Transformations: The Struggle to Create

"Vortex" Encaustic and Wood on Panel 12" x 12" © 2010 Marilyn Fenn

Encaustic and Wood on Panel
12″ x 12″
© 2010 Marilyn Fenn

Creativity is about play and a kind of willingness to go with your intuition. It’s crucial to an artist. If you know where you are going and what you are going to do, why do it? — Frank Gehry

This is a very comforting quote for me.  When I paint, I frequently have only a very vague idea or sometimes — no idea at all — of what I am searching for in the new work.  I start somewhere, and often, the finished piece is so far away from where it started, it’s unrecognizable.  One of my favorite things about working this way is that I discover things — such as shapes and images — that I just couldn’t invent.

I recently watched the excellent movie called “It Might Get Loud” – a documentary on the electric guitar told through interviews and a meeting between three generations of guitar greats: Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), The Edge (U2), and Jack White (White Stripes). I have loved the work I’ve heard by Jack White (such as the completely unabashed and fearless “Ball and a Biscuit”), but wasn’t really all that familiar with him.

He blew me away in this movie. He talked about the need to struggle in the process of creation, and if you’re not struggling, he says, do something to create a struggle. (And there were many more great quotes from him, which I’m sure will inform future posts).

Well, I definitely do struggle in my process; sometimes I’m sure it really shows; other times, you can’t even tell. It’s become far more rare for me to just breeze through a painting. (Dagnabit!)

Encaustic, Oil Pastel, Rice Paper and Ribbon on Panel
12″ x 12″
© 2010 Marilyn Fenn


There may be several stages in the course of working on the painting where I think, “Oh, this is good.  Maybe I’m done.”  And then I do something else, and ruin what I had and have to go further to make what I’ve now got into something else good.

Ship of Fools“Ship of Fools”
Encaustic on Panel
12″ x 12″
© 2010 Marilyn Fenn


Sometimes I fear that I have lost the best stage of the work, but once I’m done, how do I know whether I did or not?  I really should document more of the transformative process.

Encaustic, Rice Paper and Ribbon on Panel
9″ x12″
© 2010 Marilyn Fenn


These four paintings are four of my latest struggles; one is a reworked painting from 2008; another I’ve changed since I took the photo; no promises that they won’t continue to change, including the orientation and the titles.

How about you? If you’re a creator, do you struggle to achieve your final result, or does it come easily? Is your best work the result of a struggle or not? Under what circumstances do you create your best work? Let me know in the comments below.

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Although nature commences with reason and ends in experience it is necessary for us to do the opposite, that is to commence with experience and from this to proceed to investigate the reason.

— Leonardo

da Vinci
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Comments on My Paintings
  • This is a lovely piece, and your portfolio looks great.
Gallery of Recent Paintings
Untitled 2015-026 - Oil on Canvas - 10 x 10 - © 2015 Marilyn Fenn Discreet Investigation of Exuberance - Oil painting by Marilyn Fenn Composition Number 6, 2013 - Acrylic on panel - 8 x 8 - © 2013 Marilyn Fenn Untitled (2015-007) - Oil painting by Marilyn Fenn