Step Away from the Job Listings…or Coping with the Ups and Downs of Art Making

How long does it take you to make a print? This is a popular question, and one that really defies a quick answer. Some artists glibly say that it has taken all of their years of being an artist to complete a work. But I don’t think this is what the viewer is really asking. While I could relate the time that each actual step takes, I think it might be more interesting to think about the emotional process of creating art.

After making the same types of prints for several years, I am now finally able to reflect on where I am in the process, rather than reacting to the inevitable emotions that each stage entails.

1) The Noodling
Sometimes getting the idea is the hardest part. People work in a series for the very reason that they don’t have to come up with a totally new idea every time. There is wisdom in this.
When I don’t have an idea, I plunge into a time that I call noodling. I consult my database of photographs, look at books that have striking images, and reread musings from my sketchbook. The main areas of my home are littered with media as I struggle to discern where to go next.

This is also the time when I question why on earth I am making art in the first place. A bad day will result in eating too many ice cream sandwiches or spoonfuls of Nutella, all while consulting the local university’s job listings.

But then…

2) The IDEA!
Eventually I come up with a small pearl of an idea, and set about sketching and writing. Here’s where the euphoria starts, when things are new and fresh and possible.  I will expand on the ideas, prop them up around the house and consider the possibilities.

Luscious colors make the IDEA phase exciting.

3) The Production
Once I have a well-formed idea, I will make either a small detailed sketch or an actual-sized drawing. Then I’ll create a tracing paper/graphite guide, cut the block, tear the paper and grab the pencils. This part of the process is fun and easy — if not a bit routine.

Crank up Pandora’s channel of the English Best and get to work!

4) The Panic
This phase comes when I have printed a few layers of ink, and I am not entirely sure it is going well. The colors or the tones are not as I had expected, and I am concerned I cannot fix the image. Then all of my time and materials will be wasted. The partially-completed prints hang from the drying rack, mocking me as I go about the daily tasks of life.

5) The Hope & Relief
After gritting my teeth and forcing myself to keep carving and printing, I often experience feelings of hope and relief. The print might not be a total loss. I’m not sure we are good friends yet, but the impulse to carry everything to the garbage can has subsided.

Let everything hang to dry, and have some calorie-free herb tea…


Prints hanging to dry.

6) The Peace
After the print is finished, and I have photographed it and possibly framed it, I will hang it somewhere in my home. Like a cranky child who has just awoken from a restorative nap, suddenly I am filled with pleasure at seeing the latest creation.

Now I just have to think of my next idea. And the cycle continues…

What does your emotional process entail?

2 Replies to “Step Away from the Job Listings…or Coping with the Ups and Downs of Art Making”

  1. A great description of the process. Sometimes I don't quite recover from the panic stage even though I complete the print and even though I've mostly resolved it — as if some particles from the panic stage get embedded in the print and I can't not see them. In that case I just put the print away, and quite often, after some time has passed, I look at it again with fresh eyes and I think, "hey, that's not too bad." What a roller coaster ride!

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