I am sitting here in my studio — the office area, obviously. It’s nice to have both office and studio in a single location rather than in two different rooms as was the case before we moved.
Here, from the comfort of my office chair, I can lean back, swivel around toward the back wall, and view more than a dozen paintings. They’re on shelves my husband installed as “drying racks” for paintings that (a) have been completed, or (b) are works in progress which need a bit of drying time in between one stage and another.
The photo you see was taken right after he’d installed the shelves and I’d placed a few paintings there. At the time, I thought these two shelves would be more than enough, but all too soon I realized that I actually needed several more shelves. So, despite my husband’s attempts to help with studio organization, I still have paintings everywhere. I currently have over a dozen crammed onto those two shelves, seven sitting along the baseboards, two oils sitting on the bookcase (along with numerous watercolors), a newly-begun landscape on the easel, and a couple of older paintings scattered about here and there.
I’ve done a lot of painting in recent months. Most are “practice pieces” — those studies I’ve made of clouds and skies — but a few are intended to be framed and eventually put on display.
One question that has nagged at me for quite some time involves the “consistency” or “constancy” of my work. To put it a different way, is there anything about my work that makes it recognizable as mine? This thought was on my mind when I came into the studio on Sunday morning. I wanted to sit here, look at the paintings on my shelves, and make notes of what I saw.
It wasn’t until later that day that I wrote yesterday’s blog post about putting together an artist statement. I laughed a bit when the first article I researched had this to say:
First you need to get an overview of your work.
So what do I see when I look at all those paintings haphazardly placed around the studio?
- Blues, greens, and yellow hues
- Clouds and skies
Now, this assessment is influenced, of course, by the studies I’m making of clouds and skies, but even without that study, the results would still be much the same.
I do notice a few “new” things about my art, too.
- My colors are getting bolder
- I’m using more pinks and yellows
- I’m playing with new ideas
What does all of this have to do with writing an artist statement? How will the information I’m gathering and the notes I’m making here become useful?
It’s all part of a strategy known as mind-mapping.
This is, I’ll freely admit, not a strategy I’m comfortable with. Maybe my mind is too chaotic, too disorganized. It doesn’t seem to lend itself well to any mapping process. I know this because I tried.
Being unsure at first as to what a mind map is, I browsed around and found several websites where — for free — you can create a mind map.
Great. But why? What’s it for? Why do I need a mind map? Don’t laugh, please. Sure, you probably know what a mind map is and why they’re useful — they are useful, right?
But my brain immediately panics and runs at the thought of anything too structured, and believe me, these mind maps seem excessively structured. My mind is screaming, “Help! Let me out of here!”
I tried several of the free online mind-mapping sites, and the results weren’t good. After wasting a lot of time trying to navigate the process, work through the tutorials, and start putting a map together, I still had to face the simple fact that I had no real idea of why I wanted a mind-map. What was I really trying to do?
The idea behind mind-mapping is that it can be helpful in sorting through things — like the various qualities I see in a display of my artwork. Are there connections between one painting and another? If so, what is that connection? Do certain elements stick out like the proverbial sore thumb? What is unique about my art?
I don’t think I need any elaborate, well-structured diagram to answer these questions, although if your mind works that way — mine obviously doesn’t — you might find the mind-mapping process useful.
Either way, with or without colorful diagrams with lines and shapes, the essential idea here is to come up with a solid understanding — in this case, an understanding of what my art is all about.
My art is about nature. It’s as simple as that. When I look at my wall of paintings, I see flowers, I see clouds, I see rivers, I see skies. I see rocks. I see trees. Lots of trees. I see hills. I see mountains. I see waterfalls. I see lakes.
I can also see a few things that don’t quite fit in the overall display. Like those cows. Remember my cows? Not good. I love cows, but they’re not part of who I am as an artist right now. My impressionist bouquet of flowers doesn’t quite fit either. It’s lovely, and I enjoyed painting it, but it doesn’t go well with the other paintings on the wall. As for those acrylic pourings? Fun to look at maybe, but definitely out of place among my landscapes.
Now I can focus more clearly on the essentials of my art. I can look more at the colors I’m using. I can even begin to think a bit about my intentions with these paintings, including those that are simply studies. Even if I don’t yet put my thoughts into words, I’m beginning to feel what my art means, why I choose to paint the scenes I do, why I’m drawn to certain colors, what I’m trying to say through putting paint on canvas.
As J. R. R. Tolkien said in The Fellowship of the Ring, “not all those who wander are lost.” I wasn’t able to successfully map out my thoughts, but I arrived at my destination all the same.
I have a good understanding of my art, so where do I go from here? How do I apply this knowledge and understanding to an artist statement? Check back tomorrow for more!