A couple of artist friends recently questioned the point of spending their studio time trekking outside to paint or draw and expressed feeling pressure to produce “real work” for sale. I spend roughly 70% of my art making time in a studio and can attest inspiration abounds whenever and wherever we have a making idea and decide to act on it.
The interaction with even proximate nature, i.e. sidewalks through a city park, have nothing technically to contribute to the latest studio portrait or abstract. They have everything to do with keeping us alive and interested. Studies show getting out of our comfort zone increases our creativity.
For several years, at my favorite painting park, one goose slowly waddled in as close as possible and stretched its neck until it could look over the edge of my knee to eye the sketchbook in my lap. Stood there. Stared while the goose pals moved on. This happened enough times I could rule out the seeking free food theory - especially after I explained I don’t feed the Wild Things people bread because most of it will kill humans let alone the birds. The goose hung out for as long as I painted and found me every time I went to the garden. I’ve felt sad since it hasn’t been around last season or this spring. Either the goose found a girlfriend, met an unfortunate demise or didn’t like the direction my art making was going.
I’m posting a painting soon of a heron who let me photo and sketch him for over an hour from a few feet away. Then, the beautiful creature literally followed me from tree to tree while I walked through the park. When I left, he escorted me out to the gate. Some say herons can be mean and to take care. I feel companionship. I’m not worried. Watching birds in their natural space can teach us a lot about balance in our lives. Especially watching a heron do Tree Pose for an hour.
Last week, I went out for the first time this very cold spring. Easel set up, deep into the moment. Gradually an awareness of sound, plops at regular intervals around where I was standing, brought me back. My first thought was I don’t want bird poop on the page or down my neck. I investigated and discovered the miscreant was a squirrel perched on a high tree branch pitching rather large, and when they found target painful, seed pods. Aiming. On purpose. I don’t know if it was the same squirrel from the photo op last year saying hello or a stranger squirrel commenting on the quality of my painting. Everyone’s a critic.
The interaction got my attention. I researched the characteristics and behaviors of squirrels to ponder the example they may offer for my art and life. One of the most applicable learnings is squirrels have a lot of fun while they are working hard. Point taken.
These informative experiences are available for all of us if we are willing to be aware and respectful when they occur. Walking the neighborhood, the trees in an area about five blocks from my front door kept catching my eye. Motivated by fresh curiosity about the configuration for a possible painting, I pressed further into the growth and stumbled on a natural area! Thirteen years I’ve walked by. The beauty of the few acres with snow falling sparked a new painting series.
When we venture out in the world, we find surprises. These may become our primary subjects or the energy of discovery may suffuse other work. We develop a personal connection to the image when we make a record with sketches or photos. We own the piece with our whole being and all of our senses contribute if we choose to bring the moment to life again through our art.
If studio painting is your thing, I fully support you and go back to work.
If you have disabilities discouraging you from being out and about, know there are many safe parks with paved walks, easy parking and access. Paint the reflections of apartment windows across the street or the florals in the local grocery store.
If you want to join the conversation or have questions, please leave them below. I’d like to hear from you.
Next, some thoughts on how changing up occasionally in the studio benefits our creative work.