My Top 12 Titles for Creatives – Thought Provoking work on Creativity
I find myself sharing many of the gems of wisdom found within these books with students, and thought that having a reading list resource for creatives would be a good addition to my blog. I hope you enjoy! The links are affiliate links: If you order, I receive a tiny credit from Amazon. I have listed them in no particular order….
First: A Whack on the Side of the Head by Roger von Oech – This is a look at some of the psychological processes that happen during creativity. If I had to pick just one of these books for students to read, this might be the one!
A Kick in the Seat of the Pants by Roger von Oech – More wisdom and creativity exercises from the author of A Whack on the Side of the Head.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield – This is a quick read, and a very motivational look at what holds us back from creating. I would probably rate this book as the 2nd most important on the list!
The Art Spirit by Robert Henri – a true classic.
Robert Genn Letters Vol. 1 & 2 – Short essays on creativity, painting, art, galleries and life. Genn attracted a cult following by writing ‘letters’ to his blog followers each week.
Bird by Bird by Anne LaMott – This book is about writing, but everything LaMott describes about creative writing also applies to painting and other creative pursuits. I love her sense of humor and self-deprecating wit. I can honestly say, this book helped me solidify my identity as an artist.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert – Gilbert somehow gets the nitty gritty of the mystical parts of the creative process. A very enjoyable read, and a new way to think about the ego.
Strictly for inspiration
Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver – Mary Oliver always inspires. She is a true creative genius.
Art and Fear by David Bayles & Ted Orland – a great read about the psychology of creativity.
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp – Though Tharp describes her creative process as a choreographer and dancer, there are pearls of wisdom for all creatives in this fascinating peek into her world.
Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon – A quick read with lots of food for thought.
For the Practical Minded:
I’d Rather Be in the Studio by Alyson B. Stanfield – This is a classic manual for how to create a business from your art. Artists don’t always think of themselves as business people. Alyson helps turn that thinking around with practical guidance to take you from hobbyist to professional.
Finally, The Creative Curve by Allen Gannett – I’ll admit, I haven’t read this one yet, but it will be next on my list. Gannett, founder and CEO of the marketing analytics firm TrackMaven examines the science behind whether ideas sink or swim in this fast-paced environment.
Do you have any favorite books on creativity or art? If I’ve missed your favorite, please share in the comments below!
In last week’s plein air workshop I kept thinking about the similarities between Painting and Golf. I like to make analogies when I teach, to help students keep perspective on the creative process. By comparing painting to other activities like music or golf, the students can step back from their frustrations a bit, and see things in perspective.
“Achievement is largely the product of steadily raising one’s level of aspiration and expectation.” – Jack Nicklaus
Both Painting and Golf are extremely challenging. In both painting and golf, the success rate is low, even for professionals. Tiger Woods does not expect to hit a hole in one on every hole, or even every game. Similarly, professional artists do not expect every painting to succeed the first time. Artists make preliminary sketches and studies, just as golfers take practice swings and practice putting and driving. Both Golf and Painting attract hobbyists and professionals alike.
Practice is required for both Golf and Painting. Driving and putting are not the same as playing the game of golf against opponents. By the same token, class exercises and sketches are not the same as making a painting. Practice must be focused on improvement, not repeating the same mistakes over and over. Directed practice in golf might focus on correcting a swing. Similarly, directed practice in painting might focus on improving a value pattern or color scheme.
Golfers and Painters must both focus on a good Mental Game. Keeping a positive mental outlook boosts confidence in both fields. Focus and attention are important to help overcome the difficulties of each pursuit. Success in golf or painting can often breed a kind of obsession, too. Both Golfers and Painters become passionate about their pursuit. The variety of golf courses, just like the variety of painting subjects, can entertain enthusiasts for a lifetime.
What other similarities can you think of between Painting and Golf?
If you’re a former student and you’d like to join – click the link above and request to join. We share work, opportunities and feedback here. I hope you’ll participate… it won’t be the same without YOU!
Here are a few select snapshots from my plein air workshop with Vistas and Vineyards! Click the thumbnails for the full image.
New Workshop Announcements
ABC’s of Abstraction – International Society of Experimental Artists: September 24 – 28, 2018 – Newport Oregon
We will cover both the elements of design and the ‘mental game’ in art-making.
Using acrylic and collage, students will explore shape, line, color and texture to craft vibrant paintings that stir the emotions.
You will learn organizing principles, painting tips and techniques for overcoming self-doubt and indecision. Still a few spots left – Register Here
ABC’s of Abstraction –All Media Santa Clarita Artist’s Association: November 9 – 11, 2018
Yesterday was “Groundhog Day” in the United States, and those who are enduring a long harsh winter may be wanting to get a jump on Spring. There’s not a finer way to do that than to experiment with an Abstracted Floral!
My painting above “Wild Daffodil” was inspired by fields of daffodils that dot the countryside in Oregon. You can see where abandoned home sites were by scanning the beautiful green fields for waves of bright yellow, naturalized daffodils. The cheerful yellow always seems at odds with the fact that a home once stood there and now is gone.
I love the flowers that come from the fields – they are often tattered by weather, and many have grown away from their cultivated lineage to be wild, multi-petaled and blowzy. This painting would brighten up a bedroom, office, library, dining or living room. I love the drama that the dark background adds.
I used an app called IArtView to show how this work would look in a couple of different settings. A wonderful feature is you can also upload a photo of your wall and visualize how it would look in your home! Try it out!
Inspiration for Abstract Floral Paintings
If you’re looking for other floral inspiration, check out my Pinterest board. You’ll find interesting abstractions by some of the following 6 talented artists:
Jimmy Wright: This artist emphasizes the fluidity and motion of petals, and comes up with some pretty unusual and subtle color emphasis too.
Winifred Nicholson: I love the unified color in this simplified still life. You can almost smell the lily of the valley.
Jake Muirhead: Converting a colorful Iris to black and white, Jake also adds drama and personality using line and simplifying the setting.
Scott Conary: Scott’s textural paint application and emphasis on pure vs. subdued color make me want to touch his work. They also touch me!
Ophelia Pang uses bold and repeated shapes to create entertaining and playful abstractions.
When I teach repeat students, I’m often asked if I’m saying all new things from previous workshops. Often I’m repeating something that I’ve said earlier, but the student did not internalize the information. It’s always surprising how we don’t hear advice until we are ready to implement it. We often don’t even take our own advice! I think this proves the value of repeating classes or workshops. As we grow in our artwork, we become more ready to absorb information or put it into practice.
“Listening is a positive act: you have to put yourself out to do it.”
I filmed a time-lapse of my process for “Summerfall.” I didn’t talk during the filming. My inspiration for the painting was the farming term Summerfall. It means to plant in late spring in preparation for a late fall harvest. Planting this way is unusual and farmers sometimes resort to it because a fall planting failed. As I worked, I thought about colors for summer like blues & violets and colors for fall like reds and golds. If you’re receiving this post via email, click over to the website to view the video here!
The early parts of the video show the painting with the top on the right, to better fit the video format. I tried to lay in the layers in a sort of x-shaped movement, falling from the high horizon line. You can see this in the earlier parts of the video best. As sometimes happens, I felt that mid-way through the process my values got a bit too dark. My solution in this case was to add metallic silver and opaque blue and yellows to lighten up areas of the work.
My repeated Mantra
One thing students who are listening hear me say over and over is to paint your own personal experience. I must say this multiple times in each workshop. It’s always amazing to me how much inspiration I can still find in this series about my rural upbringing and the farm.
I hope you’ll enjoy watching this peek into my process. There was so much idle time toward the end stages of the process while I agonized over what to do. Those finishing touches require so much courage and contemplation that I don’t think I could do them while worrying about a camera!
In other news, I’m preparing for upcoming workshops. My good friend, Ruth Ellen Hoag, will be here teaching at the beginning of February. I always enjoy painting with her and learning how her mind works! After that, we are expecting new lambs here on the farm. Then I’m headed south to Santa Barbara to study with Skip Lawrence and to teach a workshop of my own. It’s going to be a busy spring when you throw in all the shows I’m doing… I hope you can join me!
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As procrastinators go, I would rate my ability to ‘do it later’ as above average. That doesn’t mean that I don’t aspire to become a better procrastinator. This trait is vital to my success as an artist. You may be wondering: ‘Is she serious?!’
Yes! Let me explain. Artists must wear many ‘hats’ to sustain their small business. Marketing, networking, framing, presentation, book-keeping, graphic design, reproductions, and (in my case) teaching. I forgot to mention one other very important thing: making the art! It is easy to lose sight of the importance of regular studio time when faced with that long list of business oriented work. Add in household duties or a small farm, as I do, and you have many choices for how to spend the few productive hours in a day.
One way that I cope is to joke with myself about being a ‘good procrastinator.’ I’ve even set goals to become better at procrastination. I’m not talking about wasting my time… I’m just choosing to put off things that can wait till less productive hours. For example, I can do laundry in the evening when my brain is fried. Or I might postpone writing a blog post until I’ve finished new work. Another great way to procrastinate is to put off running errands until you can consolidate several into one trip. This is especially beneficial for those of us who live far from a Metro area.
In all seriousness, I like to enter my studio with the goal of just fooling around for a little while. Giving myself strict productivity goals often seems to backfire. Forcing productivity turns off the part of my brain that just wants to play with color. Being responsible is not for day-dreamers like me. (At least not while I’m in the studio.) I love Mary Oliver’s take on the Artist’s Task – part of the collection of essays in Upstream. Read her view on solitude and responsibility here. Un-interrupted by my more responsible self, I’m free to chase ideas to my heart’s content.
I’m not good enough at procrastination to go full blown ‘Instant Gratification Monkey’ like Tim Urban. If you haven’t seen his TED talk, do yourself a favor and hop on over to take a listen. This is the self-defeating phenomenon described in Steven Pressfield’s War of Art – when someone is resisting doing the difficult thing. Ultimately I’m trying to fool myself out of ‘resistance.’ If I can trick my mind into feeling like I’m playing hooky from important jobs, then the artwork becomes the instant gratification!
Are You Procrastinators?
When do you procrastinate? Does it help you or hurt you? How? I’m fascinated by how each of us self-manage. If I were a negative person, I’d be beating myself up right now. I’ve started 6 blog posts today, and finished only one of them. However, I choose to look at the glass as half-full. I have the start of 6 fabulous essays ready to be fleshed out. I’m excited to add to the ideas that came up while I wrote this post.
I’ve put off the real reason for this post long enough! I’ve been in the studio and here is the latest and greatest. This new abstraction was inspired by a memory of chasing the cows when I was a kid. Our fences on the farm were more like suggestions. The cows frequently escaped their pasture and wandered around. This summer day, it was my designated job to get them back into the pasture. We had seen the herd near a slough in the center of a large field – probably 200 acres. Normally I’d do this job on foot, but I was getting older and smarter, so I took my horse! I was about 11 years old, and riding bareback.
As I approached the slough, the scent of wild mint wafted through the warm air and I felt happy. Suddenly, the neighbor’s giant Polled Hereford bull ambled out of the thicket of brush and lily pads. Fear and panic surged through me as I quickly decided that even on horseback I didn’t want to tangle with this creature. I did not hesitate: I escaped with my horse and called for reinforcements.
Trying to paint this memory, I knew that I wanted the peaceful and fragrant greens, contrasted by the sinister blacks and bolts of red fear. I tried to channel both the peace and the fear – thinking about a poem by Jane Hirshfield titled “Each Moment a White Bull Steps Shining into the World.”
Give it a read, then let me know your thoughts about the poem, the painting or procrastination. I hope your New Year’s resolution involves hanging out with procrastinators like me! Finally, don’t wait: tomorrow is the final day to enter my giveaway! Click here to enter: http://rutharmitage.com/solstice-giveaway/
When we were kids in the 70’s, Flower Power was all the rage. Even though we grew up in a farmhouse from the 1800’s, my mom made one of our bedrooms into a brilliant, day-glo, funky room with flower-child wallpaper. Memories of that bedroom inspired me to make this painting. Although it was a tiny room, the wallpaper made it bright and sunny. We had sheets on our bunkbeds with artwork by Peter Max, and my mom even painted the wood floorboards with psychedelic flowers in hot pink and orange.
The painting is a bit subdued compared to the riot of color in that room. But you can still see the curves and lines of the flower petals and the bright coral-pink that I began with as an underpainting. I especially love the little bits of black in the focal area. I have a vivid memory of reading on the top bunk and rubbing my grubby, dirty feet on the papered ceiling. Those were barefoot summer days. I’m sure my mother was revolted – that made it even more satisfying. I must have been nearly a teenager. How did she survive 4 girls!?
How does it feel to you?
I hope the final image feels a bit nostalgic, graceful, yet real. Let me know your thoughts, or share a memory from the 70’s. My friend, Pam, commented on facebook: “Beautiful: imagination, movement and fairy tales.” I like that!
Networking page for students of Artist Ruth (Art is Truth). This is a place to share recent work, networking opportunities and feedback.
“Our work as artists is courageous and scary. There is no brief that comes along with it, no problem solving that’s given as a task… An artists’s work is almost entirely inquiry based and self-regulated. It is a fragile process of teaching oneself to work alone, and focusing on how to hone your quirky creative obsessions so that they eventually become so oddly specific that they can only be your own.”