The Creative Process: Starting from Nothing
Approaching a blank canvas can be utterly daunting at times. I stare at it, wanting something mind-blowing to be on it. It stares back at me as if to say, “What?”
What? What are you? And who am I? Who am I to even come near this object of nothingness, this broad sheet of pulled fabric with its straight edges of intimidation? It has nothing and there are times when I feel I have nothing to bring to it. Well, at least that’s some common ground with which to start. And that’s how I start: with a void, a sense of emptiness. Just when I almost begin to feel unworthy to even hold a paintbrush in my hand, something happens in the void. I remember that any mistakenly drawn line I make isn’t the end of the world. I remember that there’s beauty in imperfections. I remember that I can be as blank as the canvas and as imperfect as the lines I’m about to put forth onto it. I close in on the emptiness between myself and the white impartial medium. Molecules bounce faster between us, almost too subtly. I lift my brush. Let’s go.
But before I even get to that point, so much else has to happen. I need some vague idea of what I even want to portray. Colors, shapes, composition. They all elicit certain thoughts, emotions, and statements depending on how they’re arranged. Because I use a lot of mixed media, the types of objects I use are crucial to my storytelling as well. Will I use dried tea bags, burlap, thread, yarn, or metal wire? Will I pierce the canvas? Lightly or enough to create a noticeable hole in it? Because I work for Three Two Art Studio, a studio whose main goal is to foster critical thinking about ourselves and our world, my message determines everything I use to create the image.
Reading is crucial to the creation of images and colors in my mind. Books such as Creativity and Taoism by Chang Chung-yuan and An Anthology of Chinese Literature by Stephen Owen are a couple of my main go-to’s. But I’m a sucker for classical Chinese stuff. I can’t even go into all of the profound statements, stories, poems, and lyrics found in these books unless I try to spell them out with my work. Music also influences the art I create, but the tracks and their influences can change from day to day on me. With a synesthetic brain, the sky is the limit for me being able to “see” melodies, drum beats, and other various sounds. Life events that bring on realizations can also create a theme, showing me a shape that wants to appear and be seen by others in the form of paint (or the lack thereof) on a canvas. Notice that I’m personifying the shape here. Yes, I feel like the work creates itself at times.
I just read a quote today from the late Dr. Wayne W. Dyer. It reads, “Inspiration comes from moving back in-Spirit and connecting to the power of intention. When you feel inspired, what appeared to be risky becomes a path you feel compelled to follow.” When I’m feeling completely dry of any inspiration, I try to remember the things that used to set me on fire like classical Chinese and good music. If those don’t work, driving out into the desert has a way of clearing out the cobwebs. Or sometimes just sitting down and starting a new piece, not placing too much concern on the outcome---or even the journey---brings the Muse out of her woodwork, into my mind, out through my hands, onto the blank blank blank canvas.