Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go, by Shaun McNiff
Contributed by Deb Stewart
Trust the Process is a book that I have read over and over again. I have sections marked and continue to use it as inspiration. It has so much insight into the creative process. I discovered this book while looking for guidance on a different path of creativity. A path that would combine art and spirituality because, for me, the two are intertwined. This is not a “how-to book” in any way, but one that provides direction on discovering your own individuality as an artist.
In the chapter titled Wellspring of Movement the author states: “We don’t realize how the expressiveness of our paintings and drawings correspond completely to the way in which we move our bodies. Art is close to dance, and our paintings will benefit as we expand our abilities to move with materials. We look for our natural gesture.” I practiced just making marks and the natural way this comes to me. I try to use those gestural marks in my work. Gesture drawing has always been my favorite form of drawing. Gesture and blind contour are so close to channeling creative energy. The author talks of moving while working which is something I often do. It is not uncommon for me to sing and move to music while working. Sometimes this helps to immerse me in the process.
One of my favorite chapters is Emanation, where McNiff discusses the idea that works emanate from each other. Creation is a process of emanation. You must begin to work before the work will emerge. When working in a more realistic way, I often had trouble with where to go with my art. I often felt “stuck” and would ask myself “What should I draw?” One of the ideas in this chapter led me to my current way of working. He suggests creating a series of small drawings that he calls inspiration cards or seeds. In creating these small cards, the artist is experimenting with themes and how one picture emerges (emanation) from the next. This helps the artist’s style to emerge. I continue to utilize this idea and it has helped me immensely in my work. I create gestural contour drawings from plants. I take sections of these drawings and create small drawings on three by four inch papers. This is what I now use in the creation of my abstract pastels.
In the chapters titled Many Ways of Creating and Moving Between Worlds, the author dispels some of the preconceived notions we may have about the lifestyle of the artist. He says that many famous artists, poets and other creative types lived rather normal lives. They wove their creative lives through their jobs, family responsibilities, and other responsibilities. There are many ways to be an artist. The stereotype of the artist does not fit for many people. In Moving Between Worlds McNiff discusses the different roles that we all play and how we move in and out of those roles and how one role can benefit the other. I find this true for me at this moment in time. I believe that the work I have done in human services and education has been of immense benefit to my life as an artist. And my life as an artist has also been of benefit to my work in agencies and schools. One role gives to the other.
I will end with a quote that I believe distills what the book is about:
“A Jesuit who works with art described to me how 'God leads through the process of creation. A force catches my attention and I listen to what attracts me.' The vision is what calls to us and what touches us. It is an ongoing movement, a process. It moves through us. In order to receive the vision, we learn how to sit, watch, and receive. It wants to be known. Creativity is a journey that we are on."We do not want to repeat anyone else’s journey, but to be on our own. How do we discover our true and unique identity as an artist? The guidance in McNiff's book has helped me discover a unique path for myself as an artist. It has helped me depend more on intuition and learn from my own work. I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who sees their life in art as a spiritual journey. Because I believe that it is and this author helps us on our way.
This book ultimately is about the process of creativity. It is a guide through the mental, spiritual and physical aspects of becoming attuned with an intuitive process.
✱ reviewer's website: Debora Stewart: Contemporary Pastels and Drawings
✱ Deb Stewart's blog
✱ Deb Stewart's painting, above, entitled: Emanation Series: Undergrowth. soft pastel on sanded paper and mounted on archival board, 24"H x 18"W
✱ Shaun McNiff: Selected Paintings