It's a difficult question...
It feels a bit counter-intuitive to try to put into words why I paint, as painting for me is a visual form of expression which by its very nature does not have words or verbal language. What comes out on the canvas is often drawn from the unconscious ‘limbic’ part of the brain, responsible for raw emotions, in stark contrast to the frontal ‘thinking’ part of the brain which is all about logic, words and language!
I am aware however, that whilst this may explain what goes on during the process of my painting, it doesn’t necessarily answer why I choose to paint in the first place, why it is my passion and why I want to keep doing it day after day. That is still tricky to answer. I’ve been doing it so long it’s like second nature so I need to take a good step back to give it some serious thought.
Something fascinated me whilst pondering this. To get clearer on the answer, I did a mini-interview with myself…
Q Why do you paint?
A Because I want to.
Q Why do you want to?
A Because I love it
Q Why do you love it?
A Because it makes me feel good.
Q Why does it make you feel good?
You get the idea… all the ‘whys’ reminded me of an inquisitive young child, persistently asking ‘but why?’ until they get a satisfactory answer! As I started drawing and painting from a very young age, it makes sense that I might have to connect with my ‘inner child’ to find the true answers, so this line of questioning may be quite effective…
A Sense of Balance
So let me try to answer that final Q… Why does it make me feel good? Well of course ‘good’ is a positive word, but somewhat bland and vague. What I have become aware of over recent years, is that painting gives me a sense of balance, a sense of emotional equilibrium. I know this because when I don’t paint for a week or more, I am out of sorts, out of kilter, irritable, frustrated, bored, fidgety, moody, unsatisfied, etc. you name it, it is an all too familiar feeling that I now recognise (even if it takes a couple of days for the penny to drop ‘ooohh…that’s why I feel like that!!’). I’m really not sure how I managed during the sporadic art making years (post-fine art degree and prior to the last 10 years of serious art career). On second thoughts, those years were spent predominantly having and raising my children so essentially quite a productive and creative time. They certainly required plenty of creative energy anyway! There were also times when I had the most boring of jobs (out of necessity), which sucked the creative juices right out of me, so I’m happy and thankful to leave those behind.
A Steady Ship
I do feel very lucky to have something in my life that can give me emotional balance, it feels therapeutic… I’ve been even more aware of this during the last year or so - challenging times with Covid and difficult times personally within my family. My studio became my place of solace during these times, a steady ship that kept me from falling over the edge into complete overwhelm. Life can throw hard times at us and knowing how to find calm, how to restore equilibrium, how to essentially reduce the stress load, is truly invaluable.
There is more to it than that though…
I think the maintenance of emotional equilibrium is the foundation of what painting gives me, or why I paint. The rest is: the excitement, the playfulness, the curiosity, the energy, the amazing surprises!! Working intuitively and spontaneously means I am constantly intrigued and surprised by results! Sometimes the results are not great of course, but that’s just part of the process… I know if I keep going, eventually it will come together. And colour – I am mad about colour – I love experimenting all the time with different or unusual colour combinations, the ones you think won’t work often give that surprising zing!
The words exciting and surprise feature strongly here so that pretty much sums up why I keep going back for more. I never get bored, sometimes frustrated, yes, but never bored. I don’t know what’s around the corner, what the next canvas will become, it’s all awaiting in the process and I can’t wait to get stuck in and find out!
There was a dramatic shift in my motivation to paint when I made the switch from more figurative landscape to abstract painting, coinciding with a move from external reference to internal. I could say a lot more about this (another blog post?) but in essence I used to paint landscapes inspired by real places. My focus was always on the end result, which meant planning and decision making towards this end result. I came to realise that I wasn’t enjoying the process anymore. My paintings were predictable and lacking energy and life (in my opinion). I wasn’t excited about painting. I was going through the motions. Long story short, as I made the transition to process-focused, abstract and self-expressive work, my feelings about painting transformed from listless to invigorated, energised and driven!
I hope that gives you an idea of why I paint. It was a big question for my first ever blog post, so I dug my own hole with that one! I could probably go on with endless answers to this, but I’ve made a start for now, so I hope you enjoyed reading.