That finishing feeling

We tend to have so much happening in our lives. When we wake up we already have a list of what we need to do that day formulated in our head and on top of this, we also have constant interruptions from an electronic device in our pocket, which seem to easily distract the best of us.

Many of our students at MAC have commented on the wonderful feeling they get in our classes when they take time out of their busy lives to concentrate on sketching or painting, and then finish a piece.

Carla Murray, oil on canvas
Carla Murray, oil on canvas

 

Are you ever able to concentrating on one thing – that you enjoy – until completion?

Because of these to-do lists we create in our lives, this state of being a constant “work in progress” doesn’t often allow us to stop, take our time, complete something, then reflect and admire. Daily “stuff” inhibits the pursuit of activities that bring us joy – especially those that allow us to be creative.

Another reason why we may not finish what we start is because we get a feeling of satisfaction when we tell other people our intentions. Over a long period of time, there have been a number of studies undertaken that have shown that people are less likely to pursue their goals after they have told people about them*. This is because once we let someone know about our new idea that requires our action, we get a feeling that satisfies our self-identity, which unfortunately renders us less motivated to complete what we set out to do.

Why it feels good to finish artwork

When was the last time you admired some flowers in your garden and actually sat down to sketch them? Or walked down to the river to photograph the ripples on the water? Finishing something generally makes you feel good, and finishing a piece of art definitely has something special about it.

When we start something new we receive a dopamine rush, hence why we like to tell people about our goals. This rush is not unlike the same feel-good sensation we get from doing anything we find pleasurable. This positive sensation is linked to the increased activity of dopamine in the brain. We also receive a dopamine rush when we complete something.

Creating art is significant because it is something created and finished by the individual for the purpose (mostly) of the individual. However, it is not like writing a novel, or learning a language; these end-points seem almost unreachable. We can control the time it takes to complete a piece of art, and the completion is made all the more satisfying because we have brought an image to life from a white, flat surface which we can admire.

Although there is a sense of completion when we finish reading a novel, or watching a movie, it is different because we may feel like we have lost something; the story is over and the characters lives’ are frozen in time on the final page. Though when we see a piece of art we have completed, we may feel a sense of pride and achievement that lives on as long as the work does. Even finishing the tiniest sketch of a leaf – and being happy with it – can bring about this feeling. It is so simple, yet so special.

At MAC, we aim to inspire people who take the time out of their routine to be creative with us. Some simply pick up a piece of charcoal and make marks on paper, while others spend weeks and months touching up an oil painting they are deeply involved with, and proud of. No matter what your medium, we hope that you too feel that wonderful sensation of completion, whilst enjoying the journey of creating art. Now go and pick up that pencil!

*Peter Gollwitser, Symbolic Self-Completion

 

Managing your creativity

It can be difficult to do creative work when you have limited time and have to maintain other responsibilities such as study, work and family. So how can you achieve the most with the limited time you have?

I have frequently struggled with this question and have put together the following thoughts based upon my own experience and that which I have observed in the lives of other artists.

Curiosity

Creativity is a part of life and should not be isolated to your work time. A curiosity and passion for life is a key element of getting ideas. Creative people usually have an interest in how things around them look, feel, smell, how people behave and what makes things work and not work.  They tend to appreciate other people’s creative work and the natural world. They observe and they reflect. So, although life may be busy, the many instances when we are engaging in our daily routines present many opportunities to use our natural curiosity and to be passionate about our existence. This engagement with life will breed new thoughts and ideas.

Space

You need a space to explore ideas playfully. This is a place for your creative work. Perhaps this could be a room, a corner, a desk or your studio. It can be a place where you leave special objects and your associated thoughts. This is a place where you leave your work and can return to it to see it again. It is a well organised space that has the materials you need, when you need them so that you can pick up on a thread of an idea quickly. When completing your creative work, you take the time to reflect on your work while cleaning and organising your space so that it is ready to receive you the next time you come.

Journal

Ideas and observations are a special insight and they need to be treated carefully so that we can all benefit. They can lead to great work but we have to be ready to record them as they come. A journal, a sketch book or book you can write in offers a place to jot ideas, sketch, observe, plan and play. It is a private space and you can put down whatever comes to mind regardless of whether it makes sense at the time. I keep several journals and pencils around me. I have one in the car and I usually travel with one. Although I am often away from my work space I try to maintain a discipline of drawing and writing in my journal. It becomes my little travelling work space.

Consistency

Be consistent in your work schedule even if it is only a few hours a week. Your commitment to journaling or working in your space is important for your creative development.  If you are like me you will find that periods of time pass when you are not able to be consistent. If you have been maintaining a curiosity and passion for the tasks you have been doing in your life, you probably have been creative in other ways and this will be useful for your work when you return.

Unclutter

Our minds need the freedom to process information and ideas. I find that my mind works better if I am able to release myself from worry, apprehension and needless distraction. I try to limit wasteful distractions, my ideas mostly coming from my daily experiences and reading. I think carefully about whether I need extra ‘things’ in my life as the more I have, the more my mind is occupied. I try to maintain a routine that allows me to free my mind at some stage in the day. Curiously, I’ve found that I get my best ideas while doing menial tasks such as washing the dishes. This document came to me while washing the dishes and was initially written on some serviettes.

The pressure we put on ourselves to be creative can also clutter our minds. For me it was a combination of a demanding life with the added pressure of coming up with new ideas that had for a period of several years brought my creative work to a standstill. It was only after walking away from the pressure to create that I found ideas began to flow again. I have learnt a lot from that experience. I now cycle my projects through a process of focusing on them then letting them go. I will work on the project until it is clear I am making little headway. I then leave it alone, switch to another project or task until from somewhere in my subconscious mind the solution to the problem emerges or until I am ready to return to the project with a clear mind. Then I repeat the process for the next stage of the project.

Set Objectives

Once you know which direction you want to go in then apply clear objectives and parameters to ensure you get there.

What is it you want to achieve?  What are the qualities your successful project will have? What is the strategy you can employ to get there? Who or what can help?

Feedback

Seek feedback from positive people whose judgement you trust and avoid exposure to people whose judgment you don’t trust. With sincerity and openness, you may find the opportunities to befriend people that have the knowledge and experience you seek.

Discuss your work with others as it develops and always be open to new perspectives.

Exposure

Find places to expose your work. If you have worked hard for your idea then you need to be a good advocate for it. Telling a story about the development of the idea will most likely draw some interest.

Rest

Take a break. After a heavy work schedule on a project you need rest your body and to free your mind so that you can return to living with a curiosity for life.

Drawing , photography and time

Jesse Dayan, Before 1960, oil on canvas

Jesse Dayan gave a facinating talk last night about his most recent Brunswick show. He described this work as a form of research into the implications of the use of photographs within drawing and painting practice. Of particular interest to me was his description of how each medium relates to time and each other. I am hoping to put up a transcript of the talk soon.