'Azaleas and Pathway' ©

Azaleas and Pathway © Mary Baker, Oil on Canvas


To be a good painter is to understand the mystery of creativity. When people ask me how to paint, I always tell them that it is as important to know when not to work on a painting, as it is to know when to actually paint. Painting is as much about listening as it is about doing. I spend a great deal of time listening to my paintings, so that when I do paint, I can paint with deliberation, because I know what the paintings are saying. To most people, it looks like I am doing nothing. It takes a great deal of confidence to hold the secret, not to say anything, to know that in reality, a great deal is going on inside.

I have a lot of people who want to come and study with me. I always say, "yes," but warn them that almost nobody lasts. I tell them that there is no one to hold their hand, no one to tell them what to do, no one to tell them what to paint or when to paint and no one to paint with, and it is up to them to find a suitable place in which to create--for this is what it is like to be a professional artist. Art is not for the faint of heart.

I once heard a scientist describe her creative process. She painted a wonderful picture of the cycles of the seasons. She said it started with Spring, the blooming of an idea, then the long work of Summer, the harvesting of Fall and the long dormancy of Winter, for which there can be no Spring, no new ideas. I have never heard a better description of what the creative process is like.

Those "ah ha" moments, the germination of an idea for a painting is one of the most exciting times in the process. In the beginning I plan a whole series of paintings, usually seven to eleven, and then work on them as a group. This is the "Spring" of the creative process-seeing ten paintings beginning to blossom on my studio walls.

The long work of Summer, that the time of actually physically putting paint to paper or canvas, can be the really hard part. Creativity is not a straight and paved thoroughfare for me. Rather, it is a circuitous path which I explore with deliberation, hope and expectation. At the end of the day, that small step along the journey, I often have no idea whether what was created is effective or not. The next morning I am usually relieved to see that not only a great deal was accomplished, but also that it was a successful step along the way.

Finishing the piece of art work, the Fall, is rewarding, short and infinitely enjoyable. I know when a painting is done when I sign my name. All seven to eleven paintings usually get done within the same time frame. The "letting go" of the paintings is when I photograph them. After that, they are for anyone to purchase

Then there is the long dormant winter, when there are no ideas, and it takes pure faith that somewhere inside one's personal soul is the ability to create once again. Because then there is, not only the blank canvas, but also the blank studio wall as well, to be filled again with paintings. It takes great deal of courage to believe that there really will be a "Spring" again of "ah ha" moments, that there will be a studio full of new paintings and that the creative journey really will happen all over again.

© Mary Baker