In late July I traveled to Vermont to spend a week at Art New England. Dean Nimmer, professor emeritus at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, my alma mater, holds a workshop there every summer. The workshop is called The 100 Drawing Challenge. I remember hearing about Dean Nimmer when I was an undergraduate at MassArt but I was firmly ensconced with the freaks in SIM and I never managed to take his class. Later Dean wrote a book called Art From Intuition, which I stumbled upon when looking for some proven warm-up exercises to use with my students in the drawing classes I was teaching at the time. I love Art From Intuition because the approach to artmaking Dean describes is so different from the methods I employ. In making my work I am rather logical and calculated. To begin a body of work I conceptualize the idea and message first. Then I decide which materials and techniques to use, recognize the influences on the work and identify the references I will (probably) make. I usually have a fairly clear idea of what the resulting artwork might look like, although I do allow for the work do morph somewhat during the making process. Any deviation during the making of the work is invariably an improvement on the original idea. For me the inspiration and excitement of artmaking occurs in the brainstorming and planning the work. As much as I enjoy making art, I love conceptualizing even more.
Lobster, by Lee Puffer. Watercolor and collage on paper. 2015
In my research for both my own art and my teaching, I have found it valuable to define, clarify, and analyze my artistic process and philosophy in order to understand it myself and explain it to others. I discovered that in my work intuition and insight are at play in the conceptualizing process. Intuition is also useful to me in analysis of my own completed work and aids in my ability to assist other artists in the development and analysis of their work.
In the actual making of my artwork, I never rely on intuitive processes. Am I missing something? I went to Vermont to find out.
Pink Mouth, by Lee Puffer. Watercolor and collage on paper. 2015
As a sculptor primarily, paper and dry media are not a big part of my process or product. It was a challenge to work in media I was not accustomed to, with only the supplies that could fit in my suitcase. I brought watercolor paint and paper, dry media, and some collage elements I had accumulated. The instruction was to make first, in the spirit of play, and to analyze later, if at all. This process was foreign to me. I made some pretty abstractions. It was fun to play with paint, people liked the work, but I kept thinking “So what? What does it mean? Why?”
Why make art if it doesn’t have meaning, a message, a purpose?
Dean just laughed at me. I was missing the point. His philosophy is that creative expression is a basic human need, and that humans cannot live healthily, happily and fulfilled without creative, exuberant expression. Dean’s goal is to preach and teach this message for the benefit of all mankind. That is a noble mission and he does it well. I discovered, however, that the process of self-expression, as fun as it may be, is not enough for me. I need to make it matter.
Eye, by Lee Puffer. Watercolor and collage on paper. 2015
Unlike many humans, I have always allowed myself the freedom to create. Finding permission to express myself has never been an issue. My issue is making something meaningful with the time, energy, and resources that creating requires.
In the end, I was able to see how the work I made during The 100 Drawing Challenge fits into my ongoing practice, and I added a few new materials to my toolbox. It was a week of great artists and good fun in a beautiful location.
What I did take away, however, was the notion of a 100 Drawing Challenge. Since returning I have consistently made drawings, posting one a day on my Instagram account with the hashtag #arteveryday. It has been 35 days, I’m hoping to get to 100.
This project is satisfying for several reasons. First, I love the lack of self-censorship this challenge demands. I will post a drawing even if I don’t think it’s great. I do not disallow any ideas. Second, it is very gratifying to quickly express ideas in art . This is a big change for me. While I do work consistently on my sculpture, it often takes months or even years to see a finished sculpture in its entirety. Seeing a finished work daily is keeping me excited and disciplined with my large, long-term projects. Thirdly and unexpectedly, while engaging daily with the Instagram community, I have discovered many interesting artists from all over the world in the last 35 days.
Will I make it to 100? Follow @leepuffer on Instagram to find out.
Earth, by Lee Puffer. Watercolor and collage on paper. 2015