A Creative Kick In the Pants & the Unexpected Impact It Had On My Art

Posted: October 29, 2014 in Art and Creativity
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Art Collage

I made a spur of the moment decision to take an online class after coming across the info page somewhere along the way in my Internet travels. Not sure exactly how I came across it, actually, but it may end up being one of the best creative decisions I have ever made.

(Side ramble: Have you ever noticed how hard it is to remember where you’ve been on the Internet – or the “Old Interwebs,” as Richard from Gas Monkey says? It’s like a gigantic black hole time suck. Click on one link and then another, and another . . . and soon your eyes are crossing and your brain has turned to mush as you realize you’re currently reading 25 Awkward Pet Love Moments Caught on Tape or something equally stupid. I know I’m way too susceptible to all those enticing titles. Shiny penny syndrome).

The class I discovered was being offered by artist Alena Hennessy and photographer Susan Tuttle, and it’s called Co-Lab Artistry: Paper, Paint & iPhonography Magic.

Magic, they aren’t kidding! Take painting, photography and collage art and mash them all together? I was instantly smitten. Sometimes, an artist has to turn outward to find what she’s looking for. There’s only so long you can spend searching through the dark corners of your brain before you realize — you’re stuck. I was working on things in fits and starts, but I would lose my mojo at some point and abandon things. I was being held back by the person who was supposed to help me move forward: me.

Finding a Lost Creative Spark

I don’t know if this is an artist thing, or a creative thing, or just a me thing. But no matter what the reason, it’s frustrating as hell. You’re feeling that pull and you so badly want to create something amazing. But you sit down in front of a blank page, or screen, or something, and either feel paralyzed or start something only to discover at some stage in the creation that — it  sucks.

I think creative people (me included) often feel like we have to be an island. We have to have all the brilliant, original ideas, execute them perfectly, and do it consistently (daily?), of course. That’s a whole lot of pressure we put on ourselves for only being one person. Needless pressure, but it takes a while to figure that out.

There’s a corner in my dining room where my artwork and supplies live. Right out there in the open, so I have to at least acknowledge that it all exists on a daily basis. This was probably the result of one of those tips for making yourself do something, you know: put it right out where you can see it! However, my brain has this amazing ability to ignore things that are right there in front of me. I will actually come up with a new place to set things down so I can continue to not deal with a stack of clutter, or a pile of folded laundry. So, back to that corner: there are piles of paintings in various forms of completion. Some I think might be done. Others I hit a wall and couldn’t figure out where to take them next, so they’ve sat, unfinished and collecting dust.

I was expecting the Co-Lab course to be pretty cool, but here’s what I wasn’t expecting: it allowed me to go back to all those abandoned pieces and look at them with a new perspective. I learned I can photograph one and send it into any of a number of iPhone apps to play with, adding backgrounds, merging with a photo, adding text, or whatever. I can take some of the new materials I’ve been shown and add to my old paintings, or be able to look at them critically and realize what wasn’t working.

Suddenly I am creating again, not only with those abandoned projects, but making new ones, too.

Making Art Only YOU Can Make

It helped me discover something else, something I’ve struggled with for a while, and maybe some of you have done this as well . . . I’ve started to accept that there’s a certain style, a certain collection of materials, and a certain process and aesthetic that is mine. For example, I don’t like making a painting of a bouquet of flowers. Others have done so and made beautiful and interesting pieces this way, but I don’t enjoy that and don’t want to waste my time doing that.

Why create if it doesn’t speak to you, right? That was a big A-HA moment for me. Especially today, with Pinterest, and a gazillion websites, blogs, etc., it can seem as though there’s a whole trove of people who are creating beautiful, interesting things. It took me many years of comparing and falling short (in my own head) to finally realize . . . yay for them! Because they’re not creating the beautiful, interesting things I want to create.

One of the lessons in this course was to create a still life painting. I’m sure you’re very familiar with these kind of pieces, especially from the old masters. A collection of fruit in a bowl next to a wine bottle. A vase of flowers. A carving board with a knife and cheese. The intent of doing a still life is important: to improve your observation skills, to convey the objects before you either realistically or in your own artistic style, and to work with color. It’s one of the ways artists improve their technique and their ability to render objects.

At first, I thought, ugh a still life? But after watching the video with instructor Alena Hennessy, I began to think about it differently. She encouraged us to go look for still life examples on the Internet and find one that speaks to us. I thought about that little statement and suddenly, the lights came on. Look for something that speaks to me. Not boring, not something that was great for somebody else, but something that I would enjoy and would represent me artistically.

For me, this was the one concept that has been out of my grasp both in my art and my writing, and honestly, in my life, too. I struggled for so long to do the things that other people wanted for me, or that other people thought would be good for me, or that would make others happy or pleased, that I never considered what would happen if I did the things that spoke to me. It’s a strangely freeing concept, and in some ways, you have to be prepared because it may open an unexpected floodgate. All the things that were holding you back are removed and you are suddenly able to do the things that speak to you.

You discover that the things that speak to you speak to others, too. There are lots of people “out there” who will be drawn to your particular style, your way of conveying words, thoughts, or ideas. When you stop worrying about making things look or sound like someone else’s work, and instead search for what feels right to you, you can embrace your preferences instead of questioning them all the time.

I don’t know if the intent of the online class I’m taking was to shift my artistic thinking entirely, but that’s what happened.

Keep yourself open to inspiration and instruction both big and small, because you truly never know what will come down your path and answer that question that’s been in your mind for so long.

Here’s a peek at some of the work I’ve been doing for the Co-Lab Artistry Class:

Digital creations

Jaime + Sparkle

Jaime + Sparkle

Jaime Red

Jaime Red

Skull & Rapture

Skull & Rapture

Behold, a Pale Horse

  Mixed Media Paintings

Dreaming as the Days Go By

Dreaming as the Days Go By

Great White Terror

Great White Terror


A Child's Dream

A Child’s Dream


A Still Life based on Picasso's "Black Jug and Skull"

A Still Life based on Picasso’s “Black Jug and Skull”


And, there’s more where those came from . . . just take a peek at what my dining room has looked like lately!

Art Takes Over the Dining Room

Art Takes Over the Dining Room


Are you feeling creatively stuck lately? Or do you have your own experience with an unexpected but necessary creative push? I’d love to hear about it!




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