Sunday, March 1, 2009


Between the Pines and the Silence, 2008, oil on canvas, 30 x 30 inches
© 2008 Diane McGregor

Gwendolyn Plunkett's Ancient Vessel Art Blog features my work this week. She has invited readers to participate in her Time/Rituals/Collections interactive blog project. Gwen's invitation inspired me to think of my own rituals as I create one of my oil paintings.

I've found one of the most important and necessary rituals I engage in is writing in my journal. Before I start work in the morning, I sit quietly in the studio, with the dawn coming up. I light a candle and begin to write my thoughts, observations, and reflections on the work I'm doing. An important part of this journaling ritual are my affirmations. I have a list of 4 or 5 affirmations that deal with my art and my career, and I spend about 10 or 15 minutes writing them out, over and over. This activity calms me and sets my mood for the day. I will often read poetry at this time as well, finding inspiration in the words and imagery of Neruda, Rumi, Mary Oliver, and others. Sometimes I discover a line or phrase in a poem that I will use as a starting point for the painting. I also seek out my favorite poets to find the titles to my work.

I usually spend a lot of time beforehand looking at the painting that I am about to work on, figuring out where the painting is taking me. I try to listen to what the painting tells me. When I'm ready to paint, I set up my work table. My glass palette is always spotlessly clean before I begin to paint. I pour out 2 cans of odorless mineral spirits for washing the brushes. Then I squeeze out the colors from the paint tubes. I select my color palette for the painting ahead of time, and I usually stick to that palette for the duration of the painting.

My technique is repetitive and process oriented. Vertical and horizontal brushstrokes, applied in many layers, form a grid structure and slowly build up the abstract composition as the brushstrokes accumulate and transform the canvas. The application of the paint is methodical yet allows for chance and unplanned discoveries. Time is an element of the process, as each brushstroke represents a moment, a gesture, a connection.

Another important ritual for me is music -- the music I listen to in the studio is extremely important. I usually always listen to the music of Hildegard of Bingen (or anything by Anonymous 4), which in itself is ritualistic and repetitive, with soaring harmonies and meditative melodies. The music mirrors my painting process in its repetition and meditative qualities. In fact, I will often listen to the same piece of music over and over while working on a particular piece. The repetition of the music adds a subliminal lyric element to the imagery.

When I am finished for the day, usually around sunset, I scrape off my glass palette and clean my brushes with soap and warm water. I have a ritual for washing my brushes too. It's kind of odd and obsessive, actually. I wash each brush exactly 3 times. I then lay them out to dry, and I always let them dry for at least 24 hours. I do this every time, I don't know why.

I was delighted to discover recently a blog called Daily Routines. It includes descriptions of all sorts of rituals and habits of writers, artists, composers, etc. Like many artists and writers, at the end of my day I enjoy a glass of wine as I reflect upon that day's work and consider the next day's direction.


Margaret Ryall said...

Thank you for giving a glimpse into your practice. I can certainly see how your description of how you move through your day is reflected in your work which always calms me when I look at it.

The people that I know who have a strong ritual base to their lives seem to have found a way to "be". I envy that. While I am productive, I am sporadic in my approach and rarely do things the same way on two consecutive days. There is much to think about in this post.

Diane McGregor said...

Thanks for your comments, Margaret. I must say that it has taken decades to get to this point of practicing any rituals in my working habits. I was very scattered for many years. I think wisdom and old age accounts for my current routine, one that really feeds my creative soul.

Kesha Bruce said...

Great post! I always love to read about the small rituals and quirky details that are part of an artist's studio practice.

And like Margaret said, it's given me alot to think about in terms of my own work and habits.

Leslie Avon Miller said...

I have enjoyed the glimpse into your studio space and your process. I so appreciate your blog, your well thought out comments and the obvious passion you have for creating. Sometimes when I am in my studio, alone, creating, I envision other artists doing the same. And you are an artist I think of.

Jo Reimer said...

Thanks Diane for giving us a glimpse into your daily routine. Perhaps routine is key to getting the work done. You set the mood, prepare your heart and mind, step into your space and make the work.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Diane, I need to slow down and think more about my work. I rush at things so much. Your work shows the peaceful meditative processes involved. I wish I could be as dedicated, getting up at the crack of dawn is not something I aspire to regularly, but it is a wonderful magical time.

kras said...

Ma, you are so disciplined! Thanks for sharing your daily routine. What does Flower do to help out?