The Best Art Tools In the Box

Despite gruelling, unseasonable heat, my summer was a productive one. Numerous prints got mounted to panels and then coated in resin; paintings got started and finished. My studio looked like a bomb had gone off in it, with extra tables to support all the things in production, and supplies littered across the floor. And then, after weeks of full-throttle working, as September took hold, my brain collapsed in a gooey grey lump between my ears. I was spent. Everything ground to a halt while my inner taskmaster continued to bellow out orders about what needed to be accomplished. NOW! The weather abruptly switched from sunny and scorching to cool, grey, and wet. It was perfect working weather, but... day in and day out for more than a week, nothing happened. It was like the dreary days sucked any remaining spark of energy right out of me. That isn't an uncommon occurrence after a productive flurry, but it's never a pleasant one.

  Experimental Sunday pen and ink

Experimental Sunday pen and ink

A few weeks earlier, I had started a practice of making Sunday afternoons “Experimental Sunday”. It's a designated time to play with new materials or old materials I haven't picked up in years, without there being any kind of agenda. It's not a work day. It's not about the painting sitting a third of the way finished, or making something that might sell, or wrestling my heart and soul out onto paper. It's about fun and exploration. Throwaways, really. Quite strangely though, it's become very beneficial to those unfinished paintings and things that might sell. It's very similar to my procrastination rocks mindfulness technique. It was also the perfect remedy to my week of slothery (I'm not sure that's a real word, but I like it). My brain has a habit of working out problems with what appears to be an experimental throwaway image. My mind is blank, my motivation to even try has packed up and gone to hide under the bed. Then I grudgingly drag myself to the drafting table and I either make a mess (deliberately) by slapping inks or watercolours or acrylics on a piece of paper, without any sense of where I'm going with it; or I get out my old drafting tools and just start making circles and triangles and squares and lines and things that look a bit like something an alien's made in a remote British corn field, during the night. And quite miraculously those things not only help get the “real work” back on track, but they often become the basis of some really good work down the road. A few weeks earlier, I had solved the problem of how to paint the tree branches in a painting I was having trouble getting going, by thinking I was just going to make random, marks on paper with pen and ink and then a few hours later I realized I'd worked out how they should actually look, which was different from what my original “planning” mind had come up with.

  Shapes and patterns

Shapes and patterns

So at the end of that week of slumping lifeless in my chair with zero artistic mojo, I got out the drafting tools and just sat there and made shapes. For about 3 hours, all the obnoxious, chitter-chatter monkey mind stuff went offline and I just made shapes, and filled them in with pencil gradients. It was an enjoyable couple of hours. Because I always feel nothing is wasted, I scanned it into Photoshop, and, as luck would have it, it spawned a whole bunch of interesting patterns. And because I wanted to see how those patterns would look on something, I pulled in old files of backgrounds that might work ...and then that image I loved but couldn't quite turn into a painting, that had been sitting waiting for something to take it to the next level and turn it into something more than a really cool texture, met my “no agenda patterns” and suddenly received what it needed. The thing I drew just to do anything and to untangle my brain, became the most useful thing I'd done all week.

So here's to “play” and “no agenda”, the two best art tools in the box!

  Work in Progress - graphite shapes mixed with acrylic ink washes and painted over with digital.

Work in Progress - graphite shapes mixed with acrylic ink washes and painted over with digital.