CREATIVITY AND NURTURING A SENSE OF WONDER AND AWE

Creating art is a process of unpacking the things in life which fascinate; a wonderful way to explore obsessions and better understand curiosities.

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Creativity is a process of discovery and exploration. A process of trial and error. A process which can sometimes feel vulnerable, like leaping into the unknown. A process of failures, mishaps and mistakes, but hopefully ones which hold beautiful lessons. A process of discovery and adventure.

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By making art, I have discovered more about my self and the world I inhabit.

It has encouraged me to meet myself on the page, to become clearer on what moves me, motivates me, interests me and lights me up. To follow the threads of my curiosity and weave them together.

The process of creating art has ignited multiple and diverse love affairs for me; my love has burned bright for ancient textiles, feathers, pine cones, seaweed, fossils, found patterns, painted ceramics, fish scales, pigeons, old maps, insects, snow flake structures, leaf shapes, trees, roots, sacred geometry, weeds, patterned rugs, reflections on water, hand embroidery, the moon, tidal patterns, folk art, iridescence....

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I try and not wait for inspiration to find me. Instead I like to go out and find it. And through seeking and hunting, I have indeed found it. The process of making art has helped me to see more wonder and experience more awe. It has helped me to view the world through a lens of enquiry and discovery; to see things anew and with fresh eyes; to be delighted and charmed by the magic of the natural world; to find beauty in the mundane and see the extra ordinary in the ordinary.

I believe that through creating we are able create for ourselves understanding and meaning.

I hope that in some tiny way, that by sharing the joy that art has brought to my life, I may encourage you to think about how you could create a little more space for creativity in your life.


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THOUGHTS ON CREATIVITY: SEEKING PLAYFULNESS NOT PERFECTIONISM

EXPECTATION IS THE THIEF OF JOY

For about ten years in my 20s I avoided drawing or painting because I always wanted the outcome to be perfect. The weight of my expectation was too heavy. It’s a sadness to me that I allowed fear of failure, fear of not being good enough to stop me even starting: that I allowed my high expectations to steal so much joy, so much experimentation, so much development.

Helen Wells Artist

NOTHING TO LOSE AND EVERYTHING TO GAIN

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Now that I’m in my 40s and working as a professional artist I want to share some wisdom with my younger self. I want to tell her that she has absolutely nothing to lose from starting and a whole wonderful world to gain.

DANCE WITH FEAR

I want her to know that the pain of not creating is so much more crippling than the pain of creating something she doesn’t like. That she needs to create despite the fear, that she must work with the fear and let it dance along beside her.

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BE KIND TO YOUR CREATIVITY

I want to tell my younger self that mistakes are how you learn. That being kind and gentle with her self when she is creating helps her to develop and grow and be braver and bolder.

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PERFECTIONISM GETS YOU STUCK, PLAY GETS YOU UNSTUCK

I want her to know that pressured perfectionism gets her stuck and that half the fun is the journey to the end result not the end result itself. I want to tell her to be playful.

PLAY IS PART OF MY PROCESS

Play, experimentation and childlike curiosity is part of making things manifest, is part of creating art, an important part. So I thought I’d share some of the ways I play and incorporate it into my artistic practice.

LOOKING AND SEEKING

Helen Wells Artist

I frequently go wandering outside with my camera, looking for inspiration. I try and really look with fresh eyes and notice what makes me curious, what stands out. I look for patterns and shapes, colours and textures. I find that the more I actively seek on these meanders the more interesting things I find.

The shots in this blog post are from a wander in my local park just before sunset. It took me a little while to look up and see lots of striking silhouettes of trees and twigs, lines and patterns on the water, reflections and outlines.

USING PHOTOGRAPHS AS A SPRINGBOARD

I might then print out a few of the photographs and use then as a starting point, as a springboard, as reference material, as an entry point to something. As the start of something.

STARTING SMALL

Helen Wells Artist

I often like to cut up a large piece of thick heavy paper into many small pieces. I find that playing about on a small piece of paper is liberating, less daunting. I will paint and splash, daub or draw on more that one piece at a time. Just playing. Just experimenting. Just responding to what’s on the page. Just having fun.

I often might get out lots of different materials, watercolour, ink and experiment, see what works, what doesn’t. Because I might have a pile of 15 pieces of paper on the go at once, there is no preciousness, there is expansiveness and abundance.

These playful bursts often result in something interesting, a seed of an artwork, a happy accident, something that I will develop into a larger, more significant art work. I find this playful approach leads to a much better end result than trying to create something of significance from the get go, this exploration and experiment leads to discovery, that I can work through the mistakes to unearth something more valuable and beautiful.

Helen Wells Artist
Helen Wells Artist

HOW I WORK: THEMES, PROCESS AND STIMULUS

THEMES AND INFLUENCES

WATERCOLOUR AND ACRYLIC PAINT AND INK COLLAGED SAMPLE

WATERCOLOUR AND ACRYLIC PAINT AND INK COLLAGED SAMPLE

I use expressive mark making to create abstract, decorative pieces which feature repetition and rhythm, layers of complexity and organic forms. I’m fascinated by the interplay of colours, shapes and patterns. My paintings are rarely envisioned but develop over days as I respond to the materials and the marks on the page, creating complex illusionary landscapes.

My artworks have been described as having a magical or other worldly quality, although I am very much fascinated by the magic and wonder in this world. I’m mesmerized by the beauty, colour and pattern in our natural world. I’ll frequently have a love affair with something where I become obsessed with it for a while; from snow flake structures, to patterns on shells, or the colours and patterns on fish scales, or antique Indian textiles, or bird feathers or butterfly wings, or the patterns on maps… I also have some magpie tendencies and am rather drawn to the glittering and glinting, iridescent or luminous… 

PILES OF PAPER IN MY STUDIO

PILES OF PAPER IN MY STUDIO

PROCESS

I experiment in my sketchbooks and will sometimes take a germ of an idea from these and use it as a springboard for a larger work. Most of my work features watercolour. There is something about the unpredictability of this kind of paint which I find alluring and magical. I love the way the paint and colour mixes with the water on the page and creates unexpected patterns. I love the transparency of it, the ability to build up layer after layer of paint. There’s a slight wild-childness about watercolour, it doesn’t always do what you want it to do, and I love it all the more for that. I also love mixing mediums, experimenting with combinations of different types of paint, pen or materials creating layers and different textures, and effects.

INSIDE MY SKETCHBOOK

INSIDE MY SKETCHBOOK

INSPIRATION

Sometimes being an artist is like being a visual adventurer. I am always on the lookout for colours, patterns, tiny inspirations that I can collect, expand upon and use in my paintings. Sometimes these come through active searching, I might take a walk on the beach or in nature to actively seek-out some inspiration, looking at the details of plants and the shapes of the leaves, patterns on pebbles, or the way the water creates lines in the sand.

HELEN WELLS WATERCOLOUR PAINT

HELEN WELLS WATERCOLOUR PAINT

Patterned paper on my desk

Patterned paper on my desk

PATTERNED SAMPLE PAGES IN A PILE IN THE STUDIO

PATTERNED SAMPLE PAGES IN A PILE IN THE STUDIO

INSIDE MY SKETCHBOOK

INSIDE MY SKETCHBOOK

INSIDE MY SKETCHBOOK

INSIDE MY SKETCHBOOK

IN my sketchbook

IN my sketchbook

HOW TO GET UNSTUCK

Wet paint, work in progress.

Wet paint, work in progress.

I had one of those great days in the studio this week, a day when everything seemed to work and I was in a wonderful creative flow. Paintings seemed to unfurl and burst into life with ease. Everything just seemed to work. It was like magic. 

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And that got me thinking about the days when the magic is missing. That these wonderful easy days, the days that feel full of artistic alchemy are not all that common. There are so many days when the creative process is harder, days when I feel stuck or uninspired.

So incase you feel the same, I wanted to share with you some of the tools and techniques I have found that work for me. Things I find so valuable on the 'unflowy' kind of days.

Tricks to magic up the 'flow' when it doesn't seem to be appearing on its own.  Ways of getting unstuck whilst creating and ways to start yourself creating when inspiration seems elusive. 

Getting perspective

When  you are  stuck whilst in the process of creating, getting some perspective can work wonders. 

Sometimes you are just too close to the piece of artwork that you are creating. A little distance can be so useful to get some perspective so you can see 'the wood for the trees'. There's the classic, 'leave it and come back to it the next day' technique. This time away from an artwork allows you to see it with fresh eyes. It gives you the objectivity that might be missing whilst you are actually working on it.

But sometimes you need to magic up some in-the-moment perspective when you don't have the luxury of lots of time. My go-to technique is taking a photograph of the work on my phone. Somehow I see the work with more objectivity by using this one-step-removed method. I invariably see things in the photo that I didn't see whilst working on the painting. I might even take a black and white photograph so I can see the tonal differences.

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Another way to get perspective is to move yourself physically away from what you are working on. Look at the work from a more removed vantage point, I might put it on the wall and move away or just put it on the floor.

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Another technique is to turn the painting upside down. Basically all these methods help me to see my work with new eyes, give me a new perspective and often this is all I need to release me from being stuck in that moment.

More than one on the go

I find that working on more than one painting or piece at a time helps to get me unstuck. By working on several different pieces at once, I'm creating my own flow and momentum.

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In some ways this is also practical for me, as I  use lots of layers of paint and it stops the 'waiting around for the paint to dry'. It also creates an energy and if I'm feeling stuck on one, I can just move on to the next, it creates a break in routine and means that I'm not just looking or obsessing about one piece, it’s just another way of gaining valuable perspective and a little bit of distance.

Don't wait for inspiration

I read somewhere that 'inspiration is for amateurs' and whilst I think this is overly brash, I do agree with the sentiment that you can't just wait around for inspiration to find you, you have to go and find it. If you're waiting for a time when you feel truly inspired, you could be waiting around for ever.

I find that sometimes I have to actively kickstart my inspiration. On days when I'm feeling decidedly under inspired, I have to manufacture my inspiration. I find that taking some action, doing something, turning up at the blank page and just starting is often enough to get the ball rolling. When inspiration is elusive I set myself a small task or project to manufacture my missing inspiration. (See setting boundaries for some ideas.)

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Setting boundaries

Sometimes infinite possibilities are paralysing rather than liberating. Sometimes it can feel daunting to know that you could do, or create absolutely anything. Limitless options can lead to lack of action.

So on the days when my mindset is decidedly 'unflow' like I set myself small tasks just to get myself going and create the momentum that comes with action. I set myself parameters and boundaries that help me overcome the issue of infinite choices.

I might go to the greengrocer and decide to pick one piece of fruit or one vegetable that I find interesting and use that to inspire some drawings.. (I particularly like pineapples and broccoli). I might set myself a limited colour palette, ie I can only use blue or red, or I can only create a piece that is pink or grey.

I might use one small bit of stimuli to create 10 images, i.e. one leaf drawn over and over again.

I might open a magazine at a random page and use whatever text or image I see as a springboard.

I might take myself and my camera on a 10 minute walk, actively searching for inspiration and something I find interesting.

I might pick an artist I'm interested in and use one of their paintings as an inspiration.

I might re-purpose an old painting, cut it up and use it to create something new. I find that setting my own boundaries makes it easier to start and once you've started, it is easier to carry on.

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Letting go

Because I'm always happy to start over with a painting if it's not working, to paint over it, cut it up or repurpose it, it means I am now less attached to every piece being perfect.

Some of the things I create are wonderful and some of them are rubbish. Over the years I've learnt to let go of my perfectionist tendencies, the unrealistic expectations which put too much pressure on the act of creating, the expectations which can even stop you creating completely.  I've discovered the hard way that the less I am attached to perfection the better the piece seems to turn out, the more I embrace playfulness rather than perfection the better my work ends up.

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NEW SERIES OF COLOURFUL PAINTINGS ON CANVAS

Colour in a picture is like enthusiasm in life
— Vincent Van Gogh

I've been working away on some new colourful paintings. The series is called Colour and Joy and I had a lot of joy painting them. 

I love experimenting with different materials and these art works are made by applying lots of layers of acrylic paint to stretched canvas.

I don't use acrylic paint that often, but I'm currently having a good full blown love affair with it. I don't use square canvases often either but I'm really loving the dynamics of using a square. So creating this series of paintings has been a lovely reminder to experiment, use different materials, get out of my comfortable groove, try something different and see where it takes you. 

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I am always obsessed by overlaying colours and patterns on top of each other to create crazy combinations and I've found acrylic paint allows me to do this in a different way to watercolour. So let's see  how this new artistic experiment develops. I'm toying with doing some big canvases.

I've just put these four brand new paintings in my shop where I am currently trialing free international delivery. 

Colour and Joy Two by Helen Wells

Colour and Joy Two by Helen Wells

Colour and Joy Four by Helen Wells

Colour and Joy Four by Helen Wells

Colour and Joy Three by Helen Wells

Colour and Joy Three by Helen Wells

Colour and Joy One by Helen Wells

Colour and Joy One by Helen Wells

PAINT, PATTERN AND COLOUR IN MY STUDIO

I love taking photographs as I work. Often stepping back and looking at an art work through the camera or phone lens gives you a totally different, more objective view. I often see different aspects, areas or dynamics when looking through the lens.

There are lots of good techniques for gaining this kind of perspective, looking at an artwork in the mirror, coming back to a painting on a different day or even turning it upside down, but my favourite is taking photographs. 

My obsession with patterns and colours mean that I often spot an interesting combination as I work. Here are some of my favourite photographs from my studio. A celebration of paint, pattern and colour...

Helen Wells Artist
Abstract art by Helen Wells
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Helen Wells Artist
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Helen Wells Artist
Helen Wells Artist
Helen Wells Artist
Helen Wells Artist
Helen Wells Artist
Abstract art by Helen Wells
Abstract art by Helen Wells
Helen Wells Artist
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