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Writing your Backstory



In the previous blog post I asked you what type of painter you were, a Pantser, Plotter or a Dancer. Today let’s look at the backstory of why you create the way you do. This is another big part of developing your authentic voice and it can be a tremendous help when you need to write about your work. The backstory is the development of a character. An actor studying a role may develop a back story to get into character, a musician may recall a certain genre of music or be inspired by another artist. Art history shows that artists were creating in movements simultaneously. No one was unique. Cubism was explored simultaneously by many including Picasso, Braque and even some of the Mexican Modernists. The first stirrings of Abstract Expressionism began almost 100 years ago. Art movements are built upon previous explorations and they are influenced by culture, politics, and economics.


Most artists prior to the early 1800’s relied on the support of religious institutions or some other authoritarian power to survive. Kings and religious leaders determined the subject matter of most of those artists’ works. Abstract art had its roots in the economic independence of artists when they were freed from creating mainly for religious and political sponsors. They could ask themselves, what do I want to create? Their backstory became a part of their art, even those like Duchamp who chose to give no backstory.


Science, personal philosophies, economic and political events all contribute to art movements. These are their backstories, like tides influenced by the moon. The artist’s history and perspective make up their backstory of why they create what they do. You could also look at your artist bio and your resume as part of your backstory. You can read my bio to see how my backstory influences my subject matter. Once you have written your bio, you may approach writing a backstory for a body of work or even individual paintings.


I usually create the title and write the story for an exhibition before I even create the art. I am setting the scene for my paintings to become the characters. I recently had an exhibition called Other Spaces. The art was inspired by images from various planetary explorations. The inspiration and the show statement held the work together. Each painting had its’ own story. This only needs to be 1-2 sentences. It acts like an invitation to welcome your viewer into the world of the painting.


I gave a lecture on Abstract Art at a Foundation where I had judged their first National Abstract Exhibition. The institute was known for the beautiful realistic landscape work that it housed. Many of the directors and members were not as familiar with abstract art. I used an example of where to enter an abstract work and how to follow the trail of colors, textures, and shapes. I described how the artist may contribute to this experience by also titling the work and using a sentence or two to allow the viewer to know a little about the backstory. If the artist hasn’t done that the viewer may need to work harder to find out about the artist. Several members were grateful for the roadmap introduction to abstract art.


So why do you create what you do?

Does survival play a part? I used to make jewelry instead of large sculptures because I couldn’t afford the materials or the studio space to make large work. The market was more receptive to jewelry sales as well. I was young and needed to pay my bills, so jewelry stood in for my sculptures. The dream lived in the background of my business of getting on with life.


What are your favorite mediums?

If you could do or make anything regardless of expense or guaranteed success, what would it be?

I would love to explore digital VR work. It will involve learning a new medium. When I retire, that’s what I will do!


Are you drawn to textures, do you work with stone or textiles?I love textures and I love creating new techniques to mimic textures found in nature. This has led me to write 6 books on art techniques. I never planned to write a book much less six of them, but once the ideas were flowing it was like a river. I love to share my explorations and have others discover them and incorporate the ideas into their own style.


Why do you select the medium you use?

I used to paint in oils but when I was commuting from school to work, I switched to acrylic because it dried faster. Once I made the transition, I became captivated with all the mixed media possibilities. I never looked back to oils.


Is there a health issue that has influenced the why of your work?

When I was studying printmaking, I couldn’t tolerate the lithography chemicals, so I developed a unique way to make collagraphs using acrylic mediums. I went on to incorporate many of my early explorations into my first two books.