful post was this reinforcement for me. I had been reading how important it is to be passionate about your subject when you paint. Nomatter how well your technical ability may be if you don't feel a passion for your subject the painting is not moving. I really get this when I view other artist's work. There may be skill but the heart is missing. So glad you shared your thoughts friend. I so love nature and especially landscapes but not always sure how to convey that love. Very good insight Libby on your painting and how you choose what to paint. Loving your accordion books. Missed your circle in the bottom second from the right! Have a super day.

  2. Been there and understand. I learned to recognize what I could, would, and wanted to paint. ..versus what I couldn't and wouldn't. I am glad you reminded me to listen to my inner voice. I also use my internal memory like you mentioned to create paintings.

    1. Julie,

      I have been asked before to paint animals or to paint a specific building. It never works for me (even though I love animals and historic sites). It's like a combination of being told what to do (making painting seem like work) and a general disinterest in the subject matter. That is a deadly combination! And then on a sub level it seems like a disregard for the creative process somehow. Or that the person requesting that you paint something specific doesn't quite know about how you work. It's probably just a time to have a dialogue with people and to assess your own responses. Anyway. Not cut out for commission work I guess:)

      I try to build up that internal memory as much as possible. I liken it to paying slowly, over time, into a savings account!

      Thanks as always for your comments and insight. I love that you and I get to "visit".


  3. I really love your accordion books, Libby. They appeal to me in their graphic beauty. I think they are one of my favorite projects of yours.

  4. The accordion books are beautiful! I agree--let us stay away from subject matter that doesn't "do" anything for us. I like so many subjects, but there are some that just leave me totally cold. Avoid! Avoid! haha. Good post.


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