copyright Hannah Phelps
Rainy Appledore Wave
oil on canvas, 11" x 14"
It happens to all of us - without warning, our days fill to the brim with activities that take us out of the studio. When we do grab a few spare minutes, we feel disconnected from our artist selves and recapturing the creative spirit eludes us. If your schedule seems out of your control, keep your art muscles supple and loose with these five fast drills:
1. Take Photos.
Taking a camera, even a point and shoot, out for a short walk will help keep your artist eye from hibernating. Discovering interesting compositions of shape and color looking through the viewfinder will help loosen up a tight creative brain even if you never take a picture.
2. Open a Book.
You may not have the time to read right now, but you can look at images by your favorite artists. Keep a sketchbook and pencil next to you to note any quick inspirations that may strike. Or just rip the paper to bookmark anything you find exciting.
When you have more time but need a small push, look at your notes or saved pages for an easy starting point.
3. Play with Color.
Like crunches for our tummies, artists all know creating color charts is good for us, but we rarely want to do them. When you feel too drained to create anything from scratch, allow the rigid little squares comfort and guide you.
Challenge yourself to a formal color wheel or just crack open old tubes of paint you haven't used in a while. Experiment with a new tube you bought but haven't tried yet. At least the brush (or pencil or pastel or crayon etc.) is in your hand and your vision is filled with color.
copyright Hannah Phelps
Detail of a Color Chart
oil on canvas, each square is approx. 1 inch
Never done a color chart? Stede Barber describes one method in his post "How to Make a Simple Color Chart."
4. Make a Date.
Don't have time now? Schedule something for next week or next month! Call an artist friend and agree to paint together, set up a still-life and draw or even critique what you have been able to do.
The commitment to make art at least once this month will help relax you. Making the date might even motivate you to squeeze in a little work beforehand!
5. The "Woodbury" Assignment.
If you have a bit more time and want a more intense challenge, this next one is perfect:
American artist Charles Woodbury used to tell his landscape painting students to paint the same scene nine times in one week at different times of day. NINE PAINTINGS?! I know this sounds like ludicrous advice in a time crunch, but bear with me.
Woodbury advised that you "paint as if you've been sent for" and give yourself only about a half hour to fill the canvas with the essence of the place. Whenever I have challenged myself to this task, I have found it energizing and liberating. As a matter of fact, I completed the painting at the top of this post during this exercise a few years ago.
Turn it into a simpler exercise by drawing or even writing. Set a timer for 30 minutes or less and see how much information you can record on your canvas or paper. And you need not go outside-set up a still life near a window for changing light and moods. Or imagine challenging yourself to nine abstract pieces in one week based on one word, poem, color, conversation... the possibilities are endless!
Remember that just as small obstacles can pile up and block us, successive tiny achievements become stepping stones to accomplishing huge goals. These exercises may not produce instant masterpieces, but practicing your art consistently ensures you'll be warmed up and ready to create when you get the chance.