I once heard it spoken in one of the great (virtual) hallways where educated artists gather, that an ‘intuitive artist’ doesn’t exist. That an artist only uses knowledge and conscious decisions to know what to do on their canvas – no mystery involved. The idea, of whether that is true or not, lodged like a little weed seed in the back of my mind. And today it sprouted, haha. And so talking about the creative process is the subject of this post. While I respect the years of education anyone who finishes a degree has gained, I disagree that only knowledge is at play. At least not in my own art. I’m inclined to believe art is created through a mix of magic, intuition, AND knowledge.
Intuition or Knowledge – or Both?
Since I’ve not been schooled in the discipline of art, apart from whatever classes I took in grade school, I’ve learned through trial and error. Experience is a great teacher, and since I started painting in 2018, I’ve gained some knowledge on how to make the paints do what I want them to do. That’s not saying I’m doing it ‘correctly’, that’s just saying I’m getting results I’m after. I’m still learning about ‘proper techniques’. There’s a good chance that working with the paints I make from our local Ozark pigments is a different experience than working with tube paints, or industrially made pan paints. So the only knowledge I can claim about being a watercolorist is that which I’ve gained working with Ozark pigments.
When I’m faced with a blank canvas, there’s a lot of thought going on inside my head before I put the first mark on it. I’m making conscious decisions about what I plan to do. So I’d call this drawing on knowledge. I’ve got a fairly good idea, by the time I hang the paper, what I want the work to look like. One of the first decisions is which pigment to use for making my outline. I don’t use pencil because it sometimes shows through the paint and I don’t like that. So I’ll use one of the predominant colors in the finished piece, but I want to use one that doesn’t stain. That way it’s easier to make corrections if I need to.
Where there is knowledge, there is also intuition. And where it feels as if I am using intuition, there is also knowledge gained from research or previous trials and errors. The line is very blurry between these two. There are many instances where I am going with my gut feelings, rather than any known facts. Sometimes these feelings are backed up by knowledge of something I have even forgotten, or didn’t know I knew until I do it.
And sometimes it’s pure inspiration from the muse. So, I just run with it.
I’d have to say it’s very difficult to separate these two (knowledge and intuition). If you put them side by side, the line of demarcation is wide and blurry.
One thing I do know is that I don’t know enough about how I do it to teach anyone else unless they were sitting with me to go through the process side-by-side. I can’t explain very well in advance what to do, because I’m figuring it out as I go. So for that reason, for me, I’d say painting is a lot of intuition and trial and error. Combine that with a hindsight kind of knowledge that’s more about understanding that I’ve done something in error and knowing I need to fix it. Ha.
Once it begins, I know exactly when the magic is happening. I can’t predict the moment, but once it starts, I feel it.
I’ll try to describe the moment. If you’ve ever slipped into a focused ‘zone’, you’ll know the feeling. It can be all-consuming. This is when I feel a sense of awe that what I imagined is actually showing up on the paper. Sometimes I hadn’t even imagined it, or consciously decided it, or even am aware of the thing I did to make it happen, but that ‘something’ just works.
The stage where the magic happens is once I start moving the paint around and refining the lines. It’s when I start adding the details. Before that, I’m adding blocks of color. While I can tell at that point if the painting will ‘work’, it’s not until I start using those blocks to bring it to life that I feel the magic. Even though the act of actually doing what I’m doing stems from knowledge of having done it before, the magic is in the unfolding. The subject of the painting begins to ‘awaken’. With my latest painting of the Brahman cow, the magic began when I started refining the ears. I ‘felt’ things begin working as I moved the paint around to create the little wrinkles, darken the shadows, and lighten the highlights.
When I am in the ‘magic zone’, that’s when the pigments truly begin to show their soul… when I, too, am connected to the Source. I feel like a sort of conduit between the rocks, or whatever was the source of the pigments used, and their connection to the earth. It is when the life of the painting is sparked with that special something that I can’t explain except to say that is magic.
Magic, Intuition, and Knowledge
Was it intuition or knowledge that led me to take that first step on this painting journey? I’d have to say both. Who knows? There might have been some magic at play in that moment, too.
My Sources of Knowledge
For techniques, it’s usually trial and error. But for the business end of things, and for inspiration, I like to listen to a few podcasts. Here are the art-related ones I subscribe to.
- Art Biz Success Podcast
- The Inspiration Place
- Marketing for Creatives
- I Like Your Work
- Don’t Keep Your Day Job
- The Savvy Painter Podcast
Madison Woods is a self-taught artist who moved to the Ozarks from south Louisiana in 2005. In 2018 she began experimenting with watercolor painting, using her local pigments. She calls them Paleo Paints, and her artwork now features exclusively the lightfast pigments foraged from Madison county, Arkansas. Her inspiration is nature – the beauty, and the inherent cycle of life and death, destruction and regeneration.
Her online portfolio is at www.MadisonWoods.art.
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