The Oblique Strategies

When I look back at my year in painting 2016, I feel mostly uninspired. I painted some great things – things that made me laugh, things that surprised me, things that pleased my patrons  – but not very many. I worked when I was asked to and made a few things just to pass the time, but I wasn’t driven.


Brian Eno says of creative work, “The point about working is not to produce great stuff all the time, but to remain ready for when you can.” There were months at a stretch that I didn’t paint, and I felt stilted when I finally did. I hadn’t kept up the practice, and in not doing so, I lost momentum.

In 2017, I am committed to painting, to filling canvasses with vibrant colors and things that make people smile or think. I want to have my paintbrush at the ready for when I can create something great. Creative expression is a huge part of my self-care. If I am well enough to put paintbrush to canvas, it’s indicative that I am fed, watered, walked, and ready for new challenges. But sometimes, painting can help me get my head together enough and energize me enough to fulfill those other more basic needs.

I thought about ways to keep me creating without consistent commissions. I’ve tried to do series in the past and mostly got bored or lost momentum, but right now seems like the perfect moment. Recently I was reintroduced to the Oblique Strategies – a brilliant set of instructions created by Eno and Peter Schmidt. These instructions, on notecards or as I use them, on an app, are dealt at random to disrupt the creative process and to get you moving in a new direction. Some examples: “Listen in darkness, or in a very large room, very quietly” or “Shut the door and listen from the outside.” The cards are geared toward the ear of a musician, but they get me thinking as a painter. I love the concept but have never had a project that could use it.

I’ve decided to use the Oblique Strategies as a set of painting prompts. My first prompt was, “Look at a very small object, look at its centre.” We have a lot of candles in my house, too many candles. Help! My family is starving. I decided to look at a match, really look at it, and instead of painting its full head, to focus on its center. I’m happy with the result as a “first pancake” – the bright colors, the engulfing flames.

The lesson here? Keep creating until you’re ready to make something great – and use the tools that other creative people have made to keep you from being derivative.

I will be selling my Oblique Strategy paintings, which have the prompt written on the back, for $10 plus shipping in my etsy shop, if any particular one strikes your fancy.


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