Through the spring, I went into a bit of a creative slump. The Big Project™ I was working on left just enough brain space for my imagination to fly off into creative mode while I worked, but drained so much brain energy that I was a blob of walking goo steered by a cymbal monkey by the ends of my workdays.
This is the paradox of the ADHD brain: It will burn itself out before it wears itself out (if that makes any sense?), leaving imagination, will, and body completely and frustratingly disconnected from each other and unwilling to co-operate, no matter how many healthy coping mechanisms one employs, one of my biggies being indulging in the making of pretty pictures on paper or canvas or whatever. Having a creative outlet is so key to my mental health and all I wanted to do at the end of each day was all of the things, but all I could bring myself to do was maybe make a simple meal, watch some fluffy TV, and go to bed. Rinse and repeat.
What. A. Bore.
I came across something on the internet somewhere that reminded me of an old technique I used to use to blow off some creative steam while letting go of all notions of what the end goal will look like beyond being a slightly bonkers and wildly colourful representation of where my brain is at.
I start by selecting a canvas. Sometimes this is a feat in itself – am I feeling square or rectangle? Biggish or smallish? Black or white? I try no to get too hung up on it, though. Sometimes I’ll text a friend “which sounds better: 8×8 or 18×24?” and then I’ll go with whichever they select and get to work, ignoring my phone forever because it’s fun to leave friends with texts that lack context because I’m a bit sadistic like that. Other times, I just go with whatever canvas is already gessoed and ready to go.
Then I pick two colours. They typically contrast/clash. You’ll probably be able to determine what my favourite colour combos are once you see some finished pieces. My daughter says I’m very predictable.
Then I create a big, squiggly outline on the canvas in pencil and fill it in with random shapes.
Then I use one of my two chosen colours to fill in all that lies beyond the outline and start filling in some of the shapes within the outline with the other.
Then I create the magical colour love child of those two colours and use it to fill in more of the big, inside shapes.
I’m not going to lie. That is one fugly colour love child. I don’t even know what to call that colour. It’s somewhere between puce and boiled hot dogs. Maybe it’s boiled puce?
Sometimes, these colour experiments work out really well and introduce an earthiness that can really ground the piece. Sometimes, they come out as boiled puce.
I tried to work with it for a while, but ultimately decided to paint over it with a sort of olive green when I realized that boiled puce and a purple I really, really, really wanted to use (because it’s NEW and SHINY) were going to have arguments.
A lot of the fun of painting this way is making these decisions about creating this weird, wonderful little world on the canvas. Everything gets the anthropomorphic treatment so, sure, I end up talking myself through a lot, but I’m not reeeeeeally talking to myself because I’m talking to the shapes and colours who live in this world…or are tossed off the island, like boiled puce.
Anyways, after adding big chunks of The Chosen Colours + Love Child Colour (unless it’s boiled puce), I introduce big chunks of a somewhat neutral colour that will help all of the other colours pop. I consider “neutral” in loosey-goosey ways when it comes to this – yellow, white, and even black are standards in serving this function, but if, for example, the first two colour choices were yellow and sky blue (they’d probably make a pretty green love child colour that isn’t boiled puce), one might consider navy or orange a neutralizer. My preference is almost always for yellow.
Then I fill the rest in with a couple of other colours. I used an orange and a green for this guy.
Next is the really fun part when I get to start populating your little world with all manner of shapes and colours and editing out more of those things that don’t work, like boiled puce.
As I’m adding the squigglies and the loopies and the leafies and the droppies, I like to rotate the canvas a bunch so I’m giving attention to the whole of it so it balances out. I’m not really thinking about balance and flow at this point. I’m thinking more about who is allowed to encroach on which turf.
You can see in the image above that I edited out almost the entire south-east quadrant of the canvas back to the turquoisey-blue from my original colour choices. Why? Because it was looking too symmetrical and I was having a hard time coming up with squigglies and loopies and leafies and droppies that fit well with what was going. So, out came the gesso and a coat of that turquoisey-blue. You can also see that this is a rather worn canvas. I’m sure I started and gessoed over three other paintings on this canvas before I began this one. I think I see some cat hairs in there, too. This does not bother me one iota. For other works, it might, but I think the added texture funks this one up a bit.
When I do think about balance and flow, it’s when I’m adding those final elements, like the lacy flowers and the floating blue dots and the radials and that coral-esque stuff until I decide that it’s done.
Me and symmetry are not good friends, so my idea of balance and flow is informed by my desire to create something that makes the viewers’ eyes dance across the canvas before resting on something and deciding, or not, what that something might be and then letting their eyes dance again. I like my shapes and colours to be somewhat at odds with each other, but not so at odds that they become focal points.
Mostly, this process is a fun exercise in limitations versus letting my imagination run wild. I learn a lot, like how much I enjoy that philodendron leaf shape and the spring green with the royal blue and the wandering leaves – all of which I’ve taken into other, less busy pieces – and how much I dislike boiled puce and, even if they don’t turn out perfectly, I’m always happy to have done them because my brain feels a lot more settled with my body.
A friend recently said “Your work is very dynamic, but also restful. As though you’ve solved an equation with colours, and it all balances and makes sense.”, which made me very happy because that’s quite a lot how it works on my end, too.
And before you get too sad about me kicking boiled puce out of the painting, here is a better representation of that fugly colour: