The art world suffered a great loss recently. Argentine painter/illustrator/writer/sculptor/cartoonist Carlos Nine (1944 – 2016) left behind a legacy of creativity and immeasurable beauty. He lived completely devoted to art and his creations are evidence of a life fully expressed. To see more of the artist’s work, go here.
“What do I mean to infer? Just this – that the art, the art of living, involves the act of creation. The working art is nothing. It’s only the tangible, visible evidence of a life. ” — Henri Miller
As artists, we’re always fighting that battle to create. Whether it’s getting ourselves off our butts to make something that matters, or finding the spirit to give that little bit extra for paid work that has lost its luster.
There’s dignity to doing the work, and doing it the best we can. We can call it professionalism or we can simply call it living fully, each and every moment. We have to keep feeding the mind and express what’s inside.
“The unfed mind devours itself.” — Gore Vidal
Duet. The great Glen Keane could easily just ‘hang up the skates’ so to speak – he’s achieved everything imaginable as an animator – having created numerous memorable characters, achieving all kinds of awards and accolades that will assure his legacy. But instead, he continues to explore, and continues to create, testing new mediums, sharing what he wants to say and expressing his craft, the way only he can.
It’s not always so easy to do — keeping in mind “process over product.” External pressures such as deadlines and quotas put intense strain on the faculties. Sometimes what weighs more heavily is our own internal pressures — our desires to improve and our wish to excel, our wish to not disappoint. We all suffer these challenges as creatives.
What helps is getting lost in the work. But that can’t happen without first getting started.
Here are some simple tips that can be helpful:
1. Have a regular ‘start-up’ routine. Top athletes and musicians all have that little “thing” that they do that gets them going before the performance. Visual artists should do the same. You may construct your art, but the doing of it, is still very much a performance. You need to enter a state of mind, body and spirit to create at the highest level. The famous psychologist William James noted that only by rendering daily life as “automatic and habitual,” are we able to “free our minds to advance to really interesting fields of action.”
Former Disney animator, Shamus Culhane wrote one of the very first books on how to become an animator. Animation From Script to Screen was first published in 1990. It stressed the importance of quick sketching as a warm up before animating, and thus helped numerous artists (the author included) to become better draftsman and more prepared for the rigors of classical animation. He was also one of the first classical artists to insist that new animators at the time learn computer animation which “would be” the future.
2. Have a well-prepared work station, or open space. Nothing is worse that having to clean and prep everything in order to work. Any inertia or laziness you have at the time will soon overwhelm you. This is part of being a professional. Inspirational urges don’t wait – you‘ve got to be ready for action.
“Once it starts to go, it requires no effort.” — David Foster Wallace
World renown architect Le Corbusier, seen here in his studio in 1961. An artist’s work space needs to be a place of comfort, inspiration and be conducive to creative activity . It should trigger the mind.
3. Focus on the work. Close the doors if you can, turn off distractions, and set aside a time slot free from appointments or meetings. (This is especially important for those who both create and lead teams.) Social media and checking your neighbors new addition to his figurine collection might be fun, but when you work, keep it a working atmosphere, one that remains conducive to creative production. It’s hard enough getting into the groove of things at the best of times, so don’t let others take you out of it once you’re there.
“There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write.” — Ernest Hemmingway
The great Ernest Hemmingway wrote early in the mornings to avoid distractions. He was a soldier, and carried the discipline of a soldier to this artistry.
4. Look at the big picture of what’s working and what’s not, but break things up and start with a manageable section or piece. Top professionals all work on one section/phase at a time. This is especially important on large or complex pieces. Do not feel small or overwhelmed. Every little accomplishment builds confidence, results and fortitude.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” — Lao Tzu
Studies of Four Jockeys. Impressionist master Edgar Degas did numerous studies before proceeding with any final painting. Creation is a journey, not a race. One thing at a time, is best.
5. Proceed regardless. Once you’ve decided to work, WORK. Trick yourself if you have to. Whether I was designing, animating or directing, I was never ever 100% sure of anything — I took action in spite of strain or fear. I made choices. Your art is defined by your choices. Know that you’ll be challenged as you go through the various of phases of work from preparation to finish. As they say, just do it.
“Painting completed my life.” — Frida Kahlo
The details of Frida Kahlo’s work station reveal her preparedness and dedication. Despite being crippled with pain and incapacitated from her over thirty-five operations, she was always ready to create. Art’s a lot of work. You’ve got to fight through resistance and overcome the unexpected. Creation and excellence is not for the weak-minded.
6. Practice and develop your skills. That’s all part of the process of being an artist. Again we come back to how performers in other competitive fields do it. It’s common knowledge that professional athletes should train like they compete. So whether you’re doing a life class, sketching or acting out a shot, don’t do it sloppily. Do it with focus. This doesn’t mean not having fun, but just know that our monkey minds are easily weakened by the sloppy repetition of bad habits. And if you get used to only giving 60%, that’s likely what you’ll get when the stakes are higher and the pressures mount. Our attitude matters.
American artist and social activist Keith Haring (1958-1990) seen here in one of his many famous exhibits. Prolific, daring, and personal, Haring’s remarkably simple yet beautiful work both profoundly altered the art scene and emotionally moving millions around the world. He produced as much art as he could before he succumbed to HIV-related illness.
“What is an artist? He’s a man who has antennae, who knows how to hook up to the currents which are in atmosphere, in the cosmos.” — Henry Miller
It’s a huge privilege to be a working artist. Yes, it’s not easy. Failure is a necessity and we often have to make compromises. In commercial fields such as illustration or animation — where deadlines, quota, and the need to appease our superiors or clients is paramount – it’s all part and parcel of working in a craft that requires the talents and efforts of many. That is more the reason to enjoy every bit of the action. It’s what fills the day. And so we shall embrace it all the best we can and not get too insanely focused on the end results. The outcomes are inevitably a natural by-product of our efforts. Being an artist is all about the process of being alive and expressing ourselves as fully as we can.
Icon and martial artist Bruce Lee was all about the process — using each and every creative moment as an opportunity for full-out, honest personal expression.
Here’s the great teacher-painter, Robert Henri, to remind us of the value of our efforts:
These results, however crude, become dear to the artist who made them because they are records of states of being that he has enjoyed and which he would regain. They are likewise interesting to others because they are to some extent readable and reveal the possibilities of greater existence… The object therefore is the state. We may be even be negligible of the byproduct, for it will be, inevitably, the likeness of its origin, however crude.”
Another insatiable piece from the collection of Carlos Nine’s many creations. There aren’t too many better than Carlos, a master who lived a life of constant creation. Rest in Peace.