Inside the Creative

One of the biggest challenges I face is a commitment to process – but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it. In fact, I strive for it because I often look past it. It’s a fault of mine that I continually work on.  I also understand that I may not be alone.  Innovators, “big picture” thinkers and everyday people often have trouble sticking to process.  However, it’s important to always recognize the value of process and what better way to examine process than through the eyes of an artist.

I caught the following sequence of paintings on Facebook and was instantly taken by the imagery, the dedication, and of course, the process.  The paintings were done by Dan Reed, an artist in the Philadelphia region who focuses on automotive paintings.  His gallery can be found here.

Shortly after seeing the paintings I reached out to Dan to see if he would discuss his process with me in hopes that it would shed some light on how to refine my own processes. The interview is located just below the presentation and sheds some light on how, perhaps, the creative process isn’t unlike the process by which we approach our own projects.



1. How do your drawings, or visions, first appear? Are there certain elements that trigger inspiration?

In a way that’s a loaded question because practically every painting  was derived from its own inspirations. However, I can point to a  couple of paintings in particular. The painting “I Can Make It”  (see website) was inspired by my desire to incorporate trains into some  of my classic automobile themes. I didn’t want to repeat what other  artists have done – specifically having a car and train racing side by  side. I gave it some thought and came up with the idea of having the  driver of a car attempt to outrun the train through the crossing. Its  a dynamic scene and led me to create another in that series “I Can  Make It II”. Both paintings caught the attention of a top automotive  magazine, Hemmings Classic Car, and they featured both paintings last  summer which resulted in orders for prints from all over the country.
There’s another painting which had an interesting start. My 1955  DeSoto painting (see website) was inspired by the roof of a neighbor’s  barn roof. Not the roof specifically, but the extreme contrast I saw  one day between the bright, sun lit roof against a deep blue cloudless  sky. I knew I had to incorporate that contrast into a painting so I  made sketches as soon as I got home. The extreme low vantage point in  this painting was determined by the fact I needed the bright sunlit  building to be backdropped against a deep blue sky. The byproduct of  this vantage point resulted in a very unique view of the car itself.

2.  Can you walk us through the creative process?

Once I have a vision for a painting I begin to make sketches. This  allows me to get the ideas out of my head and on paper before I forget  it. In a way, the sketch stage is the most creative part of the  process because this is where the composition, color, and format of  the painting are really determined. A canvas is never even placed on  the easel until I know what’s going to be on it.

3. Do you ever feel like giving up?

Yes. Every day…………………. Kidding:) Actually, not often.

4. Are there any “failures” along the way and if so, how do you  overcome  them?

I don’t want to talk about failure. NEXT QUESTION!…………Kidding again:)
Regarding the painting process itself, any failures are typically very  minor – nothing that can’t be touched up once the paint dries. This is  another important factor of the sketch process. If I loose inspiration  at the sketch stage I wouldn’t move forward to the canvas. I only put brush to canvas once I have confidence in the composition of my sketches.

5. How structured is your creative process? do you employ timelines  or is  it more or less an evolving process?

The creative process is not structured – not in a time-line sense. I  don’t employ time-lines in the traditional sense by having certain elements of the painting completed by a certain time. I will give a client an estimated completion date and keeping to that date simply means staying disciplined to the overall process and the time it takes to follow through.

6. Is there ever an end goal for your paintings – meaning, how do  you  envision there life once you’ve completed them?

As for a long-term goal? No. If the painting is commissioned, the long  term expectation is that the painting will remain with the owner for  the foreseeable future. If its a painting I create for myself, the  intent is to produce a line of prints that can be sold through my website and at automotive events throughout the following seasons. The original paintings are offered for sale as well.

7. Do you think there are parallels in your creative process that  would  resonate with how non-artists approach projects in their  everyday life?

There certainly can be parallels in the creative process with other  non-art activities. To pinpoint what I do on a daily basis and draw a  parallel with another person’s activities, I can’t answer. However, I did  work in the corporate world for 12 years, in the engineering field. In a broad sense, you have to be self motivated and have a good work ethic. These traits will serve a person well in the corporate world or being self employed. Funny side-line; I had a friend tell me when I left my day-job to paint full-time that her husband “could never work from home. He needs that boss-over-the-shoulder as his motivating factor.” I think creativity is a mindset and therefore I’m not quite sure how you would teach it. I’ve worked with people who were very good at executing a given task, but once that task was completed they came to a stand-still until directed to do another task. Others seemed to have the ability to extrapolate from that task and move onto other related projects. The selling and marketing of artwork takes a certain amount of creativity as well. You can create the most outstanding artwork, but if nobody sees it you can’t sell it. Being a self employed artist means you have to wear many hats. For many years while working in an engineering testing lab I essentially had one job – test and evaluate the company’s products. I didn’t have to manufacture it, market it, create profit/loss analysis on it, sell it or ship it. When your on your own you have to do it all. And that too takes some creativity.

8. Would you say there are more creative outlets, opportunities for   individuals to create, than there were 5 years ago? If yes, what  does this  mean for the everyday person who is interested in  advancing their career.

My answer to this question is time sensitive. My answer could change  again in 2-4 years. For me personally the opportunities were more  plentiful 3 years ago mainly because the state of the economy. I bill  myself as an automotive fine artist and my lifeblood are the car show events. When the economy tanked in 2009 corporate sponsorships for some of the top tier events (know as Concours d’Elegance shows) dried  up. Some shows were dropped from the 2009 and 2010 calendar years,  which directly effected the number of exhibition opportunities.  Without those potential customers my request for commissions dropped  off as well. Not all is doom and gloom though. I never stop working  and there’s never a day I don’t have something in the works. When my  commissions drop off I just shift to creating more work of my own  ideas that I can then produce a line of prints from. Having a greater variety of prints to sell  helped to offset the lost income from private commissions. Not only  that, I can continue to sell the prints year after year and when things pick up I’m just that more prepared to take advantage of it.  One thing can be said for starting any business in a down economy – yes, it will take a bit more work, but if you can succeed now you’ll do great when things improve. I began painting full-time in 2005 when I had months worth of backlogged work in the pipeline. Things were easy and humming along. Then came 2009 and it seemed people just stopped spending money overnight. I had to scramble and think fast, be more creative, and adjust my thinking a bit. One thing I do better today is keep more money in reserve so I don’t get caught off guard. Seems so common sense and yet it eluded me when times were good.

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