I wasn’t feeling well today so I spent some time online doing something I enjoy: surfing through YouTube. I love starting with one thing and then just following the string. I end up far from where I began but feeling encouraged and creative.
One of the videos I watched today was from artist Brian Rutenberg. He said something to the effect that he doesn’t wait for creativity and he doesn’t believe in luck. He shows up at the studio and gets to work. It’s about the process. It was a long video, and I didn’t finish it, but the part I watched gave me something to think about.
While I believe in creativity, if I waited for it before starting or working on a painting, I might finish three paintings in a year. I know there are days when I’m on fire and the work is good and others where I’m just going through the motions. Even though I might be going through the motions, I’ve been doing this long enough that I can still create something beautiful.
The thing is that for me, creativity is often tied into how I’m feeling physically and emotionally and that makes it hard to produce consistent work. I may finish four paintings in a row; just bam, bam, bam, bam and then have a week where I can’t face going back into the studio.
The only way to grow as an artist is to create art. Musicians practice scales, dancers go to rehearsals, writers reread the work from the day before. These activities are a given, there’s no discussion or decision making involved. However, many artists don’t have a warm-up practice. They need to create one.
Warm-ups should …
- be structured enough that when you show up you don’t have to wonder what to do;
- have materials ready to go so you don’t spend your warm up time getting set up;
- last a set amount of time;
- not take the place of working on your creative projects; and
- be long enough to get you out of the “I don’t know what to do” frame of mind to being ready to start
This is a warm-up I learned to do from artist Robert Burridge at one of his workshops
I work in acrylics and this is how I do my warm-ups. I use white gesso to cover one side of a sheet of 140 lb watercolor paper. Once dry, I fold and tear the sheet into approximately 5″ x 7″ pieces. I do several sheets at a time so I have a stockpile.
When I come into the studio I take about a minute to think of a word – or open a dictionary or thesaurus to find a word – jump, beauty, love, feather, etc. – or color – just something to base my warm-up on. I set a timer or choose a certain number of pieces of paper. I normally do five sheets a session. I work quickly and focus on how I feel while trying to keep my mind disengaged. At other times, I do a series of the same image, an egg for example. When I’m done, I quickly clean up and turn to the project at hand.
While most of the time I go to the studio with a plan already in mind, having a warm-up practice keeps me motivated on those days when creativity has left the room. Does it help with my creative process or outcome? Honestly, I’m not sure. I don’t seem to do a better job when I do the warm-ups but, then, how do I know? What I do know is it gets me re-engaged in the studio. If I’ve taken a few days off it’s sometimes hard to get started again. This warm-up gets me moving paint around again and I can use that momentum to continue working on the project(s) at hand.