I love autumn. Perhaps its because I was born in that season. Perhaps its that this season seems to inspire reflection, self-evaluation and quiet contemplation. I think the most likely reason is that it is a season of change. While life's changes are often the thing I dread coping with, somehow in autumn the change is something I long for all year. I welcome the colors, the crisp air, the scent of a fire, the magic of falling leaves, of animals busily preparing for winter, and how all of this asks me to evaluate my own path. Fall the inspires me.
It should be clear that I am in love with nature. From landscapes and skies to the human form and expressive faces the variety and awe inspiring beauty of the natural world does not disappoint. Find a moment in our ever-harried and hurried modern world to actually see how elegant and lovely the world around us is. Nature is amazing. Even the most humble of creatures, a field mouse, a snail, a bird should humble us with their design and function. This morning a I sat very still and watched birds flit out of trees and shrubs to a feeder and then continue on. Woodpecker, jays, tits, doves, starlings and even a kestrel all shared the stage in my urban backyard. Their color, movement, agility and grace is astounding. As a backdrop, the trees are turning yellow and red, revealing so much more of the life hidden from my view since spring. So much to see if you take the time.
For me this is the key. In autumn life comes into full relief. Just like more-easily seeing the paths of various birds and critters as they traverse the wooded hill outside of my window, I also see myself and the various paths I am taking. This revelation is my autumn ritual. Its takes time and effort but it is not an act of will any more than trees are willing their leaves to drop. It just happens. For as long as I can remember, it begins in September and continues on well into November. I think and I feel. I journal and reflect on. I practice self-care and tread softly around my heart. Much like the trees after they have shed their cover, my heart is laid bare by this season. I guess that sounds a bit scary but I would say this is exactly what makes autumn my favorite season. I feel it. Profoundly and deeply. That truth is where so much of my work comes from at this time of year. The exposure of what I think, feel and fear is like taking a prolonged look at anything natural. I see the beauty and wonder of my life. I am grateful to simply have the opportunity to create, to share and to experience yet another autumn.
What about you? What season speaks to you? What do you feel as seasons change? What rituals do you practice? What in nature inspires you?
I still wonder who I am speaking of when I describe myself as an artist. I ask myself if I am being the boastful hobbyist, exaggerating my actual abilities, to make my point-of-view seem valuable and my opinions material. This voice of my deep seated self-doubt may have a point. I mean who am I to call myself an artist?
As I noted previously I have been drawing all of my life. My earliest creations were two-dimensional scenes inspired by Godzilla and Ultraman television shows of battles between rocket and laser armed soldiers and incredible beasts from other worlds or mutants spawned from nuclear tests. My mother saw my creativity as "my thing" and generally supported my efforts with supplies and even lessons. As a child I drew comic book characters and eventually graduated to more an more challenging subjects like portraits and landscapes. My art stayed "my thing" through high school and eventually paid for my college education in St. Louis. But it is about now that I begin to get sidetracked.
The voices in my head begin to nag me about what the practical outcome of a college career and ultimately a life dedicated to art could possible be. While I created as an art student I also began to acquire a separate set of practical design skills for "my future". I need to stress that this is not anyone else but me undermining my own wants and desires. This drove me toward a more practical and applied form or creativity: design and advertising. I walked away from creating conceptual sculptures and experiences in college to communications and graphic design, I became a designer, then an art director and eventually a creative director. I enjoyed success and was lucky enough to be inspired by and collaborate with several of the most creative people I have ever known. I met illustrators and photographers who themselves were masterful in their expressions. All the while I was feeling jealous of their creative outlet and judging my own creativity as somehow not up their their lofty standards.
Over the years I did occasionally find creative outlets from artwork to murals but these efforts were always in service to a specific outcome. Portraits or paintings were gifts. Murals were commissions or decorations for the walls of my sons' bedroom. There was none of the creating just to create that I had done so naturally and prolifically as a child. During this time I regularly purchased art supplies in the hope they would be put to good use. More often than not they ended up simply being tossed as the tubes dried up or the paper was damaged. It's so strange to think about that.
What changed? I think I did. I began to care less about what others thought of my artwork. I built myself a studio in an unused garage in our home on Bainbridge. It was a purpose-built space that I think told my inner critic that creativity mattered. In this time I became familiar with the 12-steps and that made a huge difference. The program allowed me to see my own addiction to perfectionism, self-sabotage and the resulting unrealistic sense of control of the world. It also gave me tools to recognize when I am deep in my own stuff, how that distorts my world and the need to live in the present. I still have the annoying voices but their influence has diminished quite a bit. Over the years, like most of us in our modern world, I have periodically worked on myself, read books, attempted self-care and seen counselors. I am no stranger to self-work. Something about the steps, the letting go and knowing clearly what was in and out of my control, made the space for the artist to rise. It made room for inspiration and risk-taking.
For the past 7 years I have been doing the most creative work I have even done in my life. All of the work here is the result. It have been a lifetime journey. Whether or not the examples meet your bar for being a work of art, I cannot say. I hope it does. But that is your business not mine. To me these are my artistic expressions therefore I am an artist. They come from me my inspiration. They are mine. And to the voice at the back of my head,,, sit down. You have had the floor for way too long.
As I am getting my various social-media ducks in a row, I have discovered, that artists, craftspeople, chefs and other makers of stuff are now awarded a unique moniker in the online word: We are called creators. Now that word is not new. But other than references to an all-powerful, all-knowing deity, the term was generally reserved for those delivering significant and innovative creations. For example Steve Jobs was the creator of Apple. That's a big creation. What has changed to bring such an elevated definition down within reach of us mere mortals?
I do not pretend to actually know but here is my theory.
1) The previous definition was about big works because that what those times called for. Mass markets need massive ideas to draw a mass audience. Thinking back to the 1970s or even as recent as the 1990s, the idea of a creating anything where the target audience was small and widely dispersed across geographies made success an impossibility. I grew up with the myths and stories of great creators but pretty much everyone found greatness through a mass appeal. With todays technology creators can find their audience just about anywhere. Our creations cross borders and travel the world, almost effortlessly, finding ever-more niche tribes to delight.
2) In our ever more automated and AI driven world, things that are made by people for people are special. Artwork that stirs the soul, a meal that excites the palette, words that bring a pause, décor or clothing that makes us smile or sigh, these are all things created by humans for the delight of other humans. From our earliest ancestors people have felt the need to create and share. With content equating to value in our online world, creators are very much the currency that the websites, social networks and businesses run on. The little creator has become vital.
So what does it all mean? I am an artist. I am a creator and proud of it. Personally, I think we are all have creators within us. As much as humans are quite effective at destruction, I believe we are all at our best as creators. When I make a work and hear what other people see in the piece it delights me. Its a very human interaction. I see things I did not know I put there. So, what do your create? What do you manifest to inspire and engage others? We should all be leading a creative life not simply living a predefined role. To me any decision you make can be made better if you call on your creativity. So take a chance. Plant an impossible garden. Knit a crazy sweater. Cook that insanely complex dish. Tell your mesmerizing story. Paint that picture that only you can see. After all, you are a creator.
Please post your creations in the comments.
Anyone who has seen my social media posts of my work had to notice how frequently I follow up a post of a finished work is followed by a second and at time third post of that same work, somewhat more done than before. Strange as it may seem, in observing this unusual and unintentional quirk in my own behavior, I have begun to accept it and see it as a part of my creative process.
As any artist can attest, "done" is very hard to define. We start with an idea and perhaps even some preparation, sketches and what not, to create something, our vision. We start, typically overcoming the intimidating blankness of a white surface. We begin making marks, rendering form, advancing color/contrast and manifesting that vision. Usually at several points along the way we pause question if our initial vision is still where we want to go. Are we happy with the work? If not, do we pivot in some way, altering the palette, subject, materials, techniques or story. Basically we are asking "am I done?" and if not, what more do need to do?
One important thing to note: Every creative I know ( not solely artists ) are pursuing ever-higher bars in execution, creating works, learning from that act, and iterating. That means things are only "done" as long as the creative has not thought of a way to improve upon the work. I feel great sympathy for all partners and spouses of creatives. This relentless pursuit of the higher and higher thing tends to bleed over into all of life's pursuits. It can feel like life and all of those we share our journey with are often falling short, as there is consistently a suggestion available for what could be made better. Speaking for myself, I struggle with turning this desire to "improve" off. I aspire to at least recognize when to keep "my brilliance improvements" to myself. Sometimes even that exceeds my grasp. When it comes to knowing when something is "done" this reflexive desire to improve can lead to endless pursuits. If things can always be improved then nothing ever is truly done.
Lets look at this week. I have been working on the portrait of a friend. At least twice I thought I was "done" and within a matter of minutes after posting the work on Instagram ( #pauljbryantartist, #thekindspark ) I felt driven to alter the work. First it was the overall darkness of the image, some of the hair appeared flat to me, and saw a need to change the background. To me there was a "done" I had not quite reached. I worked on it a bit more and was pretty happy with it and posted again. And again, in a matter of minutes I saw the white in the hair and the paper color showing through on the face appeared to clash. I was compelled to address this grievous incompleteness. After working through these issues I do actually feel like I am "done, done, done". So far.
So what is going on? What I do know is something about sharing the work pushes me to look at it with a more critical eye and challenge myself to push it a bit further. I also recognize that the photos I take with my phone change the work in ways ( contrast, color balance, brightness,...) that help me see potential dissonance or issues. Although I regularly stand back from my work, seeing it on a small screen does tend to force a big picture assessment as well.
You may rightly ask "Why not do all of this on your own without sharing to simply self-assess?" The thing is, I do. But there is some additional alchemy that happens within me when I share it. Its like your eyes help me to see it anew. So, at least for now, it is likely you will see my art in various stages of "done-ness". I humbly ask you to keep looking at the work so that the alchemy continues. I also ask if you have your own thoughts about when "done" is "done" please share them in comments.
I have loved drawing from as far back as I can remember.
I have loved getting attention from others for my work. At first parents and siblings, followed by friends and teachers, and now strangers and other artists take notice and share, usually, kind words.
I myself have begun to like my own work. While this may sound strange, other artists, writers and creatives of all types out there will understand this statement. They will understand the struggle for self-recognition and self-satisfaction. While, when asked, I have grown much more comfortable calling myself an artist, there remains a nagging voice inside that whispers with incessantly with incredulity that I am fooling myself. This is the same voice that chatters jealously at the seaming ease some creatives bring forth works that have their signature style or expression. Somehow having "my style" seems to be the table stakes that the voice knows I am painfully lacking.
What is an artists "style"? I teach young artists who seem to preternaturally have arrived at their style. They effortlessly bring a specific vision and interpretation to their work that makes recognizing that these pieces were done by the same artist, simple and intuitive. How does this happen? If I point this out they most often acknowledge its nothing they are trying to do. The work just comes out that way. What is even stranger is while I envy them their specific voice, often they express frustration in that they cannot seem to escape the bounds of their tenor and pitch. I long for my style and they, at least at times, want to escape theirs.
As a young artist I did take it upon myself to define my signature. I sat and with intention came up with the way I would sign my name to my work. That is the one thing I feel I uniquely own. Is this the way a visual style comes about? The young artists I mentor don't seem to get theirs in this way. How about the greats? Did Monet, Kahlo, O'Keeffe, Picasso, Mondrian or Pollack spend time finding their particular style? I know most of you saw the artist's distinctive works as you read their names. You cant help it. Now, I do not profess to be in that league but then again why not. The answer to the question could be, the artists listed had very unique voices and putting it bluntly, you don't. At least that is what the voice in my head is shouting. I am not certain why I listen.
What does this all mean? I don't know. I continue to create based upon what I feel inspired to manifest. I do not know if it is good or bad, significant or meaningless. I just know it's what is coming through me. So as I create, it is my sincere hope that something of an honest, unique and distinct voice will shine through. I want a thread of this running through my work over time. Perhaps its hard for any artists to witness their own style. Perhaps looking at your own artwork is like listening to a recording of your own voice. It seems strange and unfamiliar yet to others it is true and clearly you.
Please share your thoughts. This seems a conversation worth having.
Let me start by making it clear that I am no nudist or naturist or whatever those who believe living unencumbered by clothing are called these days. Like most of us, I am very insecure in my own appearance and am tense changing clothes in a locker room or shedding all to enter a steam room or spa. I am keenly aware of the places my muscles used to be, my belly never was and the various site of the scars. wrinkles and reminders of the passing years residing on my skin. With all of that said, I stand by my assertion that we all look better nude.
Being an artist and a devotee of life drawing I have seen likely hundreds of people au naturel. I am in awe and appreciative of those who pose for me. It is hard work and their comfort in doing something I am personally terrified of to me speaks to courage. In capturing these models in I am not merely seeing them. I study them, seeking the form, movement, dark and light of each body. I look for the balance and how body and bone conspire to lift this human into ever-more expressive poses. Skin, muscle, and hair dissolve into texture and technique, translating the human body into simple marks, lines, strokes and shading.
From the first nude model I drew from in 1979 as a nervous teenage student at the Art Academy of Cincinnati to the dozens I have experienced virtually during 2020, it never fails that no matter the model, the body is amazing and beautiful. I lose myself in that truth. This goes for men and women, young and old, fit and not. All colors, shapes and sizes. I have drawn retirees, parents of a kid in my son's class, yoga instructors, white-collar managers, blue-collar laborers, dance students, other artists and even a mother-to-be who was days from delivery. From conversations with other figurative artists I hear the same thing. As you draw from life beauty becomes a much broader concept.
Getting past the titters of those seeing nudity as prurient and even our own sense of shame around the human form, all you have to do is study the parts of our anatomy we freely display to experience what I am talking about. Take 5-10 minutes and study the hands or the face of a loved one. Look intently at them. Think about where the shadows and highlights are. Look for what makes them recognizable to you. Stare for an uncomfortable period of time to really see them. Now close your eyes and see what you have rendered. It is amazing that any of us could imagine ourselves to be anything but beautiful.
Clothing, at least to me, makes those who fit the current definition of beautiful, look beautiful. For the amazing array of forms the human body comes in, the apparel industry generally does a mediocre to poor job serving those on either end of the bell-curve. Add to that the manipulation the industry fosters through ads and product strategies and its no wonder we are all unsure if we are normal, much less beautiful. For example I am a size 42" in my $50 jeans but a size 38" in my $200 ones. Models who pose for life drawing sessions enter rooms in street clothes. Often its hard to avoid the automatic judgements the well-trained voice in our heads tend to whisper about those we see on the street. We judge, assume and project. But given the removal of the trappings of life, the striking of a sustained pose and a few moments of actually seeing them, staring at this most fundamental form common to all of us, the voice is silenced and only the beauty remains.
I do believe we all look better nude. Perhaps someday I will be brave enough to pose myself.
Why should anyone listen to me? That is a very good question. I am not so sure anyone should. But that will not stop me from having somethings to share. I expect, at least as I start this, I will mostly be speaking generally to the universe and specifically to a few close friends. That is just fine by me. I am an artist and that is what I hope to talk about in this blog. Art.
To me everyone, every human being, carries in them creative potential. This spark, in my humble opinion, is innate in us. I look at the the cave art at Chauvet in southeastern France. 30,000 years ago paleolithic people were compelled to render the world around them in the dark of limestone cave near their settlement. Beyond survival, beyond pursuing shelter and food, they invested precious resources in wondrous works that we rediscovered in 1994. Hand prints, very common across cave art across the globe are there and so much more. Beautifully detailed renderings of the European lion, rhinoceros, cave bear and wild horses all now extinct. Over thousands of years art was refined and added to, so it is clear the work was respected and worthy of ongoing creative investment. If Paleolithic peoples made ar,t we certainly have no excuse for not carrying on in our resource-rich world. So why do so many of us believe we are not creative or that being creative is a waste of time?
Speaking from my own struggle, I think our creativity scares us. Manifesting something from nearly nothing seems like magic. And in our overly practical, overly chaotic and overly cynical world, magic has no place. We are told time and time again to be practical and grow up, be responsible. We honor those who sacrifice personal happiness and peace-of-mind to their careers to achieve success as role models. To ourselves we downplay the time spent pursuing art or music as "just a hobby" or "playful distraction, almost apologizing for the pursuit. I lived this for far too long. While I have a career as a creative, this kind of commercial path never fulfilled the spark to simply create that burned inside of me. It has taken me decades to get over this mindset and see creativity for what it is. It's me. It's honest. Its something I need to say, craft, express, manifest and share. I am so much happier when I create, when I loose my self in the rush of ideas and possibilities that turn into works of art. My belief is that everyone has this spark inside of them just waiting to be heeded. All of you hidden painters, poets, chefs, artists and makers of things beautiful, please understand what I am saying, heed the kind spark of creativity. You will be happy that you did.