Facing the Blank Canvas: Artists’ Tips for Getting Started

In Tom Burckhardt’s set up FULL STOP (2004–H), a big, empty canvas dominates a cluttered studio full of books, paint tubes and brushes, sketches on the partitions, and different paraphernalia of an artist’s working life. It’s a tour de drive made totally of cardboard; the entire factor has been shipped to such locations as the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, and DiverseWorks in Houston. It will probably be proven this fall at the Columbus College of Art & Design in Ohio.

The New York–based mostly artist says the clean canvas particularly was his “response to feeling caught with a few of my portray, and never liking the means I was portray at the time, the method that all the things was popping out so well mannered and nicely-mannered. Like each artist, I was beginning to assume, ‘Well, what if I’m going to be caught, what if I can’t make anything?’”

The empty canvas dominating Tom Burckhardt’s cardboard installation FULL STOP, 2004–5, expresses the artist’s recurrent fear of “feeling stuck.”COURTESY TIBOR DE NAGY GALLERY, NEW YORK

The empty canvas dominating Tom Burckhardt’s cardboard set up FULL STOP, 2004–H, expresses the artist’s recurrent worry of “feeling caught.”

COURTESY TIBOR DE NAGY GALLERY, NEW YORK

And that white slab of canvas, about forty inches sq., represents the terror many artists endure earlier than starting a brand new challenge or physique of labor. Like an athlete, the artist requires downtime to recharge and kit up for new endeavors—and to forestall the panic of probably not having the stamina or expertise or inspiration to tug it off once more. Tactics for filling up or emptying out earlier than shifting on can differ from the easy expedient of taking a trip to months of studying to turning to a brand new medium, however certainly one of the favorites appears to be the mundane process of cleansing out the studio.
Nene Humphrey is artist in residence at the Joseph LeDoux Center for Neural Science at New York University; her current drawings and sculptures have been impressed by the science of the mind. For years, she has been following the similar ritual of completely scouring her work area, a course of that may take so long as a month.

“I begin at the again of my studio. I get an enormous pail of scorching water, some Mr. Clean, and a bunch of rags. I begin at the prime of the shelf nearest the door, and I slowly transfer my method up the room till the whole lot is completely immaculate and orderly,” she says. “And then it’s so clear I need to do one thing once more. I can begin no matter’s been rummaging round in my head.”

Sculptor Don Porcaro turns to the similar technique, cleansing his instruments and eliminating “all traces of the final physique of labor. I think about it a type of meditation, a method of focusing and getting relaxed.” Some discover that any meditative exercise gives a method of emptying the thoughts in preparation for pursuing new endeavors. Painter Emilio Perez likes to log on between our bodies of labor, “to eliminate all that nervous power, to get to some extent the place I can simply give attention to the work.”

Pat Steir was influenced by John Cage early in her profession, and her apply is based on meditation. “The measurement is predetermined, and in every case the colours are predetermined,” she says of her giant-scale canvases. Because she considers her work grounded in performative actions, she envisions the sorts of actions she is going to make that may deliver the footage to life.

“Like the Japanese calligraphers, I meditate on the motion,” she explains. “I combine the paint in massive buckets, after which I sit in entrance of the canvases for a very long time, perhaps for an hour, typically so long as a month.”

For Steir, having many work going at the similar time helps forestall any dread of not figuring out what to do subsequent. The similar is true for Peter Plagens, whose life as each an artist and a critic signifies that he’s “all the time toggling between on and off, or ‘A’ and ‘B.’ Two hours at a shot is a very long time in the studio for me,” he says, including, “My spouse has informed me that I have the focus span of a toddler.”

Artist and critic Peter Plagens works in groups of about six canvases at a time. A central motif composed of flat geometric shapes often plays a dominant role, as in untitled (red), 2013. COURTESY NANCY HOFFMAN GALLERY, NEW YORK

Artist and critic Peter Plagens works in teams of about six canvases at a time. A central motif composed of flat geometric shapes typically performs a dominant position, as in untitled (purple), 2013.

COURTESY NANCY HOFFMAN GALLERY, NEW YORKPlagens finds it helpful to work in teams of about six canvases at a time, and to get began he turns to sure methods in an effort to keep away from what he calls his “mannerisms and fairly-making impulses.” For him, a method of getting began is to work late at night time or when he’s drained, “in order that it’s like drawing together with your ‘off’ hand. Basically, it simply includes haste and fatigue to get concepts off the floor.”

“Before I stand in entrance of the canvas, I make an enormous effort to not have a picture,” says Enrique Martínez Celaya, a Cuban American artist who divides his time between Delray Beach, Florida, and Los Angeles. Martínez Celaya works in many various mediums. If he’s at work on a portray, “most of the time I like to interrupt the whiteness of the canvas by doing one thing to it, not worrying a lot if that is what I’m actually after. I like to find the portray in the act of portray itself.”

As an instance, he cites his work The Surrogate (2014), a big image of a solitary tree, which was painted over a picture of a home. “All my work sometimes have three or 4 or 5 others beneath, however you fairly often don’t see that historical past in the work.”

Turning to a completely totally different medium can even function a bridge to a brand new physique of labor. “I’ve been engaged on a collection of gouache and acrylic work on paper with a single motif based mostly on the Tantric lingam, an oval form typically used as some extent of meditation,” says Leslie Wayne, whose final present at Jack Shainman Gallery, “Rags,” concerned a labor-intensive means of build up layers of paint draped over an armature. “Usually one physique of labor morphs into the subsequent, however I discover that typically if I simply sit down and begin doing a couple of of those in the morning earlier than I get going, that will get all the muscular tissues shifting.”

Sketching is one other age-previous exercise for artists of their off hours, as a approach of unwinding and of producing new concepts. When she visited the Grand Canyon final summer time, Elisabeth Condon, who divides her time between New York and Tampa, Florida, and exhibits massive summary work at Lesley Heller Workspace in New York, made drawings and watercolors day-after-day. “I would do small research and draw for hours by the canyon and I would construct these up into bigger watercolors, and now I’m in the strategy of constructing these up into work.”

For Will Ryman, making sketches between giant-scale installations might don’t have anything to do with the last product. “They’re by no means particular concepts, however they hold my palms shifting, and that retains me grounded creatively in some bizarre means and often results in connecting the dots between no matter ideas I’m eager about after which no matter photographs I need to create three-dimensionally,” he says. “I do this for weeks and months typically. It’s a germination course of.”

Leslie Wayne’s Lingam 2, 2013, is from a series based on the Tantric symbol of fecundity, an oval shape often used as a focus of meditation. ©LESLIE WAYNE/COURTESY THE ARTIST AND JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY, NEW YORK

Leslie Wayne’s Lingam P, 2013, is from a collection based mostly on the Tantric image of fecundity, an oval form typically used as a spotlight of meditation.©LESLIE WAYNE/COURTESY THE ARTIST AND JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY, NEW YORK

Given the rising reputation of the pc as a part of the artistic course of, it’s not shocking that sure packages lend themselves properly to sketching. Between our bodies of labor, Eric Fischl turns to Photoshop to work up new imagery. “That can take a while,” he admits, “which is sweet as a result of I am nonetheless avoiding the clean canvas. When I have the picture I need to work from, I print it out, and having executed that I stand in entrance of the canvas, holding up the picture and wishing I might simply sneeze and the picture would magically scale up and cling to the canvas. But, sadly, I even have to color it.”

For many artists, studying presents a approach to decompress between tasks, and but the books artists choose could seem at first baffling decisions. A few of Ryman’s most popular titles proper now embrace Academic Capitalism and the New Economy: Markets, State, and Higher Education by Sheila Slaughter and Gary Rhoades, Noam Chomsky’s Media Control and How the World Works, and James Barrat’s Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era.

“I’m all for the psychology of our tradition, particularly the psychology of capitalism,” Ryman says. Though installations similar to The Roses (2011) and America (2013) might not at first look like overtly political, they’re about taking “quite simple truths and making them into complicated objects.”

Similarly, Kathy Butterly’s bedtime studying could also be a shock, given the spirit of her whimsical and seductive ceramic sculptures: she was lately making her method via Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. “Even studying only one or two pages,” she says, “it’s like taking a look at an ideal portray. That’s all I want at the second—simply to really feel that zeal in his phrase decisions.”

For Julian Hatton, a painter who exhibits at Elizabeth Harris Gallery in New York, studying has offered a means of understanding his personal processes. One of his favourite authors is Eric Kandel, a neuropsychiatrist and an professional on the topic of reminiscence storage in the mind.

“After learning his concepts, I have a a lot better concept of what’s happening in my head, and why I don’t know if what I’m doing that day in the studio is any good, as a result of the mind takes a very long time to course of new info,” Hatton says. “He helps me perceive why I have to attend until the subsequent day to see if I’m on the proper monitor.”

Just as music works as a strong supply of arousal for all the things from dancing to intercourse, it additionally places artists in the temper. “The factor that all the time will get me into the proper state of mind to work is simply placing on some music,” says Wayne. “I have every part from jazz and classical to pop and rock and roll.”

For considered one of Condon’s collection, music was important to getting the work off the floor and staying in the proper rhythm. “In 2012 I made a gaggle of work referred to as ‘Seven Seas,’ and it was an enormous departure for me,” she explains. “I needed to do a collection of landscapes about Los Angeles circa 1974, which was when I went to my first nightclub, and the work have been based mostly on the music of the time, which was glam rock—David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Led Zeppelin, and so forth. The music was important and put me into that state of strolling into the nightclub. I would keep in mind what it was like—I was 14 at the time, and it was a wake-up name from my suburban childhood.”

Elisabeth Condon’s large paintings are built up from drawings and watercolors, such as Slipping Cheops Pyramid, 2013, painted during a visit to the Grand Canyon.COURTESY LESLEY HELLER WORKSPACE, NEW YORK

Elisabeth Condon’s giant work are constructed up from drawings and watercolors, reminiscent of Slipping Cheops Pyramid, 2013, painted throughout a go to to the Grand Canyon.

COURTESY LESLEY HELLER WORKSPACE, NEW YORK

Of course, there’s all the time the uncommon artist whose batteries recharge shortly and effortlessly. Between work or drawings, Mark Sheinkman says, “I clear off the work desk and lie down and shut my eyes. Or I stroll the canine. I simply take a pause. The unstated subtext right here is procrastination. One factor I virtually by no means do is deliver my pc to the studio. It’s the most effective procrastination system ever invented.”

A model of this story initially appeared in the June 2014 situation of ARTnews on web page seventy two beneath the title “Facing the Blank Canvas.”

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