When I find myself blocked in my own work, I stop and look closely at the creative processes of artists I admire. A work of art doesn't emerge from the imagination fully formed. It's conceived in rough-hewn fragments, each of which has to be refined, drafted, notated, and revised (and, sometimes, discarded) several times before it becomes apparent just how, where and why it fits in a larger whole. Picasso's several early studies for his renowned, 25-foot wide oil painting on canvas, Guernica, were barely recognisable as having anything to do with the final work. And yet, as the studies evolved, there was no sense of trepidation or doubt: the great Spanish artist explored as many elements as possible of the ideas they suggested – as if figuring out a puzzle – before committing to the final work.The German-born, American sculptor, Eva Hesse's process included scribbling instructions and explanatory notes to herself in a small spiral-bound notebook, after sketching only the most basic shapes on graph paper. I used to be criticised for writing rather than sketching at art school but words often helped more, in the initial stages of working out a piece, than pictures. Later, I'd collage, cutting out shapes and parts of study photographs to position and move around before filling in the spaces with pencil drawings.For more than fifteen years, Edward Weston's Daybooks recorded the American photographer's daily struggle to understand himself and his work. His brief, sometimes clinical entries remind us that process doesn't end when one thing is finished. It's ongoing, relentless, not just through a body of work but also an entire artistic life.
Of course, the viewer sees only the completed work. What it took to get it there is, too often, swept away, lost, and forgotten – except by the artist, who has always to return to the process to develop the next idea, to experiment with new media and techniques and ultimately, to produce more work. Accepting that – accepting, too, that it's very rarely quick or easy – helps relieve my constant, nagging frustration with myself.