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Play Artists Play

by Moshe Mikanovsky on 7/28/2011 10:14:53 AM

This article  is by Moshe Mikanovsky, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews.  An emerging artist searching his way in the art world, he loves to share what he learns.  With over 20 years of technology experience, Moshe combines his technological background and his passion for the arts with the goal of "working his dream".  You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

In a recent flight I took with Delta airlines, I read in the in-flight Delta's Sky magazine an interesting article about the importance of play. Based on studies and expert matters, the article portrayed the basic need of humans to play, how unlike other species, our sense of play never ends in maturity, and the importance of continuing to play.

The article quotes Stuart Brown, a medical doctor, psychiatrist and founder of the Camel Vally, California-based National Institute for Play, from his 2009 book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, who says: "the opposite of play is not work. The opposite of play is depression". He then highlights a few key properties to define "play": "Play is something done for its own sake; it's voluntary; there's an inherent attraction to it; the player experiences a kind of freedom from time and perhaps loses track of his or her own self; it's open to improvisations; and finishing it leaves one wanting to do more".

Doesn't that sound familiar?

As artists, we have all said it many times. We would have done it even if we were not paid to do it because it is part of who we are. We do it for its own sake. We lose track of time and of our own self. We are free to do whatever we want with our materials, even break the rules. We improvise new ideas and new techniques. And we always want to do more.

If we merge these attributes of play into our art making, they will become one unit, unseperated from each other.

And the benefits? As Brown states it, "denying our need to play can have negative effects on our emotional well-being".

So how do we regain this sense of play if we lose track of it?

Here are some ideas:

1. Paint (or make any other type of art) with some kids. Kids are amazing since their entire life is in a play mode. They explore everything in new eyes, and by "working" with them, you will find new ways to play. Don't have any kids? Why not volunteer or teach some?

2. Set a habit for once a week to make art for no reason. Not for an upcoming show or to sell. Just because.

3. Improvise by taking one known factor out of the picture. For example, use new material, or paint a new subject matter. If you always paint at your studio, get out and paint outside. Don't worry about the results, just have fun with it and improvise with the "missing" factor.

4. Observe how you feel before, during and after you have a working session. Ask yourself, do you look forward to it or are you anxious about it? Do you forget yourself in the process? Do you have a taste for more when the session is over? If the answer to all of these are yes (but no to the anxiety part), then you are on the right track. If not, see what is it that you can, and should, change. Set time to paint on a regular basis, try the above suggestions to loosen up, or just come up with your ideas. In many cases, you already know the answer.

So what are you waiting for? Go play!



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Topics: creativity | FineArtViews | inspiration | Moshe Mikanovsky 

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mimi torchia boothby watercolors
Nice, Moshe
some days (like yesterday) I will take a piece of paper and just make some lines. Then add some color. and make some drips. Just watch what the paint does.
Painting with kids is definitely interesting; we were invited to dinner with friends who had an 11 year old daughter who is an artist. The kid knew i was coming and had prepared her art table with paints, a jar of water, and a tablet open so there were two blank sheets side by side. So we sat there and painted. It was a lot of fun!
I would actually like to do that again.

Sharon Weaver
I am constantly thankful that every day I can do what I love. As a kid, my favorite days were spent exploring the woods and creek not far from where I lived. Now I can explore California, the entire USA and even other countries for inspiring places to paint. What a great "job."

Debra LePage
When speaking with other artists (watercolorists) who visit my studio, I encourage them to try yupo. It's perfect for play because there is no fear of ruining a good piece of paper. The paint can be wiped off again and again until it is sealed. Taking away the fear factor really unleashes creativity. Another idea is to gesso over old watercolors and imprint something like seran to make it textured. Remove the seran and let it dry -then see where the paint settles into the little nooks and crannies. These exercises let the painting LEAD you rather than the other way around.

Tuva Stephens
Debra, you are so right about yupo. It is great for play but beware you may even create a piece that people will desire! That happened to me recently when I presented a program to an art group about a George James workshop. Someone approached me about purchasing one of the pieces done on yupo in the workshop. I could not believe it! Since then I have created pieces that I feel a connection and have framed for competition. The client loves the piece she purchased.

Debra LePage
Yes, people absolutely relate to it as it has a certain energy and sense of movement. I have worked almost exclusively with it for almost 3 years and find I am never bored. Congrats on the sale :)
I, too, have had some luck with work in competitions but some watercolor shows don't allow it.

mimi torchia boothby watercolors
ok, ok, I'll buy some yupo!


Donna Robillard
Great article. For me, I like ideas #2 and #3. Sometimes I get stuck in a rut. In fact, I'm fixing to start something new - outside of what I've been painting recently!

John Burns
Thank you for the wonderful reminder to play, Moshe. Aloha, John

Tuva Stephens
Yupo is being accepted more and more! Tennessee Watercolor Society approved it last year for their Biennial Exhibition, and I do see where more and more national state competitions are also accepting yupo.

As a watercolor artist I recently started "playing with different types of gels and techniques with fluid acrylics." I used Mary Todd Beam's two books Creative Self and Creative Edge as my stimulus to try new ideas.

geri degruy
YES! For me, the fun part is key. If I'm working too hard at it all, thinking too much, obsessing, my creations reflect that. If I'm flowing and experimenting and enjoying the process, it almost doesn't matter how the work comes out. The process was art.

Donald Fox
It's much more fun to play with materials in new ways than to rely on books for creative ideas. Paint with your non-dominant hand or draw without looking at the paper. Just experiment.

Joanne Benson
Great post Moshe! Whenever I get bored or stale I switch mediums for a while. Experimenting with something new or different is always fun! I might have to try some yupo too! I have a piece of gessoed water color paper that I have been meaning to try out. Maybe this weekend.

Barb Stachow
Great way to warm up too, paint anything that pops into your head!

Laurie Finkelstein
SO important!!! Great reminder!

Moshe Mikanovsky
My friend, artist Ziva Lepsker, paint exclusively on Yopu, and people LOVE her paintings (you can see couple of them here:

I love the warm-up reference Barb. You are right, it is really important to warm up before we start the "serious" stuff. And play it is!

This probable goes to everything in our life - don't take them too seriously, play and have fun!

Cheers everyone

Marian Fortunati
There's nothing quite as wonderful as painting away in a gorgeous spot with a big smile on your face!!!!

Jo Allebach
How true How true! I am so lucky to be able to do what I love to do! And it is fun! I guess that is why we call it playing. art really helps get the bad stuff out of my head, too. I did not play as much as most kids, it took me time to grow up to "learn" to play. And I sure am glad I did. Thanks for reminding me of the value of play.

Carol Schmauder
Thanks for the reminder to play, Moshe. Last year I stepped out of my comfort zone and "played" with paint and materials on my watercolor paper and had the best time. I was also happy with the results.

Time to go play.

Creating content for Artsology is like "play" for me, and allows some creativity on the web in addition to the painting I like to do in the studio. Hadn't heard of yupo before, I'll have to check it out.

mimi torchia boothby watercolors
I bought some Yupo last night, now that is STRANGE stuff! thanks guys for the suggestions. I also enjoyed looking at the Ziva's paintings that were made using it.

Tuva Stephens
Yupo as can see is the opposite of the qualities of wc paper. It causes you to come up with some new techniques.

Debra LePage
It's pretty slick alright, Tuva :)

Tuva Stephens
I would be glad to pass on a few suggestions from the George James workshop about using Yupo. Just email me.


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