Manda Maggs

Manda Maggs, Penticton BC

Instinct: A necessary skill

We've all had that overwhelming feeling that there is more going on than what is on the surface - we may not even understand why at first. The hair on the back of your neck stands up when someone ordinary-looking gets into the elevator with you, or you suddenly swerve on a dark road and only see the deer you narrowly missed bounding away in the rearview mirror. Instincts keep us safe, both physically and socially. It can also lead us to taking risks. It's also my belief that art is almost entirely dependent on instinct. 

Every brush stroke, every colour choice, every broken 'art rule' is an instinct-based decision that artists employ to create beautiful, evocative, interesting pieces. When to add, subtract, what mediums to use (and combine), and when to stop and declare a piece completed are harder than you think. I suspect that this is more what overwhelms new artists than the actual skills of drawing or painting. It's part of growing artist confidence. 

Your 4-year-old self understood true beauty without even trying. 

Your 4-year-old self understood true beauty without even trying. 

The hardest part for me - the scariest part of creating a piece - is picking up a blank canvas and being terrified that that the first few strokes will go awry. Once i get in the groove of painting, though, nothing can stop me. I don't need to eat or pee, stretch or talk. I can sit for literally hours without movement except for the pacing of my right arm back and forth from canvas to palette. I can only describe this state as being almost purely instinctual - there is no true thought involved, no conscientious decision-making. It's almost a shock when I come out of that state and discover a painting in front of me.

If I have any advice for new artists it's this: listen to your instincts.  

Your brain stores immense amounts of information about how the world looks, how things move, how shadow and light and colour change - there has never been a book or blog written that can substitute for your perception. After all, that's why people are drawn to art: they want your perception, your interpretation of a feeling, an object, movement, or colour. Have you ever noticed that a lot of emerging artists and great art is fantasy or sci-fi? I actually expect that this is because that subject matter requires the artist to employ their imagination, to draw upon their interpretation and free them from the conventional, to force them to rely on instinct rather heavily.  

This instinct - this skill in 'knowing' what to do and how to do it, trusting that your body and mind are going to work together, is really magical if you can achieve it. I am learning to employ it more - especially when it comes to my world outside of painting.

Fashion, for instance. Here's an illustration of me trying to accessorize:

You wouldn't believe the struggle. 

You wouldn't believe the struggle. 

I'll be working on that...

The final word: Use your instincts. Cultivate trust in yourself. You are smarter than you think you are.