Blankness

Blankness can be daunting and, for some artists, a terrifying thing. Many people make random marks on a canvas or drawing page before actually beginning in order to break up the endless white. The fear of ‘stuffing it up’ is sometimes most acute when one has a pristine, and possibly costly, surface. I certainly have those feelings at times, especially if the work is targeted towards a specific endpoint and is, therefore, ‘important’.

I also get very enthusiastic, though, about the potential – the almost endless possibilities that exist. There is so much that can result. I buy most of my canvas on a twenty-five metre roll. That is my favourite art purchase, despite the fact it’s so heavy I can only drag it! That is a lot of blank canvas and a whole world of excitement.

For writers, a blank page has a similar dichotomy. A white sheet, or empty screen, can have a paralysing effect and yet, on the other side of the creative coin, it dictates nothing. It provides no constraints to ideas. Anything is possible and valuable.

The beginning is hard, as with almost everything we do, but the potential is great. When we burst, or even tiptoe, through the inertia and fear, we can make great things.

Until later,

Kirsten

Routine

I’m mixing it up this morning. I have come to the café BEFORE the supermarket. I am writing my blog on a Tuesday instead of Wednesday. I have brought my bits and pieces with me in a bag rather that simply carrying them. And it’s only 8.15am.

I know what you’re thinking. ‘She’s WILD!’

It’s actually a bit of a sad indictment that such small things could be called ‘mixing it up’. I am obviously so wedded to routine that tiny alterations become obvious.

It is also amusing to ponder, from this relatively early position in the day, what ELSE I could do to shake the normal run of things. I mean, the regular world is my oyster. I can get creative. I could completely shift my day, turn it inside out, give myself a whole new perspective, perhaps even throw in a few things that aren’t on my to-do list! Now THAT would be stepping out!

Goodness knows what’s in store. Now I’m excited. The day has more colour, more potential. Anything could happen.

All I have to do now is think of something.

Until then!!

Kirsten

Spaces

Thanks to YouTube, I’ve been watching a performance of St Matthew Passion by J.S. Bach. It is an enormous work, both in length and monumental-ness. It is not often performed because of its demands on choir, soloists, orchestra and, I suspect, audience but, once it becomes familiar, it is a marvellous piece.

Bach’s music, especially his choral, is complex and dense. It is an ‘opaque’ music, a bit like a heavy, embroidered wall hanging that is warm and comforting but definitely present. Many lines of counterpoint, basso continuo and rich, shifting harmonies that precede jazz by about two hundred years, create a web of utter music which, for the uninitiated (and perhaps those who have listened more), can seem a little impenetrable.

I have been watching a particular performance by the Netherlands Bach Society. It is arresting in its quality. The more I watch, the more I think about why it is so good. I have come to a conclusion. The real strength, the real genius, lies, not so much in the music (although that is outstanding) , but in in the silences – the spaces between phrases, the no-music between sections, a complete lack of panic in stillness. None of this silence is overdone or emotional. It is pure, does not interrupt the flow of the music but, and I think this is the essence, it gives a way in to the fullness of the sound.

I wonder whether moments of silence can provide pathways into other things. Of course, I think about art. Unpainted sections, windows if you like, can invite a viewer into a dense piece. Maybe in our lives, hectic times can be mitigated by periods of silence. Perhaps still moments, no matter how small, can make things more accessible and less daunting.

That’s why I have visual paragraph breaks, I suppose. They are moments of visual and mental silence within a written piece.

Until later,

Kirsten

That’ll do

At times I’m guilty of the ‘that’ll do’. You know. The ‘close enough’, the ‘she’ll be right’, the ‘we’ll call that done’. I pick my targets, obviously, but sometimes there’s more laissez-faire than there should be!

Recently, and inspired by several different people, I’ve been trying to change. Whenever I’m tempted to not quite finish a job, I speak sternly to myself and say ‘for heaven’s sake, do it properly.’ Amazing how effective that is. I’m obviously scary.

Usually, the extra time ‘doing it properly’ takes is insignificant. It’s more of a mental attitude than a duration-limited thing. Probably, few people would notice the difference, but I know.

I’m getting better. I’m ‘doing it properly’ more frequently. But I do need to keep reminding myself: ‘for heaven’s sake …..’

So, now the washing is dry. Will I fold it or chuck it on the bed? I fear this job might fall through the cracks! Oh dear.

Until later,

Kirsten

Progress

Things don’t always go well at work. This is true for everyone, I am sure. Some days in the studio are frustrating, difficult or simply a retrograde step. Moving forward is not a given. We all like to see progress. I find it easy to become disheartened when that progress is elusive.

I was reminded this week, though, that we shouldn’t measure progress of any meaningful kind on a daily basis. That is a far too narrow, and punishing, time frame. Progress should be measured over a few days at the minimum or, better still, weeks, or months or even years.

Of course, the type of progress we’re evaluating varies depending on the time frame. Over a few days one may be able to measure progress on a particular painting. Over weeks or months, progress might be made across a body of work. Progress over years might be seen in a career trajectory or a stylistic development.

So, a bad day in the studio does not a lack of progress make. It is merely part of the continual forward and backward shuffling that, over time, adds up to movement in a positive direction.

Or that’s what we hope!

Until next time,

Kirsten

Pushing the boundaries

I am applying for an award. This particular award is for a twelve month project that will push the boundaries of your art practice into new and uncharted territory. It is an award presented to an artist with a desire to break new ground in their creating life. Part of the award is set aside for a mentor who will contribute to the development – a partner in crime, if you like.

It sounded exciting. My initial plans were relatively ‘out there’, although many of the details were unformed. That’s what the year of the project is for, after all – to explore, research, innovate. Having secured a fabulous mentor, however, the vision has taken on a life of its own through her enthusiasm and guidance. It is still exciting, but also now terrifying. I’m not sure I can live up to the confidence she has in my ability to extend.

She is absolutely right. If you are going to explore, then REALLY explore, actually step outside your comfort zone. Don’t just morph what you do now but turn it into something new. I’ve been playing it safe.

I am reading a book called Think Again by Adam Grant. In summary, it talks about reframing and re-thinking one’s often errant or outdated views and assumptions. But it also talks about the fact that we can be resistant. We are often happy in our bubble. Grant provides a glimpse into a way we can make a transition easier, that being to keep in mind the essential things that will remain the same while change happens around.

Without going into details here, I can now see more clearly that I can stretch my practice, break new ground, without having to change my core artistic loves. That fact is an eye-opener and a relief. I can now hop on board the excitement train and apply for the award with a whole heart. So, onwards and outwards!

Until later,

Kirsten

Waves

Since I’ve been painting abstractly, I have been trying to find ways to explain what I do in my own mind so, ultimately, I can explain it to others.

When I put brush, or whichever tool, to canvas, I am trying to capture my essence at that moment. It’s like finding a way to capture a fleeting experience in visual form.

Listening to a podcast by artist and teacher, Nicholas Wilton, I heard him speaking to professional photographer and surfing tragic, Jonah Allen, who was able to put a new and lovely spin on the theme.

While speaking of waves, not just his favourite recreation but also his artistic subject matter, Jonah described them as the expression of energy with water as the medium.

This struck home with me. That’s what I am trying to do. I have energy, or the moment has energy, and the paint is the medium with which that energy is expressed. The paintings may not ‘look like anything’, or may be ‘messy’, but they are a wave – a transfer of energy from one place to another.

Let’s ride them!

Until later,

Kirsten

Saved on the road from Mount Gambier

I must confess it has crossed my mind that perhaps it was time to gracefully wrap up this blog, recognising that it has been a great thing for me but that maybe its time was over. It seemed I had much less to say, to muse about. I didn’t really want to shut it down as I love having it, but neither did I want to ramble on about nothing month after month.

On my last big car drive, however, listening to podcasts (so often an impetus), I became inspired again. Suddenly, I had thoughts – about art, about life – thoughts that now need to be explored. There were words and concepts running through a head which had been quite empty of late. Such a good feeling. There’s a little bit of life in the old grey cells yet.

And so this blog, my blog that I am fortunate enough to share with you, is saved (that sounds very dramatic; I don’t think, in reality, it was in terrible danger). There are ideas out there that trigger thoughts in us. Sometimes those ideas float around in abundance, sometimes they are more elusive but they still exist. We might just have to work, or listen or read or watch or write, a bit harder or more often to find them.

Until later (a definite and enthusiastic later),

Kirsten

Wordle

Maybe you Wordle. Maybe, if you’re really into it, you also Quordle or perhaps Nerdle if numbers are also your thing. If you seek the sometimes near-impossible puzzle, you may Worldle as well. It may be that you have no idea what I’m talking about. That’s fine. The underlying principle remains relevant

These new puzzles, grown from humble beginnings and taking the world by storm, are similar to each other. The greatest of these similarities, though, is that each iteration only has one version available each day. Only one. Either at midnight, wherever you are in the world or, for Nerdle, at a shared, planet-wide refresh time, you can access your daily fare. Once it’s done, that’s it. You wait twenty four hours for the next.

‘Always leave them wanting more,’ said circus impresario P. T. Barnum. That is genius. Make an experience rare and it becomes in demand. Don’t overload an audience and they will long for the next opportunity. If you sing, keep it sweet but short. If you talk, keep it brilliant but brief. If you exhibit, keep it captivating but compact. If you write, for heaven’s sake, don’t labour the point.

So, until later,

Keep wanting more,

Kirsten

Tell your story

Depending on where you get your information, it is posited that the average length of time a viewer spends in front of an artwork is somewhere between eight and thirty two seconds. Apparently, the length of time spent in front of the famed Mona Lisa averages out at only fifteen seconds (although the queues pressing from behind may affect that). I have even seen two seconds put forward as a statistic. Regardless of the actual number, and the particular artwork being viewed, it seems like a pretty poor return for the time put in by the artist.

So, what makes some art require, or demand more looking? I have done a great deal of thinking and talking about this recently but I’m not sure I’ve come up with any great answers. Is it layers of paint that peek through the upper surface? Is it visual spaces in the work that invite the audience in? Is it ‘slow lines’ – broken, bent or curved – that prevent the eye slipping out of the piece?

What I DO know, though, is that, in order to command more looking, a painting must provide reward. Details, surprises, hidden gems, unexpected textures and the like need to be offered to the viewer who takes longer. Their giving of time and value to your work should give to them, in turn, a richer experience.

Easy to say, difficult to execute in a way that isn’t tokenistic. Like so many aspects of art-making, though, it’s a worthy goal. Paintings should tell their story slowly. They should craft it, weave it and the ending, if there even is one, should be a ripper.

Until later,

Kirsten

Process

I was watching Ash Barty play in the Australian Open tennis last week. Jim Courier was commentating and drew our attention to a quality this great champion possesses. ‘She doesn’t think about what is ahead,’ Jim pointed out. ‘Instead, she focuses on the execution of her work.’ The end product will happen but the crux is the process – each shot, point, game that eventually, makes up the entire performance.

The distinction between process and product is not a new one. Mid-nineteenth century writer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, is credited with saying: ‘It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.’ Another tennis player, the famed Arthur Ashe, echoed the idea and added that ‘the doing is often more important than the outcome’. Educational theory, in the eighties at least, was heavily invested in the importance of process over product. Certainly, in my area of classroom drama, the difference between exploration and performance was starkly drawn with the former valued more highly.

It becomes obvious that visual art, another creative discipline, works similarly. One can be concerned with the product one is trying to produce – for exhibition, commission, sale. One can also focus on the application of the craft, the process of making, with an endpoint less clear. Both approaches are valid. A professional practice inevitably moves between the two ends of the continuum.

But, it’s easy to fall into a distorted place where concern with a product takes a dominant position and the value placed on the process is diminished. This is to the detriment of the transparency and honesty of the art. Sometimes I need a reminder to reset; to concentrate on the execution of the work rather than the result of the game.

Thank you, Ash.

Until later,

Kirsten

Advice (or not)

The last couple of years of Covid, and resulting limited travel, have played havoc with my podcast listening. The slowing down of the input of new ideas has been for me, and possibly you, noticeable. Other things have taken off, of course, but the challenge posed by new thoughts has waned a little.

New year, new hopes. One of these is to reignite my own little pondering habit. As such, I recently listened to my first podcast in a long time. It was The Tim Ferris Show, hosted, not surprisingly, by Tim Ferris. This show can be a bit hit and miss personally, as it probably has an other-than-creative business focus (and too much advertising!) but I struck good one on this occasion.

The guest was Michael Bungay Stanier, the author of a book called The Advice Trap – a publication aimed at corporate managers who find themselves diving into giving advice to other employees too often and too early. I don’t think I’m an over-advice-giver (some may beg to differ) but I could relate to the premise.

There was the expected talk about drawing solutions from the people directly involved in a project and of not being immediately solution-focussed. But there was one piece of, dare I say, advice which made the whole show worth listening to. It was: Stay curious just a little bit longer.

Simply fabulous. And so applicable to everything I tend to do: ‘finish’ a painting too early, give up research too quickly, stop reading if not immediately gratified, not bother with rough artistic sketches and exploration.

It has become my mantra (if I subscribe to that sort of thing at all). Stay curious just a little bit longer. Don’t tie it all up too quickly. Don’t seek the end at the expense of the means. Leave it open, incomplete, as a question for a slightly longer time. Then see what happens.

Until later,

Kirsten

Christmas

Christmas comes at the end of an arbitrary marking of the year, the closest thing we can get to the representation of regularity in the solar system. The ‘end’ is random. The year could start anywhere, after all. My rudimentary research indicates that there is no astronomical reason for the placement of New Year’s Day, although the earth is closest to the sun in its orbit at this time – a fact discovered long after the siting of January in the cycle. In fact, the first New Year’s celebrations tended to be held around the equinox in March and cultures other than ours maintain alternative traditions.

But this is about Christmas, not New Year, and how it seems to nicely wrap up the previous twelve months. There is pressure, in some quarters, to tidy the loose ends, get jobs completed and catch up with everyone before the big day. The fact that, in the Southern Hemisphere, the great hiatus of the summer holidays tags along, adds to the desire to ‘get stuff done’ before many of us head away from home or routine.

We often reflect at this time. How did the year go in terms of goal-reaching, health, achievement, personal life? We could just as easily set, say, August 22 as our evaluation deadline but Christmas, the close of the year, the last moments before revving up for the new one, seems a logical and emotionally comfortable choice. It’s like breathing a long sigh before we gird our loins for a new set of hopes and expectations for the next chunk of time.

So, this Christmas, I will reflect a little, revel in family connection, eat delicious food and exhale deeply. In the coming weeks I’ll look forward. I’m not a subscriber to the New Year’s Resolution but I do like to look at the year, get a picture of it in my head and put some aims in mind. I’m not sure if it’s necessary or helpful but, for me, this is a good time to take stock.

Thank you for you support. Have a merry Christmas, however you celebrate and wherever your priorities lie.

Until next year,

Kirsten

A possible answer?

In June of 2020 I posted a piece of writing about overthinking. It was meant to be a little ‘wry’ but did pose some questions about thinking, whether there was an optimal amount of thinking, whether there were rules about how much thinking is appropriate and that maybe overthinking should be treasured or, perhaps didn’t exist at all. I’ll attach it below, but don’t feel you have to re-read.

In the past week, in an artistic context, I had a discussion about thinking. We were teasing out the act of painting and decided that thinking sits at the opposite end of the continuum to instinct. A work of art, particularly a successful one, balances the two elements of instinct and thought. There is, or should be, the imprint of both to make the piece live and yet be unified. The place each piece sits on the continuum will depend on the stage of development of the work and the particular preference or comfort level of the artist.

Overthinking in art then, we decided, sits beyond and outside that continuum. Overthinking occurs when all reference to instinct has fallen away or, in reverse, overthinking in itself kills the instinctive element of creation. In that respect, it’s not a good thing, or to be treasured. It is to be avoided. The antidote? Perhaps a deliberate dive into the far, gut-led end of the continuum.

It may not be an answer, or the only answer, to the questions I posed last year. In other contexts the picture may be entirely different. I have found the visual image useful, though. I think about it often. Not too much, though.

Until later,

Kirsten

10 June, 2020

Just wondering….

I’d hate to self-fulfil the prophecy …. but what is overthinking?

Is there a certain amount of thinking that could be called optimal? Certainly, underthinking could be said to be rife but how do you know when you step over the line and think too much?

That’s assuming it’s even possible. Perhaps the capacity of issues to be thought about is infinite. Perhaps the distinction, then, is the type of thinking. There is musing, ruminating, evaluating, comparing, remembering and anticipating, just to name a few. Does overthinking apply to one, some or all of these? Are some more damaging than others when done excessively?

Is overthinking a habit or something we do randomly? Can it lead to greater understanding? If so, can it really be called a negative thing? Overthinking has certainly had some bad press and I recognise there is no smoke without fire, but one could argue that thinking more than is necessary leads to concepts of greater depth, ideas of greater complexity, solutions of greater creativity. Overthinking might be what generates the great developments, the outstanding decisions and the history-making discoveries.

Perhaps overthinking is, in fact, a skill that is not universally possessed. Perhaps it is a gift exclusive to a few and learned by a few more through awareness and practice. Is it something we should actually be treasuring and cultivating?

But, I don’t want to go on about it …

Until later,

Kirsten

Alignment

I have dropped off the car, and its tyres particularly, for a rotation, balance and alignment. I chuckled to myself: rotation, balance and alignment. It sounded like an excellent idea. Where was the human version? What was the procedure that attends to our physical and emotional state in such a way?

I suppose we all have our various ways of rotating worn thoughts, balancing ourselves and realigning. It may be exercise, yoga, reading, movies, hobbies. It may even be the routine of work.

I decided, however, that, at this point in time – this specific hour on this particular day – I perhaps couldn’t talk personally about the desperate need for a rotation, balance and alignment. Things were travelling fairly well. Just the normal ups and downs, annoyances and mistakes, but nothing warranting a full service. Lucky me. I did bemoan the fact, though, that my blog post concept had become redundant.

I am humbled by the treatment I receive at my regular café. The care is exquisite, the familiarity comforting and the coffee fabulous. Some days the staff are almost the only people I speak to. It is a haven. This morning, though, there was a totally unfamiliar young woman at the counter and a barista whom I had never seen before. I was thrown into a spin. I actually had to order the coffee I wanted and was even given a number so they could find me to deliver the goods. New staff! The service was completely acceptable but it came with no conversation, no hearty greeting from behind the machine, not even an enquiry into the progress of my painting or a laugh over a long-held mutual amusement. There had been a rotation of personnel that had changed my experience. So much for my balance. The world’s alignment was completely disturbed.

Of course, in reality it’s totally unimportant and the coffee was still excellent. But I chuckled to myself, aloud this time, about how quickly things change.

And then the service business rang to tell me I needed two new tyres. Back down to earth.

Until later,

Kirsten