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The Creative Process The Zone

As a painter I have suffered through periods of abject failure. Canvases covered with bad starts begin to pile up against the wall reminding me of my ineptness. My confidence lags and my hand holding the brush with the wrong color goes to the wrong place. This can last for long periods of time. It is important at these times that I don’t quit on the act that brings me such great pleasure, creating art. Working hard gets you through these times.

Then there are the times when we work very hard and persevere that we stumble on our best results. It is if an outside force directs us to excel. We can’t miss. At these moments our vision is clear and our hand becomes accurate. For some time I thought this was unique to me. Then, one day at  I was the audience of one listening to Wendell Harrison and Vaughan Klugh play a gig at the Scarab Art Club in Detroit. They started out with some standard stuff but soon took off to some new places. They seemed to anticipate each others’ next move. They were alone with their music. They were playing only for themselves. They came up to my studio after the gig and we talked. I told them that I thought they were at their very best. They both smiled and said that it was close, but they didn’t quite get in the zone. They explained this magical place to me. The zone.

I realized the zone was not just a gift to me but a place where all creative people, with luck, find themselves. When this happens to a visual artist we end up with a tangible lasting piece. a painting, a photo, or a sculpture. In music, except on rare occasions when recording, it is an experience known only by the musicians and those discerning folks who happen to be there. Look for it. You will feel it. It is  a good reason to hear live music.  It will make you smile.

Here are some paintings which were painted at the end of a day of hard work in a very short time.


I had a conversation with the young phenom Grace Kelley when she was at the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe. We talked about how the best work comes out of a place when one is alone and has a single task. Later, while performing, she got noticeably lost in her music. She then told us a story about the song she was playing. It was a  story was about being out of town on a gig and being alone in a motel room with her thoughts when the song emerged fully formed. She wrote the song down in just a few minutes. After she finished the story she looked over to where I was standing holding my camera and smiled. You have to be there.

John Osler

Grace does get lost in her music like so many players.

John Osler

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