As a professional West Coast abstract artist, I have many tools in my studio. But the most important tool I have is a willingness to experiment.
Put me in the middle of an art supply store and for an instant, I am a six-year-old in a world of wonder. I see possibility in just about every product offered and my fingers will literally start to buzz. It’s a visceral feeling.
I feel incredible inspiration just walking through the aisles and what I’m thinking is: “just hold onto this feeling until I’m back in the studio”. This doesn’t just happen in the art store, but also browsing interesting products online such as stencil cutters, gold leaf kits and different shapes of paper punches. I could easily spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on all of these products and in fact, I have. (See unopened stencil cutter on bottom shelf).
However, time and time again, when I think about the most important and most regularly used tool in my arsenal, it’s not something physical. Rather, it’s the flexibility of my creative mind AKA a willingness to experiment. Without this tool, my art would be pretty monotonous and boring.
I started this series the same way I always do. By painting the canvas and then papering with different shaped cut paper.
Not becoming attached to my abstract art is the first step to experimentation.
Early on in my abstract art experiment, my mentor told me not to allow anything to become too precious. This was something that I was quite familiar with as a lot of my pencil drawings and illustrations were so detailed, that I wouldn’t even allow my hand to rest on the page for fear that the graphite would smear. I was so high strung and bound up about a lot of my life when I got back into art, and I didn’t want that feeling to override the rest, so I began drawing with my left hand.
By doing this, and without even knowing it, I had learned the lesson about not keeping my art too precious. I was yearning for freedom in many places in my life where the need for control had become overwhelming. In art, I found a safe place to practice this freedom without there being any consequences. Nothing mattered. I could literally piss on my art and no one was going to tell me that it was wrong. (Although it’s not the most original idea as Andy Warhol did that back in the 70’s.)
I wanted to try something new so I taped all 6 of the little canvases together and painted the next coat as if they were one painting.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about just doing anything when it comes to art; about changing it up when stuck. The essence of this strategy is not being afraid to “ruin” anything. I used to get so attached to my art. Not so much anymore. There have been pieces here and there that I have kept but for the most part, once I have a good photo, I’m happy to separate with it to a good home.
Without experimentation, I would pretty much be making different iterations of the same piece over and over. B-O-R-I-N-G! I would rather experiment and find the next really cool technique, even if it means painting over what I just spent 3 days working on. What’s the worst that can happen? I end up painting over the entire thing and start from scratch. Musician and song writer Allen Toussaint lost nearly his entire body of work and his beloved Steinway in Hurricane Katrina. Do you know what his reaction was? Something along the lines of: “That’s ok…I'll get another piano and I’ll just write more.” YES!!!! No fear. No attachment. Just continuing creativity.
That day, my Mom gave me a little round tin that had all of these cute tiny cookie cutters in all different shapes. Inspiration ensued.
The only abstract art rule I follow is that there are NO RULES.
I once overheard an artist at her exhibition talking to a patron about the workshops that she teaches. She said, “I tell my students that they absolutely CAN’T use paint right out of the tube. They HAVE TO mix it and make it their own.” I’m gonna go ahead and call bullshit on any statement about art that has the words “can’t”, “have to” and “shouldn’t” and also any sort of art “rule”. There is no such thing. As a person that used to live a pretty high risk life, art is a safe haven for me in that THERE ARE NO RULES. There are no “bad” color combinations. There is no governing board of artist laws. The coolest thing about being an artist is the absolute freedom to experiment.
Estival #4, 8x10, Paper, Acrylic & Graphite on Canvas. Even that dark blue bubble like shape was due to experimenting with new "tools"... like the lid of the tin.
So, if you’re stuck on what your next move should be, or if you know the piece isn’t finished but you’re scared to ruin what’s already there, go and paint something bold over whatever it is your stuck on and that’s too precious to change! Use the paint right out of the tube! Put black next to blue and while you’re at it, wear a belt that doesn’t match your shoes and white after Labor Day! Let your freak flag fly and express yourself any damn way you please. And if anyone ever tells you that something about your art is “wrong”, first swallow the urge to tell them to go f*ck themselves. Instead, simply smile and say that “wrong” is in the eye of the beholder.
All you fearful artists out there, repeat after me: “THERE ARE NO RULES IN ART THEREFORE MY ART CAN NOT BE RUINED!”
I'd love to hear about how you experiment. Feel free to comment below!