Saturday, December 5, 2015

Your Art as Your Voice and Your Mirror

-By Vanessa Lemen

Well, we're nearing the end of another year, and this will be my last Muddy Colors post before next year. I thought I'd post up some introspective type of questions and challenges to think about, as a year's end always signifies a retrospective and introspective kind of mood for me. I tend to do this much more frequently than once a year, but in case any of you reading this don't, this can be a good spring board to delve into your own personal treasure chest of what you've collected along the way on your own journey. It's a way to get to know what your art is all about by way of getting to know yourself.

Your Art is your Voice. Your Art is a Mirror. Your Life is Your Art.

This painting, 'Vortex', came out of me at a time when I needed it (and those closest to me) most.

You may find that the answers to some of the questions and challenges I have listed below are things that may remain constant throughout your life, while others may change in a few months' time. That's the nature of life, really, so it should come as no surprise that your art and your answers would flex or morph or evolve as you do.

So, here goes...

Name something that happened this year in your life that made an impact on you. (It can be a series of things, or more than one thing).
What about it made an impact?

Take a look at the work you've done this year in a timeline format from beginning to end of the year.

Most likely, there are distinct patterns, styles, and choices that demonstrate your tendencies, preferences or temperament. List 3 of them that are common throughout the body of work, and explain briefly why you think you tend to do things in such a way.

'Harvest Whisperer' was inspired by and dedicated to the good people, especially farmers, who endure the drought and fires.
This painting, 'Riinu' (not coincidentally, is pronounced like "Renew"), comes from the same inspiration as 'Harvest Whisperer'.

Do you notice anything new or different that you started to incorporate in your work? If so, what is it (or are they)? When did this happen? Did it coincide with the event that made an impact that you listed above?

What is the thing you most often talk about and, briefly, what about it?

What do you believe are your 2 strongest and 2 weakest attributes?
If you were to describe them using a color, what color would those attributes be and why?

What animal do you resonate most with? What natural element do you resonate most with?

Who are your 3 biggest influences and, briefly, why?

This painting, 'Hana Twins', came soon after my sister, who I have a close bond with and who's lived near me most of my life, moved up to Washington.

If you had to describe 3 of the closest people to you in one word, what would it be? What basic shape would they be? What animal would best describe them? What natural element?

Briefly describe a group event that you enjoy attending. Describe the the group as well as the event, and why you enjoy the experience.

This painting, 'Wake', was inspired by nature/sunsets and the power in bonding with others.

Briefly describe an event that you enjoy doing solo, and would rather do solo than with a group.

Write down answers or challenges to yourself regarding the following subjects:

The word “good” as it applies to creating

Your opinion vs. others’ opinions

The importance of skill/technique

The importance of expression/voice

This painting is called 'Tightrope Trouper at the Speakeasy' - speaking of the importance of expression/voice!

The importance of foundation as it applies to creativity

Define the word “abstract” as it applies to painting or drawing

What does “to see” mean to you?

What do you see when you blur your vision while looking at something?

In one word, what is your definition of “beauty” or “beautiful”?

How would you define the word “success” or “successful”?

What are 2 things you accomplished this year?

Name the one thing you'd like to focus on next year. What would be the thing that you'd be willing to put on the backburner, if need be, to allow for more focus on the thing you'd like to focus on?

This painting, Soku, and many other images I painted around this time are small attempts at trying to describe the incredible expansiveness of things

As I mentioned above, this list can be used as a helpful spring board for idea-generating based on your own personal experiences. They're meant to hopefully scratch at the surface a bit, and get to what may be there underneath.. or to just blow the dust off of something that might've been lying dormant. The more you make a point to pay attention to these types of things, the more it becomes natural or instinctual. And the more it becomes natural, well, the more personal your work is – without actually trying to make it personal. (There is a difference).

While many of these questions are short, once you start to answer some of them, they might seem to pack quite a contemplative punch.  Basically, what this can help with is finding stories to illustrate by being aware of our own point of view. If we remain open and present, and we don't overlook the simple things that are in our everyday surroundings and moments, we've got so much material all around us to use to create the images we want to create.

My sketchbook tells me "find the marvel" - and yes, often times it can be in the simplest of things

Many times, it can be the simplest of things that can make a powerful connection or statement. Keep it close to the bone, and it will will ring the truest.. and it will end up speaking universally. Just imagine.. if simple, familiar altruism speaks universally, all it takes is for us to really know ourselves by paying attention and being present, and then to make those connections by communicating with others – through our art, our music, our words, our craft – by doing what we know and sharing it.  Even though those who we connect with may not share the same story, they most likely share the same altruistic nature.

If you're trying to “find your voice”, best start looking at that mirror – at your art, your life, and what you surround yourself with. There is where you'll find it. It's been there all along, and it always will be.

My sketchbook speaking to me again, with the words from the book page showing through: "Doubt differs from heaviness. believe beyond what appears to be"
 Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year, everyone!


  1. Great insight and advice. I'm definitely going to go through the list of questions and reflections you provided to reflect on this year and prepare for the next. Thanks and have a great remainder of 2015!

    1. Thank you, Melisa. I hope the list helps. And a great remainder of 2015 to you too! :)

  2. Thank you so much for writing this list! I'm curious to see how I answer each prompt.

    1. Thanks, Jillian. I hope you find some inspiration in your answers. :)

  3. This is great advice and a good way to get a new perspective on things.

  4. So, I'm allowed to talk about my past experiences in Encinitas, which my family has lived in since 1958?

  5. Phewww....this took a while to complete ;) . Thank you for this! I will try to do that at the end of every year. To get a good reflection of the good things which happened throughout the year I keep a 'happy jar' with notes in it for every tiny or big good memory that happened to me. At the end of the year (when I mostly develope a gloomy feeling because it's winter and end of the year) it lightens my mood! It helps a lot to reflect how you perceive things throughout the year rather from a tinted view at the end of it.