When I first started painting my biggest dilemma was that I didn’t know what I wanted to paint. Now that I had the skills for it, what to do with them? In the past, instructors set the scene or gave out the assignment. I needed a source of creative inspiration. But where, what, who? I have plenty of opinions on everything else, why not this? At some time or other we’re bound to ask ourselves, What have I got to say? How do you go about finding your voice I wondered? 

 When I was taking some art classes at OCAD, they were typically 3 hours in length. During our break I would go down to the bookstore and cruise the books, looking at anything and everything. The diversity was incredible. I remember one book in particular that was page after page of scribble. I wondered at the colours, the compositions. Another book was about landscapes.  Another about graffiti, another photography…  When I was enrolled in art school I continued this delightful habit. Every week I’d take home stacks of books often picked at random. I would read bits here and there, flip through pages or read a book cover to cover. I looked at as many images as I could. It would seem that having a voice was about commitment whatever your subject. I learned there was no end to what artists chose to make art about. What materials you use, your methodology and composition become the language of your message.


A way to find your muse is to show up at the table. As Nike says, just do it. If everyday you make a piece of art eventually one of those pieces is going to strike a cord and set you on a path. Not as easy as it sounds I know. I remember a friend who was excited when I brought my paints to the beach. I offered them up to her as I was relaxing in the sun. Sadly, I watched as she put some bold streaks of blue on the paper, decided it was crap, packed up the paints and put them away. She was done before she had really gotten started. 

Children, uninhibited by rules and conventions, make delightful art. They don’t judge every mark they make. They come with an open mind and playful intentions. It’s impossible to sustain an effort if every stroke has to be perfect. Sometimes you have to be willing to make bad art. Push past it, you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. You might discover something in the process that leads you to a better place. Fooling around with water colours I discovered that when you lay the brush flat and drag it along on toothy paper { paper with a lot of texture } the paint sits on the surface and the white of the paper in the pits shows through. It reminded me of the beautiful sparkles you see when sun hits the water. My painting was crap but my next one was a delight to me. 

One of my favourite activities is to go for a walk. I can let my mind and eyes roam. Relaxing becomes part of the process and I’m likely to notice more of my surroundings. There is so much beauty if you go looking for it. More often then not nature is a muse for me. Pussy willow buds against a bright blue sky, the intriguing centre of a tiny wild flower, the way the summer sun penetrates a gooseberry so it looks like a paper lantern. What you have to say doesn’t have to be an elaborate intellectual statement.

One of the harder lessons I learned is don’t fight your work. In my efforts to do a daily piece of art I would do an emotional check in. I’d do a painting in my sketch book and then sift through the emotional content. I remember doing this one image that started with pretty bubbles but the more bubbles I did the dirtier they became. Frustrated my painting was turning into something ugly I stopped and walked away.  Some hours later when I returned I realized that I was seeing a breath. Clean fresh air in, dirty toxic air out. My daily check in was a reminder to just breathe. I came to understand my instincts could inform my paintings and to trust them. I now see the beauty of this painting. I love it.

Sometimes it’s easy to become paralyzed by the sheer amount of possibility and a tight deadline. Analysis paralysis! I’m no stranger to it myself. We all know that to solve a problem it’s best to relax and do something else, that solutions have a way of slipping in the back door. Things will jump out at me when I’m not looking for them. I’ve learned to use these moments when they present themselves. I had one art teacher that encouraged us to collect and develop ideas when we were going about our daily business. When you needed to complete an assignment or commission at short notice you had concepts that were well developed you could pick from. I can remember being at work with a shift partner and all day long as we thought of them we collected checks…sound check, reality check, double check, cross check, spell check, blank check, bed check, body check…it was fun and easy, no pressure. By the end of our 12 hour shift, which went by quickly, we had a whole list of them.

My favourite place to retreat to is the shower. It’s the one sacred place where I can count on being alone on a daily basis. Water helps us turn inward, become reflective, focus more deeply. I think washing up occupies our analytical left brain freeing our intuitive right brain to share her insights. I get lots of ideas in the shower and if I’m working on something and am stuck I head to the there to work it out. I can be sure I’ll come out with a resolution. Some people find driving does the same thing for all the same reasons. Have a notebook or phone handy so you can record your thoughts before they disappear.

It’s great to get out your latest works and have a look at them all in one place. What do you see? Do you need new materials? Would you do something again but with a different approach? Are there common images or themes? Is there something new you’d like to capitalize on? Is there a point of view? I have a talented niece who is taking graphic design. Kindly she came to me. Would I look at her work? How delightful to be asked! As we looked at the total of the year’s work I couldn’t help but notice there was a sense of transformation in all of her pieces. While some of it was intentional some of it was not. The theme was there never the less. Now she could see it she had an opportunity to own it and exploit it, taking her work to a whole new level.

We all have something to say. Sometimes we’ll know exactly what it is. When we don’t, we know we can relax and let it come out on it’s own terms. We may need to dig a little deeper to find out what’s going on beneath the surface of our lives. If we’re kind and patient our voice it will reveal itself to us.


Thought for Food
Do a piece of art every day. If you’re short on time give it 15 minutes so you don’t feel pressured. Design a vignette or use a different medium, from play dough to a photograph to a quick doodle or painting. Be playful. Do whatever you feel like. Observe rather than judge. Give yourself a week or a month or however long it takes you to hear a message. Now you can hear it give it a platform.
























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paula clarke

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 paula

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