We hear a lot about “getting out of the box” when it comes to art or any other pursuit involving creativity, thinking, and decision-making. In other words, we’re often advised to “get out of the box” with just about anything we’re doing.
The idea of getting out of the box means, essentially, breaking free of restraints, trying new things, and daring to be different. And that’s all great, especially when it comes to a creative process such as art. At the same time, we can’t get out of the box unless we’re already inside of one… and what does that really mean?
For a lot of self-help gurus and motivational speakers, being in a box is a bad thing. It implies being stuck, being stagnant and stale, being trapped. But, in my opinion, there’s a bit more to being in the box, and it’s not all bad.
Being in the box can mean being comfortable, finding our niche, doing what brings us pleasure. The box can represent who we are, the art we love, our familiar, tried-and-true methods and processes, and our unique art. My box is different from yours, and that’s good. And if a box truly is a good fit for us, why should we climb out of it?
Of course, one of the most popular memes on social media is the “If I fits, I sits” look at the hilarious places cats put themselves. Cats love boxes, so again, are boxes really bad things? I don’t think so.
I’m at a point in my oil painting where I’m still looking for my box, narrowing it down — figuratively speaking — to the size and shape and color and style that best suits me. That does mean that I’m “trying on” a lot of boxes to see just what does “fit” before I “sit”. It’s a delightful process.
In my art studio there is an actual box. Well, there are several boxes. I have one very nice box that sits close at hand to hold my tubes of oil paint, both as I’m working and as storage. I’ve mentioned it before and included it in my quick 5-minute burn drawing. It latches securely, keeping my oils out of reach for our curious cat.
This is definitely a good sort of box to have, and if you have pets in the studio, I’d go so far as to say this sort of box is a must-have!
I have another, bigger box, too. I quickly learned that our cat wanted to inspect, and own everything she found in the studio, meaning sniffing, pawing, rubbing, and walking on whatever she came across — including recently completed paintings, or paintings still in process. Although I have drying shelves, they weren’t going to keep my paintings safe from a cat who loves to jump and climb.
Again, if you have pets in the studio, this is a great “safety” measure to take, as well as an excellent way to protect any projects you’re working on.
And what’s in the big box right now? It’s a work in progress, the larger “studio painting” version of the “Midwestern Roots — Missouri River Sunrise” I’m doing.
It’s different from the original “study”, yet it has similarities, as well. First, here’s another look at the small oil study I completed. This was done almost entirely with palette knives, and with the intention to use bright orange for the sky. I wanted to be bold and daring.
Now, here’s a “first look” at the larger painting. It’s a 16 x 20 inch, and here you can see it nestled safely in the box.
It’s a bit tricky to photograph the painting inside the box, but you can get an idea of how it’s coming along. Or, here it is sitting on the easel.
It didn’t take me long to learn that working with a palette knife on a larger painting was not going to be easy. I’ve played around with knives and brushes both. I’m using the small study as a guide, but only in the most general way. As I’ve worked on the larger version, I’ve often felt that I’m just groping around, fumbling with different tools, just, once again, throwing caution to the wind and trying all sorts of different things. I did add more colors to the sky. I’ll probably add more lights and shadows on the tree line, more colors in the river, too.
I might add more light to the foreground — I’m still undecided on that — and, of course, I’ll soon be adding in the trees. I’m planning to add the trees using one or more palette knives. The study was done alla prima in a single session. This time, I’ve allowed the background layer to dry before I add in those trees. I’m hoping that’s the right technique.
Getting back to the idea of being in or out of any boxes, I’m really doing a bit of both right now. I’m moving closer and closer to finding “my style” in landscape oil painting, but I’m not yet latched and locked in. I’m still free to try different things — which isn’t so much an attempt at changing my style as it is a way of expanding on it, enlarging it, getting a better understanding of who I am.
When it comes to boxes, maybe my thoughts are different from all those gurus and motivational speakers, because I do find boxes to be good things. I think the important consideration isn’t whether or not we’re in or out of a particular box, but to simply make sure we have a box that’s big enough to suit our needs.