Category: Art Materials

7 tips I use to get going when feeling unmotivated

Brunette girl with head in hand feeling unmotivated

Are you feeling unmotivated and don’t know how to get going? So was I. My days had settled into a routine. I got up, did the crossword, ate breakfast, then head to my studio, prepared dinner, watched some television, and finally off to bed. With the COVID restrictions on traveling, visiting with friends, or going out for entertainment, I saw a “sameness” with my days. I needed a way on how to get out of my rut. (See my ‘7 tips to getting unstuck’ below.)

I decided to shake things up by changing my art medium. Dusting off the oil paints (which I had rarely touched in over a decade), I considered what I could do. A friend wanted me to paint a yellow rose as a gift from his recently engaged daughter. For me, trying to paint a realistic rose with oils was totally out of my comfort zone!

It was an exciting challenge, and it took a while to get comfortable painting with oils again, but I pushed through. Enjoying the unique qualities of the paint, I reveled in its creamy texture and longer working time. Experimenting with this different medium gave me new ideas for my current mixed media work and reinvigorated my studio practice.

Yellow rose oil painting motivates artist to paint again

“That’s good and well for you, but I’m not an artist. So how does this help me?” you say. The key is to make some changes to your routine. Try one or all seven of my tips to revive and energize you to get going again.

Seven pieces of advice to get you unstuck and motivated

Change your routine by talking to someone new

If you’re only speaking with your family and a few friends, you’re not getting enough stimulation. Try calling up an old friend or connecting via Facebook to cross-country pal. Even striking up a conversion with your grocery store cashier will prompt a change in your routine.

Kindle your curiosity by trying something new

How about that new chocolate cake recipe you’ve wanted to try (and eat)? Or that 500 piece jigsaw puzzle that’s still in the box? Intense focus on a single activity such as cooking or doing puzzles in proven to reduce stress.

Being spontaneous can activate your motivation

Instead of eating lunch while working on your computer, count the birds you see outside your window. If you always take a morning walk, try roller-skating around the neighborhood instead. Make a point to make one small change to your routine each day. Say yes to new experiences!

Exercise outside to enhance creativity

Surrounding yourself with nature has a positive impact on the body and enhances creativity. Psychologists found that backpackers scored 50 percent higher on creativity tests after spending a few days outside without their electronics. Additionally, exercise improves blood flow and memory; it changes the brain to enhance thinking skills.

three roller skaters with old fashion skates

Start a new habit to motivate change

Good habits are the key to staying motivated. Newton’s First Law is ‘objects in motion tend to stay in motion.’ Or more clearly said, once you start, the easier it is to continue moving forward. Habits don’t have to be significant. Consistently completing a small task has the best chance for tremendous results over time. Maybe yoga first thing in the morning. Or reading before bed instead of scrolling on your phone.

Rewarding yourself for positive behavior can motivate you

Reward yourself for your good behavior (like passing on that third glass of wine) and treat yourself that new nail polish you’ve been eyeing instead. Tie your reward to your new consistent habit. Have you been regular in your morning journaling this month? Buy yourself to a fancy fountain pen. Brought your lunch to work every day this week? Put it toward an upcoming vacation you’ve dreamed of going on.

Just making a plan can get you unstuck

Simply having a plan, whether you end up following it, will help you feel confident and inspired. Our brains are scared of the unknown and tend to freeze up without a plan. Imagining the first step will make it easier to move forward. Plus, making a plan will give you something to look forward to and help keep you motivated.

Too stressed to come up with a plan, I’ve got some tips to help you. Read more at How to be creative when stressed or under pressure.

In summary, if you need help getting motivated, try a new recipe, run on a different path, or call a friend you haven’t spoken to in years. Or even pull out the oil paints and give it a go. I’m rooting for you!

You can see more great creativity tips by signing up for my monthly newsletter.  Sure, I could use some tips!

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How to foster creativity when stressed or under pressure

blond woman looking stressed and under pressure

Do stress and deadline pressures have your creativity freezing up? Let me share six tips that fostered my creativity and got me back to my studio to start painting and having fun again. I hope that will work for you too.

The dilemma of the creative process (for me) is that I impose pressure on myself to make impressive, or at least good, artwork. I worry my paintings must be meaningful and pleasing, and if they aren’t, then self-doubt, fear and discouragement paralyze me from working. This self-reposed pressure was putting a lot of stress on my creativity and keeping me from painting. I needed to adjust my thinking and art practice to break this negative cycle and get me back to the joy of making art.

botanical collage paintings by Kathy Ferguson Art

In many ways, the COVID quarantine has been a positive experience for me. When the virus rates escalated in New York City almost overnight, there was speculation that Manhattan would close its borders and travel outside the borough would be restricted. The thought of getting trapped in a city had me fleeing that very day to Florida with nary an art supply in my suitcase. With no upcoming shows or commissions to finish, and few supplies to work with, I decided to let my self-imposed pressure go and just play around with the limited materials I had available (acrylics and junk mail).

I started small, making simple 6″ x 6″ painted collages. Working on up to 12 paintings at a time, I skipped around between them when I got stuck. I let myself step back and make work that didn’t need to be good. And you know what happened? My creativity came back. I was excited to go to my studio every day and see what would happen next. After finishing forty-two of these “Tidbits” paintings, I was ready to move on to something more substantial.

 

Mounting blue and white collage works on cradled wood panels

Are you feeling stressed or just unmotivated?

First, take a minute to decide how you are really feeling? Are you stressed because your kids are constantly interrupting your workflow, and you have a gallery exhibit coming up that you’re not close to ready for it? Or is it that you are feeling uninspired and lacking in motivation? For these who just need some inspiration, read my advice 7 tips I use to foster creativity when feeling unmotivated to get you up and running again.  The rest of you, keep reading.

6 tips to spark creativity when pressure is weighing you down

So the next time you’re stressed or under pressure, try these other ideas to spark your inspiration and creativity.

Stop forcing creativity

First, stop trying to “make yourself” come up with something creative. Instead of telling yourself, “I must make something great now,” instead let yourself “play around with some ideas.” You need to feel in a safe space of non-judgment and expectation to be open creatively.

Take a break from the problem

Step away for the problem and let your sub-conscience work while you go for a walk, bake a cake, or fold the laundry. The less these activities use your mind, the more available it will be to create new solutions.

illustration of blond girl making a smoothie

Focus on a single idea

While doing one of these activities, do a little brainstorming on a single idea. Go deep and think of every good, bad, and weird idea that you can. Don’t critique these ideas; you are going for quantity. Give your thoughts some space to roam and let creativity work its magic. Breaking it down into small steps will help you chip away at the problem.

Go get inspiration on Pinterest

Are you still stuck? Try looking at other people’s work. I’m not suggesting copying them, but sometimes seeing what others have done will trigger new ideas or approaches to your problem.  

Reach out to another artistic business owner

You don’t have to go it alone. Why not collaborate with another? You can pick their brain or work together. The process of talking through ideas can stimulate new thoughts and take you in a new direction.

Creativity takes time

If all else fails, perhaps you just need time. Give yourself time to mull on it. Studies show that the brain continues working while you’re asleep. A good night’s sleep will do you good. I often wake up the morning after with the answer just waiting for me.

Get more great creativity tips by signing up for my monthly newsletter HERE.

 

 

Summer is in full bloom with digitally painted watercolor flowers

Watercolor painting of Purple Irises using Procreate app

One of the ways I’ve been tolerating the COVID quarantine is by hanging out in my garden.  I love all the colorful flowers that pop up in the spring and summer.  I thought I’d try my hand at painting them in watercolor but with a twist.  Instead, I grabbed my iPad Pro and Apple pencil and taught myself to sketch and paint them using the app Procreate.

Digital Watercolor Flower Paintings

Watercolor painting of California poppies

 

I started with some California poppies.  I grew up in California, and they have always been a favorite of mine. Their happy orange faces make me smile.  I was disappointed that the digital watercolor brushes that came with Procreate didn’t give me very realistic watercolor edges and blending.

 

Watercolor painting of green leaves using Procreate app

 

So I did some research and found a fantastic set of digital brushes, The Watercolor MaxPack (for Procreate) by Max Ulichney. He’s a genius. I’ve posted a sample of a few of the marks I can make with this set ($25 at GumRoad.com). I’m especially impressed with the watercolor bloom and the waxy colored pencil.

 

Watercolor MaxPack (for Procreate) by Max Ulichney sample sheet

 

The iris watercolor painting was next. This painting was better but still didn’t look like an actual watercolor. My final picture was the leaves, and I can see even more progress. 

I look forward to painting some more botanical ink & watercolor sketches with Procreate.  If you have an iPad, you should give it a try.  Procreate is only $9.99 for a one time purchase.  They even have a Procreate Pocket version for your iPhone for $4.99.

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Do you miss going to galleries and museums?

Stratum mixed media collage NCS National Collage Society

Not to worry. You can take these gallery tours from your couch. Many venues are putting up online shows free to the public to enjoy. I currently have work in the following two online art exhibitions.

National Collage Society’s 23rd Annual Small Format Exhibition

This year marks the 23rd anniversary of the National Collage Society Small Format Exhibit. This Postcard Exhibit is an invitational exhibition comprised of small format 4″ x 6″ postcard-sized collages. The Society defines collage is any artwork created with another layer glued onto the surface.

Click the link to Visit Nat’l Collage Society Exhibit

 

Long Island City Artists’ Spring National Collage Exhibition

One hundred eight of our artists are represented here, in LiC-A’s first online Members’ Exhibition.  Our regular exhibition venues, including the Plaxall Gallery in Long Island City, are shut down temporarily due to the current health situation. So we are using our website to provide a public space in which both artists and visitors can share in the appreciation of these incredibly exceptional and diverse talents of Queens artists.

Click the link to Visit LiC-A Spring Exhibit

Ocean Tidbit Kathy Ferguson collage mixed media
Ocean Tidbit, 1 of 9, 6″ x 6″, mixed media

 

Just a pigment of my imagination

Botanical hide and seek, cold wax CWM mixed media painting, 10" x 10", white checkboard pattern over colorful background
It’s weird how some paintings come into being.  The artwork below is one such painting. It came about through three unrelated experiments into a single, colorful work of art.

One:  I offload my leftover paints onto sheets of paper instead of throwing them out. Sometimes, I can use these paints in my collage work. This particular paper was a total mess, and I couldn’t think of any way to use it.

Two:  I needed to do a transfer test to judge paper translucency. I used this messy paper for the background paper. Now it was doubly a mess.

Three: I’ve wanted to experiment with cold-wax medium. It’s different from encaustic wax, which must be used in a melted form, as it stays usable at room temperature. I needed an acrylic background to experiment on, so I grabbed this paper again.

After using masking tape to create a grid pattern, I filled in every other square with white tinted CWM. Next, I practiced removing and drawing into it. Suddenly, from all the chaos I saw order and interest. I’m as surprised as you are!

Moral of the story: Don’t throw away your failed paintings and experiments.  You might find the perfect use for them one day!

Hyper-Lapse sketch of leafy twig (1 minute long)

Time-lapse sketch using traveling sketch kit

In a previous blog post, I wrote about putting together a travel sketching kit.  Here, you can see me putting my travel kit into action.  So as not to make the video too long, I sketched the twig before the video started and compressed it into a hyper-lapse format.  Watch me use colored pencils as paint with the use of a water brush.  Click on photo to start the video.

Why I sketch while traveling and why you should too

Travel art supplies

Travel sketching is fun to do while on vacation. While I don’t consider myself an advanced sketcher, my sketches have a way to bring back vivid memories of my trip, much more so than photographs (which I take lots of too 🙂  Sketching requires me to be wholly present while I explore and record my new experiences.

After much trial and error, I’m happy to say that I’ve finally figured out which sketching supplies to pack, and how surprisingly few I need. Take a look at what’s in my art travel bag.

  • Spiral-bound watercolor journal. Use one with 140 lb. paper so it’s heavy enough that it doesn’t bleed through and can take water without warping.  You can even turn your sketches into postcards to mail to your friends. (Don’t forget to pack stamps)
  • Mechanical pencil for the preliminary sketch. It never needs sharpening so I can eliminate bringing a sharpener.
  • Knead eraser.  I erase my pencil marks after I’ve drawn over them with ink.
  • Waterproof black pen (it won’t bleed when wet). I like the Staedtler permanent Lumnocolor fine size.
  • Water-soluble colored pencils.  Mine are Prismacolor, but Caran D’Aches are great too.
  • Waterbrush. Derwent #2 (brush and water all in one so I never need a water source either).
  • Small bag to hold it all.

That’s is.  In the past, I would bring watercolor paints, a small water container, paper towels, multiple paintbrushes, and more. I’ve found water-soluble color pencils to be a simpler solution.  I can layer them to create a wide variety of colors just like mixing paint.

So grab a sketchbook and some supplies, get out there, and have fun! Remember, your sketches don’t have to be perfect; it’s the act of sketching that’s important. It’s calming and lets you connect with the unique and beautiful things in this world. Focus on what moves you, and draw to remember it.

I encourage you to tuck a sketchpad in your suitcase when you’re packing for your next trip and see what pleasure it might bring for you.

How to make a small studio space feel bigger

Wall easel paper bird studio & design

I am so excited about my new wall easel from Paper Bird Studio & Design (aka Tueller Easel Company) custom built for me by Jason Tueller. To maximize the space in my smallish Colorado studio, I opted for this amazing wall easel. It’s over 100″ long and I can put up to four canvases (or one huge canvas) on it at once! It is a great way to open up some floor space and still have lots of painting surface to work on. I’ve temporarily mounted some old family photos on it to try out the canvas holders.

You’re never too old to play

Collage papers

I’ve been thinking about the importance of play in art.

I feel pulled in many different ways on a daily basis. There’s so much to get done – writing and organizing social media posts, updating my websites, applying for exhibitions and grants, nevermind painting. And what about family, bills, exercise, and a balanced life?

I noticed one of the first things to go in my art practice was the action of play, as in anything I do simply for the joy of doing rather than a means to an end. It rarely feels like ‘play’ when I’m trying to create a successful piece. I worry about messing up when time is so valuable, and I want the final product to be great. Yet I know that failure is a good thing.  Some of my best works have come from creating something new when things didn’t work out.

I needed to get out of my studio and away from distractions to truly immerse myself in ‘playtime”.  So last week I took a collage and paper-making class with Suzanne Siegel and Jane Davies.  I set a goal NOT make a finished piece of art.  The idea was to try as many new techniques as possible and to start a lot of work without trying to complete any of them.  It was a success, and I’ve come home with piles of messy, weird, and uniquely printed papers and painting starts. Will I continue working on them?  Perhaps a few, but mainly the purpose was to explore and have fun. Now I just have to bring that into my daily art practice.

What have you done recently for yourself that qualifies as ‘playtime’?

Five tips for moving your art studio

5 tips for moving your studio, Moving van filled to the brim with boxes

Moving your art studio can be an overwhelming task. I have moved my art studio many times over the years, and I would love to share five tips I’ve learned along the way.

Tip #1:  Before moving, get rid of as much as possible

The first step to moving your studio belongings is to reduce them as much as possible. The less you own, the easier the move becomes. I’ve found the longer I’m in a location, the more stuff I accumulate. After a while, my piles of stuff become overwhelming and make my studio mostly unusable. Throughout many moves, I’ve forced myself to become more selective about what I keep to help reduce the clutter.

I start by ridding myself of a lot of my old paintings. I am happy to say my work has improved over the years, and much of my prior art isn’t up to my current standards. Now, I only save the professional pieces that I’m not embarrassed to show anyone, plus a handful of earlier pictures of which I’m particularly fond. As a result, I have a pretty streamlined collection of my work (with just enough old stuff for that museum retrospective I plan to have when I’m 90). So what to do with this work you’re not keeping?

  • Have a moving sale offering your older work at a good discount. Someone gets your art at a reduced price, and you have lightened your moving load—win/win.
  • Gift your work to friends, charities, and other places (hospitals, retirement communities, etc.) that might like some free artwork to hang on their walls.
  • Take a photo (so you’ll have a record), then throw it away.  Or have a bonfire party where you and your artist friends can purge your unwanted artwork as a cathartic way to start anew.

Next, I cull the materials I don’t use. During my MFA, I experimented with all kinds of mediums that I’ve never used since. I went through and sorted what I use from what I was keeping out of some mistaken thought that I might use them one day. Ground pumice, carborundum grit, silkscreens, linoleum tiles, & rabbit skin glue (I’m a vegetarian for heaven’s sake!) Yep…time to give that stuff away to some other supply hoarding artist ;).

Tip #2:  Buy plenty of high-quality packing materials

Unless you’ve got money to burn, packing your art supplies yourself will save you a bundle.  Plus, sorting through your possessions will let you purge unneeded supplies as you go. (See tip #1 about reducing your mass of supplies).

The key to making the packing go quickly and smoothly is to NOT skimp on packing materials. Don’t use old, worn shipping boxes as they are generally too thin to protect your supplies. Instead, purchase heavy-duty cardboard boxes, packing paper, and bubble wrap. Don’t overpack your boxes, cramming your materials together without padding. Instead, wrap your supplies well, and add extra padding around the bottom, sides, and top of the box. If it’s important enough to transport, it’s important enough to pack it well. Home Depot has very affordable supplies, and you can return any unused purchases, so buy more than you need to eliminate unnecessary extra trips to the store.

 

5 tips for moving your studio, stacks of packing boxes and easel

Tip #3:  Hire qualified movers to do the lifting

I have personally loaded, moved, and unloaded my studio by myself several times. It’s time-consuming, back-breaking, and I end up with lots of bruises and smashed fingers.

I’ve realized that it’s better to leave the physical lifting and loading to the professionals. It may seem expensive, but I’ve never once regretted the added expense. With pros moving my stuff, I don’t run the risk of injuring myself trying to carry studio furniture that weighs more than I do down a flight (or three) of stairs. Plus, movers are faster than I ever could hope to be at the job. Seriously. During this recent move, they had ALL my stuff, including a massive table, two flat files, and a heavy wooden easel loaded in the truck in less than 30 minutes!

Tip #4:  Handle moving your fragile artwork and breakable supplies yourself

If you are moving locally, move your most fragile stuff yourself. I have pastel sticks that break if you sneeze on them and unframed paper works that need special care. I prefer not to let the movers handle these more delicate items. Instead, these things come with me in my car to my studio’s new location. I can treat them with child gloves, and if anything gets damaged, at least it was by my hands. Somehow, it makes damaged work more comfortable to bear.

Tip #5:  Don’t ask the movers to move your chemicals

Most movers won’t deal with your chemicals. Plus, the last thing you want is for a container of turpentine to suddenly start leaking in a box. It would expose the crew to harmful fumes, it’s flammable, and could potentially damage your property stacked up around it. So what to do instead? If heading out of town, get rid of as much as possible to another artist or hazardous waste site. If you are moving locally, make a separate trip using your car. While not exactly the most optimal thing having a box of chemicals packed in your vehicle, it’s probably no more dangerous than your full gas tank. Seal everything in plastic bags, packed with copious amounts of packing materials, and drive carefully.

These are five tips for moving your studio. Do you have a few more to share with the rest of us? Please share them in the comments section.