When people ask me how to paint, I always tell them that it
is as important to know when not to work on a painting, as it
is to know when to actually paint. For me, painting is as
much about listening as it is about doing. I spend a great
deal of time listening to my paintings, so that when I do
paint, I can paint with deliberation, because I know what the
paintings are saying. To most people, it looks like I am
doing nothing. It takes a great deal of confidence to hold the
secret, not to say anything, to know that in reality, a great
deal is going on inside.
I have a lot of people who want to come and study with me. I
always say, “yes”, but warn them that almost nobody lasts. I
tell them that there is no one to hold their hand, no one to
tell them what to do, no one to tell them what to paint or
when to paint and no one to paint with, and it is up to them
to find a suitable place in which to create–for this is what it
is like to be a professional artist. Art is not for the faint of
I once heard a scientist describe her creative process. She
painted a wonderful picture of the cycles of the seasons.
She said it started with Spring, the blooming of an idea, then
the long work of Summer, the harvesting of Fall and the long
dormancy of Winter, for which there can be no Spring, no
new ideas. I have never heard a better description of what
the creative process is like.
Those “ah ha” moments, the germination of an idea for a
painting is one of the most exciting times in the process. In
the beginning I plan a whole series of paintings, usually
seven to eleven, and then work on them as a group. This is
the “Spring” of the creative process-seeing ten paintings
beginning to blossom on my studio walls.
The long work of Summer, that the time of actually physically
putting paint to paper or canvas, can be the really hard part.
Creativity is not a straight and paved thoroughfare for me.
Rather, it is a circuitous path which I explore with
deliberation, hope and expectation. At the end of the day,
that small step along the journey, I often have no idea
whether what was created is effective or not. The next
morning I am usually relieved to see that not only a great
deal was accomplished, but also that it was a successful
step along the way.
Finishing the piece of art work, the Fall, is rewarding, short
and infinitely enjoyable. I know when a painting is done
when I sign my name. All seven to eleven paintings usually
get done within the same time frame. The “letting go” of the
paintings is when I photograph them. After that, they are for
anyone to purchase
Then there is the long dormant winter, when there are no
ideas, and it takes pure faith that somewhere inside one’s
personal soul is the ability to create once again. Because
then there is, not only the blank canvas, but also the blank
studio wall as well, to be filled again with paintings. It takes
great deal of courage to believe that there really will be a
“Spring” again of “ah ha” moments, that there will be a
studio full of new paintings and that the creative journey
really will happen all over again.
© Mary Baker 2005