Leslie's Note: Back when I started this blog, I promised you readers guest posts. I haven’t delivered until now. At least I can claim that when I did finally make it happen, I went big. The post below comes from Jon C. Lundell, an amazing artist (one of his works hangs prominently in my living room and never fails to elicit comments) and a man who honors me with his friendship. Learn more about Jon and his work on his Web site and read his other writing on his personal blog, which I highly recommend you follow.
I admire Leslie a great deal. I like her energy, her positive attitude, the way she maps things out and gets them done.
I long to be able to do things just like she does. Over the course of several decades, I have attempted to impose order on my creative process.
But it just doesn’t work.
Who Needs “Creative Process” in Childhood?
When I was young, I could spend what seemed like all eternity copying pictures of Spider-Man I found appealing on pieces of oak tag cut to particular sizes, coloring them in with flair markers, and doing the whole business just so.
I developed an early taste for doing things just so with very hard pencils (Venus 6H) and smooth pads of paper. I liked the lack of tooth on the paper because it did not influence my mark making in any way—something I still consider an unwanted intrusion.
I prefer soft pencils now (anything 2B) but still like my paper smooth, because I still don’t like anything influencing my marks but me.
Art Gets Easier, Right?
The trajectory of my creativity seemed pretty consistent over time, so I assumed that by a certain age, the momentum would carry me and I would crank out the masterpieces at breakneck speed, barely able to control the massive and joyful production.
Boy, was I wrong.
Art, for some reason, still resembles work: Hard at times, time consuming. But unlike some work I’ve encountered, I seem interested in doing it.
It Doesn’t Get Easier
Art at its best seems to take on a life of its own, and you are one day in service of the WORK, a living, breathing, honest thing with direction and purpose. Sometimes relentless, greedy, incessant and inconvenient, but full of resonance, voice, light, and the promise of something roughly resembling immortality.
I hear this in music, in books, and see it in museums—maybe not always when I should, but I know it’s there.
Vermeer is an example of this for me. Although we know factually little about my man Jan, I know something about his life, his time, his family and love from his work. And it seems to me I know the best part of it. I couldn’t quantify it in any appreciable way other than what is there on the panel or canvas. And because he did such a bang up job of it, I really don’t need to.
I came to a decision not long ago that I was only going to make work I wanted to make, recording the things I found beautiful. Life is too short, and I waste enough time.
Why I Create
Like many, I venture, I found myself compelled to engage in the creative act to express myself in ways I was unable to otherwise. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I just started doing it and was knee deep before I even noticed.
I think here of other artists I’ve met along the way that express similar feelings. One actress sticks in my mind. She said she was more herself on the stage than anywhere else. I find that to be true of the creative act. I also thought it would be a handy way to meet girls. Sadly, not so much.
Not every piece of art is a meaningful work of lurid introspection. Sometimes I draw just to keep busy, or as meditation, a way to keep my mind off things, and to keep in practice for those times when lurid introspection is appropriate.
I have not found the answers to life’s greater questions in my work, which I maybe expected. I’m disappointed by this. I envy the certainty of people with beliefs. I have never been able to manage it. I do find satisfying sometimes the premise that in life’s rich pageant, we may each contribute our verse (picture, page, blah blah biddy blah whatever).
It’s a lofty conceit, but one to which each of us is welcome.
And How I Live to Make Creating Possible
I’m acutely aware that I no longer have all eternity to get things done. I can find most intrusions on my free time, even those I enjoy and invite in, an annoyance. I feel I must keep as much of my free time as possible open for making things, and that this does not necessarily guarantee things get made, although I entertain unrealistic expectations of myself.
I work a paying job full-time-plus and live alone, so another time suck is every little thing that needs to be done, including, but not limited to, unexpected house repairs, dinner, dessert, cleaning, and laundry.
Could somebody else do some work around here?
And sleep. I have to do that sometime.
I give these things priority more often than not, and find myself resentful of it. This could be dumb of me.
I make the choice to work full time since I discovered, after an initial period of working under duress as a youth, I need to be relatively comfortable, calm, and secure in order to create.
For me that means a steady paycheck, roughly regular meals, and a home full of neat stuff, including big soft bed, books, guitars, gadgets, and heat. I have a tiny helicopter I can make fly around the studio in times of great need.
Ideas: Grasping at the Ethereal
For a long time I couldn’t keep track of good ideas, many of which seemed worthy and excellent.
By the time I got home from work, shopping, chores, and so forth, I was left with only the nagging recollection that I’d had a clever idea: What was it?
I read an annoying book about da Vinci about twelve years ago, which spent long pages saying this: It’s a smart idea to keep a sketch book.
This simple notion hadn’t occurred to me. Simple, easy and helpful notions rarely do. I now favor a 7” x 7” inch wire bound book. I have filled almost three, and have two in the wings.
The problem now: I have more ideas than I can ever hope to get to in this lifetime.
I am also willing to abandon ideas. Some ideas that appeared to be totally excellent when initially entertained are really dumb.
Learn to accept this.
For a long time I was easily bored and would frequently abandon works. This has changed over time and I have found themes that persist and engage me. One big help for me was reaching out and finding willing and cooperative models I was interested in drawing. This process, I will stress, includes reaching out and finding unwilling and reluctant models, which took the greater getting used to.
I am also willing to keep works hanging around until I can figure out how to resolve technical problems or design issues. Most figure themselves out over time. Patience I’m not so good at, but I’ve learned to tolerate it.
Art can’t always be rushed.
Leslie's Note: Stay tuned for part two of Jon’s post about his creative process, slated to go live here next week.