Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Don't Ask

About a year ago I bumped into these thoughts of Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist and other bestselling books:

Try this: Next time you come across someone’s work and you’re not sure exactly how they do it, don’t ask them how it’s done. Don’t go after the “right answer” like some eager honors student. Look closer. Listen harder. Then use your imagination and experiment with the tools you have. Your bad approximation will lead to something of your own.

A photograph on a book cover caught my attention recently. Each time I saw it, it pulled at me. How to capture its essence in paint? I took Kleon's words as a guide. Just kept looking closely at that photograph every so often, listening harder to what song it was singing.

Then, today, I took what my imagination had been turning this way and that, grabbed some of my tools, and started experimenting, happy to bumble along to an approximation.

Wish you could have seen me.

We had a contractor/carpenter here all day ripping up and rebuilding our 100+ year old upstairs bathroom floor. Many of his tools and materials were in—and obstructing the doorway to—my studio. Hammer was banging, power saw screaming, sawdust flying.

I navigated the obstacle course more than once, took supplies outdoors, and had just the sweetest time painting in the May sunshine.

First, I collaged wrinkly sandwich paper to a new patch on my Core Values project.

Then, I brushed black latex house paint over the whole patch.

Next, I mixed a few different blues, adjusting with black and white till I was satisfied.

After that, using a cheap castoff paintbrush that must have belonged to my kids back in the day, I painted stripes, letting the black peek through the space between the 'boards' I was creating.

Then, using a poultry lacer from the kitchen, I scratched 'wood grain' into the boards.

You know how your eyes/mind can flip back and forth between two perceptions of an optical illusion? I enjoyed that same alternating current as I painted—seeing stripes, seeing boards, seeing abstract, seeing representational. Way fun!

Tomorrow I'll continue experimenting and approximating and adventuring.


  1. I recently bought the book...hard copy... sits by my bed ...read and reread.. hoping something will stick! Love the play of the boards and lines.. Hoping for words in the style of....

    1. You bought "Steal Like an Artist"? Refreshing, yes? I've read a bunch of Kleon's books and blog posts. I was glad to reconnect with the thoughts of his that I quoted above, and to have that wind behind my sails as I painted.

  2. Kleon is awesome! I admire your constant curiosity and willingness to experiment, especially when there is banging and screaming and sawdust all around! Intrigued by the new patch....

    1. Thanks for the affirmation of curiosity and experimentation, Jen. Crazy milieu here of late!

      This new patch really resonated as I got it under way : )

  3. Thanks, Dotty, for this beautiful post! I love the experimental route you chose. I already loved the first patch so much, and I think it took courage to cover it all up. A beautiful lesson in letting go ;-). And I REALLY loved the blue/black one. Like a blue painted wooden wall (we call it schutting, don't know the word in English). Lovely and inspiring to work in such a way, letting yourself surprise by whatever is happening...

    1. Thank YOU, Simone, for your encouraging words. Schutting—great word!

      My week has felt like one surprise after another.

  4. Way fun reading this post ans following your WIP ;)