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The creative Process The Zone

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 a wall to remind me of my ineptness. My confidence lags and my hand holding a brush loaded with the wrong color goes to the wrong place. This can last for long periods. It is important at these times that I don’t quit on the act that brings me such great pleasure, creating art. Working harder gets you through to better times.

Then there are the times after we work very hard and we persevere that we stumble on our best efforts. It is as if an outside force directs us to excel. We can’t miss. At these moments our vision is clear and our hand is accurate. I thought that this process was unique to me until I heard Wendell Harrison and Vaughn Klugh play a gig at the Scarab Club in Detroit, and I was the audience of one. They started out with some standard stuff, but then they seemed to anticipate each other as they took off to new places. They played for themselves. They came up to my studio after the gig and we talked. I told them that I thought they were playing at their peak. They both smiled and said that it was good, but they didn’t quite get in the zone. Only those in the zone know when they are in the zone. Everyone has these moments but no one can explain them..

Here are some paintings that just came to me and were executed in a short time.



I realized that the zone was not only my place but a place where all creative people find themselves, with luck, after working hard. When it happens to a visual artist we end up with something tangible like a painting, a photo, or a sculpture. A writer has the writing to show. Great actors sometimes find their characters using them, and their performances are taken to a level that can’t be explained. In music, except on rare occasions when recording, it is an experience known only by the musicians and those who happen to be there and can discern the moment. You have to be there. It will make you smile.

I had a conversation with the young phenom Grace Kelley when she was at the Dog. 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, a story was about about 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 at where I was standing with my camera and smiled.


John Osler

John Osler

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