Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
Ira Glass (source)

I worry sometimes about changing the format of this blog, or all my blogs really. This blog is perhaps the most important to me, and seemingly the least interesting to anyone else (I think about 5 people look at this with any regularity -- hi, Mom!), so I am going to remember that no one cares, and plunge in and write about where I am in my work, instead of showing images of it. (The images in this post I picked because I couldn't bear to make a post without images, and one of the things I am thinking about now is how words become images and images become words, and how wonderful it is sometimes when images can't become words. They are from an old project, posted here and here.)

And writing about my work is something I'm worried about, too. I don't want to get stuck in words when I want to be thinking in pictures, or intellectualize to the point that I can't draw, or resort to obtuse references when I'm trying to communicate a story or idea. I put it to a friend recently that finding a word when I'm working on a drawing can be like hitting a wall -- I think "bird," and then all I can work on is this platonic ideal of a "bird," and then there's nothing else in the image but a "bird," like I am drawing the word instead of a drawing, with thought to composition and color scheme. Reference helps because it reminds me that there are many birds, many different kinds of owls making different sulky faces or hopping one foot or with fluffy baby-bird feathers sticking out, but even when "bird" becomes "owl" or "grumpy owl" or "grumpy owl on one foot," it can still be like tunnel vision. And writing about my stumbling blocks can be like making rules -- stop drawing cute animals! stop making white backgrounds! stop being so cluttered! stop mixing dry-brush and wet-brush!

But here I go, writing about drawing! I've already started.

I'm trying to avoid framing this as being stuck on things, and more as challenging myself and examining how I work. I want to move into more complex compositions than singular objects floating on white backgrounds, as I mentioned in passing in my Mrs. Dalloway post, while also keeping in mind that white backgrounds are okay, they can be beautiful, I love specimens and lists of items for a reason, I love how the white of the page shines through thin washes of watercolor, and I have made a series of posts of artists who successfully and beautifully utilize things floating on white backgrounds. I want to go back to the way I drew before I became interested in design and, as a result, whitespace, with horror vacui and patterns and paisley and woodgrain and pillows and several cats hiding around and too many birds int he sky. I want to move into more complex subject matter, multiple figures interacting and making scenes and activating negative spaces.

And finally I want to move into acknowledging with patience and impatience. I've mostly been using watercolor and ink, which are very patient and very impatient mediums. With watercolor, there are layers that have to be perfectly dry, washes that have to stay wet, colors that have to stay bright and not get muddy. And it's easy to pretend that watercolor is as impatient as I am, if a spontaneous-looking wet-into-wet drawing of a fox takes 30 minutes. But that's forgetting the other 5 drawings of foxes, which also took 30 minutes each, that I threw away and hid from the world because they turned into runny messes or muddy messes or looked like neon pumpkins or I for some reason became obsessed with using magenta straight out of the tube. And then there's book-making, which is patient and meditative and involves repetitive processes, but I can make while watching old episodes or Star Trek or listening to an audiobook or catching up on the news, and somehow feel more "productive."

It comes down to that I just need more time to draw and figure everything out. I just need to make a ton of work. I need to come up with a ton of subject matter. I am happy for the most part with my ability to render objects, figures, and animals, given sufficient time and reference; it's just a matter of applying it to images and compositions that are exciting too. Maybe sometime soon I can take a week off work and spend the whole time drawing. We'll see.

Next up: a draft of my artist statement!


nigel.clark said...

Only about 5?
Well I am honoured to be among an elite.
I am surely an early bird in the burgeoning Naomi Bardoff appreciation society.
Writing, drawing, painting, composing: creating. They are all stimuli for the mind, and each activity will cross fertilise another. While you evidently have taste, the reason I keep coming back here is that you have energy and ideas that inspire me.
You shouldn't worry about writing about your work. Albeit that the old adage about pictures and thousands of words holds true, your words need not paint so much as inspire a picture. Writing can be an important tool in the development of work. While sketching is the obvious way to develop pictorial ideas, the deeper alternative thought process involved in writing out ones ideas can enhance the process.
As I am now in the process of waffling; as evidence of creativity sparked, and perhaps to prove how much some people do care and pay attention to your blog, a flippant poem in a Yorkshire dialect...

Yon fellahs aloof
'as cage on is roof
watches shed loads a sports
and flashy film shorts
wi' out many words
and too many birds
int he sky.

3rica said...

When you say: " I think 'bird,' and then all I can work on is this platonic ideal of a 'bird'..."

It makes me think of two things: Taoism and Semiotics.
In each of these areas of thought/classification of meanings, the philosophers run up against the problems caused by the limitations of naming things according to type, category, etc. (For example, various systems of signifiers break down in response to blurring concepts of gender.) Things, people and situations are so much more complex than language!
Thank goodness there is Art, where we are free to invent systems of our own!

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