Mixed Media Fine Arts

You Got to Get Up to Get Down - The 5 Stages of Studio Genius

When a great idea quickens, that spark is as unique to an individual as their thumbprint. The creative process involved in bringing a moment of genius to fruition is also deeply personal and influences the artist’s work like the sway of their genetic code. While process varies with each undertaking, there are some constants. This blog post explores the five* stages of studio process. The stages are interconnected and interdependent. Every action influences the interplay that cultivates our creative process. [*For whatever reason, the 5’s are very popular when it comes to categorizing phenomena. We have five basic senses (sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing); there are five fundamental virtues (wisdom, love, truth, goodness and justice); and, moreover, you can Google five stages of just about anything. So, five it is.] Stage 1 - Inspiration The first stage, inspiration, is just the best. In the ecstatic moment of true inspiration, when an idea (or solution) comes into awareness, it is can be so profound and startling that it brings a visceral jolt. It’s a flash of lightning. It’s the cherry on top. It’s magic. And, in the dreamy rush of illumination, the new idea appears perfect. Anything is possible! Stage 1 is a thrill. It can’t be forced or faked. Inspiration comes in it’s own time. There is only one key to remember about Stage 1 - and it is vital: Always! Always! Write that shit down! If you are driving, pull over. If you are in the shower, get out. Find a writing implement - a computer, a pencil, a crayon…if you have to open a vein and scratch the idea out in blood. How many brilliant insights have returned to the ethers because the thinker is indisposed and believes that the idea is of such genius that it simply could never be forgotten? But we do forget. We get busy. Other ideas intrude. We sober up. Write it down or sketch it out or otherwise record the inspiration, with as many details as you can summon. Stage 2 –Incubation Once the idea has been recorded it may sit on the shelf for a long time, fomenting; but don’t be deceived, Stage Two is not passive. If you actually write an idea down in a notebook and never look at it again, chances are slim that it will lead to a tangible piece of art. Incubation is an active process. Ask any woman who has been pregnant. Gestation is hard work. Stage 2 is a time for research and planning, in whatever way works for you. Give your inspiration some air. Settle your mind. Focus on the ideal and begin to narrow options, define details and identify first steps for implementation. A blank canvas can be intimidating. The main thrust here is to get some structure around your nascent creation without crowding creativity. If you can identify a routine - find a steady way for approaching new idea - it takes some the ’getting started’ pressure away. Use sketches, make lists, create files - explore all aspects of the potential - textures, colors, themes and composition. My personal way of handling this is to collect relevant images. Often these are just elements that I find interesting. The images my only be vaguely related to the idea and I can’t say exactly why they strike me. When I’m feeling particularly immersive in the idea, I’ll hit slideshow and let all the images idly drift across the screen while I’m doing other work in my studio. For me, that gets to a space that needs tending but can’t always be approached head on. In the incubation stage you are stoking the flames of the initial spark. Relax into it. Go to museums and exhibits. Invest in your artistic community. Go for a run. In other words, keep working, but don’t push too hard. Get out of your head and find the oxygen that will keep your inspiration burning. Stage 3 – Implementation Implementation means putting pen to paper - torch to steel… whatever. Eventually, you have to get started. Creative genius without hard work is just an endless daydream. Studio work is a discipline. You have to put in the time. Creating a new piece means getting down to it. To keep the stage of implementation from becoming overwhelming it really helps to break it down into manageable pieces. Keep your eyes on where you are going, but try to stay away from thinking too much about all the steps in between the beginning and the conclusion. Implementation can benefits a great deal from the incubation stage. Once you have made enough choices and exclusions it gets easier to set small goals and even smaller steps. Set a small first step and GO. It’s not the whole piece – if you hate it, you can start again. At night, often just before falling asleep, I think about the small things I hope to accomplish the next day. I’ll jot down these notes and the next day, regardless of mood, energy level or other circumstances, I repeat a mantra: Stick To The Plan. If I just get those few bits accomplished, even when they are very small things, I’m cool. Because, they build and eventually the piece will begin to materialize. Stage 4 –Doubt An unavoidable truth about manifesting a creative idea is that your mind conjures an idea of absolute perfection and the reality will never measure up. There will be asymmetries and flaws. It will look different than you imagined. This is Stage Four. Stage 4 is not the most fun. To the degree that you are your own worst critic is the degree to which this stage will suck. I have heard this stage referred to as Evaluation but to me it is always and forever the stage of Doubt. In every project there comes a point in the process that is vexing. The work becomes difficult or tedious or isn’t working out or you just get sick of the whole thing. Maybe something major goes wrong; or worse, every single thing goes wrong…for the hundreth time. At this point, I sometimes try to trick myself saying things like, “You know what? It’s done.” when it is clearly nowhere close to being finished. This stage is stressful because you are too far along to start over and to invested to abandon but completion is still too far away for you to see how it’s all going to come together. The best advice I can offer here is, let it be. You can step away from your project or keep moving steadily along; but either way, accept this as part of the process. It’s going to be all right. I once knew an artist who made the most beautiful pieces of ceramic art. They were absolutely gorgeous; but, they were not as she had imagined them. My friend could not get down with this stage and I watched her throw away piece after piece, smashing them into irretrievable dust - a loss for us all. If you need to, put your work in a box and hide it on a back shelf. Forget about it. Move on to a new project. When you come back to it fresh, the piece will appear entirely different. Stage 5 – Completion For some artists, knowing when a work is complete is straightforward; for most however, the stage of completion is a more complicated process. There can be uncertainty and multiple end-points. It can take years before a new work is ready to leave the studio. On this topic de Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” That certainly rings true. Our art will never become the perfect ideal that we envision and our vision is evolving continuously. We could rework and tweak each new piece, forever; but at some point we have to move on. There isn’t an absolute or objective point when a piece can be called finished. Knowing when to stop work is more intuitive than precise. This intuition must be nurtured. In Stage Five there is a danger of overworking a piece and ruining it. It’s easy to get a little crazy in this stage. The best we can do is to listen for and trust the voice inside that tells us when a piece is good enough and it is time to let go. In time, this voice will become a trusted counselor. One final word about stage 5, none of us is finished until we sign our art. Find a style and method of signing that is consistent with your medium. Signing your work is important. Putting our name to our work adds to the sense of closure. More importantly a signature identifies a work for all time.