Creative process

I believe, as an artist, that our ideas are channeled from another dimensions… I say this because as a scientist I have no idea where ideas come from and the process feels intuitive, nonverbal and from a place so far removed from my analytical, scientist mind that I can find no other way to explain it. Thankfully, as a psychologist, I have become comfortable straddling this dual world - the world of reason and the world of process (or the unconscious, spiritual, non-linear, call it what you will!) which does not always follow logical, linear lines. I believe it is my artist self which made me a good psychologist… I cannot say the converse is true - psychology is about giving words to feelings - art is to communicate that feeling in such a way that it resonates with the viewer’s unconscious to create a connection that is so deep, that that person is moved immediately, without the need for language to mediate. Pretty amazing stuff!  But I digress… so my creative processes are different for acrylic on paper and oil paintings. This is why I do both, because I am moved to create these works, it is not a decision! Trust me I would rather choose the safety of my profession than to dabble in this frightening world of art! 

For the acrylic on paper art, I may feel an inner stirring, coming simultaneously from deep inside as well as from outside me. I may have seen an image on Pinterest, in a magazine or billboard - a colour, shape, flower pattern which stirs something in me. I see art is the essence of my nervous system’s response to these sensations. Ideas, for me, are not thoughts, that I conjure up. They are born, emerge, completely and totally, fully formed. 

I am usually aware of an internal process happening and this may last for days. Then, boom, I wake up one morning and it is revealed to me in its full splendour!  It is not the same as inspiration - inspiration is that moment of being moved by beauty, I get that too, but it may not necessarily lead to a painting. What motivates me to jump out of bed is that moment when I see the image quite clearly in my mind’s eye! Should I not act on this mental picture, it will start haunting me, I swear, it will intrude into my mind over and over again until I heed the call and put it to paper! 

Then another process starts…  First I will draw the image onto paper. Acrylic is transparent, it is difficult to overpaint without the background shining through, so planning is essential. During this phase, the image may change, it is as if it is talking to me, asking for elements to be added or removed. The butterflies, dragon flies, birds and other animals, appear in my mind as I work and I am compelled to put them down, even if I am scared it may not work.

During this phase I am aware of immense synchronicity. For example, I may listen to music set on shuffle, and suddenly they will start singing about hummingbirds, butterflies or a specific flower at the exact moment that I am drawing or painting this. If the TV is on, they may suddenly mention a flower or animal I am drawing! Carl Jung coined the concept of synchronicity and explained it as a way for the individual to connect with the collective unconscious - a moment when the physical and psychic worlds align and we become part of a knowledge system that is much older than us. 

Personally,  I see these moments as confirmation that I am in my flow, that the work has significance, that I am connected to my purpose. Sometimes, my floral or shoe designs may seem so crazy and inexplicable (why would I want to paint this, my rational mind asks?) that I need these moments of synchronicity to prevent my left brain from devaluing what it does not understand. For me, being an artist is really about silencing the left brain and getting out of my own way to allow the process to flow! This is the hardest thing of all to do! 

When I am successful in being in my flow, I experience intense existential joy. 

The oil paintings follow a different process. 

It is more personal and is often a place I go to when there is a need to process a current or past experience. I do not paint everyday, I find the process too intense and exhausting and I am always pushing myself harder and harder and thus I find the joy sometimes gets lost. It is a process that I continually have to manage - both in terms of energy and dialogue - reminding myself to accept my limitations, staying with the process and being kind no matter what the outcome. Of course, as a mother, I also need to think of those around me, and painting has made me forget about dinner or the washing in the machine! 

Before a painting, I often feel something specific deep in my solar plexus; its a drive, an inexplicable gut-wrenching desire to face a canvas. If I do not heed the call I become sullen, cranky, and quite unlike myself. Perhaps oil painting is like a drug which compels me forward! Usually it fixates around a specific image - a flower, a tree and I will sit with this for weeks, thinking about the process, the image, the size, whilst I run, walk, bike I will paint the image in my mind, trying to figure out how it will feel once completed. Perhaps I also hope it will go away! Eventually I will have thought about it so much that I now have to paint it! I use reference materials (photos, real flowers) and depending on size, may just use a palette knife, combine the two or work with large brushstrokes and glazes. Often the image decides itself!

I find the oil paintings to be a more rational process, a kind of meditation, which calms the senses, yet remain more grounded in reality. I have not had any synchronicity when I paint on canvas and I have a sense that it is because painting for me is a more cerebral process, making decisions about form, colour and composition as I go along. It is also for this reason that I feel the most complex emotions about the art. Often not sure how to evaluate the work, fear that it is no good, or that all that effort may turn to nothing. 

As an artist I am continually tormented by the final product, probably just as much as I am addicted to the process! As a psychologist I am dumbfounded by the neuroticism, fear, and irrational thoughts that accompany this process and a part of me often just have to laugh at myself, not heed all this crazy internal ramblings and just get on with it! Get out my own way to allow the flow! 

Art, for me, is a compelling desire, a must do to remain sane, even if the process itself can temporarily drive me crazy!  

 I usually pack a finished oil painting away for a few weeks at least, to get some distance, before I judge the work. It is amazing what a bit of distance can do. When I return to the image I am often very pleased, sometimes having little recollection of how I obtained a certain effect! At other times, the painting doesn't match up, then I gesso over it and start again! 

This is the beauty of art, it's a process of iteration, there is no beginning and no end…. the whole point is to just get on with it!

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