Keeping in Mind

One of the greatest challenges in the artist's life is that of maintaining one-pointed focus. At a time when multi-tasking is applauded and rewarded, going against the trend and understanding the great value of single-minded attention is, in itself, a difficult discipline. When we achieve this focused state, often described as being "in the zone", time flies by unnoticed and our work seems to flow almost effortlessly.

Watercolor by John Hulsey, 24 x 42.
Watercolor by John Hulsey, 24 x 42.

The distractions of life and the pull from so many different directions (all seeming to be imperative) makes this perfect state difficult to achieve. But, we can train our minds to focus more readily on the work at hand and to exclude the distractions that keep us from being in the "zone".

We've written before about the importance of having a space devoted exclusively to art-making, whether a well laid out studio or a corner in the basement and the value of maintaining a time to paint that cannot be violated by other distractions. Once those basic considerations are met, the really hard work of focusing the mind begins.

After taking a deep breath, we begin the process by asking ourselves why the subject we have chosen excites us. What is the emotion it evokes in us? How can we bring that emotion to the art? If there is no strong feeling, there can be no strong communication either. This need not be complicated – the feeling might just be a love of certain color schemes or forms as they dance together.

After our preliminary studies and sketches are done, our next step is to paint the picture in "virtual space" – that of our imaginations. We sit quietly, close our eyes and try to visualize mixing colors and placing each stroke of color on the paper or canvas. This visualization before beginning the actual work helps us to understand the process and trains our brain in the work to come. Scientific research has shown that by imagining performing a task, we energize the exact same areas in the brain which are used when actually performing the task!  Even though it may take weeks to paint an oil in the studio, we can "paint" the subject in our minds in only a few minutes. 

Once we have visualized the painting, we find it is important, as we begin to put paint to canvas or paper, to allow the painting to direct us. The dance of painting is one between our guided control and our ability to respond to what the painting is showing us. Unexpected interactions of brush strokes and colors can be as important (or even more important) than our original concept and can contribute to making the painting more interesting and exciting than we may have visualized it.

There is nothing more exciting than being in the "zone" while painting.  Any tips to help us find and stay there are valuable to keep in mind.

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–John & Ann

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John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

About John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

John Hulsey and his wife, Ann Trusty created the website, The Artist's Road - Painting the World's Beautiful Places.  The Artist's Road inspires with practical art tips and painting techniques for the traveling artist, video painting tutorials and demonstrations, workshop resources, artist profiles and interviews and remarkable painting locations.  The Artist's Road is an artist community for oil, watercolor and pastel artists.  Articles cover intriguing art travel experiences artists have had while painting the world's beautiful places. "I believe I must speak through my art, for the preservation of Nature and the natural landscape from which I take my inspiration and living." John Hulsey is an accomplished artist, author and teacher who has been working professionally for over thirty years. In addition to producing new work for exhibition and teaching workshops, Mr. Hulsey continues to write educational articles about painting for national art magazines, including Watercolor magazine and American Artist Magazine. He has been selected as a "Master Painter of the United States" by International Artist Magazine where his work was previously chosen to be included in the top ten of their international landscape painting competition. He was awarded residencies at Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks. "I strive in my art to celebrate the mysteries of Nature - the fleeting light on the landscape, the unimaginable diversity of creatures, the beauty of each leaf and flower." Ann Trusty  is an accomplished third generation artist whose work embodies the natural world and is created through direct observation and translation of her subjects into her paintings. She has found inspiration in the dancing light across the water of the Hudson River (where she had a studio for ten years), as well as the big sky and waving tall grasses of the open plains of the Midwest (her current home). Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, France and Turkey in both museum and gallery exhibitions, and has been reviewed favorably by the New York Times.

2 thoughts on “Keeping in Mind

  1. From a “former” professional artist, and now a “stay at home Dad – @ 55!), I thank you for sharing this! I’m lucky to be able to string 15 minutes together to paint anymore, which has lead to depression, anxiety and the abandonment of painting all together. I will try this virtual painting, the minds eye technique.

  2. From a “former” professional artist, and now a “stay at home Dad – @ 55!), I thank you for sharing this! I’m lucky to be able to string 15 minutes together to paint anymore, which has lead to depression, anxiety and the abandonment of painting all together. I will try this virtual painting, the minds eye technique.

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