I love it when I find gifts (like this juvenile eagle feather) lying on the side of the road at 7:30 am. They feel like I am being offered a moment of hope (I call them gold coins), especially when I am struggling to work or going through a period where lemons stay lemons and I can't seem to find the way to transform them into lemonade. Flat lining creatively is not uncommon; it often happens for me after a period of productivity, but more often than not it happens when I am struggling in my personal life. That struggle may become the source of my next bout of creative juiciness but more often my head is just a very messy place and all those colourful dreams that teach me in the night how to address the painting problems of the day slip away upon waking and I am left in a funk.
I have a few tricks I have learned to use and one of them is to reach for an old canvas that hasn't quite worked and if I can find a way through that old puzzle it's like a reset button that helps me revision what I originally planned. I like working on large pieces and this example is 3' by 5' and is still very much in process. It has sat for a long while now and though it is far from done I am approaching it with fresh interest again. Some of my canvases have several paintings on them because the other answer to an old stale puzzle is another coat of gesso. The pentimento leaches through and interesting textures are created as a result of layers and layers of under painting.
This painting started off as a grove of trees and later turned into a landscape. After years of looking at it and asking myself why it annoyed me one day I turned it on its side, covered it with black paint and this version fell out. Hours later I looked up, realized my bladder was screaming, my back was aching and I had lost time. When that happens I empty my bladder and do a happy dance. I rarely need to do more than touch up the painting after my initial session and when these canvases happen they usually walk out the door shortly after. This canvas currently lives in Nelson. So what happens when the canvas transformation magic doesn't happen? Option B is to do process oriented, methodical (and sometimes mind numbing) repetitive work like hand made paper making or layers and layers of built up painted papers glued together to create components for my mixed media work. Pounding metal or shaping clay objects helps too and then when I am back on track they can become something cohesive.
I also comb through the internet looking at what others are doing. A great source is our local library to find books about techniques. But sometimes the only answer is to sit on my back porch or the beach and wait. For me that is when the gifts appear. Today it was the eagle feather but often it is found by listening to the life around me, which at this time of the year is full of noise. I hear the chickens letting the entire neighbourhood know that they have successfully laid an egg, I hear the sapsuckers teaching their young to find bugs in our birch tree or I hear the baby ravens talking to themselves making sweet burbling noises that they will lose when they reach adulthood. Usually the babies are just screeching with very loud and very harsh voices but just before they are ousted from the family each one of them (three this year) does a soliloquy. It's a raven version of whispering and happens just before the parents send them away. I love those sounds. It is a gift for me and the raven parents, who know through years of experience, that soon their life will become much quieter: until next year. It always makes me smile. What it also does is remind me that I have more work to do.