Balancing calm with enough detail to hold the gaze

I am drawn to abstract art has “depth” or “maturity” in that there are many layers and working into them to create depth and interest. What I hope to achieve in my own work is that depth, yet overall simplicity of composition. To create that sense of calm but with enough interest to hold the viewer is my ultimate goal, and a very challenging one, indeed.

Art is work. Good art is darned hard work.

People think that my hobby (making abstract art)  is fun. It’s not. It’s darned hard work. In fact, if it were a paying job I’d probably resign! It’s absolutely true to say that my day job is less of a slog than painting. Yet I keep doing it and no one is forcing me so I’ll shut up before it sounds like I’m complaining!

I’ve learned that what Chuck Close says is absolutely true:  “Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work”

What’s in a name? Quite a lot, actually

I didn’t realize that titling your art is so important. Here’s why: Titling gives the artist an additional opportunity to provide more context or insight for the work. But there is a danger that the artist can push the viewer in his or her desired direction for interpretation through the title. As an abstract artist I want the viewer to make what they will out of the work – not what I want them to think.

Using “untitled” is not recommended – it leaves the viewer in a vaccuum and if you’re lucky enough to sell the painting and the gallery calls and says “We sold Untitled 6” are you going to know what painting it was? So titles act as a referencing system for the artist, too.

The obvious is unchallenging

I’m a Sudoku fan and I think part of it is because my brain loves to be challenged (certainly not because I’m good with numbers…on the contrary!). But that’s the interesting thing about our brains – they like to figure things out for themselves. The experience a viewer has of a piece of art should allow them the opportunity to read into it – make sense of it for themselves, whether it’s abstract or realistic. April Gornick says: “Great art should be vulnerable to interpretation. It shouldn’t be a fixed thing.” It’s the mystery that draws the viewer in.

Stay the course

I’ve always been fascinated by the parallels between art-making and life. So much of what I observe in the creative process applies to problem-solving and decision-making in general. Lately I’ve  been reading about the creative process of other artists in Maria Popova’s fantastic blog, Brain Pickings and Joe Fig’s book, Inside the Painter’s Studio. The common and unwavering theme from artist to artist, author to author is just show up and do the work. Keep at it until you break through. Chilean American author, Isabel Allende frames it so well: “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too. If she doesn’t show up invited, eventually she just shows up.”

Creative process: Welcome the wall

When you ‘hit the wall’ in the creative process – and also the normal problem solving process – it hurts! It’s that uncomfortable place my friend describes as feeling restless. I describe it as a scratchy feeling – kinda like a tortoise flipped onto its shell and struggling to right itself. Not a nice place to be.


It turns out it’s a really good place to be. Jonah Lehrer describes in Imagine: How Creativity Works that “hitting the wall” happens when your brain has exhausted all the obvious solutions, gone down all “the usual” thinking paths and come up short. Hitting the wall should be a welcome event because it’s only then that the brain starts making unusual associations, looking around corners and into dark seldom used places to find solutions. This greatly increases your chances of coming up with a creative solution.

Bring on the wall!


How to choose a piece of art

My pet peeve is when people buy pieces of art to match the couch or the colour scheme of a room. That’s what wall paint is for.

There’s no formula for choosing art unless you’re a serious collector. Serious collectors need to consider resaleability, investment growth potential and sometimes buying by “artist.” Of course they also tend to buy art they love, but not exclusively so. If you’re not a collector – and most of us aren’t – then the only rule for choosing a piece of art is this:

Buy art that you love.

“I get that it’s abstract but what is it?”

Many people find contemporary art baffling. I was once hanging a painting in an exhibition and there was a fellow watching. After some time he came up to me and said: “I get that it’s abstract, but what is it?”

Clearly he didn’t get it. “It” wasn’t anything in particular – it was whatever it looked like to him.

That’s the beauty of abstract art. The viewer makes sense of it for themselves. Perhaps it’s just an interesting arrangement of shapes and spaces. Perhaps it makes you feel or think a certain way. Perhaps you just like the colours. Whatever.

Abstract or contemporary art is what YOU make of it.

Art is personal. There is a lot to be said for artworks where the subject is recognizable  – whether it’s a landscape, figure or still life. In fact, abstract artists can learn a lot from a well executed work that uses a familiar subject. But to us abstract art lovers it’s just not as interesting or intriguing when the meaning of a painting is served to you on a plate!