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   Only by fostering a facility with the vocabulary of your artistic medium of choice, can you begin to really free yourself to be open to being creative with it.

   The size of that vocabulary is another matter, and that’s about growth, improvement and development. These are important as well, and intricately linked to creativity, in parallel (more on that in a future article). But first let’s talk simply about the genesis aspect of art.

   Remember when you were in high school, doodling in the margins of your notebooks? Ballpoint pen and edges of blue-lined notebooks, with half an ear listening to the lesson of the day? There was a familiarity in that setting, and ease that you moved through when you sketched these throwaway doodles. Every once in a while you’d accidentally make one that you’d really like, and you’d save that scrap of paper with notes on American History melding into the lines of a drawing of your D&D character.

   This was a setting where you were listening to the impulses of your right brain, and drawing simply for the pleasure of making marks on the page and seeing where that took you. There was no self-criticism, no editing. If it wasn’t a good piece, it didn’t matter. There were more pages to fill. More margins to doodle on.

   These past two weeks I’ve been studying in a flamenco workshop on rhythmic improvisation. “Creativity is moving towards something,” Holly Shaw says, and I realized this is a mantra that is not only for dancers and choreographers, but applicable (and key!) to other artistic disciplines. It’s how I view my own creative process, especially within the past year.

   You can’t pull yourself into a creative space when you are constantly negating what your impulse puts on the table. As artists, we often talk of Inspiration. We name our inspiration: our Muse. And as wonderful, romantic, and exhilarating as it can be when we click and know definitively that the Muse is moving through our bodies, energizing our arms and down through our fingertips; it is equally as devastating when she is definitively NOT present. Or when we can’t hear her quiet whisper over the roar of our frustrations, doubts and self-edits.

   To name her and give her such overwhelming power over our ability to create, puts an incredible pressure onto creativity. It sets the process of art-making into a binary all-or-nothing scale to judge success. And too often this mentality results in the creative gears shuddering to a screeching halt, as we’re too afraid to lift a pencil and mar the white page with an uninspired scrawl. Or at least, what we perceive will be uninspired because the expectations are too high.

   Don’t get me wrong — when the Muse makes her presence known with an aria, flashing lights and firecrackers, it’s the most amazing thing to experience! But that’s not always the creative space we inhabit. Sometimes she sits down next to you and quietly sips her tea and offers a few pointers here and there. And you have to open yourself to be able to appreciate and catch those moments and not be to crippled to notice her by your own lofty expectations.

   Analogies aside, what do I mean in practical application?

   We all have our varying levels of ability with our chosen art form and medium. This is our vocabulary.

   As a flamenco dancer, my vocabulary consists of the ways I move my arms, my marking steps, my rhythms and counter-rhythms with my shoes, my palmas (clapping) — these and more are the language I use to paint a choreography.

   As a visual artist, my vocabulary consists of sketching with pencil, my ability to draw from life and to see where shadows and light meet, drawing figures, drawing poses I am familiar with, drawing from reference, color values, complimentary color schemes, thumbnail compositions, understanding how wet media moves on paper and what happens when I tilt my page or drop texturing mediums into paint.  

   Expanding your vocabulary is crucial to develop as an artist. We never stop learning. We never stop looking for the next step to take.

   But when you create, whatever your vocabulary range is at that moment, THAT is the sphere that you are free to move in, and to explore with comfort. Within this zone is where you are most likely to come across your Muse. From there, she might lead you onto an expedition outside of your range. If she does, follow her. Don’t stop yourself with doubts and hate: “Oh, that arm looks so wrong. That color looks strange next to Blue. I spilled some water on the page and now everything is bleeding into a mess.” These lead to dead-ends. Instead, explore where those mistakes can lead you. Sometimes they can become the best part of a painting.

   And if not, there’s always the next piece. Being an artist isn’t about creating something and then just sitting on your laurels forever. It’s about the constant process of creation. One thing only leads to the next. It’s about the joy and love-hate-relationship we have with creating. In a way, a painting is simply a visual record of a struggle and a dance that we had at that moment of its conception. Each stroke of the brush and line of the pen is a footprint along an unending journey.

   So doodle for the joy of it. Sketch. Participate in drawing challenges, or in your local urban sketching groups. Go to a life-drawing class. Even within the constraints of professional expectations, create your thumbnails and sketches for your art-director, but don’t hate your discarded efforts after the art-director has selected one; save them and maybe one of them speaks to you on a personal level that was not right for the project, but is right for you. Make time to do personal pieces. Never start painting until you know what it is about this piece in front of you that really excites you, that element that gives you a reason to paint, even if it’s just the curl of a tree branch, the expression on a face, or if the only thing you see in it is an opportunity to expand your artistic vocabulary.
Now, go away and draw. My Muse is complaining that her tea is growing cold.

About inspiration, dance, art, and the creative process.

More ramblings like this at my blog: shadowscapes.com/wordpress/?p=…
And at facebook: www.facebook.com/Shadowscapes
Add a Comment:
 
:iconelisamelis:
ElisaMelis Featured By Owner Oct 26, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks, I think I needed to read something like this, you made me go mentally back in time when I drew just for the heck of it, and it's absurd how, over the years, I began to self-limit myself with doubts and fears, worrying about everything, and yet I realize that these same things "choke" my creativity, t I will try to follow your advice, thank you for sharing your experience. Your art is simply beautiful and you are really inspiring, keep it up! :heart::aww:
Reply
:iconpuimun:
puimun Featured By Owner Mar 2, 2015  Professional Traditional Artist
Thank you for reading, and I do hope it helps!
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:iconirmanamers:
Irmanamers Featured By Owner Edited Aug 20, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
OK, that explains why I write and don't draw. I wrote stories instead of doodling in the exercixe books. :) The teacher caught me once but couldn't decipher my handwriting, so I told he I was taking notes. :P

Rihgt now, my muse is on holiday in the Highlands (don't pick a Scot for the job ;) ) and it's back to the good ol' Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard-thing.

And I have no idea why I wrote that in German at first. Looks like my brain is on vacation, too. :O
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:iconsavvycoon:
savvycoon Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
I've just come across your work purely by chance, but I have to say I love pretty much all of it. This journal really inspired me. You are quite the literary genius as well as an artistic genius. Thank you for sharing this wonderful insight... :)
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:iconpuimun:
puimun Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
Thank you, and I'm so glad you've enjoyed the art and writing!
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:iconsavvycoon:
savvycoon Featured By Owner Jul 26, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
You're very welcome! Keep up the wonderful work! :heart: :hug:
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:iconshen-panda:
Shen-Panda Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2014  Hobbyist Artist
That was very enjoyably to read. I find your intellect, astuteness and use of the English language in this piece very stimulating! My mind craves some more! :D
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:iconpuimun:
puimun Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
thank you!
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:iconvalkyriechan:
valkyriechan Featured By Owner Jun 5, 2014   General Artist
everything about you hurts me. why is that? you're so smart. you tell me.
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:iconvalkyriechan:
valkyriechan Featured By Owner Jun 5, 2014   General Artist
is it because i "forgot" something? like some interconnectivity that's supposed to remind me that as humanity we are one, and there's really no difference between you or i? but there is. you are all the way up there on the path. you have things on your plate that i want, yet i'm served what i don't want and somebody else wants. it's the want that hurts me. therefore, i hope you never wanted any of this. then i can reserve faith. but i can't. you'll tell me how hard you worked to get what you want, and that i should do that too. but it doesn't work that way. not in my world. complete poles apart. i never get what i want. and i want you to respond. you will not. you already decided that... because the best thing to do for people like me is make them SIT. and STAY.
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:iconriemea:
Riemea Featured By Owner May 29, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Very wise and inspiring words. Thanks for writing this! :love:
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:iconpuimun:
puimun Featured By Owner May 29, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
thank you!
Reply
:iconmegamiaki364:
megamiaki364 Featured By Owner May 19, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Lovely! I often feel uninspired sitting next to a pile of rings or beads, lost with a pen in hand. I need to learn the skill of not doubting. Thank you, I needed to hear this.
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:icontheartofsilentshout:
TheArtOfSilentShout Featured By Owner May 15, 2014   Traditional Artist
Lovely ^^
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:iconcozmicdreamer:
CozmicDreamer Featured By Owner May 15, 2014
I always love your message!
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:iconkreepingspawn:
KreepingSpawn Featured By Owner May 15, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
I thank you for your wisdom and encouragement.  ;)
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:icontyless:
Tyless Featured By Owner May 14, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
An excellent piece.
Reply
:iconterraquaeris:
TerrAquAeris Featured By Owner May 14, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
This is awesome!!! Extremely wise words. The first sentence caught my attention since I just finished writing a university philosophy paper about the difficulty of grasping higher truths, and how sometimes these truths can be just outside of your peripheral vision or scope. As a writer and artist I feel that it's the same thing with creativity. There are some things that just shouldn't be forced. It is great to see something that I was unable to put into words at the moment actually written out almost as if my own creative energies were reaching out. You have truly written an inspiring journal entry that will touch the souls of many artists...great job! :)
Reply
:iconpuimun:
puimun Featured By Owner May 14, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
Thank you!  I definitely felt the boundaries of the various artforms melding together in this.  Even the impetus and inspiration to write it in the first place was from dance.
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:iconastalakio:
Astalakio Featured By Owner May 14, 2014   Digital Artist
Extremely wise words, well spoken!
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:icongi11:
Gi11 Featured By Owner May 14, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
You made me notice something I just knew. I'm always trying to reach perfection of whay lies in my mind. If it's not like my mind, I hate it.
But it's a really good point trying to "love-hate" what you do, because it could become a very strong detail to the art we do.
I'm always trying to control everything in my art, so I will try not to control it at all.
Thank you for the "tip".
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:iconpuimun:
puimun Featured By Owner May 14, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
thank you
Reply
:iconpippaofshadows:
PippaOfShadows Featured By Owner May 14, 2014  Student Artist
I need and want this on a poster, so I can read it everyday xD 
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:iconpuimun:
puimun Featured By Owner May 14, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
I'll keep that idea in mind!
Reply
:iconpippaofshadows:
PippaOfShadows Featured By Owner May 14, 2014  Student Artist
It would be the best motivational poster ever! :D 
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:iconanastasia2123:
anastasia2123 Featured By Owner May 14, 2014  Professional General Artist
Thank you so much for these words, this is a positive boost I really needed right now! :)
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:iconpuimun:
puimun Featured By Owner May 14, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
you're welcome
Reply
:iconthelosttargaryen:
TheLostTargaryen Featured By Owner May 13, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
Thank you so much for these words! It can be so difficult at times to feel the urge to create, particularly when you haven't had any 'successes' for a long time, or if there's a lot of other stuff going on in your life...it's great to get a reminder sometimes about the true nature of creativity, something that doesn't just pop up out of the blue. So thank you! :clap:
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:iconpuimun:
puimun Featured By Owner May 13, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
You're welcome!
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:iconobsidianshepherd:
ObsidianShepherd Featured By Owner May 13, 2014   Writer
I needed this!
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:iconpuimun:
puimun Featured By Owner May 13, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
:)
Reply
:iconfoggylights:
Foggylights Featured By Owner May 13, 2014  Student General Artist
I think this was a really nice piece.  I never really understood people who had a muse and felt that they could only do work when their muse compels them to.  To me, I value creating too much and I think that to really hear from the muse is to keep meeting with her.  That means to keep taping into your creative juices anytime anywhere, no excuses whatsoever.  No claiming art block or any other sort of excuse for your lack of productivity.  Thank you so much for this, it was very eloquent.  
Reply
:iconpuimun:
puimun Featured By Owner May 13, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
Thank you!  I'm glad you enjoyed it. And yes, you're right -- excuses are just that, and they get in the way!
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:iconegreonna:
Egreonna Featured By Owner May 13, 2014  Student General Artist
The way you write about the artistic process is so understanding and so liberating - better than any other books I've looked to on the subject. This and "Abandoning Preciousness" really resonate with my experiences painting recently. Thank you for writing this. Maybe I'll go make some tea for my muse, and then we can chat about what it is I truly want to paint.

Anyway, this is beautifully said. Thanks again for taking the time to share this and continuing to be inspirational.
Reply
:iconpuimun:
puimun Featured By Owner May 13, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
Thanks!  I'm so glad to hear this resonated with you. :)
Reply
:iconpearwood:
pearwood Featured By Owner May 13, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks, Steph.  Photography is a lot like that.  It is woefully easy for me to hate every shot on a roll because nothing jumps out and grabs me, or because I was too tired to relax when I studied the scene.  Sometimes the muse and I need to sit and think about it.  But mostly I need to get out with the camera.  If she tags along, that's great; if she does not, I still need to be out there.
Reply
:iconpuimun:
puimun Featured By Owner May 13, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
Yeah, I think we just have to open ourselves to give inspiration a chance to jump in. If we never provide the opportunities, it won't happen!
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:iconpearwood:
pearwood Featured By Owner May 13, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
Amen.
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:iconotter-faerie:
otter-faerie Featured By Owner May 13, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Just what I needed to read when I needed that boost to go do it!
Excellent writing, and something I'll try to take to heart.
Reply
:iconpuimun:
puimun Featured By Owner May 13, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
Thank you!
Reply
:iconephygenia:
EpHyGeNiA Featured By Owner May 13, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
*___*
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