Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sparks Of Inspiration

I've been recapturing some of my long lost artistic spirit, you might say spurred by a somewhat unusual source of inspiration.

When I was in college my fellow art students and I were obsessed with a pretty famous art supply store called Pearl Paint. It was not so much that it had superior products or better prices but it had an enormous selection (this was before the days of Michael's, A.C. Moore and other giant Wal-Mart-like craft stores.) There was one sort of close to my school (SUNY Farmingdale) and my friends and I would take frequent "road trips" there, which usually started with a side trip to lunch first and then possibly an afternoon of beer and music in the back parking lot of school where we'd call for a collective canceling of class.

I've always had fascination with art supply stores, possibly because of all those tubes of unused paint, perfect pastel sticks and reams of white, white paper in pads. It was the possibility of creation, the beginning of a project with dreams and expectations of the finished project.

A few years ago I guess Pearl paint decided to leverage some of their fame to compete with the bigger craft shopping centers and they opened a few more stores. Previously to my knowledge there were only two locations. There was one in Nassau County and one on Canal Street in New York City. One store opened by my house and being that I had long since abandoned my art, I sadly never stepped foot in the place.

I’ve always been an artist. Ever since I was a kid I drew all the way through college. I took all the requisite art courses, art history, etc. In college I took a trip to New Mexico with my family and we stayed at Ghost Ranch, known as the place where Georgia O’Keefe painted some of her famous flower paintings. I found the desert an inspirational place and I long to return someday. It was there that I took a weeklong class in pastel painting and it was then I found my medium. We made pastels from scratch with a mortar and pestle and I felt a deep connection to the natural world through my painting with chalk pastels. There was no brush, no other instruments used except for your own hands and fingers. I loved the visceral connection to my creation through my skin. I felt a really personal connection to everything I painted as if it were a true extension of myself through my own hands.

But instead of majoring in fine art in college, I chose advertising art and later graphic design. I tried to keep up my pastel painting for years but left it behind after marrying and starting my family.

It had been about more than ten years since I even held a piece of pastel. One day I decided it was time again to do some art. Maybe it was because of my kids’ own art projects or a need to recapture something that I had lost of myself in there tumultuous times both economically and politically. I don’t know. Somehow I wanted to have something again that felt real and soulful.

So a few weeks ago I walked into that Pearl Paint near my home for the first time to discover that it was closing its doors. They were selling everything at 50% off. I grabbed some simple supplies for my kids and myself. We went home and I had so much fun painting with them that I returned the next weekend to get some more, only this time they were selling everything for 75% off. I bought about $300 worth of supplies for about seventy-five bucks. Included in my purchase were a bunch of pastels and paper.

On a side note, I was going to a friend’s daughter’s birthday party the next day with my kids and I decided to load her up with art supplies for her present. In there I included a small set of pastels for her. I was overjoyed when my wife got a call the next day from our friend saying that her daughter was delighted to find the pastels in her gift bag.

“I know what these are,” she had exclaimed. “They’re pastels.”

It seems that she had just learned all about using pastels in art class in school and was really excited to get her own set. She went on to instruct her little brother all about pastels and how careful he had to be using them.

This serendipitous event gave me a little more confidence in my path, like a little sign from the universe that this was a really good thing and others recognized it as well.

So for the past few weeks I’ve been trying to get in at least three days a week of pastel painting and drawing. I’ve really learned for the first time what it was about pastel painting that made it such a transcendent experience for me. Something I could never really put into words. But the fact that my own kids are now inspired to do their own art projects has been one of the best byproducts. They see Dad sitting down to the kitchen table to do some painting and they immediately jump in too; kids need very little to inspire them to creativity.

The spark of my inspiration was in the deep discounts I found at Pearl Paint, allowing me to totally restock my art supplies on my very limited budget. But something I always learned about creating any kind of art (including my writing) is that the inspiration is nothing but a small flit of one moment. It cannot be sustained and it takes commitment and hard work to keep at your creative process over the long term. I try to find fuel to keep inspiring myself, like continually occurring small bursts of energy, in the world around me. In the kids. In nature. In the visceral connection to my work and of course the pride of a finished project.

Anything can provide that initial jumpstart to get you going. You can continue that by capturing the feeling and finding it in many other places along the way. In this way you can keep the fire burning long passed the initial point of inspiration.


meryl333 said...

Me too! Love art stores. Picked up some chalk pastels and I'm having a blast. I draw at least one pastel flower every day. Enjoyed you sharing your delight as well.

ObilonKenobi said...

Share some of your work with me , Meryl!