How mark-making gets you into the flow of painting

How mark-making gets you into the flow of painting

How to get into the flow of painting

 

When I start painting, I usually start with scribbling, making marks, adding some paint. I am just doing something. I am ‘activating the canvas’ as some artists call it.

I like that expression. Before, the canvas (or the paper) is silent, inert. Once I put some marks on it, it starts talking back to me. It starts moving and having its own opinions about where it wants to go. There evolves a wordless back and forth between me and the painting. It’s like an intimate dance, as I have described it in my blog post about non-duality and painting.

My first and almost random marks are a starting point; from there the painting will evolve, more or less out of itself. And even those first marks are not ‘random’ of course. They depend on my mood, or on the mark making tools close by on my table. If you get really philosophical, there could not have been another mark than that particular one. The whole universe led up to that one mark, you might even say.

 

An insight

Lately, I was making a collage. I had made marks and covered some parts with a layer of glazing. The next thing I did was add a scrap of collage paper that almost covered all of the underlayer. My first thoughts were: Why did I even make all those ‘activating’ marks in the first place? They are useless now; nobody will ever see them. I might have activated the paper, but now there is nothing left of it. I could have glued the collage paper on the white substrate with the same result!

But then an insight struck me. Those first marks not only activated the canvas. They also activated me!

By activating the canvas, something inside me starts to move. My inner artist awakes. Inspiration strikes. The dancer enters the dance floor. My subconscious starts to flow, and from there, my hands start moving.

In this case, my hands took a scrap of paper that had the size of almost the whole underlayer. But if I would not have made those first marks, my inner artist might not have awakened. I might have thought: Oh, let’s drop this collage. I have no inspiration at all today. I’ll paint tomorrow.

These first marks did not only get the collage started, but they also got me started, and helped me to get into the flow of painting.

My conclusion is: if you don’t know how to get into the flow of painting, just start somewhere. From there, your inner artist will wake up and lead you.

 

Bye!

 

Let me know your experiences with activating the canvas and activating yourself below in the comments.

 

Simone Nijboer, Dutch abstract artist, online art teacher, daily painter, creativity accelerator

Non-duality and abstract intuitive painting

Non-duality and abstract intuitive painting

Non-duality and abstract intuitive painting

 

What I’m going to write about now might sound very difficult and theoretical. But I believe that every painter knows from experience what I will try to say here, and moreover, that it is one of the big reasons why people are so drawn to abstract intuitive painting.

 

Non-duality

What does non-duality mean? I’m not a philosopher, nor a theologian or ‘spiritual expert,’ but non-duality means to me that ‘you’ are not separate from ‘the world around you.’ You are not an isolated individual who is trying to work her way through life, trying to get ‘somewhere.’

On the contrary, life is one big moving and flowing entity, and we are an integral part of it. A famous metaphor for this is the metaphor of the sea and the waves. You can see different waves if you are looking to the ocean, but they are all made from the same ‘stuff.’ The ocean is one swirling, moving being, and the waves fundamentally can’t be separated from it.

 

The sense of ‘I’

We are brought up to believe and experience differently. When we were still in the womb, we did not feel any separation between our mother and ourselves. And when we were babies and toddlers, the sense of ‘I’ had not formed yet very well. But the older we grow, the more we start to feel separate from other children and our parents. And that’s a useful thing. Otherwise, it might be very difficult to survive in this world.

There is a big drawback to developing this sense of ‘I,’ though. The older we get, the more we forget to realize that fundamentally, we are not separate from each other. We are all made from the same ‘stuff,’ just as the waves are made from the same water. And we don’t have to ‘find our way in life’ since we are life itself. Life is living its way through us.

This might all sound very theoretical. And actually, it is theoretical, because those things can’t be put in words. Words point to something but never are what they point to. Like the zen-masters say: ‘The finger that points to the moon is not the moon itself.’

 

Experiences

But even though my story is theoretical, we all have experienced moments that this fundamental ‘being-one’ is palpable, when we have a baby in our arms for instance. Or when we are immersed in nature, we sometimes can feel at one with the mountain that we hike, or the woods that we are in.

But things don’t need to be ‘special,’ for you to experience the non-dual. Sometimes you can sit in the sun with a cup of coffee, and suddenly without reason all so-called ‘problems’ fall away, and you just ‘are.’ Or you throw old papers in the paper bin, and suddenly, for no reason, you experience a state of simple bliss. Or even if you pass by a very ugly industrial area, you can recognize the beauty that’s hidden in everything (which does not mean that you cannot fiercely fight the planning of ugly industry terrains, but that’s a whole different story).

Soon after we experience this state of non-duality, our perspective usually returns to the habitual old dual perspective again. Life becomes something that’s threatening, or problematic, or that has to be dealt with. But there always stays a sweet memory of those non-dual moments, and deep down we know that that’s the real thing. That that’s life at it’s truest, instead of the ‘problematic’ life that we live most of the time.

 

Painting

Now, what has this all to do with abstract intuitive painting?

Usually, when we start painting, the painting that we want to make is ‘there,’ and we are ‘here.’ We have to work and to learn and to practice to get from here to there. And of course, this is true. We need to go the store and buy paint that we did not have before. We need to learn how to apply the paint to the brush, and how to move it around. But this is all very practical, and we don’t experience that as problematic or difficult.

The problematic part is the way that we are afraid that we will not be able to paint a beautiful painting. We doubt ourselves, because we don’t know how to force the paint where we want it to go. We struggle with our materials, and we can be very critical about the results, and about ourselves as painters. We secretly think we are not ‘real painters.’ And we usually compare ourselves to ‘the other painters,’ who make ‘better work,’ and therefore are the ‘real painters’ that we would like to be.

 

Non-dual awareness

And then, when we’re wrapped up in our self-doubt and constriction, something can suddenly change. Our ‘problematic self’ can disappear, without our even realizing it. We enter the ‘non-dual’ terrain—which we of course never left. We only were not aware of it because we were captivated by our dual perspective and our mind running around dividing the world into ‘ourselves’ and ‘the rest of it.’

In that ‘non-dual’ awareness, we don’t work with paints and colors and textures and shapes, no, we are paints and colors and textures and shapes. We as separate individuals disappear, and there is only the act of painting left. We are dancing with our materials, and our materials dance with us in one colorful dance.

Making a painting from that non-dual perspective is effortless. Every step on the road evolves from the former in a completely natural way. We don’t have to think about our next move, we just ‘wait’ for it, look forward to it. We are curious—hey, how will this turn out? What will my brush do? Which crayon will jump in my hand? What color will appear?

I am convinced that people are drawn to making abstract intuitive art because they know deep down that this is how they want to live. Effortlessly, dancing with the world in a completely natural way, without striving or competing, without pressure or self-doubt.

 

Analysis and techniques

This does not mean that you can’t analyze your work afterward. You can recognize what works in a painting, and what doesn’t. You can feel what your emotional response is to your work, what you don’t like and what you do like, and reflect on that.

Learning about value, colors, mark-making techniques, and so on is not opposed to ‘non-dual painting,’ either. All those things don’t interfere with your free-flowing movements. On the contrary, they become an integral part of the dance between you, your materials, and your evolving painting.

 

Daily Painting

And here we come to why I believe that daily, or regular, painting is so worthwhile. If you paint often, you train your ‘non-dual muscle,’ so to speak. You recognize better when you are entering the state of non-duality, and you can more easily stay there. You realize when you are getting constricted in forcing yourself, and you practice letting go of striving. You start trusting that this oneness is always there.

You just have to change your perspective.

 

Bye!

ps: Please share your experience and ideas below! I would love to read them.

Simone Nijboer, Dutch abstract artist, online art teacher, daily painter, creativity accelerator

Painting on a business card

Painting on a business card

[Video] Painting on a business card

 

The last few days I have been very busy, so today I almost thought: let’s skip my daily painting practice. But then I remembered what I’m ‘preaching’ to others: ‘You can always make something simple on the back of a business card’. And so I took my own advice.

I took out some leftover scraps of a piece of collage paper that I made a while ago. And I took my Molotow marker, fineliner, liquid acrylics, matte medium and crayons.

And I made a small collage. You can watch the process below in the video.

 

The materials that I used are*

  • Molotow marker 4 mm, black
  • Fineliner 0,5 mm, black
  • Golden Liquid Acrylics Black
  • Golden Liquid Acrylics Quinacridone Nickel Azo Gold
  • Golden Matte Medium
  • Caran d’Ache Neocolor II, White
  • Caran d’Ache Neocolor II, Blue Turquoise

 

Have fun watching!

 

ps:

At this moment, I am in the process of creating an online course about collage making. Take a look here for more information. You can leave your name on the waiting list!

What to do if you don’t like your painting

What to do if you don’t like your painting

 

What to do if you don’t like your painting

 

When I started painting this morning, I did not like the result. Often when I paint, I feel happy and uplifted because the painting rolled out of me seemingly without any effort. But some days I look at my painting and just don’t feel satisfied with it. Moreover, I still feel the forcedness and restraint that I felt while I made the painting. And if I don’t feel in a flow while painting, it usually shows in the result.

There are (at least) two ways to react on this. Firstly, you can focus on the product you made. Secondly, you can focus on the process you went through while making it. (If you want to read more about my personal experience with this, you can read this blog post).

 

Focus on the product.

If the product of your painting session did not turn out well in your eyes, looking at the painting is usually not a pleasant experience. You are disappointed by your ‘failure’, and this never feels good. All kinds of self-degrading thoughts might accompany your feelings: ‘I can’t do this.’ ‘I don’t have the talent.’ ‘I am just not the kind of person that is able to make beautiful paintings.’

You might throw away the painting as soon as possible, and try to forget it. You push away your feelings of disappointment and go on with your life. The next time you paint you are a bit afraid because you might make another painting that you don’t like. And maybe it even makes you avoid painting altogether.

 

Focus on the process.

When you focus on the process of painting, you might still not like the painting. But instead of getting frustrated by this fact and pushing your painting away, you take a closer look at it. What is it exactly what you did not like? Are there any technical problems you did encounter? At what moment did you get stuck, and why? If you ask yourself these questions, you can learn a lot about your art-making and yourself as a painter.

And if you go even deeper, you can look the feelings of inhibition and forcedness that you experienced while making your painting straight into the eye. Those feelings are a fundamental part of your human experience, and denying or avoiding them gives them more power over your life. If you accept them and allow yourself to feel them in your bones while painting, they can transform into a fierce energy that makes your art come alive. The result is that your paintings become more powerful.

This might seem a beautiful but theoretical statement, not attainable for us, ordinary people. But that is not true. The first time you make another ‘ugly’ painting, you can honor it as a tangible proof that you committed yourself to this wonderful process of art-making and that you stuck to it. You can give the painting a place of honor, and breath in the feeling that it gives you. This way you slowly but surely integrate the parts of yourself that you don’t like.

 

So, if you make an ugly painting shortly, rejoice! This is a beautiful chance to permit yourself for being an imperfect, struggling, inhibited and limited human being.

Doing so, you give yourself permission to live life to the fullest, and make your best art along the way.

 

Bye!

Simone Nijboer, Dutch abstract artist, online art teacher, daily painter, creativity accelerator

 

PS: What do you do when you don’t like your painting? Leave your comment below, or join the discussion in the ArtNow Community!

 

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Throw away the art you don’t love!

Throw away the art you don’t love!

Throw away the art you don’t love!

 

I am writing this blog at the first workday after two weeks of Christmas holidays. In these weeks, I have been busy with cleaning up our house, decluttering cupboards and closets, and throwing things away that are old, broken, or that we don’t love anymore. For a few years, I have been inspired by the Japanese declutter-guru Marie Kondo to do this on a regular basis. Her motto is that if your house is cluttered with all kinds of things that you don’t really love, your life gets stuck. You literally don’t have space for new things to enter your life. She encourages you to take a look at every object in your house and ask yourself: ‘Does it spark joy?’ And if it doesn’t: remove it from your life!

In past years, I decluttered my house quite a bit, but I never asked myself the spark-joy question for the big pile of old paintings that I have in my workroom. They are mostly studies on paper, so they don’t take up too much space. Therefore, I could get away with them piling up for a few years. But since I paint every day, and make a lot of studies, my cupboards were getting completely stuck with big heaps of paper. So I decided to go through all my past paintings and ask myself for each and everyone: ‘Does it spark joy?’

To my surprise, I threw away almost all the studies that I had, and only kept a very few that I really loved. Doing so worked out very well. Decluttering my paintings this way gave me lots of new energy and a lot of eagerness to start painting again in the new year to come.

I have thought about why this throwing away was such a positive experience. There are at least five reasons for that.

 

Gratefulness for the fun and the development

First, I loved going through all of my old paintings. It made me realize the development that I made, and the joy that I had making them. At the same time, I realized that I am not going to continue working on these particular paintings anymore and I am not going to show or sell any of them. They were in my cupboards to witness the past. By going through them and being grateful for the painting years behind me, they had fulfilled their function, and by letting go of them I could make space for new things to come.

 

Dedication to the process

Second, throwing them away made me dedicate myself even more to the process of painting ahead of the product. I am a big advocate of process-oriented painting, as I have written about a lot in my articles about developing an art practice. By throwing away old paintings, I emphasized the importance of working in this process-oriented way, day by day, being in the present moment, not caring about the future to come, and not clinging on to what I left behind.

 

Attention for the loved ones

Third, by keeping only the things that I love, I have given them more space to shine. Because they were covered by dozens and dozens of other paintings, they could not get the attention that they deserved. Now they are uncovered, I can really enjoy them.

 

Trust in the flow of creativity

Fourth, I realized that I kept my old paintings as a kind of proof that I really am a painter. Now that I have removed the traces of the past, and stand with bare hands before the new painting year, I have to trust the flow of creativity that is going through me, instead of leaning on old work to reassure me. And that feels good since I believe this natural flow of creativity is the real basis of making art.

 

The blog as archive

Fifth, the fact that I keep my daily painting blog makes it easy to throw things away. If I would ever like to go back and take a look at my old work, I have my daily painting blog as an online archive. I probably won’t do that often, because I hopefully will rather be painting new work than scrolling through old work. But the possibility is always there.

 

 

How do you deal with old work? Let me know in the comments below, or join the conversation in the ArtNow Community!

 

Simone Nijboer, Dutch abstract artist, online art teacher, daily painter, creativity accelerator

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The (un)importance of consistent art-making

The (un)importance of consistent art-making

The (un)importance of consistent art-making

 

If you read what experts write about blogging on the internet, you find the same advice everywhere: be consistent in your content creating. Choose a regular interval, for instance once a week, and stick to that. If you write blog posts, do it every week, no matter what.

I believe these experts have a point. If I write a blog post only when I feel like it, you don’t know what you can expect from me, and you might lose interest. But what’s also important is I then don’t know what I can expect from myself either. If I don’t write on a consistent basis, I don’t commit myself. And once I skip a week, why should I not skip the next week, too? Procrastination is self-reinforcing.

I write about this self-reinforcing quality of procrastination in the first episode of a series of blog posts titled The power of daily painting: ‘Once you start procrastinating and skip one day of painting, it becomes more probable that you skip the next day too. The things that hinder you today will probably still hinder you tomorrow. Your life situation or your psychological makeup will not have changed overnight. Next day you can feel still uninspired, doubtful, busy and tired. The counterforces that keep you from painting have probably not changed.’

 

Discipline

And what is true about consistent painting is also true for consistent blogging. Both are creative endeavors, which ask a certain amount of discipline. Once you let go of the rhythm you have set for yourself, it is very seductive to skip the whole thing altogether or slowly let your good habit die a silent death. I am a firm believer in the importance of creating on a consistent basis.

At the same time, I believe equally in the unimportance of consistency, and this applies to blogging as well as painting.

Discipline is a good thing but, if you drive it too far, it turns into rigidity. That does not serve you well. You deplete yourself, and you don’t give yourself enough rest to recover from intense work. Undue discipline makes you inflexible, and holding on to your self-chosen rhythm too tightly makes you a slave of your own good intentions. You start to dislike painting, and your art feels forced and unnatural.

The borderline between pushing yourself too hard and not being disciplined enough is very thin, and everybody has to find out for her- or himself where that border lies. It can depend on circumstances, of course, and can change in time. Moreover, it doesn’t matter that much if you don’t draw the borderline right every time. You can take that lightly.

 

Not beneficial

In the case of blogging: pushing your determination to write regularly too far does not serve your audience either. You might write your blog posts in haste, and therefore they become superficial and boring which makes for a waste of your readers’ time.

The effect on yourself is not beneficial either. You force yourself to work harder than you actually can, and you start to get behind on your schedule. That causes stress which in turn makes it less likely you can inspire your audience well.

 

Take a break

I first wanted to hold on to the rhythm of writing these blog posts on a weekly basis, no matter what, but then I realized that I would get stressed. Creating blog posts in advance of holiday weeks would clog my schedule too much.

Suddenly I realized that I don’t hold on to my daily painting that strict either. I paint every single weekday, but I take off every weekend and holiday. At those moments my children are at home and I prefer to spend time with them. Apart from that, I like to have a break from my painting regularly. I don’t feel ‘guilty’ I don’t paint because I deliberately choose not to paint at these moments.

 

Staying inspired

I am very happy with this rhythm of painting and not painting. Not painting gives my subconscious the time to come up with new ideas and to digest what I have been doing. This way, I stay inspired, and it is less likely that I get in a rut. Why wouldn’t the same be true for blogging?

I am writing the above, first because I wanted to inform you that I decided that I am not going to write blog posts on school holidays (and there are a lot in the Netherlands ;-)).

Also, I write this because I want to encourage you to paint on a consistent basis, if possible daily. Daily painting is incredibly powerful. I write about this extensively here.

At the same time, dare to be inconsistent. Don’t force yourself too hard, don’t become your own slave driver, and take time off if you need to.

Thirdly, make your inconsistency consistent. What I mean by that is that you can create a schedule which includes painting as well as not painting, activity as well as rest, work as well as pause. This way you don’t have to decide in the moment whether or not you are going to paint on a given day; you already made the decision. Doing so provides clarity.

And, last but not least, there is nothing wrong with happily slacking without any good reason every once in awhile!

 

I hope you enjoy your holidays immensely and I wish you many blessings!

 

Simone

 

PS

How do you create a rhythm of painting and not painting? Tell us in the comments below, or join the conversation at the ArtNow Community, in which you are more than welcome!

Simone Nijboer, Dutch abstract artist, online art teacher, daily painter, creativity accelerator

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