Spontaneous Inspiration – Or Is It?
This copper mine in the watercolor painting above was visible from the car on a road trip from Mexico to Arizona years ago. My traveling companions were kind enough to pull over and let me take photos for art reference, because, look at all that geometry! If I dig into why something so industrial appeals to me, ten seconds of pondering leads to memories of my family’s business in precision tool and die machining. I grew up around mechanical engineers, injection moulding equipment and drill presses, all wafting noisily in the scent of machine oil. How much does your own family history influence the art you make, or the creative styles you’re drawn to?
Tastes Seasoned by History
My paternal grandparents were Italian immigrants, and their New England home was lined with knotty pine walls & floors, German hammered iron hinges and latches on split Dutch doors, and a massive quarry stone chimney with hearths upstairs and downstairs. The mantles were lined with a kid’s Fun-House of handmade figurines from all over the world. The building next door housed the machine shop where my father and his father tooled precision parts for Ford and Kodak, and built prototypes for Droll Yankee Bird Feeders. (Designs for squirrel-proof bird feeders were tested in the trees in the back yard.) My dad and grandpa were constantly tinkering and making things on the kitchen table.
The Pull to Work in Series
From a single dotted line landing place on the map of my history, I find the source of my love for good wood and things handmade, tinkering and birds, and tools and machinery, and European aesthetics. Maybe it’s no wonder I can’t seem to work in series. The influences from my family tree tug me in opposing directions. Try as I might to focus on one theme for twenty or so paintings, I get seduced by creative urges to jump the appointed watercolor trail, and gallop into the forest to carve a woodcut, or build a collagraph plate. I don’t often know where the influence is coming from till after I’ve finished the art and thought about it. This can be frustrating – like I was driving to Vermont, and I arrived in Idaho. But, here’s the thing; even when I’m flailing while steering the creative car, I know for sure that it’s important to just keep driving. Inspiration cools rapidly, and you cannot burn a good hole with a cold rod.
No Matter What, We Must Paint
The painter Gerald Brommer says you have to paint a minimum of three days a week just to keep from getting worse. 🙂 My goal is to keep practicing till I find my own groove, which I anticipate will be a melting pot of influences, personal history and artistic approaches I have yet to discover. Eventually, with keener observation & creative conviction, all the styles I love will merge into a body of work I can call my own, even if it includes a couple of industrial scenes now and again. If you trace your family roots back, who was creative? Who did you watch making art, planning a garden, preparing amazing meals, arranging artful rooms, sewing, writing, photographing, tinkering? What did you love about that?
You Are a Mash Up
You don’t get to pick your family, but you can pick your teachers and you can pick your friends and you can pick the music you listen to and you can pick the books you read and you can pick the movies you see. You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences. The German writer Goethe said, “We are shaped and fashioned by what we love. ~Austin Kleon
Have you found your groove? Do you think you’re painting often enough to plow a track in the sand towards you’re own style? Do you paint in series, or are you prone to wandering too? Do you see your family’s history in the work you’re drawn to?
What say you to keeping on with the work? Grab your brushes and let’s go.
Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you in the next post!
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P.P.S. Etsy will celebrate it’s 13th birthday June 18-22nd, so I’m offering 15% off all original art in my shop that week too! Use the coupon code ETSY13 at check out for the sale.
I look at myself as just a recorder. I just want to record things that interest me in my life and so forth. These paintings are like part of a journal to me. It’s part of my life – I’m in Monhegan – it’s as if I’m drawing a diary. And again, I think a painting – I mean, what is it? It’s a piece of canvas, a stick with some hair on the end of it, and then there’s some sticky stuff called paint, and you apply that. And there’s nobody standing over you, saying “Paint!” every day. And I think in painting, much like music or a pianist or whatnot, you have to practice, and it certainly isn’t all inspired! I mean, many times, working with the gulls, there’s some sort of drudgery – but once in awhile – things really click, and that’s… that’s the opiate! When that gull all of a sudden breathes and becomes a fire source, I mean that’s why you paint! That’s why I paint.