One of the greatest challenges in the artist's life is that of maintaining one-pointed focus. At a time when multi-tasking is applauded and rewarded, going against the trend and understanding the great value of single-minded attention is, in itself, a difficult discipline. When we achieve this focused state, often described as being "in the zone", time flies by unnoticed and our work seems to flow almost effortlessly.
|Watercolor by John Hulsey, 24 x 42.|
The distractions of life and the pull from so many different directions (all seeming to be imperative) makes this perfect state difficult to achieve. But, we can train our minds to focus more readily on the work at hand and to exclude the distractions that keep us from being in the "zone".
We've written before about the importance of having a space devoted exclusively to art-making, whether a well laid out studio or a corner in the basement and the value of maintaining a time to paint that cannot be violated by other distractions. Once those basic considerations are met, the really hard work of focusing the mind begins.
After taking a deep breath, we begin the process by asking ourselves why the subject we have chosen excites us. What is the emotion it evokes in us? How can we bring that emotion to the art? If there is no strong feeling, there can be no strong communication either. This need not be complicated – the feeling might just be a love of certain color schemes or forms as they dance together.
After our preliminary studies and sketches are done, our next step is to paint the picture in "virtual space" – that of our imaginations. We sit quietly, close our eyes and try to visualize mixing colors and placing each stroke of color on the paper or canvas. This visualization before beginning the actual work helps us to understand the process and trains our brain in the work to come. Scientific research has shown that by imagining performing a task, we energize the exact same areas in the brain which are used when actually performing the task! Even though it may take weeks to paint an oil in the studio, we can "paint" the subject in our minds in only a few minutes.
Once we have visualized the painting, we find it is important, as we begin to put paint to canvas or paper, to allow the painting to direct us. The dance of painting is one between our guided control and our ability to respond to what the painting is showing us. Unexpected interactions of brush strokes and colors can be as important (or even more important) than our original concept and can contribute to making the painting more interesting and exciting than we may have visualized it.
There is nothing more exciting than being in the "zone" while painting. Any tips to help us find and stay there are valuable to keep in mind.
–John & Ann