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Plan vs. Serendipity

  What is it that makes art happen? Does it happen because the preliminary sketch has every painstaking detail? Or does it just flow out of the fingertips of the artist? Or is it somewhere in between?

Serendipity: noun. 
1. An aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident. 
2. Good fortune; luck.

Plan: noun.
1. a scheme or method of acting, doing, proceeding making, etc, developed in advance: battle plans.

Like I always say, there is a balance in there somewhere.

        Once I was at an art show which was not very well attended and I had time on my hands. I was showing mixed media collage. It was a beautiful venue in Florida and the weather was spectacular. I don't know where the customers were, but dang it, I needed something to do. I found some white typing paper and a ballpoint pen and starting sketching the palm tree across from my booth. I sketched in a very stylized, doodling kind of way. And since I had nothing else to do and still no customers in my booth, I sketched some water lilies and a flamingo. Here it is, loosely stuck in my sketch book years later:

        So several weeks later I am in my studio and came across the sketches. By that time I was looking for new material for collage and needed a point of reference. Inspiration hit when I realized how the palm tree design could become a striking collage on a large canvas. I enlarged the sketch, made a pattern, and transferred it to canvas. I collaged the palm fronds from textured  painted paper against a simple but intense blue sky. 

  Point here? I  did not have a plan that day sitting in my booth, but out of boredom and not being good at sitting around, came up with what later became a plan. I developed several collages from this one page of doodling sketches, and was able to find buyers for most of them.

Many times the sketch is the plan. It is the backbone, the blueprint. It is what comes first, what allows the art to then "flow out of the fingertips." Without the backbone there simply is no standing up, no structure. The sketch gets revised and changed, upgraded and altered, yes, but it is still there, providing the plan.

I know, I know. You don't NEED a sketch to create your amazing artwork. Why waste your time?  You don't need a backbone either unless you plan to stand!

    See, now I have a plan. I can change my plan. Make a big collage with corrugated cardboard and burlap on canvas. Or watercolor paper and tissue paper on wood. I could use this design for stationary or pillowcases or coffee cups or a room divider. Weave it on a loom. Silkscreen it on fabric. Combine it with words. Let the hard lines fade or blur or become invisible. Do a stained glass window. Scratch it into clay and bake it. Or just stuff it back in my sketch book and maybe my grand kids (which I don't have) will find it someday and do something with it, (or not.)

And that's okay, get over it. Artists should have pages and pages of sketches, whole sketchbooks in fact, that never make it into the limelight. It's okay. Because sketching is the backbone of the work, whether the sketch is ever seen or not. Just the fact that you sketched means that it is not only in your sketchbook, it's in your brain. And once it's in your brain it can come "flowing out from your fingertips." 

With my artwork, I start with a loose plan and a color scheme. I have a solid idea where I'm going with the materials at hand. But once I start working, it becomes more like a conversation with the materials. The paint gets peeled up from the palette, then it wants to be embellished. Old bits of retired drop cloths want to be included, as do scraps of leather, beads, and handmade paper. I have to let them speak, so to speak. If I say but but but this is the plan, it might say, well have you considered this option or this color or this layer of stuff? Then I have to listen. And that's the serendipity part.

So you start with a plan, but stay flexible, tuned in to the possibilities. That's how art happens, again and again, new every time. 

I would love to read your thoughts,  but I can't unless you share them with me! 


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