1. Send your inner critic on a vacation (because you know it's working waaaay overtime.)
That critical voice can stop you in its tracks every time. It's not helpful, but it means well.... So, thank it kindly for its contribution.
Then send it on a well-deserved vacation, to a remote location of your choosing. An oasis in the desert? An island in the Pacific? A beautiful spot in the Yukon? You decide. And — be very clear here — it can NOT come back for whatever length of time you specify. How about a month?
If it shows up again, send it packing. Be FIRM. Then enjoy the vacation you are both getting.
2. Creativity needs to be nurtured. Like good soil for farming, sometimes you need to let it rest. Allow time to be fallow.
It's out of the fallow time that the next new ideas come... they just need time to percolate, time to gestate. So give it a break... and do something else.
Clean your studio. Build canvases. Gesso panels. Inventory frames. Do all the routine studio maintenance kind of stuff that you never find time for in the throes of a creative whirlwind. Time for this is a good thing. You can learn to look on fallow time as a blessing.
3. Shake up your routine! Do something new, different, out of the ordinary — something that puts you in a completely different frame of mind and heart.
What is it that you just never think of doing, or never manage to find the time for? You can:
Sometimes you just need to shift your perspective, and doing something completely out of your ordinary routine can be just what you need.
4. Go for a walk in nature.
It's amazing what walking in a forest, sitting on a creek or riverbank, looking out across a lake at sunset, or gazing at ocean waves with beach sand between your toes will do for your psyche.
Don't just go there — experience it. You'll feel refreshed and rejuvenated, in heart and mind and soul.
5. Count your blessings.
Literally. Count them up, no matter how small. Every little thing matters. How high can you go?
And then give thanks for each and every one. It's amazing how much we can find to be grateful for, when we look for it, even in the hardest times. It's kind of like stopping to smell the roses.
Have you been feeling stuck? Try these! You'll be amazed at the difference doing them will make.
A week ago last Saturday, a fire — later named the Valley Fire — started in Lake County, on the other side of Mt. St. Helena from where I live. It jumped from 40 acres to 1,000 acres in less than an hour, and continued to spread far faster than anyone could have imagined, sending over 17,000 residents running for their lives, including friends, acquaintances, and current and former students of mine. Like so many others, I searched online, hoping and praying, to hear whether they had made it out safely, whether they had been able to take their pets with them, and whether they had any idea if their homes had been spared.
That first night, the sky glowed red above and behind Mt. St. Helena. It was both beautiful and terrifying. My neighbor suggested we write lists of all the important things you need, so we wouldn't miss anything if we had short notice to pack up the car. But we were lucky; the fire didn't come down our side of the mountain.
On the internet, people had posted terrifying photos and videos of apocalyptic scenes, of driving down roads with fires burning on either side, of tall tongues of flame leaping into the sky as gas or propane tanks exploded, of trees becoming tall, tall torches, and of darkened skies thick with soot and smoke and burning embers.
Then, on Tuesday, I drove to the de Young Museum in San Francisco, to see the Turner show (J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free) before it closed. Born in 1775, Joseph Mallord William Turner was one of the greatest English painters of the 19th century. Whether art historians agree with me or not, I think of him as the first abstract painter. Although he painted scenes and events, current, historical, and mythological, the scenes and events often seem simply a reason to paint light and storm and fog and fire....
And there, in the first gallery past the entrance, was a wall of paintings of fire.
Turner didn't have a camera or an iPhone to record the terrifying fires of his time; he had only his watercolor paints and paper. The description of these three watercolor sketches said that the fire, which began October 30, 1841, burned for several days, and that most likely Turner sketched these on the other side of the moat, standing in the enormous crowds that had gathered.
Just down the wall a bit from Turner's watercolors of that fire was an oil painting of another fire, that of the Houses of Lords and Commons in 1834. Here, the flames rise high into the night, with an intensity of light and thick clouds of smoke. Crowds gather on the near shore, unable to stop it, able only to witness the fury of the inferno.
Detail of The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16th October, 1834 • oil paint on canvas • J.M.W. Turner • photo courtesy of Linda Huffman. I have saturated the colors here a little, to try to envision what the intensity and color may have originally looked like when Turner first painted it.
Turner's colors have faded considerably since he painted these, so I saturated the image above to see something of what they might have originally looked like. It reminds me of the apocalyptic videos I watched online, and the photos of the raging flames.
Like the crowds gathered in Turner's painting, we too stood and watched. I don't know how many others thought of those horrific images from the Valley Fire as they looked at these paintings. I did, and I thought of the ghastly power and ferocious speed and damage of the blaze. Just like the witnesses Turner painted, we witnessed the devastation he recorded in the painting, and we witnessed the devastation of this week's fire in photographs and videos.
But some people saw it firsthand as they ran to their cars and drove to safety; or as they warned residents to leave, saving those residents' lives, and as they fought the fire so valiantly.
I've been learning, as each day goes by, who among my friends has a home to return to, and who does not.
I brought donations on the first Sunday morning for the evacuees, and though it was little in the scale of things, every little thing adds up. Our friends and neighbors have been devastated, and need our prayers, our thoughtfulness, our kindness, our generosity, and our help. There but for fortune, it could have been any of us.
To donate items to the evacuees who are now returning to Lake County, you can follow this link to find where to take donations: http://www.lakecountylac.com/donation-centers.html
To give a gift of money, there are a number of organizations you can contact, including Redwood Credit Union, who will ensure that 100% of donations will make it directly to victims of the Lake County fires. https://www.redwoodcu.org/about-rcu/news-announcements-specials/rockyfire
My thanks to Santa Cruz artist Linda Huffman, who took photographs of the exhibit and shared them with me for this blog post.
If you look around you, you will never be short of inspiration for your artwork. Interesting buildings in town? Interesting trees in the neighborhood? People sitting and reading the paper in the local coffeehouse? Bring your sketchbook along, and draw what you see. Calistoga City Hall • 5" x 7" • pencil drawing • © Karen Lynn Ingalls
Far more often than I'd like to see, new students bring in images of photographs (or paintings) they've found on the internet that they want to copy. Or they tell me about teachers they know who teach students to copy other people's paintings. And then we have the talk about why they should NOT copy someone else's artwork.
So, why not just copy?
First, there are legal reasons. All visual artists, including photographers, own the copyrights to their own work. They have the choice to license the work for a fee or give permission for their work to be reproduced, if they like.
Taking their work is intellectual property theft. And that's not okay.
Just because you see it on the internet doesn't mean you can use it without their permission. Artists make a living by selling their work, and copying what they do isn't a compliment — it's taking bread out of their mouths.
Apart from the legal issues, there are ethical issues. It's not ethical to copy someone's work and call it yours.
If you really, really want to, you can always ask permission. If you're granted permission, ALWAYS credit your original source, and share the results with them.
If you want to work from the painting of a long-dead old master, take it in a new direction, but include the artist in the title. You can call it "Homage to Rembrandt" — or whomever. Acknowledge your inspiration.
Having had to deal with a violation of my own copyrights, I can tell you from experience it doesn't feel good to find someone has copied your work. It just feels like you've been ripped off.
My inspiration (and source) for this painting? Three palm trees on the side of the road in Palm Springs. I set up my easel across the street, in a rocky field, and painted the trees as the sun set. Plein air painting (painting in the open air) is another great way to find images to paint. Three Palms for Gail • 10" x 8" • acrylic painting on panel • © Karen Lynn Ingalls
But, finally, there is the basic question about why you want to paint to begin with. What is your reason for painting? Is it to get in touch with your own creativity? To find joy in the act of creation?
If that is why you paint — as it is for most people who want to make art— you cannot be truly creative if you are just copying someone else's work.
There are so many things to inspire your work, and to provide you with images to draw and paint. You can, for instance:
Beauty and inspiration are everywhere — you need never be at a loss for something to paint or draw.
You will be inspired by the work of other artists, of course! Learn from what you see! When you see work you love, ask yourself, "What is it that I truly love about what I see?"
Is it the color palette? The handling of the paint? The subject matter? A particular way of framing the composition? Identify it, whatever it is — and try it out in your OWN work.
There is only one YOU in all the world. There is no one else who can say what you have to say, in the way that you can say it.
As you develop your skills, you will — and should — try many things. Learn from everything you see!
Explore! Practice! Fail (it's okay; it's a necessary part of the process)! Discover! Grow!
As you grow, you will find your own visual voice, your style, your spirit, your genius. You will discover who you are as a painter.
I pulled over on the side of the Highway 101 to take this, and a whole series of other photos. It was just before sunset, and I knew I was going to find something in them that I could work with. The individual photos may not look remarkable in themselves... it's what you do with them. See the photograph below to see what I will be painting from. Photo © 2015 Karen Lynn Ingalls
If you work from photographs, working from your own photographs is part of the creative process. Trust me; many of my best paintings have come from amazingly bad or mediocre photographs. It's all about what you DO with it.
Someone else's great photograph is already art. What more can you say about it visually that it hasn't already said?
Here, you can see the composition I took from the larger photograph above. Saturating the colors a little, so I can see more of what colors are there underneath the drought-dry browns of this California summer, I've arrived at something I'm looking forward to painting. This is all part of my creative process. Photograph © 2015 Karen Lynn Ingalls
So here's my advice to my students:
Take your own photographs.
Make your own still life setups.
Find your own models.
Learn how to make a great composition.
Then paint, paint, paint, and draw, draw, draw.
You will find your OWN voice. Allow yourself to be influenced by artwork you love. But your own artwork? Make it truly your own work. And THEN you will be an artist.
Trust me: the journey is worth it.
Karen Lynn Ingalls
I am a working artist in Napa and Sonoma Counties, in northern California. I paint colorist landscapes of rural California, teach art classes, workshops, and private lessons, live in Calistoga, and have my art studio in Santa Rosa, California.