What’s it like to be an artist

My artists studio aka my dining room table…

I’m back at uni and starting my third and final year. We read a text called Sidekick by Professor Elizabeth Price about her art process. Following on from that I had to write about my own art process, so I thought you might be interested in reading about it.

Making art:

The beginning is the start of the process. The beginning is always the most difficult part of the process. The beginning starts in my mind, not in my actions. I organise my thoughts, think through what I will do, briefly think through to the end, what will I achieve, how will it feel, will it be ok this time?

I will just do this one more thing then I will begin, I will start, I have all day, a whole day to make art, to create, play with materials, make work, make something, do the right thing.

I do the thing…

And then, a quick cup of coffee, or maybe tea, there’s time for coffee. I might as well just empty the dishwasher while the coffee’s brewing. There, that’s one more job done, I can enjoy that coffee now and then begin. A quick look at the clock, still early, check phone, just quickly reply to some messages. Got to renew the house insurance, better do it quickly, won’t take long,

God I hate computers, hate admin, get this done then I’ll start. Did I even make a decision to do the house insurance? No, just clicked on link in an email. Why am I even checking my emails? I always do this, feel the stress rise in my stomach. Reassure myself, it’s ok, I’ve got all day, all day to make art, bliss…

Ok, I’m going to begin… get the plastic cover out and put it on the dining table. I should have gone to the studio, I’ll go tomorrow, I’ll get organised and go tomorrow. I take out the water pot, remove the paintbrushes that are now dry and fill it with water. I place it on the table. I can begin..

The washing machine makes three beeps, the washing is finished, take it out or leave it? It’s a nice day, if I hang it out now it will be dry this afternoon, won’t take long, it has to be done, I put the washing in the basket and carry it upstairs. I get the peg bag and carefully, methodically hang out the washing.

I look out across the terrace to the sparkling sea and observe the curve of the land. I note the sandbanks and the wooden stakes in the sand. How to capture this view, thoughts race through my mind. It is a familiar thought, it’s beautiful, colours are my favourite, grey blue, yellow buff, white reflected highlights, water, sky, shapes. I don’t want to capture this in a realistic way, I don’t want to show what it looks like, but how it makes me feel and what stands out without representing the actual view. I want to express how it connects with memories, of time and place and my life. Easy to see, easy to think and write about, but how best to do it in paint that is the question…

Enough contemplation, that’s not going to get the painting done, but contemplation is good right? I’m an artist, my thoughts are important, I’m not wasting time, this is the work, isn’t it? Being an artist involves having an intention and then with that intention in mind making work that fulfils that intention. The doorbell rings, I race downstairs and answer it, dog goes crazy, I open the door, do I mind taking in a package for my neighbour? No, of course not, I take in the package and carefully place in on the side. Right, now to work.

I return to the table. I take out paper, works in progress on canvas, spread my brushes out and retrieve my paints from the trolley I store them on. A limited pallet, just the primaries, yellow ochre, buff white and burnt umber. No black or white, too extreme, too dramatic, I want my colours to add the drama.

Ok let’s get out some collage papers as well, so many to choose from. I keep the papers in zipped plastic wallets, colour coded to match the dominant colour of the papers, well, they used to when I first stored the papers this way. No the wallets over promise, colours have been mixed and my coded system seems rather confused. Some papers catch my eye, I look at them, imagine using them, turn them this way and that, I could cut shapes out, or tear them to add a variety of edges.

Variety and difference is so important in the work. I will stick the papers on with acrylic medium, so I spend sometime finding that. Let’s just grab the magic pot with the charcoal, markers, scraping tools and other things that make the work uniquely mine.

Do I feel ready, am I inspired? Should I start with some sketching? No, I don’t have time for sketching, instead I review finished work, what do I like about it? What do I want to do more of? How can this new work learn from the old.

I think about how I made that work, how did I make it? I have no recollection of the process I went through, how I started, progressed it, resolved it, finished it. Why did I even make it, is it any good, I thought it was, but now… why can’t I recall how I made it, I made the paintings, I made every mark, every brush stroke, every smudge with my finger, chose and added collage, signed it as my work yet I can’t bring to mind how I made it. I find this thought both familiar and terrifying, if I don’t know how I make work, how do I begin to make new work. Is this just imposter syndrome or something else, something magical and unknowable, the alchemy of making, or creating that happens without our conscious knowledge.

I need a cup of tea, herbal, Honey and Camomile, and maybe I will light a candle, take some deep breaths, get in the zone, relax, enjoy this time. Maybe not bother with the tea, maybe an early lunch would be better, yes an early lunch then I can really crack on this afternoon, sounds like a plan, sounds familiar, sounds like procrastination, sounds like let’s do anything other than what I had such anticipation for earlier in the day.

I have lunch…

I go to the table, pick up my brush, dip it in the water, I take a pot with Ultramarine Blue, add a little Yellow Ochre, touch my brush in Cadmium Red and mix the three colours together, a small scoop of Buff White turns it into rain drenched Grey. I drag the brush across the canvas leaving a trail of the warm Grey paint, it has started, I breath a sigh of relief, it’s going to be alright. 

I’m painting, a gentle reminder, it’s just paint, you have nothing to fear, nothing to achieve, just paint, brush stroke after brush stroke until the canvas is covered. Now I begin to relax, I put down colour after colour until the paint is wet and malleable. Something magical happens when you have lots of paint on the canvas it responds in a different way, you can blend it, scrape into it, soften the edges, possibilities are endless.

I consciously vary the brushes I am using to get a variety of marks, I try to keep the brushstrokes light and loose, it’s early days, I don’t want too much noodley detail, it’s too soon, this is just the first pass, it’s not a finished painting, I can’t know where it’s going yet, I relax and enjoy the process because now it is just all possibility, this could be a great painting. If I’m lucky some of those magical marks will happen, if I follow my intuition, if I just keep painting, it will all be ok. 

The door opens and my husband is home from work, time to make a cup of tea and talk about our days. I use up the last of the paint or put a lid on the pots to keep it wet until tomorrow, I wash my brushes and empty the water, I share what I’ve been working on, there is a desire to share, to see the reaction. It was so good to paint today, doing what feels right for me, in my happy place, and tomorrow I have a whole day to paint, what luxury, I’ll get lots done tomorrow, maybe even finish these off, well make progress anyway. 

How blessed am I to be an artist and have time to paint…

This summary is very typical of my ‘studio days’, of course sometimes I’m very productive and sometimes I do even less. Is this what you thought it would be like to be an artist? I’d love to know if this resonates with you in any way.

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image of Chrissie Richards

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