Where does the art come from?

An artist friend of mine recently asked me where I get my art ideas from. And I’m not sure if I have a good answer. As I’ve become a more confident and consistent artist and illustrator, I’ve learned how to take a prompt or concept and explore it methodically. I gather related imagery from my visual library. I take these ideas and experiment with process or composition. I create a foundation for a piece, and then let the rest happen. Trusting my experience and the art.

Sometimes, I find myself looking at my past art like someone else created it. It can seem like the moment I finish a piece, whatever inspiration that gave it life blows out. This is can be nice because it really allows me to marvel at my own work. Although it also means I can feel quite disconnected from it.   

How I feel while I’m creating the work is a different story. I’m making tons of micro decisions and judgments about where I want a piece to go, or about where it’s going. When I’m really excited about a piece, I find myself not really thinking at all. Usually halfway through though, I have a panicked thought. Oh no, this sucks. I’m going to fail. What was I thinking? It’s really discouraging and never very useful. I’ve learned to push through it, even if it’s painful, and I find the piece usually works itself out anyway.

This doesn’t always work though, and sometimes I’ll go days, weeks, or months without being able to make something. This was especially true when I was going to school or when I first moved to the Bay and started my job. I wasn’t overly busy, I just wasn’t very happy. And while art makes me happy, it also requires happiness and energy for me to make. Oftentimes to get out of these slumps, I’ll draw a small circle and try to fill it, or scribble on a page and make a cartoon out of the forms created by the lines. Something short and small to get me going.

There are also times that I don’t know where the inspiration comes from at all. I’ll just have an idea that consumes me. Often, it’s not my typical style, or even visual art for that matter. Sometimes I’ll write poetry, or make a small film. I’ll be sitting outside or it’ll be late at night and I’ll hear words or see an image. Practically incoherent mumblings that become clearer as I tune in. I feel self conscious and pretentious even writing about it. It’s not like they’re always very deep either, and certainly not very ‘good’. I certainly don’t have a trained eye for poetry for example.

I guess the answer to where I get my art ideas from relates to my beliefs about my art practice as a whole. Patience, perseverance, and trust. Being gentle with my ebbs and flows, pushing through when I get down on myself, and just trusting the work.

If you’ll indulge me, I’ll leave you with a poem/song that I wrote after I was woken up by a recent small earthquake we had here. It’s about the primordial soup.

I’m just a tiny tube
Floating in the ocean          
Eating other tiny tubes

I don’t have many dreams
Deep down in the ocean
Or much of a notion
Of what a dream might be

Maybe it’d be nice                                          
To settle down with another tube
Make another tiny tube
Or merely to hold close

But me, I’m just,
one little tiny tube
Dreaming of a different world
Waiting to feel

Long term goals, short term mind

When I pay closer attention to my thoughts in any given moment, I often find a dialog that is composing a story. What I’m doing, how I’m feeling about it, and why I’m doing it. It’s almost as if I’m preparing to present my present. I also sometimes find a nagging voice getting on my case about why I’m not doing something else, or worse, why I’m not doing more. I can find this voice particularly loud after people ask me what I do. Especially now, during my transition from highly paid software engineer to small business owner artist, I feel a certain defensiveness. I find myself talking about the commission I’m working on and how I’m setting up my online shop with an energy like I need to sell my life choices to anyone and everyone. There is a voice in my mind that says it’s not enough, or that I won’t “make it”.

It’s hard to see the forest from the trees when working towards a goal. It’s especially weird right now since my goals are intentionally vague. I’ve been working at this computer science thing for 6 years. Now that I’m doing the art thing, I need to learn what that means for me. What type of art do I like to do? What are my favorite mediums? Do I want to have my work displayed in galleries? Try to illustrate children’s books? Make movies? I don’t know exactly where I’m going, I’m just directing my path in a general direction. Seeing where it takes me. Meanwhile, my day to day involves running errands, sleeping, being with my partners and friends, sketching, taking classes, reading, cleaning the house, snuggling the cat, working on my bigger art projects, writing, setting up my business, and sometimes nothing at all. It’s not all art all the time, and without benchmarks it sometimes feels like I’m not making any progress (granted it hasn’t been very long at all).

Setting aside time to plan feels like an elaborate conversation between my intuition and my logic brain scheduler. How do I measure my progress in figuring out what I want to do and who I want to be? I’ve been trying to accept that it happens slowly. I quit my job and started my art business three months ago. I’ve set up my finances, I’ve made some money, but I haven’t done a great job of tracking this success. I know it’s difficult for me to notice changes over time, even if last year (or just yesterday) things were very different.

So to feel the progress, I’m committing to measuring it, setting aside time for goal contemplating, scheduling the steps to reach those goals, and then doing the steps everyday. I’m going to set aside some time to check in with where I’m at and reassess. What did I like? What didn’t I like? What days were hard and why? I think it’s a good idea to set aside intentional time to think and reflect. I want to know I’m working towards something. I don’t want my successes to go unnoticed. And I want to make sure I’m on the right path. It feels silly, but I’m putting “Think about Goals” and “Reflection” on my todo list.

Do you have something you’re working towards? What tools do you use (mental or physical) to plan, execute, and assess your progress?

Who gets to be an artist?

I spent most of my life thinking that I wasn’t a real artist. I missed out on opportunities and didn’t take risks because I hadn’t yet attained ‘artist status’. I’d get caught in a toxic idea of what an artist path is, what an artist looks like, and how they work. In my mind, an artist got their BFA from a school with Art and Design in the title, they wore clothes that were cooler than mine, they were particular about their materials and knew how to keep fingerprints off their work. I’d feel like I might’ve missed my shot.

But the idea of becoming an artist is a myth. The idea that only other people are artists is a myth too. In fact, I believe we should all think of ourselves as artists. Would we be more thoughtful about our possessions? Our trash? Our conversations? Our time? I think the only ones who benefit from the commodification of the title “artist” are those who can profit from selling it (I’m looking at you, private art schools with exorbitant tuition prices).

I think of art as creation with care. The more practice you have caring, and learning how to care, the better the art. Everytime I create, I am an artist. I get better at translating ideas into a visual form when I challenge myself to do so, and the more care I put into my work the better it becomes, and I always always am an artist (and so are you).

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