I love colour. I get great joy out of playing with my acrylic paints, mixing them up and creating all sorts of different hues, tints and shades to use in my paintings. But when I first started, I did not know what brand, colour or kind of paints to buy. I am a self-taught visual artist and even if I did take a painting class here and there when I was first learning, when it came to choosing the colours for my own projects I was often lost and confused. I was told that mixing primary colours (red, blue and yellow) were supposed to be able to make any other colour you wanted, but did not know how to do it. And, which red, blue and yellow were the right ones to use? Bright red or Alizarin Crimson or another red? Lemon yellow or yellow ochre or Hansa yellow? Should I buy ultramarine blue, cerulean blue, etc? Which of the many kinds of red, yellow or blue should I work with? Not knowing made me frustrated and for a while I just didn’t do anything. Then I decided to begin despite not having all the information I thought I needed.
Disregarding what little I already knew about colour mixing, I instead just started with what I had. Choosing my three favourite paint colours at the time, plus white, I just began experimenting and playing. Being strategic about it, I mixed one colour at a time with white and painted a swatch of what I mixed onto a sheet of paper, then I mixed the colours with each other and swatched each time changing the ratios. I also recorded my ‘formulas’. After a while I was able to fill up a whole sheet of 9 x12 paper with around 30 different colours. I did the same exercise with another set of three colours, and when I filled out another paper, I did the same once more with another set of three colours. Most of what I know about paint and colour I learned this way - by mixing, swatching and recording my findings.
It has been a few years since I started working as an artist. Because there is some much to learn about colour and so many colour combinations and possibilities, I still use the same technique to start a new painting or series of works. Not only does the exercise help me choose and refine a colour palette for my project, I use it as a warm up to get myself ready to do the work.
I am also an art instructor who teaches acrylic painting. The very first exercise I give my beginner students is very similar to the one above. By doing this exercise they get comfortable with using the material and learn about colour, and because the act of working with colour is calming, it helps allay any anxieties they might have about trying something unfamiliar or developing a new skill.
If you are new to painting and wish to learn about colour, you can enrol in a colour theory course. There are many online classes nowadays that you can enrol in and view at your convenience. But there is also great value in just messing about with whatever colours you already have, so I also urge you to try this exercise and see what you can learn on your own just by playing.
Let me start this post with a warning: If you have never used of Alcohol Inks in art and are interested in trying them out, think carefully before you start. They can be very addicting. This is an art material that is very welcoming to beginners as it is possible to create something beautiful easily and almost right away. And once you begin, you may not be able to stop!
Still interested? OK, that means you’ve chosen to go down the rabbit hole so here we go….
First of all, what are Alcohol Inks?
Alcohol Inks are a dye-based liquid inks that are incredibly vibrant in colour. They are acid-free, fast drying and waterproof once dry. Believe it or not, these inks are “erasable” and you can reactivate dried ink and continue working with it even after leaving it for hours or days on end. (I don’t know of any other art supply does has this quality. If you have info about another, please share!)
Alcohol Inks are most easily used on non-porous (non-absorbent) surfaces like glass, metal and plastics, but can also be used to colour other materials such as resin, fabric and ceramics. In short, this material is super versatile and can be used in many applications to create many looks and effects.
Why do I love them?
As an artist, the inks used in conjunction and combined with acrylics, resin and plastics help my mixed media paintings come to life. But I have also used the ink to decorate ceramic bowls, stain plastic Christmas ornaments, dye scarves, paint lamps, and colour plexiglass to create stained glass window effects.
Aside from the fact they are versatile, the inks have a beautiful flowing quality. Because of this flowing quality and being a non-viscous liquid, they are not easy to tame, moving in ways that often surprise you. Even if I was often very pleased with the outcome and beauty of the pieces I created as a beginner with the inks, the fact they did not do as I expected frustrated me.
Instead of doing what I wanted, the inks had a mind of their own. They flowed and spread in ways I did not anticipate. They mixed unpredictably. Eventually, I learned to work with them. Slowly coaxing them into the forms and shapes I wanted. Finding ways to layer them and have them work with other materials. But still, even now that I have been using this material for years, many times they do what they want. I now find this quality as part of their appeal. They injected a sense of play and experimentation into my art practice. And they have greatly influenced the way I work. Due to their unpredictable qualities I am able to make art more freely because I have learned to go with the flow. I can paint without a plan, without a goal. I remember now that art should be enjoyable and freeing. And I can create for the sake of creating.
Want to explore and learn more about Alcohol Ink Art? There are many samples online but perhaps you’d like to start with my Instagram or Facebook accounts. I also have online classes and workshops that run a few times a year that teach you all about this material and how to use it.
Learn more about MTM Hobbes, the artist and author of this post, by visiting the MTM Hobbes Studios website.
I started cultivating a meditation habit many years ago. I have always found it difficult to do regularly and I've started and stopped many times. But since Covid-19 hit, I realized that it is something that has not only kept me in a fairly good emotional state, but has also helped me continue to make art and enjoy creating. Because of this, I now often make the effort to meditate, I integrate meditation into my art practice (and even into one of the art classes I teach), and consider it part of my process.
Below are the ways I found that meditation can be used as a tool to enjoy art activities even more, to generate new ideas, to be playful and explore, and carry on moving forward even when it’s difficult to see the path ahead.
1. Meditation is a warm up exercise
During those days when I’m not feeling great, I know that even a short time in my studio making art will lift my spirits. But even then, it’s sometimes hard to begin. This is when I discovered that if I do a short 5-10 minute meditation, it makes it easier to start pulling out my art materials and get going.
Much like how a ballet dancer stretches before a performance, how an athlete warms up before practice, or how musicians do scales, I use meditation to gear up for an art session. It helps me set aside what might have happened before the session, like feelings of annoyance with a brutal commute earlier that day or a heated discourse with a co-worker, for example. It also helps me set aside that constant to do list that is running through my busy mind. I find that meditation allows me to let go of those things for a little while so I can feel lighter and thus better focus on art.
2. Meditation helps dissipate fear
When I sit in meditation, I sit alone with myself. I get to know myself more and get comfortable with who I really am. When I am more aware of myself I am better able to trust myself and follow my intuition to make decisions in my art. That way I am less scared to try different techniques, new colour combinations, or to use my art supplies in a novel way, etc. In listening to my true self, I am better able to deal with fears that might be holding me back, and better able quiet the inner critic (or at least keep it muffled) for a bit.
3. Meditation can open the mind to new ideas and helps generate ideas
If I add an element of visualization to my meditation it can be especially useful when starting a new piece of art or staring at a blank canvas. It allows me to open myself up to find creative solutions to problems. When I meditate there is a relaxing both of the body and of the mind. I release some things that I have been paying attention to for a little while. I am able to put away that constant chatter and stream of thoughts that continue to play in my subconscious during the session. With the letting go I am able to free up some space in my mind that often allows new designs, plans or schemes to come in.
4. Meditation encourages kindness to oneself
Meditation reminds me that I am human and that sometimes I need to be kinder to myself. It allows me to remember the need to take care of the artist within me, to nurture it and to be understanding that I am not perfect and therefore cannot do things perfectly, or even well, in the first few tries. I find that with art and creating, I do better with benign encouragement rather than the drill sergeant berating voice that is often the dominant communication style that is in my head. Meditation for me is more like a persuasive nudge, that reminds me about my goals and guides me along the way. I respond better to the gentle direction versus the drill sergeant voice which I tend to rebel against.
5. Meditation breeds hope
Frustration can sometimes (often) occur when making art. As an emerging artist, I admit that many times feel that I am doomed to be poor, go crazy then cut off my ear, and be unsuccessful and only be recognized after I am dead. Meditation helps ground me and puts things into perspective. It reminds me of the successes I do have and helps me to stay calm enough to figure out how to work through missteps I take. It urges me towards developing a growth mindset, moves me forward and helps to focus me on my goals despite challenges.
Perhaps meditation will work for you as it has for me, I think it's at least worth a try!
If you’ve never meditated before and don’t know where or how to start, there are many free videos online that can get you on your way. Or you may choose to download an app instead. Two of the more popular ones out there are called Calm and Headspace. I have not tried Calm but I have used Headspace and find it is excellent in explaining what meditation is and what it does to your brain. It reminds you to meditate with alerts (if you want them), has a section to help you sleep better at night, and even has a moving meditation with exercises if you wish.
Thankfully, I found more stability after a few years. With a new decent job, a better living environment, plus a new and supportive partner, I was able to let go of some of my problems and appreciate more the young man my son was growing up to be. I was also able to get to know myself a little better as well. This was a time when I rediscovered my own creative desires after many years of artistic inactivity. Slowly I started making art regularly and exploring different playful mediums such as music, baking, and soap making. And all the while my son was quietly watching and observing.
Now, as Mother’s Day is just a couple of sleeps away, I think back on those times and realize how much of an impact my exploration had on him. He was already an adolescent, enjoying friends and playing video games. Yet, I suppose a parent is still very much an influence on a teenaged mind even when school friends and the Internet are much more entertaining. Shortly after I started my creative excavation, my son decided to pick up a pencil and started sketching. He enjoyed superhero comic books and graphic novels and so he studied the human body’s form, proportions and anatomical structure to render his own drawings. He, along with his cousin, imaged a fantasy world and boardgame based on characters they designed together. He picked up guitar and played around with a synthesizer. As I led and forged a path, slowly he followed. At the time I did not realize what was happening and the direction we both were taking because I was too close to see. (I am not sure he has realized it even now, but I keep my mouth shut just in case he decides following in Mom’s footsteps in uncool!) But now I do see, and I am so grateful I got myself together so that I had the drive and ability to not only get my expressiveness flowing, but also to serve as an example, to give him the idea and urge to investigate his goals for himself, too.
Do you have a child you wish to help reach their artistic potential? Find them someone to look up to such as a mentor, a guide, or a teacher. Or can you be that someone? Or perhaps you yourself may benefit from an art coach, or an art class or two or more. Or maybe all you need is to simply find artists to admire on social media. Having an inspiring human being (or more) to emulate and follow can be the great driver you may need along the way to your creative goals.
Curious about my own creative journey? Read all about it here.
Do you remember the first time you picked up a pencil or crayon and made your first few marks? I don’t. I was very young and so I don’t recall the exact moment. But I do recall my first few tries at creation. I was clumsy, my work was kind of crazy, but I loved it! I thought it was the best thing ever and I couldn’t wait to show it off. I enjoyed making art regularly, so I improved, honed my talent and became quite good. Then life threw me curve ball and I gave up painting and art when I was 11 years old (Why? That’s another story. You can read about it here).
As an adult, many years later, I picked up my pencils and paints again with the help of some art and creativity classes at the local rec centre. Like when I was a kid, my first few attempts at art were clumsy. But unlike when I was young, there was judgement and expectation. There was fear. Instead of putting down confident, bold strokes like I did as a child, my hand was tentative and unsure. But because I was in class, I had the instructor to encourage and guide me to move on and continue despite the mess I put down on the paper or canvas. There was a safe space for me to make, and there was a set time each week to create.
With the help of positive instructors, after some time my anxiety and fear settled down a bit. The inner critic was not as dominant and I was able to ignore it longer. But mostly the expectation that I should be making good art right off the bat dissipated. And with that guidance and gentle persuasion, I was able to let go and concentrate on only what my hands were doing. And then there came a peace and joy.
Because of negative events I experienced as a kid, it was many years before I was able to practice art outside of that safe classroom space. It took many workshops via the rec centre, adult continuing education and other creative spaces to give me the courage to once more draw and paint on my own time, outside the classroom and without the instructor at my side. It took a long while, but to me, it was worth it because it helped me inject happiness into my daily life where for many years there was none. That effort allowed me to finally make art on my own and be confident despite what others might think of me and my work. But most importantly, I was able to stand up to the inner voice that told me bad things would happen if I put myself and my efforts out there for the world to see.
Most of us know that keeping a journal can be greatly beneficial to our mental health. I have kept a journal off and on for my entire adult life. It has been wonderful habit to have and has helped me through hardships, especially way back when I was a young adult. Journalling was a tool I often used to get to know myself more and figure out what I wanted for myself and my future. During times of confusion and turmoil, I’d whip out my journal and would take much time and care to write down any unpleasant incidents that occurred. And I jotted down my feelings in order to help me process these events.
However, I found that when things were going OK and I was not feeling down or in extreme anxiety, my journal transformed into a to-do list where I simply scribbled down items to shop for and other mundane tasks that needed accomplishing. Or, if it was not being used as a to-do list, it stayed closed and hidden away in my desk drawer. In short, my journal was really only a repository for my negative thoughts and feelings. Writing was only something I used in times of trouble. Again, I am extremely grateful that I had this aid to help me in times of need. But I felt it would be beneficial for me to have something more, another way to note my daily life the rest of the time. I wanted this something to help me avoid getting to that dark emotional situation where I even needed my journal to keep me out of negativity in the first place.
Do you have a practice that gives you comfort, a chance to connect with yourself, process feelings, or even bring joy despite less-than-ideal circumstances? If not, I invite you to find one, or simply do what I did and start doodling. Who knows where it might lead?
“The unexamined life is not worth living” ~ Socrates
Why am I mentioning the above, and what does it have to do with art and creativity?
So, the point of this post? I ask you to examine yourself to realize what kind of things help spark your curiosity. (What kind of ideas or questions make you daydream or keep you up at night?) I put forward the idea that maybe you’re like me, and that you may need to expand your world a little in order to find inspiration. (What gives you the urge to try something new and poke about outside your comfort zone?) That you may need to take action towards the things you care about in order to gain confidence and get those creative juices flowing. (Are there issues or themes that you feel strongly about, and what unique action, small or big, will you do about them?) Perhaps like me, you’ll need to dig a little deeper, do some hard, or silly, things, ask some weird, or uncomfortable questions, and when you find some answers, live them.
If memory serves me well, a Continuing Education class in fiction writing I attended waaaay back when has taught me that this is the question science fiction and fantasy writers love and use most. It is the question they ask themselves that helps spring forth new story scenarios which give birth to new characters. These characters bring with them their unusual histories and places full of otherworldly flora and fauna. Perhaps they come from alien environments, other dimensions, or parallel universes. All of these can spew forth from one tiny question, “What if?” Some of these "What Ifs" inspire stories so compelling that they move us to create our own yarns. Some "What Ifs" create tales so beloved that we carry their messages in our hearts and minds for years and which we may pass along to the next generations.
* BTW, if you think the idea of putting cephalopods in all an artist's artwork is kinda crazy, it is! But it has worked for one creative dude. See https://www.jonathan-crow.com/vice-presidents From what I understand, this guy is making pretty good cash from his “What If?”
In 2006 I took a creativity workshop at my local recreation centre. I did not want to take this class but did so because I had a credit at the centre that was about to expire. It was either take a course before year end or lose the money. I signed up for the course simply because it fit my schedule. I came to the first session with a bad attitude. I was annoyed since I really didn’t want to be there and wished the centre policy allowed for a cash refund. I am ashamed to say I took my frustration out on the instructor, a lovely woman with a bright smile who announced we’d be decorating masks that day. I told her I did not want to paint a mask. She offered me other activities to do while the rest of the students worked on their projects. I declined them all, sat with a frown on my face and my arms crossed, then left class early.
As I walked into my home, guilt hit me. I acted like a jerk towards the instructor (who stayed wonderful and positive despite me being less than polite). I told myself that next week I was going to apologize and do better. Determined that I would act like I was brought up properly, I participated in the subsequent lessons and worked on the projects without complaint. I still thought the exercises were silly but I did them anyway. Then a funny thing happened around day 4. In the middle of one of the projects I realized something in me shifted. My mind was not thinking of my to do list, there was no anxiety in my being. I was just present in that classroom, content, totally in the zone, and at that very moment did not want to be anywhere else.
Curious about my discovery, I finished the 8 week course then stayed in contact with the instructor and took more of her classes. I also started taking other creative classes from other instructors at the rec centre: a painting workshop, improv, a photography course, creative writing, voice lessons, etc. Taking these lessons were a way for me to come back to that presence of being and state of peace. And that state of peace and flow for me was reached while in the midst of a creative endeavour and space.
As I continued participating in these workshops, I started to recall similar moments of creative flow in my childhood. In gradeschool I would hold my lunch hour storytelling club where I would tell a story I made up (usually a horror story) to a small group of classmates. I drew comics (usually about child superheroes wearing kimonos and skipping school to fight bad guys). I spent many blissful moments bringing my imaginings to life on paper. Through my creative practice and a bit of talent, I won art contests with prizes like furniture and luxury hotel stays, and got a newspaper feature at 10 years old. I even secured a guest spot on a TV show for my drawing ability. And then things changed and I did a 180 turnabout at the age of eleven.
After I moved to Canada 12 years later, it was a new start and so my old friend creativity resurfaced again and came for a visit, convincing me things will be different this time ‘round. I picked up my pencil and created a new comic strip that was featured in a couple ethnic papers and magazine. But being young, new to the country and naive, I was taken advantage of. Editors and supervisors did not pay me the money I was owed and did not publish the comic in sequence. Not yet having developed much confidence and self-worth, I turned my back on art once more. I was angry creativity showed itself again to shake things up. I returned to earning my living with “normal” jobs like retail and office work for a long time.
Author: MTM Hobbes
I am an artist and art instructor. Creating art and working on creative projects is my way making sense of life experiences and my environment. I believe that the practice of art helps a person become more of who they are meant to be.