Taking a visual and mental stroll through your creative achievements over the years can be incredibly satisfying and provide valuable perspective as you move forward. New ideas and revelations about the future of your art are right there—in your past—for the taking. Charting your creative evolution is a great idea, says Marion Corbin Mayer, founder and director of Creative Catalysts Studio in Cincinnati, Ohio. You can jot down common themes, note the pieces you really like and why, look for areas of improvement and identify risks youve taken.
A review of your portfolio will show you firsthand how your earlier works influenced later ones, even if it was a largely subconscious phenomenon. And theres much to be gleaned from successes and supposed failures. If you gave up portraits 10 years ago because you couldnt get the ears right, maybe your skills have caught up with you and now its time to try again. Or you might come across a little sculpture youd forgotten about and realize theres unexplored potential there.
Even without an exhaustive cataloging of your past works, you probably have a pretty good sense of what scenes, objects or concepts command your attention again and again. But its still worth the effort to look more closely, piece by piece. There are certain objects I just love painting, admits Beallor. Like this little figurine of a running rabbit. It always makes me think of Alice in Wonderland: Im late! Im late! She now realizes that this fits in with a larger theme: time. I think a lot about how to convey motion and the passage of time. Mirrors, doors and windows are all big for me. Ill often include an open window as a symbol for the open mind to let ideas in and out. Doors lead to other ideas, too, while mirrors are a way of viewing time and looking at the self.
As you look through past works, Mayer suggests, Keep a journal. Think about what you like and dont like, commonalities and big shifts. Pay attention to the colors and materials youve used. Then get your thoughts together and speak them into a tape recorder or jot them in a notebook. The act of writing things down can lock in the ideas.
Thats one of the most rewarding aspects of your creative retrospective as well. Every mistake, every subtle change in style or approach, leads to greater character in your body of work as a whole. The more you appreciate and study these nuances, the richer your art will become.
Margaret Carter Baumgaertner, a former medical illustrator, has studied at Atelier Lack in Minneapolis and the Cape School in Provincetown, Massachusetts, as well as with artists Cedric Egeli, John Howard Sanden and Richard Whitney. Her work hangs in collections in the United States, Mexico and Europe, and has won awards from organizations such as the Portrait Society of America, for whom she has demonstrated her technique at their annual conference. Baumgaertner, of La Crosse, Wisconsin, also has produced an instructional video series and conducts frequent workshops. Find out more at www.Baumportraits.com.