The Creative Process of Making Art 1 : Generic Creative Process

As an artist, there is this particular question that I often face from different people on a daily basis. I am sure all my artist friends around the world must be facing this question too. And the question is “How muchtime do I typically take to make a painting”! I generally answer this question as, “Anything between a few minutes to a few years”. And then the eyebrows start to get raised.

The Creative Process

People often look at the time taken to make a piece of art as when a person is actually painting. And that time for me ranges from a few minutes to a few hours. But that is just the final execution time for the painting. All the time spent before that to reach that point in time when I am actually painting is more important and that time is highly variable. All the thoughts processed, all the ideas explored, all the actions taken to crystallize the idea and get clarity (many times just trusting intuition) and every other little things done to reach a point when I start to put colors on paper (including the action of putting colors on paper) is what can be called as my Creative Process of making Art. And this process varies depending on whether I am working outdoors or at the studio, working from life or working from photographs, working on some painting of my own or working on a commission.

Though its termed as a process its not necessarily a set of steps that I follow or have to be followed by anyone. The creative process sometimes can be purely spontaneous while at other times its methodical. But generally it is a mix of method and madness most of the times. In this series of posts I’ll take you through my creative process for different contexts. In this post I’ll touch upon my creative process in very broad terms.

Creative process of making art
Creative process of making art

Inspiration

there is no dearth of inspiration in nature
There is no dearth of inspiration in nature

In my opinion art can not happen without inspiration. Inspiration is basically that strong and sudden emotion that makes you want to go and create. It can come anywhere and anytime. It can come from a beautiful scene, a song, a story, from another art work or it can just be idea that strikes you. Inspiration can come from anywhere and many times it is from places you least expect. But unless you are looking for it there is a very small probability that it is going to strike you. So to begin the creative process look for inspiration and let it strike you.

Exploration

While painting outdoors I just sketch anything that catches my eye to form an idea
While painting outdoors I just sketch anything that catches my eye to form an idea

Just because you have been inspired, it does not mean it can turn into a master piece right away. However in some cases inspirations seems to give birth to great art works directly. It seems so because rest of the creative process happens inside artist’s head and that can not be observed externally.

When inspiration strikes, the next step is to search for that idea which would express your intention (born out of the inspiring moment) clearly on canvas. This is where imagination starts to come into play and continues to play a role in rest of the process. For me just sketching without any fixed ideas in head (exploring) or making small thumbnail studies helps in reaching the idea that would work on paper. Sometimes nothing works. In such cases just give it some time and space and the idea would come when you have almost forgotten about it.

Research

Many a times a painting needs some background research for factual correctness. For example if you are painting a scene from a bygone era you can not paint the figures with cell phones in their hands. You need to find out about things like clothing, vehicles, architecture etc of that period. Research typically includes reading, internet searches, talking to experts, travel and discussing with other people. While painting outdoors this process is much simpler as the subject is right in front of you.

Preparation

This stage consists  of a lot of sketching if I am painting from a photograph. I generally use different mediums to sketch. I also make sketches of different sizes. While painting outdoors also I do a few sketches of my surroundings to get a feel of the place.When you sketch your hands and mind warm up and ideas start to get crystallized. It brings clarity in your head.

This stage may involve learning to work with a new medium or picking up a new skill or technique. In such cases preparation time is typically a few months to few years. The exploration stage also involves sketching. But here the sketches are done with some idea and intent unlike the free sketching in exploration stage.

Feeling for the ‘Aha’ moment

There are only subtle differences in these two sketches. But the Aha moment came for the one on the right probably because of the difference in lighting
There are only subtle differences in these two sketches. But the Aha moment came for the one on the right probably because of the difference in lighting

This is the stage that is quite elastic in terms of time. Sometimes I am okay with the first sketch itself. And more often than not it takes many sketches to reach that ‘Aha’ moment. Its that moment when the sketch is able to match the unseen vision. And it does not have to be the latest sketch you would have done. It could be an earlier sketch which did not appeal to you when it was done. But later when you see it with a fresh mind it seems to work. Here you can ask how can a sketch match up to something that is still not clearly visible even in your head. Well the question is absolutely valid. The eureka moment is actually intuitive and its like a spontaneous uplifting emotion that I have come to trust. And when that moment comes I dont explore any further. That sketch becomoes the reference for my final painting.

Sometimes that ‘Aha’ moment never comes. In such cases I dont go ahead with the painting. But sometimes I just looks at technicalities of the composition,  color scheme etc and go ahead with the final work just to see how it turns out.

Execution

This is the implementation stage where the final painting is executed. All the previous process steps put together can be called as the build up stage which as I said earlier can last from a few minutes to few months and can go even up to years. All that time helps to bring clarity and confidence for executing the final work. But that clarity and confidence does not have to be 100%. In fact for me it has never been 100%. There is always room for spontaneity and improvisations. Especially when working with watercolors there has to enough room for things to happen naturally on paper.

Avoiding the ‘Oh No’ moment

Most paintings are killed when they begin to approach completion. A false stroke here and there towards the end of painting especially when working with watercolors can spoil all the good work that you would have done before that. So I prefer to be careful and take time to do the final touches in a painting to avoid the ‘Oh no’ moment.

Contrary to what I have said here sometimes an unintended stroke has actually worked for the painting. But the chance of that happening is very low.

Evaluation and Adjustments

The top painting was rejected after evaluation stage and painting below was done at the back of the paper.
The top painting was rejected after evaluation stage and painting below was done at the back of the paper.

When a painting has just been done one can be very attached to it. At times you may never see any glaring issues with it and at other times you may find faults even where there is none. So when I finish a painting I put it away for a few days. Typically 2-3 weeks works fine. Then I come back to it and do a critical evaluation. Depending on the evaluation I may do some minor changes and adjustments. But I dont do any major changes. If there are huge issues with the paintings I dump it in rejects drawer. Sometimes I paint it again on new paper or on the backside of the paper. Cropping the picture is also one of the things I sometimes resort to.

Learning

The creative process does not stop when a painting is done. You would always learn something new (however small it may be) from every painting. Its a good idea to document it by taking pictures and making a note somewhere. You can also take feedback from appropriate persons about your work and see how can you improve it. Many a times you stumble upon a technique, brush stroke or color mix in the process of making a painting. Make a note of it in your sketchbook and see how can you use it in your subsequent work.

The creative process is not linear. Its a loop and hence a never ending process. An artist just keeps traversing the loop again and again throughout his life. But every traversal of the loop makes her a better artist and her works more mature. Creative process is like a roller coaster ride of emotions. Generally the lows are more than the highs. But the high, when it comes is that of pure joy.

Be a Creator

The Psychologist

About ten years back I was gifted a revelation.

And it came from an Australian lady who was my co-passenger during a journey from Delhi to Dehradun. A child psychologist by profession she was in India for a detox holiday at Haridwar. And very soon we were chatting about the changes in child behavior patterns in Australia. She was very vocal about how intrusive technologies like phones, internet were decreasing the attention span of children and decreasing their ability to learn. According to her children who were introduced to the virtual world of TV and other form of videos in their growing years were more likely to become less interested in real world as it is not as exciting as the virtual world. They would get ‘bored’ easily and be more aggressive in general.
The other problem was of instant gratification of getting what they wanted without really having to work for it or wait for it. And she held the parents of the children responsible for this. Parents who spend little time with their kids would want to make the child ‘happy’ during the little time that they spent with her. Hence they would fulfill all the demand of the child immediately, thus encouraging consumption. And this leads to the child not learning to cope with delays, failure of getting what she wanted, which ultimately leads to the child becoming prone to stress. And thus the chat went on for a very long time on how this affects the society as people become less social and more unaware of their surroundings.

The Revelation

I was gifted a revelation. But I really never took it. I thought to myself, “Well this is probably a thing of Australia and it would not be so in India. So I am okay. We are okay.”And today it does not take much intelligence to say how wrong I have been. The growing usage of TV, Internet, phones, the bombardment of information, the growing working population and changing social structures have changed everything. In fact all these issues are no more limited to children alone. It is a common problem for the entire society.
But when I look around there are certain people who seem to be completely unaffected and equanimous. And in most cases these people are either musicians, artists, writers, actors, classical dancers or ordinary people who practice any of these disciplines in their free time. Now one thing was clear to me that all these people did practice some or the other form of art (Not that there were no one in this category who did not practice any art. But I was trying to find out a common thread, which I finally concluded to be arts). But it was still not clear to me why.
And then I had my revelation through two words.
Consumer and Creator.

Consumption and Creation

Two simple words with two opposing ideas; But can not exist without each other. Both need to balance each other out.
But today’s society has a heavy leaning towards consumerism. Towards a culture of unbridled consumption. All the time in a day people are consuming. Movies, Videos, Status Updates, News, Tweets, advertisements…… and the list is never ending. We are consuming information in some form or the other all the time along with other traditional consumer goods like clothes, gadgets, cars etc. And then we are working jobs like never before so that we can keep consuming more. Consumerism seems to have consumed us.
The act of creation is exactly opposite to the act of consumption. While it takes no time to consume something it takes a really long time and virtues like focus and patience to create it. While consuming is about instant gratification creating is an activity with a slow learning curve and long term rewards. While consumption is about the external world creation is about focusing on the inner self. While consumption is about alienating the soul creating is about becoming one with universe.
Eureka. I had found a very objective solution to counter balance the effects of increasing consumerism in today’s society. Everyone in this modern era must practice art in their everyday lives. It is one of the easiest and joyous path to becoming a creator. It really does not have to be arts. It can be even writing a code or making a gadget or even gardening. It just has to be an act of creation.

There is agreement

My Eureka moment did not really last long. All it took me was a little search on internet to find out that other people were already discussing on the same lines of consumption vs creation. In fact I was pleasantly surprised that many people are already walking this path to better their lives.
Instead of concluding, I’ll leave you with this TED Talk video titled ‘Be an Artist. Right Now’ by celebrated Korean author Young Kim Ha. Watch the video and you conclude for yourself what do you want to be.

Consumer or Creator?

What does the word artist mean… to me

There are a few standard ways in which the word ‘artist’ is used. Some people use it to refer to a profession. So if someone is a doctor by profession and at the same time is an amateur but passionate painter he cant be called an artist! Some people refer to a person with a talent in any of the arts field as an artist. For example anyone who sings or paints or dances automatically is called as an artist. So is being an artist is about being in a particular profession or having a particular talent? My answer is neither. For me being an artist is an attitude that seeks to judge less and understand more, thus expanding the seekers mind.

Depending on the place and time we belong to, we develop our own value system and sense of reasoning, which is necessary for our survival. And like all systems our reasoning system is also based on some assumptions, which help in faster decision making. For example when we are shopping for apples we tend to pick the ones that are very red in color. Here the assumption is that if the redder the apple, the sweeter it is. Though it works some times, the other times the greener apples turn out to be sweeter. As the pace of our lives increases exponentially, speed of decision making also has to cope up with it and hence more assumptions have to be made, which in other words makes us quiet judgemental to meet our ever increasing survival needs.

An artist is someone who tries to break out his set of assumptions. He tries to overcome this natural disposition of using his assumptions and instead seeks to understand. He tries to overcome his own boundaries of logic seeks to be emotional.

Lets take an example. In a class when people are asked to draw something (an eye for illustration) most people immediately draw an almond shape, with a few concentric circles inside the almond shape. A few look up at their neighbour’s eyes and try to draw the shape that they see. The people who have drawn the almond shapes are drawing what they already know, which is nothing but their assumption about the shape of the eye. But the others who looked at their neighbour’s or even the teacher’s eyes are the ones who are trying to understand. It is this attitude of observing keenly to understand makes the artist more aware and emphatic of his surroundings and himself. This is the artist’s gaze that helps one to expand one’s mind and be joyful.

Because artists try to observe and understand they have the ability to see more beauty and meaning than what meets the eye. And the desire to communicate this makes the artist create. It is said that the best way to paint is to paint is with the heart of a child and with the skills of an adult. Skills are external while the attitude is internal. External development can be achieved through hard work, practice and discipline. But the internal purity, which enables one to paint without judgments, with innocence and awareness at the same time and with an imagination that is not bounded by the limit of logic makes a painter an artist.

Unfortunately whatever I said could easily be bounded by the expanse of my own mind. One really has to find one’s own meaning through honest effort.