Wednesday, February 27, 2019

An Idea is Born

As an artist, something I’m frequently asked is “where do your ideas come from?” Neil Gaiman, a writer I enjoy, says he tells people that you get ideas from daydreaming or bring bored, that you get ideas all the time and the only difference between artists and other people is that artists notice when they’re doing it. Now, I know from experience that if I don’t write these ideas or musings down, they’re gone, they’re ephemeral and forgettable. Also, it’s useful to know the progression in the development of an idea and if you keep a dated notebook, you’ve got those details.

I know that I get ideas from looking at lots of sites, mostly not polymer ones, since ideas from those are mostly derivative. Instead I browse Pinterest, Instagram, Colossal, Designboom, Remodelista, Iron Orchid Design, etc-- and then speculate “what if?” as in, “what if I made those shapes with translucent polymer clay and a metallic clay edging” when I see a layered evening gown on the runway in an article on Paris Fashion Week. During my work as an academic advisor at UC Berkeley, I learned some very valuable lessons about source material for ideas. Plagiarism is of great concern in academic circles and I could tell you a few interesting stories based on my experiences. But that's not my purpose here. I learned that, when doing research, go to the oldest, most original source material that you can find-- original documents, a skeleton that was dug up out of the earth, the actual writings of the person that you want to investigate-- you get the idea. Stay clear of interpretations by others. If you're doing a paper on George Washington, don't read a fictional bodice-ripper vaguely based on the Revolutionary War and then extrapolate about our first President's motivation for his battle strategies. Go to his journals for his actual thoughts while on campaign.

Similarly, as visual artists we should seek out original sources for our inspiration. With the mind-numbing array of social media sites available, we are constantly bombarded with the interpretations of others. Who among us has not spent hours on Pinterest? But did you realize that Pinterest is really just a collection of curated galleries? You are viewing images chosen by individuals out of all the available content out there. You are being herded, your ideas are being influenced by people whose values and experience you don't know anything about. You should wonder-- what's being left out? Why were these particular images chosen? Are they better or simply more “promoted”? One suggestion is that you create a short list of blogs to visit on a regular basis to see what artists that you choose are doing. Don't just pick the easy way and let someone else determine what you're seeing.

When I first started making jewelry, I participated in the monthly online jewelry challenge over at the Art Bead Scene Studio in which our pieces were intended to be based on historical 2-dimensional works of art, mostly paintings. This was a very stimulating exercise and I developed a nice body of work, which I had never done previously. But the exercise was still based on a particular artist’s interpretation of life, on their colors, their choice of subject matter, their philosophy. Not an original source, as it would be if I, myself, were drawing in the moment from nature or a person or a bowl of fruit.

In my classes I sometimes suggest that students find a greeting card or a scrap of material to help them with their color choices. When confronted with an array of paints, crayons and pots of color in class, sometimes overwhelm sets in and having these aids can help to define your palette. But these are not original sources and you need to eventually wean yourself from them. A color wheel is an original source but isn't something found in nature and is not stimulating to the imagination, at least not to mine. Pick some fresh flowers, buy a blooming potted plant, hang out at a zoo. Anyone who has a pet has probably spent hours looking at the subtle blend of colors that make up their hair coat-- it's endlessly fascinating.

So, whenever possible, go straight to the original source-- Nature. I live in a place that has four true seasons-- each one offers possibilities for color in wonderfully different ways. I embrace winter because the colors are so different from those of spring or summer—more subtle and therefore challenging. They shake up my color preferences and design ideas. Here are some wintry-colored pieces from years past. Thanks for reading!


"Storm" - Work on paper, acrylic medium, alcohol ink, acrylic


"Stone of Remembrance" - Polymer clay, acrylic, Pan Pastels, sterling silver


"Where the Rivers Flow North" - Polymer clay, acrylic, embossing powder


"Landscape" pendant - Polymer clay, acrylic, Pan Pastels


"Late Winter" earrings - Polymer clay, mokume gane technique, embossing powder


"Labyrinth" earrings - Polymer clay, acrylic 


"Aurora Borealis" pendant - Polymer clay, acrylic, Pan Pastels, embossing powder

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