Saturday, March 1, 2014

I'm not making art, I'm making an artist.

For a period of time a few years ago I would stay up very late after my children were asleep and draw with colored pencils. It was partly an experiment to learn whether the joy of making art would make up for sleep deprivation. For awhile, the joy of making art won out. I felt happy and energized during the day even though I was tired, but in the long run I damaged my health by using dessert to fuel late nights. (No more sugar for me, and usually a decent amount of sleep.)

I was trying to become an artist. I would still my thoughts and see what image wanted to come out of me. I would take careful pauses to discern what colors to use, what lines to draw by giving my intuition space. I would wait quietly when I was unsure, and go ahead trusting my intuition when it spoke. I didn't use an eraser. If I made a mistake I let it stand to add irregular beauty. I learned  by doing and doing and doing. I didn't push myself or force anything and it all felt very easy. I didn't worry about it when I made drawings I didn't like much. I just kept moving. My motto at that time was "I'm not making art, I'm making an artist." I didn't finish much, but I filled a sketchbook with seed and reference material that I still use.

I'm in a different place now. I often try to make art. I often try to finish things, anyway. Right now I am struggling to finish a wax model for a pendant with a tree of life enclosed in a circle with a cross integrated into the design. Here I am working on an early version with my lovely assistant.

I want to make a beautiful, delicate, meaningful thing to cast in silver, but I am finding it difficult. I've started over twice. I expect to begin again once more. I feel half-guilty anxiety over taking so long over this one thing (a hold-over from paid-by-the-hour carving work.) A part of me wants to quit and do something easier so I can just get stuff done to fill up my Etsy store, but I also feel driven to stick with it. My husband says that's because I know I can do it. I am learning a lot about design and my craft, and I do expect at last to make something pretty to wear, yet the struggle is painful for reasons I don't fully grasp. I keep thinking of the last line of this passage from a favorite book, The Dean's Watch, by Elizabeth Goudge:

"It was a glorious clock.....The golden fret that hid the bell was the loveliest Isaac had ever made. The two swans were just rising from the reeds, one with wings fully spread, the other with his pinions half unfolded. Job could understand from experience, and the Dean through intuition, what an achievement it had been to form those great wings and curved necks into a pattern that was a fitting one for a clock fret and yet alive, but only Isaac had known how he had sweated and labored over it. It had been a costing clock."

This pendant I am making is a costing pendant. In the end I don't expect it to be my masterpiece, but it will certainly represent an important step in my skill development. I think I'm still making an artist more than I am making art. I am making an artist who not only knows how to follow the easy flow of intuition but also how to persevere in recovering from mistakes and solving (for me) difficult problems of design and craftsmanship.

wallpaper design by illustrator Walter Crane (1845-1915) 


  1. So very well written! The idea of making an artist rather than art, is just spot on; there's a lot of work behind, between and after those moments of inspiration. Your post actually inspired me to get on with today's work - so far I've been trying to avoid it ;)

  2. Perfectly put. I feel I have been, am and still will be in this process for a long, long time. In phases I try to paint my project as fast, but as accurate as possible - making maybe 3-4 paintings a week. other times I stand still and do not much, maybe finishing one watercolor painting during a week not being aware of the things I should learn. There are weeks when I build my muscles or skills, and there are weeks I just use them. And that is totally okay. I see it as you are already a very, very talented artist. You have a distinct style and you are consequent with it. I love that about artists and I wish I will be there some day too.

  3. Its good to be patient with yourself and with your results and just keep at it. I think its wonderful the way keeping on with art leads to more and more development. I see talent as very much connected with desire and perseverance. Best of luck to you as you keep on making an artist!