Creating art as introspection (weekly #12)

My core motivation in making art is a process of self discovery and contemplation.

Drawing or painting an image from my head allows me to look at it as a concrete and better understand what it is I had in mind. It is a process of translation from something abstract in my mind to a physical representation of it.

As I’m creating the drawing, I would feel compelled to move some parts, increase certain aspects of the gesture or minimize them, have the head turn a certain way, have the character look a certain direction or have a certain expression – I don’t always know all the parts beforehand – sometimes they become clear after I put down some core part of the idea I had in mind.

The best examples to illustrate this can be found in my old drawings (about 10 years ago) when I was drawing from my head. These drawings are anatomically bad, but they have something good. The stuff that makes art – art. That spice that cannot be mistaken for any other – authentic introspection (or inspiration).
They show a process of discovering the physical representation of something I found interesting and appealing, the process of finding that translation.

For example, in the drawing above, I had in mind a certain character, which was best expressed in a moment of fleeting attention to something.
Usually, no one would give this drawing a second or a first look because it is technically poor, but, wait one minute longer, see if you can find something interesting about it that would make you want to see this woman as a well-developed painting.
What I see, is a face and an expression one rarely encounters. She seems cold and mildly interested in what she is looking at, but at the same time she seems like a person who is not easily interested in things because she knows so much already (not because she is shallow or not curious as a person).
For me, the drawing started from a similar feeling to how this woman seem, and the motivation to draw it was a compelling urge to make it real so I can look at it, move some lines, change things, move her eyebrows up or down, decide if her mouth should be open or closed until I know it’s captures “that thing” just right. I don’t know what “that thing” is as I put it, nor why it is better if she has her mouth open and not closed – those questions are answered later, maybe, say, 10 years later as I’m looking at it, or ideally, after the first sketch and before I move on to working on making it a final, well developed piece.

I go through a similar process in drawing the whole figure from imagination, or while describing a certain situation. In the next drawing , for example, I actually had the dragon in mind, and the lady with it was a derivative.

The dragon is upset – it has to go through a long journey chained and shackled. It’s sitting in a corner, looking at its chains and crying, while its captive is care free.
The funny thing about it is that the dragon is 50 times stronger than the woman – the chain is not secured to the ground, but loosely tied to a thin, brittle stick which the girl is holding. The dragon can escape at any time, yet it doesn’t know it because it is busy looking at its shackles and crying. Too busy following its captor obediently to realize how easily he can be free. The idea doesn’t start with a dragon, in this case I couldn’t tell you what the idea started as, it somehow just was in my mind but then I still had that need to see how it would look like, to go through the process of figuring this idea out.

I had a similar moment to that as I was working on the background for the current painting I’m working on at my school. This one, however is different because I have limited choice in the subject matter. I did, however, choose the background:

I was struggling with the background for a while, trying different things that didn’t work until finally, I gave my self permission to just put things down boldly, to put down what I really want to see. So I started by making the curvy line and darkening the area bellow it, then, I knew I wanted bright sky behind her, I put the ocean line and the sky, then I realized this could be the edge of a large round window on a ship.

This is how groping for ideas for the background looked like at the beginning:


One last thing I want to talk about relates to the content with which I started this post.
In the past I would draw, not knowing what my technical drawbacks were. Being unaware of any flaws, I felt free to put down whatever was on my mind. I had total freedom to explore my ideas and I produced a lot of such fast drawings and paintings too.
After a while I realized the drawbacks and I was not satisfied with the technical side of my art anymore. I refrained from drawing because I was afraid to disappoint myself.
Today I realize, it doesn’t matter at all. You can always have room to improve the technical side of your work, as an artist, but what is equally valuable or of greater value, perhaps, is to be able to express your ideas; to have open communication with your subconscious and to be able to put down lines to create a drawing like the first one I shared here, of a woman’s face.
Today, equipped with better knowledge and experience I can improve the anatomy of that face, but I could never get back that moment and expression had I not put them down. If all I focused on was getting the anatomy right, all I would have now is one more anatomically accurate face. Boy, am I glad I didn’t worry about all that stuff!

The realization I had was that as an artist, preserving your soul is just as hard a job as improving your technical skills. You must give yourself permission and place to screw up in technique; to be wrong; whatever it takes, but keep that “channel” to your subconscious open.
Creativity is a habit, but a fragile one that needs to be nurtured and guarded. The good news is that all it really takes is your own permission.

Today I am celebrating my 31st Birthday. It is not a coincidence that today of all days I am sharing my oldest work which is also technically worst, something you would expect an artist to keep hidden in their closet.
As an artist, it is THOSE paintings and not my current ones (which are technically superior) which I would celebrate primarily. Those have my soul, these have my mind (as well as some of my soul). I find both equally difficult to make and eventually I will have the combined challenge of both things.

I hope that by putting my old work here for display for all to see, I am giving courage to someone else out there to embrace their own work and cherish their inner “spark”: don’t trade it for a better technique or for compliments. It just ain’t worth it, man.

I wish myself a good birthday and a successful and happy year to come.
Why, thank you, that’s very nice of you to say, Ifat. You too. 😉


Painting and Abstracting (weekly #9)

Progress with my painting: 2 weeks ago I posted a drawing and the study of the painting I’m working on now at my school. Friday I took a picture of it with my cellphone. This picture is unfortunately not true to color, please take that under account when viewing.

This week’s plan: Work on the shirt and vest, finish the hat, the background, and do final touches on the face and neck.
This picture shows the “sinking in” phenomenon very well. It’s a phenomenon where the oil pigments appear lighter than they are and in a different color. The vest, for example, appears black-gray even though it is brown in real life. This is why it is important to cover the painting with a thin layer of oil before working back into it to revive the color and see it correctly. This process also has its own difficulties; for example, if the paint is not thoroughly dry, the oil may lift it up, it may even get smeared into new areas and make the painting “muddy”. It’s therefore very important to be in control of the painting and know exactly what parts are wet and what parts are dry.


One thing I thought of is that the skill of figure drawing involves abstracting things about the figure and then using those abstractions as a guide when drawing or painting. The abstractions can take a literal form, such as: “the eyes are located in the halfway point of the head”, or a more perceptual form, such as remembering the general shape of the eye socket.
I’ve been doing a lot of this process of abstraction, which I exercise at home sometimes by sculpting or sketching from my head. Here is one small plasteline-clay sculpture I did this weekend:

I don’t know why, but I find that the pleasure in working entirely from my head is not surpassed by any other process of making art. I realize that the result is not as good as working from a reference, but I wish I knew what causes this feeling of delight and how I can replicate it when working from a reference.

I think it is really important as an artist to let your emotions run the show. I don’t quite know how to explain what I mean perfectly; I am not talking about any sort of random emotion that comes up during work (that can actually be an obstacle), but rather about the feelings relating to the artist’s subject matter. Some parts of the subject matter are bound to carry more interest than others for the artist. I think it’s OK to be bored with some aspects of the painting and let that affect how you paint. In fact this is what produces a good painting in my opinion because it replicates that feeling the artist had about what he paints in the viewer’s mind. It enhances the parts that are interesting and central about the piece and sends to the background the things that are not. It is, perhaps, the closest a person can get to experiencing something through another person’s mind.

Lastly, I’d like to share a small piece of writing by my teacher, Tenaya Sims, which I found interesting and which relates to “seeing through someone else’s eyes”. This is from the latest Newsletter of Georgetown Atelier (where I study).

The basic idea is if you approach painting your shadows in a thin/transparent manner, while building the textural qualities in the lights,  it will increase the depth and three-dimensionality of your painting. Executing shadows in this way helps keep them more atmospheric and ‘shadowy’, and pushes them back into the depths of the painting.  People naturally focus on one area at a time when looking at anything, and usually look first at the illuminated forms rather than those in shadow. Everything not in our focus is more hazy, or by definition is ‘out of focus’. For this reason it’s more effective to simulate the way people see in our paintings than to render each passage equally in focus. Putting in too much information in the shadows, or painting them too thickly (resulting in the surface of the painting coming forward) can negate the effect of how we naturally see. On the other hand, building up the texture and opacity in the lights, or ‘sculpting the lights with paint’ as I like to say, helps to enhance the focal areas of the painting and brings them both literally and perceptually forward to the viewer.

Simulating the ‘way that we see’ in a painting is much more difficult than it sounds. This is simply because while we’re working on any one particular area, that area is in focus for us, but may not be for the viewer taking in the whole scene of the painting on first glance. It requires us to plan out the ‘global relationships’ of our painting, and remember to stick to that global plan even while working in specific ‘micro’ areas. It requires us to be both the General and Marine, or in other tems, know how our ‘shadowy village’ fits within its country.

This method of simulating the human way of experiencing what we see in a painting is a way to further refine an experience and bring it closer to how we experience it as conceptual beings rather than raw sensations (which is closer to what a camera sees). It’s a little bit like a double filter: seeing something after someone else saw it for you first.


I’ll end the post here.
Have a good week,

My weekly post #3

Back from a vacation in Florida to write a belated weekly post.

I spent my vacation with my husband and a couple of friends. We drew and painted one another and I was reminded of what art means to me and where I want to go with it.

It is best explained by showing the drawing of me that my friend did (Rina Cheah).

The drawing is simplified and stylized – it is not an exact replica of the subject and yet captures something both about me and about her that is much harder to see in real life because it is mixed with so many other things that are visible in a face (values, colors, changing facial expressions, freckles and so on). But to her, this was the most appealing and essential aspect of her subject. This, is what I think art is. Art is not camera-reproduction of what we see, nor recording of random occurrences – it is, rather, a way to make our soul take form through concretes. It is a Selective recreation of reality, according to the artist’s deepest values (to paraphrase Ayn Rand’s definition).

Her drawing has such innocent joy in putting down what was most important and appealing to her and that is what I strive to use as my motivation, especially once I finish my art education and work on projects whose subject is my choice. When inspiration is one’s motivation, combined with automatized skills – one is equipped to make great art.

People think that working from inspiration is easy and given, but I think it is rather rare. There are so many “traps” along the way: Paint to please people, paint to sell, paint to have a “name”, paint to surpass other artists in skill, paint to be considered “sophisticated” or be considered “a great artist” and so on. To paint from inspiration, to fall in love with what you paint and have that be your guide – actually takes a very selfish and individualistic approach.

To fight through all the difficulties, through seeming failure – to fall behind when some others do well instantly it seems – it takes strong and genuine motivation to disregard all of these and to devote one’s efforts to getting better – not for the sake of proving oneself, but for that passion that drives the making of great art (and is experienced by those who observe it).
If I live long enough and if depression, self-doubt or other difficulties won’t get me, I believe I will become successful. Not because I have some god given ability – I don’t – I actually started from scratch – but because I love what I want to make enough to focus on that and fight for it.
Lastly I want to share a painting I started over the summer of 2011. This was an uninstructed session and the model (who is also an artist) chose the pose – however, it might as well been me choosing the pose – I loved it so much when I saw it I could not believe that that was what I was going to paint. But indeed I did.

When I was done with the figure, I put an abstract background. Later I decided to make an actual background that would match the mood and narrative the pose as I saw it. Right now, the painting is at an awkward stage of having rough lines and colors indicating the objects to be painted without actually having them painted, so I will be sharing a previous version of this painting that no longer exists. For those of you interested, keep an eye out – by the end of this summer I’ll finish the background.

(Click to enlarge)


My weekly post #2

For the past 4 weeks I’ve been working on a painting at my school (Georgetown Atelier). Monday will be the day I finish the figure – the background would take longer. I marked white lines to draw objects and figures I wish to add later and now it’s a matter of finding a source to work from for them. Here is a picture of the upper portion of it:


Ego stroking corner: I think I did a good job using the 4 colors on my palette to the max. Earlier this year I experienced a breakthrough in how I mix colors when I freed myself up to grab any number of colors to be mixed and let my subconscious direct which paint I reach for. From initially thinking that lighting things should primarily be done with white and darkening with black, I realized that it can also be lightened with yellow, red, a mix of yellow and red and anything else so long that it is lighter.
Struggles: Getting those edges to be softer, paint placement and handling, aiming for the broad first and the details later.


On a more general and philosophical topic: I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about the process of becoming an artist and what is required to become a good artist.

A lot of people think that talent is a given, but I think the answer is different.
‘Talent’ is a result of automatization of things related to whatever it is one does, and motivation to learn and automatize those things is the key to talent.

What it takes to draw the human form well is to really know it and love it – to have an abstract version and understanding of it in one’s head. It requires spending years just observing and taking mental notes of how certain things look and how they are arranged in space, years of studying anatomy – and the only way one would do such a thing during activities such as watching TV, reading a magazine, talking to someone, taking a shower or watching an Olympic competition is if one is truly passionate about it to the point of always having it in the back of one’s head.

A student can demand of themselves to do exercises out of a book (as I should), but the amount of time one ends up spending and the quality of learning will differ greatly depending on how enjoyable the learning process really is.

Another factor that goes into the learning quality is one’s psycho-epistemology – one’s habitual way of thinking and looking at things.
When I just started out, from my childhood until my late teens, I would not spend time actively studying the form from life. I thought that getting my own abstract idea is good enough.
A lot of times young people exhibit tremendous ability to draw the figure that seems to come from nowhere. Where it actually comes from is from their habitual way of closely observing things in reality over a long period of time.
It is when I changed my approach to that that I started improving my drawing and familiarity with the figure and I expect this process to continue for the rest of my life.

For me, The human form is the only thing in my life I don’t find boring to memorize. (That said, I still need to do a lot more studying).
I’ve been spending my weekends lately sculpting small plasteline clay figures. It is so enjoyable; it is my chance to make ART without the hassle of worrying about my technique, and that is just as important if not more for an artist: Keeping the voice of your subconscious flowing and singing is vital for making art.

Here are a couple of pictures of the sculptures I’ve been making:


The one on the left shows the sketch and the sculpture that was built based on it. I am still working on it  from my head (it now has an arm and two legs).
The one on the right is based on a 3D model of whom I had surround pictures.


More thoughts, this time on what I don’t know. I DON’T know what style I will eventually choose for my art. There are several styles that I find appealing and I realized I don’t actually know which one I want to have.
One style I like is one that renders smoothly and clearly the areas of focus while leaving the areas that are boring for the artist and none essential to the concept of the piece rendered loosely. How loosely – I don’t know yet. I think in some cases – very loosely and in others only slightly blurred out/visually simplified.
I also like, in some cases, some looseness in rendering the areas of focus and in some cases I like how the whole scene is tightly rendered. For now I put shopping for style on hold in order to focus on learning the maximum that I can in rendering things tightly.

Lastly, to conclude a very long monologue, I’d like to share a painting I did a couple of months ago that is a favorite of mine.






Subconscious “stewing”/ problem solving

Kate Bush to the rescue of my summer painting, finally solving the problem I had with what background would be right for the figure.

The figure is a naked woman, arching her body back while standing straight, her hands on her waist and her torso pushing forward. It is the kind of moment a dancer would have of total surrender to the music and the emotion it induces. Here is a thumbnail of it to illustrate the stage it is in right now.

I was extremely unhappy with the background. Too abstract, too dull, too bright, too empty. I could not figure out what background would be right for the figure. So, I opened the subconscious oven, added a few ingredients and let them stew (or bake, if you want to be picky) for a while until yesterday the oven ringer rung and let me know that an answer is ready. “You wanted it dark, not so well defined and fit the action and the mood of your figure? Well there you have it. Paint her in a dancing studio, with wide windows covered with curtains.”

The idea I had matches this video clip by Kate Bush perfectly.