The Artist’s Aesthetic Urge
Just after Christmas I enjoyed a woodsy walk with art buddy Randall Tipton. I casually mentioned that I hadn’t actually made art in over a month. I had been occupied with preparing for the holidays and for the big WFWS Exhibition coming up in April.
“How do you survive?” he asked. I understand the question. For artists, if we don’t get time to create, we become irritable, itchy and even sullen. Now it’s been even longer since I’ve spent time in the studio. I’ve been gathering inspiration… traveling, enjoying family and friends. My holiday hours were also spent in quasi creative pursuits: decorating the house and the tree, wrapping gifts, creating Christmas cards, writing, planning and cooking delicious meals, and crafting. At the time, these were quick, easy, attractive and even necessary things to keep my aesthetic urge at bay.
But last night I dreamed about creating. I am ready to return to the studio.
If you’re the type of artist that finds themselves constantly filling their time with quasi-creative occupations and you never actually get to the studio, perhaps you need to renew your focus. Creatives are often easily distracted from their main focus by the shiny object of a new medium, supplies, and other short-term projects. This may satisfy the creative itch temporarily, but it won’t bring lasting satisfaction. It dilutes the creative impulse.
The same sort of thing can happen with art collectors.
The Collector’s Aesthetic Urge
Art Collectors have the urge to make their spaces beautiful. That impulse can take many forms. They might rearrange the furniture, hang drapes or window coverings, or hire a decorator to beautify the space. Sometimes I see people hang anything that will fit, just to make a room complete. This often results in a visit to a big box store to purchase a print or decorative item. Once the space is filled, they sort of forget about that urge to fill it with a more meaningful piece. Yet, they are vaguely dissatisfied with their space.
The collector who acknowledges and accepts the importance of the aesthetic urge is much happier. They gradually fill their space by collecting art that is more meaningful, more personal and more original. Collectors often don’t know what they want until they see it. They don’t worry about making the room perfect. Instead, they focus only on their passion for the artwork. A room that is put together this way stands out and feels warm, unique and inviting.
“The art one chooses to collect becomes a self-portrait.”
You see, artists and collectors often face a sort of resistance born out of the fear of making a mistake. If an artist makes a mistake, they lose time and costly materials. If a collector makes a mistake, they lose money and are ‘stuck’ with something that doesn’t fit.
Both situations are easy to remedy. In the case of the artist, we begin again with renewed focus. Mistakes can even help us to better understand what we are pursuing. With the collector, they may want to ask the gallery or artist for a trial period to ensure that the art object ‘works’ in their home or office. There is no logical reason to let resistance or perfectionism hold us back.
I really enjoyed the book Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It helped me to focus on the art I want to make, and learn how to get out of my own way. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is another book that gets to the meat of the matter of overcoming resistance to enhance creativity and aesthetics.
If you find yourself collecting or hoarding art supplies for the ‘perfect’ project, waiting for the ‘perfect’ time to begin, or trying to find the ‘perfect’ painting for that wall, get real. Perfection does not exist on this earth. Find something you love, and give in to the aesthetic urge.
How have you overcome resistance to creating or collecting? Leave me a comment below.
Guess how many brushes I used for this work? “Seismic Shift” ©Ruth Armitage, 2016, Acrylic and Collage on Paper, 22×30″ – Will be on display at the Western Federation of Watercolor Societies show in April, 2017.
How does one choose the best brush for watercolor, acrylic and oil painting? My process is one of trial and error, tempered with education. I frequently get questions about my brushes. I have a large collection: some vintage, some for watercolor, some for acrylic and oil painting. It is my opinion that one can never have too many!
These filbert brushes by Vermeer were a discovery made by my friend Ruth Ellen Hoag. Although they are quite soft, they have a surprising amount of body and carry a lot of pigment. I love them for watercolor.
These are some of my vintage brushes. I love how stiff the Langnickel sable is. It is great for scrubbing and scumbling. I use these for all three media: watercolor, acrylic and oil.
These are some boar bristle brushes that I use for acrylic and oil. The large Princeton in the middle is newer and the other two are vintage.
These Grey Matters Brushes are made by Richeson. They are synthetic and great for acrylic and oil.
A selection of sables for watercolor. Kolinsky sable is the best, but it can be difficult to find now in the US. From top to bottom: Connoisseur, Daniel Smith Autograph series, DaVinci Maestro and Escoda. You’ll notice that all but the 3rd one down are #10 rounds. DaVinci’s #8 and Escoda’s # 10 are about the same size! Size really varies by brand. The Daniel Smith brush has been around for a very long time. I’ve pretty much worn off the point, but it is still a favorite for the way it delivers the watercolor.
Most of the brushes above are synthetic. I rarely use these for anything besides watercolor or fluid acrylic. Notice the top four brushes have longer bristles. These are called ‘liners’ or ‘riggers’ and are used to create long, fluid line work.
Above are some of my flats, with the exception of the filbert on the far right. I like these for watercolor. The Daniel Smith filbert on the right is a favorite! Notice how dirty it is…
Pictured above are some of my “Skipper” brushes, available through Cheap Joe’s. These are the real work-horses in my studio. They are named for one of my favorite instructors, Skip Lawrence. They are useful for all media, and have a lot of body. You’ll notice that the three on the right are more worn than the largest one. I hope to remedy that soon.
The 1″ Skipper on the right is the one I’ve had longest. The bristles used to be as long, or longer than the bristles of the brushes on the left. I wore it down by painting!
At the far right you’ll see a few brushes that are sort of comparable to the Skipper. Two “Susie’s” by Daniel Smith, and a “Muslin” brush, also available at Cheap Joe’s. And the last, wimpy little brush is just a hardware store cheap-0 brush. It has its uses too.
I only have one, but I love this mop style brush by Princeton. It has a big ‘belly’ for water and paint, and a very fine point. These come in squirrel, but I think this one is synthetic.
I also use these: a silicone spatula for wiping out line, a dip pen, sponge rollers and a soft rubber brayer. The brayer is most useful for acrylic and oil.
Here is how I store my tools in the studio: The red cups on the rack are from Ikea.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into my brush collection! What is your favorite brush, and for which medium? I’m always on the lookout for new types of brushes.
Mist and Moss: new work from the studio
“Mist and Moss” Watermedia on Paper, 30×22″
One of the things I loved about growing up on the farm was that nature was always there to explore. Although I know it is hard to believe now, I was a quiet child. When I was struggling with something, my favorite way to cope was to walk in the forest or sit by a small stream or ditch and observe nature.
Some of my favorite poetry evokes this calming spirit:
“THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS” BY WENDELL BERRY
My most recent painting was an attempt to recreate the feeling of soft fog, mist and moss, without actually rendering a pond, a stream or a fallen log. I wanted the feeling of many interconnected organisms breathing life into a forest. The water, the trees, the animals, the fungi as one breathing unit. Because I wanted the feeling of flowing water, I chose to use a high horizon line as my design.
I hope you will enjoy this peek into my process. I’m using watercolor to begin, and then adding gouache (opaque watercolor) and a bit of Golden High Flow Acrylic. I also mixed in a bit of iridescent pigment by Jacquard. I love the subtle sparkle!
I’d be interested in your feedback on this video. Do you find it valuable? I wish that my setup would allow me to film in the orientation that I imagined the painting, but it was much easier to work horizontally on my table. I decided not to attach music to the video, as I couldn’t find a piece that expressed what I wanted to say with the painting.
If you find it interesting, leave me a comment or a question! Or share this with a friend or on your favorite social media outlet.
Couldn’t everyone use a little balm of Mist and Moss during this chaotic season?
“Mist and Moss” Abstract Watercolor Process with Ruth Armitage from Ruth Armitage on Vimeo.
Teaching art workshops is gratifying beyond belief. It is a joy to watch the students in my workshops receive a challenge with open arms and run with it in completely different ways.
“Art Enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” – Thomas Merton
Some of my favorite comments from the workshops were:
“Ok – MIND BLOWN!”
“Your specific suggestions, positive encouragement and creative assignments helped push me into unfamiliar territory.”
Here’s how the group in Gold Beach summarized the workshop:
“Three days of encouragement and challenges culminated in dramatic breakthroughs and conclusions for artists included in Ruth Armitage’s “Creative Spark” workshop in Gold Beach. And, there was lots of fun along the way!
Deftly weaving the elements of design into her visual presentations, Ruth then demonstrated techniques with which to develop sketches, photos, drawings, and failed paintings – through several iterations – into a finished work. She used a myriad of methods and materials, something to appeal to all participants. From gouache to Gelli pads, we explored ways in which we can resolve pauses and hiccups in our work.
The final Show and Tell proved the validity of personal discovery to find satisfaction with our results. Ruth’s gentle Socratic method elicits responses from her students to help that famous lightbulb sparkle.”
Side Benefits to Teaching Art Workshops:
One of the other reasons that I enjoy teaching art workshops is that it pushes me to be the best painter I can be. It makes me really think about different ways to express my ideas. The painting below evolved because of an idea stimulated by collage. The title “River of Dreams” stuck with me through the first two studies:
River of Dreams Study v. 1
The original collage featured a young child camouflaged by an oriental rug, and it had images of sharks in the water below. This one was too literal for me, but I wanted to show students that they could change a literal image and make it more abstract.
River of Dreams Study v. 2
This one was better since it is more abstract, but I wasn’t happy with the colors, and the bottom didn’t seem ‘dangerous’ enough.
Here is the final version. Often we have to go through several paintings to get to the final expression.
‘River of Dreams’ 22×15″ Acrylic on Paper, Ruth Armitage, ©2016
Thanks to all who participated in these fun art workshops, and to the key players at Oregon Society of Artists and Gold Beach who helped make them happen!
If you’d like to see me demonstrate, visit me during Portland Open Studios! October 8 & 9th or 15th & 16th, 10-5. Click the following link to read my post about the tour and related events.
Finally, I hope you’ll enjoy these images of workshop participants and their paintings! Click on the images to enlarge and scroll through. What really excites me is that all the participants in these art workshops created work that really reflects them. The work is not simply a copy of what I do, but a reflection of their own ideas and creativity. There is a range of realism to abstraction as varied as the people in the workshop.
Portland Open Studios – Experience Creativity
“River of Dreams” 22×15″ Acrylic on Paper, Ruth Armitage, ©2016
Join me for two weekends of Open Studio, in my beautiful Oregon City studio:
October 8th & 9th and October 15th & 16th, 2016, 10 am – 5 pm each day.
The tour is organized by neighborhood, and our own Community 8 boasts some creative and beautiful artwork. I love the fact that you can find paintings, drawings, photography, jewelry, sculpture and ceramics on this tour. Something for everyone.
Artists will be demonstrating their techniques and available to answer questions about their artwork. It is a great opportunity to meet the creators in your community, listen to them speak and see their latest body of work. I always love the opportunity to peek behind the scenes where the creation takes place. (more…)
a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures.
“Crucible” ©Ruth Armitage Acrylic on Paper 15×22″
Each experience in our lives produces its own alchemy. This painting arose out of a contour drawing of my two dogs, Red & Lola. I’ve integrated them into the painting to the point that they disappear, and the painting has become something else entirely. The title has been in my head for months, relating to an experience that was intense and frustrating.
I feel like the close color range of reds, violets and orange speak to the theme of a crucible of heat. I like the angular pivot points near the center, and the light blue line work that morphs into shape. It has been a busy summer, and this painting reminds me a bit of the intense heat and activity. I’m looking forward to the cooler weather and more regular schedule of fall!
View it in person when it’s on display at the Portland Open Studios Preview show: September 17th at Basic Space Gallery, 625 NW Everett St #111, Portland, Oregon. 503-477-6452
Save the Date: Portland Open Studios – October 8th & 9th and 15th & 16th, 2016 10-5 each day. Get your tour guide at any New Seasons Market, from any participating artist, or at select Art Supply Retailers.