In the Broadway play, Red, the actor portraying Mark Rothko says to his assistant, “Painting is 90% thinking and 10% doing.” In fact, even while the theater guests are seating themselves, the Rothko character is already seated in a chair opposite a very large painting. He remains deep in contemplation for at least 10-15 minutes until the play begins. This pre-opening scene effectively illustrates the commitment to “thinking” portrayed by Rothko. The play continues by examining the numerous struggles that belie what we perceive to be the very successful career of an iconic artist.
Like Rothko, we struggle to constantly evaluate the “inspiration” for our compulsion to paint a particular subject. Most of us are inclined to get lost in the details of a rendered object or the beauty of a particular color relationship and in that enamored moment get distracted from the task of portraying the dynamic impact of our inspiration. So, how do we stay focused?
Stepping away is how to stay focused. We need to emulate Mark Rothko’s character by literally, stepping back from the easel. Situate a chair across the room from your easel and invest time in constructive and honest examination of your progress. Set a timer if necessary to remind yourself to step back from your painting.
Most artists juggle a myriad of distractions in their lives; family, jobs, domestic demands, community involvement, etc. Inevitably, when we finally find time to paint, we attack the opportunity with a blind ambition. Take the time to reflect. Contemplation is even more productive than application. Give value to the time needed to intellectually resolve painting problems before physically applying a solution. The creative process takes a great deal of thinking; “90% thinking and 10% doing.” Mandate time to contemplate. It is not time wasted.