It was 13 degrees here this morning when I took the puppy for a walk. I’m burying my nose in a cup of chai on the couch now contemplating all the Saturday projects. But first, fuel for the day…eggs, half of an avocado, big glass of water, vitamin, and reflection time. This is my centering time. This is the time that powers the rest of the activities, projects and…the creativity. It is this “Centering Within” process that I return to again and again-the painting behind me on the wall a mere reflection of the internal process of going within and then heading out into the world and returning again to the center for fuel for the next journey outward.
What kinds of problems are you struggling to solve on a daily basis? What areas of your life and work need innovative thoughts? A recent problem I was invited to solve by one of my artistic communities, the central Iowa based Paintpushers group, was to create two paintings with the theme of “Light & Dark” for our yearly group art show. I was given a couple of canvas sizes to choose from and a deadline for completion and exhibition. And, then time, to contemplate and create.
Step One- Ask Big Picture Questions
Often times when we are faced with big problems to solve and looking for truly innovative ideas, the project can seem so overwhelming it is hard to even know where to start. I started my creative process by asking myself big picture questions like “How do I visually represent the vast concepts of ‘Light & Dark’? How do I put color, line, and form around such abstract concepts? What comes to mind when I think about light and dark? What do they represent to me?” These big picture questions are a good place to start while grasping vision for innovative ideas, but only the first step.
Step Two-Research and Drawing Connections
Over the early months of the project, I let my mind drift around the concept of light and dark. I thought about the concepts of light and dark aesthetically, philosophically, emotionally and spiritually. I read current news reports, ancient scriptures, art history books and novels. I wrote notes in my sketchbook along the way. I spent time drawing what felt like random abstract shapes in my art journal. I had conversations with artists in my Paintpushers group. I worked on other paintings for different shows. I interacted with my friends and family. I went to yoga and took walks. Basically, I call this the “marinating phase”. Like a good steak, ideas need time to marinate. Ideas need time for the thinker to research and to draw connections from a variety of sources.
Step Three- Live the Wrestle
My thoughts around the topic grew deeper, actually more confused. “Is one painting all light and one all dark? Do they each have elements of both? Who am I to try to paint Light & Dark? What wins Light or Dark???” And, now I was sinking down into the messy middle…cross pollinating ideas, the sorting and eliminating concepts. I referenced my own experiences and I looked for the universal connections. For example, I know that I have personally experienced light notably masked by grayness/darkness-a light marred by dark shadows. I know, too, that this is the experience of humanity-a universal experience for all of us. I know that each of us gets to choose where we will focus in the midst of these complicated realities-will it be on the light? Will it always be on the dark? Will it be with eyes open wide to the reality of both?
I started wrestling through the emotional and spiritual roadblocks to solving my problem. I asked myself “How do I let despair, anger, evil win and block out the light? Do I pretend that everything is sunshine and roses putting on a false front of uber happiness that is unsustainable? Can I acknowledge the beautiful, tumultuous experience of having both light and dark simultaneously appearing in my daily life often times at a mock rate of speed as I do something as simple as scrolling through my social media feeds? And, how on earth, might I somehow be able to translate these larger questions through paint?”
Step Four-Commit to the Work
As I was working through my own personal, “why and how” questions, my fellow Paintpushers members were asking themselves similar questions. I find it kind of fascinating to watch this process of corporate creativity and innovation. What happens when you take a group of visual artists with numerous personalities and life experiences and ask them to commit to exploring the same topic-in this case creating two pieces of work with the theme of Light & Dark? What happens as each individual artist lives through the wrestle of how they might interpret these concepts with their own media, personal symbols, textures, and color choices? What happens when we all finally commit to doing the work and start creating?
For at some point in the innovation process, the creator actually needs to commit to the work. Decisions start to be made. Tools come out- in our case…we begin to draw, sketch, paint, pull brushes out, uncap paint pens, order canvases, commit to size of panels, pay fees, sharpen pencils, fret, and plan. We apply the paint, pencil, and charcoal. We start with 1st layers, obsess, stare, avoid, research more. We add more paint, take photos, turn work upside down, paint over, look at it from across the room, and complain about the process to anyone around us. And, then we finish. We declare a painting complete. We photograph and varnish and sign and title and add wire to the back.
Step Five- Share the Work
But, then this creation, this innovative solution to a problem, this personal interpretation of a theme, needs to be shared, needs to leave the safety of the studio, needs to make its way into the world and the artist needs to let it go. What happens when a group of creators come together and shares this new body of work corporately imagined, but executed in the privacy and quiet of individual studios? My answer to this question is growth-growth is what has happened. Growth and transformation and innovation-new ideas and images have been welcomed into the world.
The process of innovation is fraught with ups and downs, sideways maneuvers, emotional upheaval and uncertain outcomes. But, for each of us that undertakes the creative process, we transform a bit of who we are in the process. Taking invisible concepts like “light” and “dark” and making them visible-that is what artists do, but the process for how we actually do it is sometimes quite a mystery to the artist themselves while in the middle of the process and almost always to those around the artist.
However, this process does not need to remain a mystery.
Remember these Five Steps to Nurture Innovation…
Ask big picture questions
Research and draw connections
Live the wrestle
Commit to the work
Share the work
I read so much about how our culture is deeply in need of innovation, but I fear we have much to learn about where true innovation comes from. The worlds of education, business, government, health, science all have deep needs which will take innovative thinkers to solve.
How does change, transformation, and innovation happen in our communities and businesses?
What if artists become the teachers of innovation and problem solving?
What if artists would teach other people this process of corporately imagining new things- how to ask big picture questions, how to research and draw connections, how to live the wrestle and commit to the work?
What if artistic communities become the model for sharing explorations and incubating innovative ideas together?
And while the Paintpushers “Light & Dark” show at the Heritage Gallery for 2018 is now history, the process we took to achieve the innovating work in this show is something we can repeat over and over again in the many arenas of our lives. And, it is a process you can adapt to your own problems-your own situations in need of solutions and innovative answers.
This month is your last chance to catch me at an outdoor arts festival this year! I start out September this weekend (Sept. 8 & 9) at the Rockbrook Village Art Fair in Omaha, NE.
My only outdoor show in Iowa will be Sept. 23 in Ames, IA for the Octagon Art Festival.
Your final chance to enjoy the fresh air and an outdoor art fair where I’ll be exhibiting is the beautiful Peoria Art Fair in Peoria, IL on Sept. 28, 29 & 30. Come and enjoy an art fair-we’d love to see you.
So many of you have been asking “How was your show in Aspen?!?” Well, friends it was a true adventure. My first art show in the mountains and as expected it was BEAUTIFUL.
The park where the show was held was full of lush green grass and next door to the gorgeous John Denver Sanctuary Gardens. The garden is full of huge rocks carved with the words of John Denver’s songs and other inspirational quotes.
Early in the morning before the show, I walked the trails through the garden, beside the babbling brook, and in the midst of hundreds of blooming wild flowers-it revived my soul.
I might have needed some “reviving” after the days leading up to the show, full of packing and loading, and then many miles through the mountains with our new trailer. We got up each mountain but we might have gone reallllly slow through a few mountain passes with our truck feeling the full weight of the load.
The quality of work at the show was outstanding, but we were beset with a few challenges from nature-rain, hail, and forest fires which caused the closure of the Aspen airport for the weekend.
Truly a weekend to remember. I was so grateful to have the help of my husband and two teenage sons who helped me. After we were done at the show, we got to enjoy hiking and eat some great pizza together!
It’s been a great start to the art show season!
At the first show of the year I got to witness art in community at the Old Capitol Art Fair in Springfield, IL. My painting “Spheres of Completion” was the featured artwork for their yearly Community Project. Together the community created an enlarged 6 ft x 10 ft painting made up of 308 5 in x 5 in painted squares based off of my original painting. I so enjoyed watching the process as each one of the squares were painted by individuals in the community and then piece-by-piece added to a large magnetic frame.
I even slipped away from my art booth for awhile and got to paint my own square tile and have it added to the mural.
The completed community project piece will be on display at the Illinois State Museum for the next two years and at the 2019 Old Capitol art fair. It was really thrilling as an artist to watch the cooperation and creativity in action as festival goers participated in this interactive project by painting their very own section of the finished piece!
Finished! What a tremendous job by the community of Springfield to complete this painted mural project during the Old Capitol Art Fair!!! This project was brilliantly constructed and organized by the committee who organizes the fair-GREAT WORK everyone!
The Springfield show also had a Children’s Art Tent where only kids were allowed to shop for their own pieces of art. Artists at the show donated work which was priced at $4, $5, or $6 and then the kids got to pick out their favorite pieces. It was so great to have kids stop by the booth and show me their painting of mine that they selected in the Kid’s Art Tent. Another great way of making art accessible to all members of the community-even the very youngest ones.
The first weekend in June brought us to the Mulvane Art Fair in Topeka, KS. We sweated through a super hot set up day, but then the temperatures dropped and we had two fabulous art fair days on the campus of Washburn University. It was so great to meet so many new art friends in Topeka!
We travel to Spring Green, WI this weekend. Join us Booth #30B Saturday and Sunday, June 23 & 24. (Show Hours Sat. 9-5 and Sun. 9-4.)
The studio is hopping in between all these shows as we also do final preparations for shows in Brookings, SD and Aspen, CO in July. We’d love to meet you on the road or if you happen to see a painting you are interested from my photos from the art fairs, please feel free to contact me and we can deliver or ship it out to you!