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An Artist's High

An Artist's High

Valerie Atkisson, "Jungle Totem", Watercolor on paper, 12ft x 2 ft, 2008 (detail)

Valerie Atkisson / ArtBistro

October 12, 2009

I took down some posts on ArtBistro about making art under the influence of illegal drugs. We can’t really allow that content on our 13 and up site. A few weeks later I was making some art and it sparked my thinking about making art and “highs”.

What happened? Since becoming the Editor of ArtBistro it has been a challenge to keep up with my art career. A few months ago, an opportunity came to show at a gallery, the Sego Art Center. I was ready to make another large piece and was pretty excited at the opportunity. I’d done some thinking and sketching but nothing had really felt right or crystallized except I knew that it would be watercolor and that I wanted the result to be an organic shape rather than a rectangle. During one of my morning swims, the idea of the piece came to me.

I worked at my studio for several stretches of time and had worked out the format of the piece, a 12-foot tall watercolor. I collected source material for the jungle trees and made a drawing of how they would go up the wall. I made sketches of little “me’s” from acrobatic gymnasts and trapeze artists. I had a life size drawing and transferred it to watercolor paper.

Having done all of that, the pressure was on. I had three large pieces of watercolor paper and I was nervous about messing them up. One “oops” splash and I may have to start over and I did not have time to start over.

I turned on some of my favorite music and got to work. I started painting under layers and ideas of interesting color combinations and blending came to mind. I made bold and quick decisions about what should go where and experimented with how to make these trees interesting and individual. I was having a lot of fun and the watercolors were being completed much more quickly than I anticipated. All of the strokes I made were meaningful, right, and the color choices were having my desired effect. I was surprised and encouraged with the spontaneous ideas that were working out beautifully. I was having so much fun! A few hours flew by and I started to get tired. I quit for the day because I know that when I get tired I make mistakes. It was hard to stop though I was having such a good time.

During the drive home from my studio I felt mixture of surprise, satisfaction, pride in my work, euphoria, energy, optimism, and that anything I would do at that moment would turn to gold. I went home and I could not go to sleep. I can always go to sleep, but I was so energized and excited about the work that I’d just done, I couldn’t. It was adrenaline. It was then that I realized that I was on an “Artist High”.

I remembered that this has happened to me before on other projects. I even, in some cases, remember when and at what point I was at in the project when I felt the same feelings. This “high” feeling can be a very powerful motivator for artists especially amongst the difficulties of a creative career.

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