Feeling stuck is an important part of my creative process … (updated post)

I am often asked from where I get the ideas for my novels, poetry and visual art. Well, sometimes these works just manifest themselves — in no time at all; and at other times I can re-work a poem, a passage in a novel or a painting over and over again. I have been known to change one word in a poem back and forth over the space of several years — both being acceptable, but because I change with time, so must “the word”.

Likewise, I have been advised by authors and literary critics — more famous than I am — not to write about my creative ideas and processes, as that tends to put the readers and audience “on a guided leash”. Well … usually I let the audiences figure out what they need to experience in my works of art and literature, but every now and then I am mostly concerned with sharing my own process — the process of creativity, as an art form unto itself. So here goes it …

I paint with oils — usually “wet on wet”, which allows me to move more quickly on cognitive multi-levels than otherwise; and I often have several paintings going at the same time. But as with my writing (especially in regards to my predilection for writing in several different languages) I am always looking for new challenges, and new problems to solve creatively. Not everything I create deserves an art exhibition or publication — some pieces are “working pieces”, meant for my own learning. Others are “artist/author pieces” — which are usually meant to appeal mostly to other artists and authors (to begin with) … but which eventually gain in popularity amongst non-artists and non-authors with time. Artists and authors are often “before their time” … or rather, before the time of their seemingly “static environments”.

However, there are times where I do “get stuck”; i.e. find myself in temporary situations where I have painted or written myself into a corner, and must drastically “fuck things up” in order to regain the loose-abstract sentiment underneath which drives me artistically.

With poetry, when I feel stuck, I rip the poem apart and pick out the lines that work well, then section them off into individual new poems or new stanzas while re-developing the language and scenarios around those lines. The result is often either a new poem with more powerful focus and execution, several new poems or an epic poem with heat and rhythm not so evident before. With painting, it often involves painting over sections that work all too well but disrupt the overall possibilities by their concreteness, or “graffiti-ing them” in order to open up my mind and painterly instincts to something new or different than what I had previously fallen captive to.

Tonight — suddenly — I find myself in that situation; and I have thought to document and share it with my readers. Here are two paintings I am currently working on. Both are challenging for me technically, and both are going in other directions (less abstract) than originally intended. I am at an impasse. It does not help that the portrait is a self-portrait, and thus reflects both how I see myself, how others see me, and my own vanity (how I wish to be seen/perceived). Circles, bubbles, the colour green, anatomical perspective, simplistic background balance etc. — jeez! The battle is on …

I started these two paintings with loose sketches:


… and have proceeded to the painting stages, starting with the first background layers (which have changed along with the rest of the painting already thus far):


The self-portrait was originally intended to be a psychedelic multi-coloured one, but already while working with the shadow and light foundations I began to understand that the painting (and my painting guides) had decided upon another style and technique. The same has happened with the black background in the other painting: it is begging for graffiti-swirls or energy motives … a technique I have used before, but a discussion will have to take place … with me, myself, I … and those others that argue with me artistically (but who never get their names signed on a work of literature or art).

LOL! I did have a period where I refused to sign my paintings because I did not paint them “alone”. But — my customers complained and demanded my signature. I acquiesced but still often sign on the back of the canvas frame in order to maintain the integrity of the image on the front of the canvas (which sometimes does not work well with a disruptive signature).

Often I find that the answers are close at hand — if not literally right under my nose, or inside of me. And also, more often than not they are about minor details. Such is the case with these two paintings. The self-portrait was elusive as it screamed out for “red tones”, which I had thought to use together with orange, light blue and violet in a psychedelic face. However much I tried to move in that direction, I was impeded … I eventually realised that the most important elements in the portrait are the lime-green aura and the vivid blue-and-white sailing jersey juxtaposed against the mystical emptiness of a smokey dark background. An overly-detailed or colourful face would only detract from that mystery. And so, my solution was a simplified semi-realistic sepia-toned head that depicts quiet, vacuity, openness, introspection, endless possibilities, and malleability … i.e. a countenance that is “naked and faceless” to all whose perceptions are clouded by their own projections. The decision was also affected by the choice of just half a head in the portrait. Too many facial colours would not have afforded enough contrasts for the painting to work sufficiently. I often find that writing and painting “simply” leaves the most to the imagination for the reader/viewer, and makes it easier for him/her to identify. Unfortunately, doing anything “simply” is quite challenging.

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Regarding the second painting, here the solution was also to understate rather than add more vividness. After a bit of experimentation with ivory black graffiti symbols onto the payne’s grey background, I opted to re-do the background in a flat ivory black with swirling brush strokes around the spheres and intensification of the bubble-effect. In this way I was able to make the spheres “pop out” more, while preserving the mysterious quality of the darkness and nothingness in the centre section of the painting.


FREDDIE MERCURY certainly knew much about creative processes, and how they intersect with real life. He — like I — lived with AIDS. This song says it all about love in all its forms, including love of the artistic process:


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