Saturday, December 3, 2011

Percolating and Playing

A comment from one of my Text and Image students inspired me to address the issue of giving ideas time to percolate. Here is what she said about the last lesson, which involved making a series of small collages that tell a story:
[This exercise] reinforced my sense that ideas need time to percolate before being expressed. I had been thinking about the assignment for days, so when I had time to work on it, everything just flowed.
I find I definitely need some percolating time, but this does not mean sitting around doing nothing while waiting for it all to come together seamlessly. For me, it is the struggle that seems to work: I have a few sessions of wrestling (or playing) with ideas and materials, when it all seems so "out there" and unresolved. Then, after a break (usually of working on something else or at least doing a little housekeeping in the studio) I come back to the piece(s) and it DOES all come together.

I used to find this period of unresolved work so frustrating and even debilitating - I was sure I'd never have a worthy idea or make a good piece of art; I was sure that for real artists it can't be nearly this hard or frustrating. Now, however, I have made friends with this part of the creative process, and I consider it fun, playful, and necessary. I embrace the open-ended aspect of it, and I don't worry whether a piece will resolve itself or not.

Playing with Pouring Paint

Since making a regular practice of using my sketchbook, I do lots of playing in it, purposely pushing myself off-balance and mixing things up, posing unsolvable visual questions just for fun! It has made my art practice SO much more enjoyable, and maybe even more productive! I have totally let go of the idea that something has to be resolved and finished, and it has made me more open to taking risks and pushing through the boundaries of habit.

Throwing Myself Off Balance

For daily inspiration to work in your sketchbook, check out the Sketchbook Challenge, or just consider a New Year's (or Solstice, or Holiday) gift to yourself to take a few minutes each day to play with paint, drawing, collage, or stitch, whatever your medium of choice.

Circles (which have ended up all over my work)

Percolating and playing are inextricably related. DOING, engaging in the process, is what keeps you fresh, keeps the ideas flowing, and facilitates the lovely surprises and discoveries of making art.


  1. Hi Jane, Your student is so right, I often take quite some time perculating an idea. I also sketch every the colours you have used in your Playing with Pouring Paint.

  2. Thanks for the insightful comments, Jane. Percolating really is so important for any kind of creative activity. I spend an awful lot of time in my head dreaming new stuff, but with what you say about playing in your sketchbook, I may have to make that resolution for this year. A good idea for 2012.

  3. Jane..............these are great, love the vibrancy and movement in the pieces! well done . beautiful!

  4. I should have kept reading - this post is even more inspiring. I too love working with circles and the way they show up again and again in your work is so appealing to me. Since I haven't cracked my journal in weeks, this is just the kind of post I needed - a gentle nudge. THANKS~!

  5. I like your description of your process here, Jane. The struggle part is scary but kinda necessary, huh! For me it feels like being lost, like i dont know what it is i am reaching for but something new wants to be born. I cant really get there with my mind that wants to make sense of things. Its frustrating to that mind. I am not sure i go into the "play" zone enough... Probably a good time to go get the sketchbook and just let go. But usually i somehow get a mental break from it and i come back refreshed and it starts to come together. I definitely have to let goof the struggle part before the coming together can arise...


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