Thursday 23 November 2017

Finding inspiration...just how does this art thing work, and (scarily) not work?

Often people ask me about my art. And it makes me stop and reflect.

What does inspire me? Indeed, why do I create artwork in the first place? How would I describe this thing we call art? More importantly, what happens when I wake up and I can't seem to make it work (enter inevitable morning anxiety).

The easiest way to answer these questions is to at first just be technical. Describe the process...the how...not the why (that's way too scary to leap into right away, though I promise I will come to that - comforting cup of tea needed first though).

My artwork and techniques do tend to wander, hence my wandering artist name. An artist's journey is continuous, and carries on throughout their entire life. Or at least for as long as they practice as an artist. The technique and process is therefore apt to develop, change, and evolve over time, and hopefully improve.

For the moment, I tend to focus on the detail, whilst allowing a smidgen of spontaneity. Attempting to capture as much as possible, whilst remembering that perfection does not exist. That in any perceived error, there often lies beauty and interest and an opportunity to learn.

And to do this, I often combine the precision of a designer's pens with watercolour paint.

Beginning the composition
I frequently, though not exclusively, work outside. This can be either entirely or partly, with the drawing construction coming first. This focuses my mind, as the drawing needs to take shape before the lighting shifts too much, or circumstances change. And they can change dramatically.

During this particular day's sketching a moped rider came off his moped suddenly and I and several passers' by went immediately to help. It was quite encouraging to see people automatically leap to the rescue, and how people will willingly take charge of the moment.

Emergency over, and the moped driver safely on his way to hospital, I was able to carry on with the day's drawing and painting.

The essentials - travelling art kit, art board, paper, comfy stool and water

Sometimes, due to the weather, there might be complete, or partial working of the piece indoors - especially whilst working at the top end of Australia, and during the build up to "The Wet", as occasional torrential downpours and lightening storms interrupts the afternoon!

People who know me know that I love to draw trees. I have been particularly drawn to them since I was a biology student. The sense of age, and strength and the beauty of the graveled, characterful grooves, notches, breakages, growths, and wounds add to their gnarled beauty...something we appear to negate or reject when it comes to human beauty. What we see as part of the story of the trees life, we try to mask, cover, deny or even make-over with humans.

Choosing the subject matter

The next step is to set pen to paper. I make no preliminary pencil sketches first. I sometimes warm up, or at times feel the need to go in cold, but the actual image is drawn directly with pen and ink. Any mistakes are exploited or controlled mid-flow! Or not, and I might need to begin depends on how easy it is to let go of that need for perfection.

To be confident enough to do this has taken many years of daily (or as many days as I can) practice - even a single daily sketch is enough to ingrain that muscle memory further, in the same way as a musician learns a musical instrument, a child learns to catch a ball, or a dancer learns a specific dance...the same can be said of an artist. Eye-hand co-ordination needs development in the same way for an artist, as for any other task. And once developed, confidence in the unconscious task ensues. Don't use it...and lose it.

Beginning the initial drawing

The initial drawing is worked steadily and patiently. Not rushing the process is a skill that has taken a while to develop. The process now takes time and represents a meditative process. Observation, and slow steady hand eye co-ordination.

Helping to mask over an area to stop smudging the image

And as the hand works over the page, I'm suddenly confronted with a different challenge, than that usually encountered in the UK, where I often have to stop and run for a cup of tea, and warm surroundings. Here, I have to try to protect the image from the perspiration now building on my hands and arms, and running down my face. Darwin, placed at the top end of Australia, is in a very warm and humid climate at this time of year, building as it is towards 'The Wet', and so I have to fashion a screen over the drawing to prevent it smudging.

Once the final tree image is completed, I look to the images of the different birds seen in the area, and finally decide on the masked lapwing as a good subject matter to add to my composition.

Masked Lapwing hunting for insects © David Norton

This is also part of my art process. Being a biologist, nature often forms part of my inspiration, and using art helps me observe, and focus, and learn more about the world about me. Not so much in words (the blog helps me do that) but visually. It helps me really look at my surroundings.

Birds inspire and fascinate me, representing creatures that will not be conscious of the man-made boundaries and migrate around the planet searching for where the climate and resources suite their needs. This carefree nature though is perhaps an illusion, as the rules and lines still exist for them, often fighting and competing over it, and of course we and other creatures place extra pressures on them too.

Another has had enough, and wanders away © David Norton

The masked lapwing, Vanellus miles, is seen as a common nomad here, and I'd been watching them wandering around the grassy areas of Bicentennial Park in Darwin. It is also named the masked plover, and the plover I am more used to seeing in the Northern Hemisphere does not have the fleshy yellow mask, or wattles, around the eyes and beak, and familiarity goes hand-in-hand with unfamiliarity here. The lapwings here are busy searching for insects and worms amongst the grass. It is seen to be very adaptable to its environment, and the number observed in a more urban area do indeed bare that out.

It appears that people have in the past believed in the myth that the wattles contain venom, it seems that this is because of being extremely territorial and their protective behaviour around their nests. They exhibit a noticeable swooping behaviour, mostly against dogs, cats and other birds. It may just be that the wattles actually have meaning during mating, as with cockerels and turkeys.

These lapwings appeared to be quite at ease today, and so I was able to use a couple of David Norton's images to develop the artwork, drawing in the birds and completing the foreground, before finishing off with a gentle watercolour wash and bringing depth of field by including my characteristic line clouds and sky; giving an artist's view of the day...without the moped accident of course!

Finished piece - Masked Lapwing, Vanellus miles - Bicentennial Park, Darwin, NT

So how about that other question? The why? Why do I attempt to create art?

What's that about?

I am definitely a creative person, and a predominantly visually creative person at that. And so my need to create drives me. Take away everything from me, and if bored, sooner or later I will begin to create. And I have an urge to improve myself, and personally I see art as a striving for perfection (although that does not exist, I continue to repeat to myself!!).

I have always received attention when it comes to art; given positive (and negative) feedback when I create something. My earliest memories for me involved the creation of some sort of childhood artwork, and right at the beginning the feedback was positive, and I didn't receive too much negativity (although enough to stop me severely for long periods of time). Voices that may have thought they were being constructive, but that for an artist, can have exceptionally damaging results, and some of those voices are my own thoughts...

Such as only dead artists are successful, there's no money in it, surrounded by all these masters, what is the point? These are just a few...and they are is a journey, and to answer the question why I produce is because for as long as I can remember, a voice inside me was and is always saying, I want to be an that's the voice that keeps leading me.

Creating artwork gives me a sense of validation in the world, and contribution, and a sense that I can create something that might last, and hopefully be appreciated, at least a while, after me. It also helps me to connect to other people (even if that connection is negative, and sometimes painful).

And as the next potential artwork looms, it leads to another important question about producing art.

How do you retain that freshness, that joy and spontaneity in your work? How does the process actually work, rather than how you want it to work?

The wish is for it to be turned on and off like a tap. To have good work appear every time. To wake up fresh and new and become as productive as a factory every day, and at any time of the day.

Alas, it is not that way all the time. And every artist, I'm told, is different. We all need to answer that question though I think. What helps the process? Or what maximizes it. What helps keep it as a joy, rather than a chore?

These questions I am, in fact, still seeking to answer for myself. And it often is akin to the natural world itself. There is an element of unpredictability and an uncontrolled nature to it, but there is also an element of discipline and ritual involved too. To always come to the table, to the day and to the work, and always strive to do one's best, through the good and the bad work. That is important.

To respect it. But to also respect yourself, and your limits. That too is important.

To exorcise and listen to the devils and the daemons, and move through it and use it for the next work. This is another important part of the process. Can I do it again? Will it work this time? Is there any point to this? Have I killed the magic? If I could do it yesterday, why can't I do it today?

And through the practice, I await the next stretch; the next step forward; the next big leap. Where I get to say, wow, I didn't realise I could do that.

The next improvement; the next development, and the next inspiration. That's what you constantly yearn and wait for. Scaring yourself, and moving yourself out of your comfort zone can often help.

Be bold, and bold things will come. Perhaps not in the way we expect them to, but bold, scary things tend to come...our universe just seems to work that way.

Sometimes that inspiration is like a bird. Unpredictable, and flighty. And you never know which bird it will be. But a bird will suddenly land in front of you. Nervous and aware that it is being watched. And sometimes it stays long enough, and sometimes it flies off before it is caught.

Rainbow Bee-eater, Merops ornatus
And so for this next artwork, stay tuned...she'll hopefully come back...

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