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Filling the Well

Updated: Nov 1, 2022

Photo by Amritanshu Sikdar from Unsplash

Looked at Pinterest lately? It is an experience that is at the same time hugely inspiring and somewhat overwhelming and humbling. There are just so many creative people out there, making important, beautiful, whimsical awesome art. I could get stuck on there for hours and hours. When I was teaching, I used to make pin boards for my students because I firmly believe that 'filling the well' is an important part of art making. As a visual artist, we need to fill our heads with images that interest us. They might be from magazines or books, online, from photos we or others have taken, movies, tv shows or just what we see with our eyes. That's why so many artists (myself included) position themselves in landscapes that can sensually stimulate and incite our creativity.

In my students' case, I struggled with the book/magazine thing, because in general millennials don't crack books open terribly often. The online thing often backfired too because I was often presented with Pinterest images and being told "I want to paint that." So not the point. So please don't approach this as a means to copy other work, techniques, or styles. The person who owns the image has already nailed that. Your copies would be 2nd rate by comparison. No, the point is to fill the spark your imagination, set you on a path, give you a community of practice perhaps, and make you aware of where your voice fits in amongst all the others.

Thanks to a mentor I worked with probably fifteen years ago, I have kept visual journals for years. They contain things I have ripped from magazines, copied from books, articles, photos, downloaded images, sketches, name it. These journals are meant for no one other than me, to feed my soul and my creativity and imagination when I most need it. Will I use everything in these journals as a basis for work? No, of course not. But everything in them is something that interests me, so I can flip through them to be reminded of ideas that have never progressed beyond embryonic stages and perhaps revisit them. Or perhaps, they confirm for me that my practice has moved on and that something interests me less now than it used to. If nothing else, they are fun to make and reflecting on them puts me in touch with myself in a new way every time.

Photo by Rachael Gorjestani from Unsplash

Ironically, Queensland art students also keep journals - it is an assessable requirement. As such, these journals are generally regarded as unnecessary extra work by the students. I think that's because they are approached the wrong way. I always experienced a bit of a thrill when students realised that their journal was meant to be about them and what interested them, just as their art should be.

If you are an artist, I strongly encourage you to do something that enables you to fill the well. Without it, your work will become stale and somewhat shriveled. Never consider time spent flipping through magazines, sitting on the deck gazing at the sunset or working through the megaverse of Pinterest a waste of time. It isn't. You are filling the well. If you fail to regularly do that as an artist, you will become dehydrated and flat. Particularly when you are experiencing a "dry" patch, it will help you begin growing again.

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