Why Playing helps you Work

One of the biggest pressures that artists put on themselves is to produce a ‘masterpiece’ every time they enter the studio and when that doesn’t happen, which is most of the time, leave despondent and frustrated.  The more that expectation is there, the more pressure is there and the more likely failure and frustration will follow.

It’s very easy to say leave the pressure at the studio door, and quite another to manage it, but it is important to find strategies to do this if painting or other passion isn’t to turn in to some sort of self-flagellation. I wrote last time of not necessarily having a plan when I paint but to follow where the painting leads and that’s one of the strategies I employ. If I don’t know what’s going to happen and consequently have no expectations, it’s much harder to fail. It doesn’t mean you don’t have frustrations and bad days in front of the easel or your equivalent, but it dramatically decreases them and that’s very worthwhile.

The way I’ve come to deal with this, which hasn’t come easily I might add, is to play. Now, I’ve never approached anything in my life since leaving childhood behind by play, and initially this all seemed frivolous and pointless. I was following a couple of courses which really expounded the benefits of playing and I would impatiently wait for this part to pass so the real work could commence. However, whichever way I turned, artists and tutors were going on about playing. So, eventually, giving in and lacking inspiration one day, I did just that. I created mess all around me, mess on the paper in front of me and found it all a bit ridiculous. I pushed the work to one side ready to throw and cleaned up. The following day I came into the studio, threw the work away and, still lacking inspiration, found myself playing again. Another mess to clear up and more work to throw. However, I felt a bit lighter and had discovered a couple of new colour mixes I would never have dreamed would work so that was something. The third day I entered the studio, brighter and ready to make a few notes of the things I had discovered from the day before which meant digging around in the bin and looking at this play work again, which in this different mindset looked quite different and very interesting. That done, there I was playing again but this time I really relaxed and got absorbed in the  process and at the end I realised there was something in this playing that was freeing and creative and actually a first step on the way to the ‘proper’ work.

Playing helped me uncover processes and methods that I would never explore when working on a ‘proper’ piece of work for fear of messing it up. It loosened me up and started to become my warm-up session. After a while I realised that parts of these spontaneous, unplanned pieces had more energy and beauty about them than what followed which confused and troubled me to start with. I just couldn’t get those lovely free marks in the work that followed that I could in the warm-up. Finally, it dawned on me that the warm up could be part of my ‘real’ work and that instead of keeping the two things separate the warm up could inspire and inform what followed but all in the same piece of work and this is how I tend to approach things now and really interesting work results.

So, out comes the panel that I’m going to start a new work on, and all kinds of crazy stuff get slapped on it, any colours, any textures, perhaps collage, perhaps scribbling. Anything that frees me up and gives me something to respond to. I continue like this until I feel ready to start thinking about a colour palette based on what is in front of me and continue with the areas that I like and cover up those that I don’t. This process can go on for many days before some ideas percolate to the forefront and start informing an image. Plus I will have quite a few of these panels on the go at once so as I dry up with ideas and falter I can put one panel down and pick up another and just go round and round in this rotation defining, refining, starting over, scraping back until something grips me and I become fully absorbed in exploring it. Left over paint at the end of the day usually gets smeared over a waiting panel ready for the process to begin again.

One of the most important things this process allows is for me to go into the studio at any time with something to do, ie get my paint out and any other materials that I fancy and mess about instead of procrastinating because I have no idea what I should be getting on with and no inspiration. It makes me show up every day and it is rare that I will leave having done nothing or feeling low and uninspired. Those days happen, they always will but they are infrequent. If you can keep curious and inquisitive wondering what will happen if I use this material with this material, if I mix these two colours, if I make this mark here and that mark there, and give it a go, you will keep creative, innovative and ultimately fulfilled.