Why make the same thing over and over again?

ProcessWhy would you make the same thing over and over? Georgia O’Keefe endlessly painted flowers. Frieda Kahlo painted so many self-portraits. Chuck Close painted face after face, in a very similar style. Even so, we see change in them. We see growth and evolution somehow, when we look at their work as a whole. There’s something unique in every petal O’Keefe brought to life.  I wonder if they knew that when they were making each painting. I wonder if they ever thought “Why do I keep making these?”. I wonder if they ever felt a little crazy for the repetition.

Today, a friend of mine asked, “Why robots?”, and it hit me hard for some reason.  Maybe it’s because I’m hanging my first real show this month. The number of robots on every surface and wall of my home startles me every morning when I come downstairs. I’m faced with them, and I can’t look away, nor do I want to. I love them. So I felt like it was a good question, and one that deserved some thought. Why paint or draw the same things for years?

My initial response is that I went to school for Industrial Design, so I worked with 3-D objects, in perspective, and the robots came out of that. Years of drawing vacuums and toasters will h
ave an effect on a person. Also,  I loved someone who reminded me of a robot. He had a heart, I was sure of that, but he didn’t know exactly what it was for, or how to use it. I imagined that my made-up robots had hearts, and were also confused by them. That felt universal, in some ways. Having the ability to feel millions of different emotions, but not being able to have control of them, is frustrating. I felt frustrated with the robots in my life, and the robot that I was sometimes.

So, I know why I started making them, but the real question was, why didn’t I stop?

The answer that I finally came to was that the robots feel like home. They are the constant that I can come back to. My friend suggested that we create the same thing over and over again because it evolves and changes with us. Maybe there are small changes in the moment, but over time, there’s a really significant difference from where you started. Even as it changes, it remains yours. The robots are always mine, no matter what they look like. So, I make them because they are mine to make.  Like many things we think we need to over explain, the simple reason is good enough, because it’s true.

Making space

Hey, check out this messy paint bomb of a living room/entry way/studio in my house!


I try to keep things contained, but bottles and brushes and paint-caked plates proliferate, like weeds in a garden, and some mornings when I come downstairs, I see this disheveled corner and I think “if someone comes over today, they will think I’m crazy”. There are worse things to be, so I clean it up, or I don’t, and I make a robot or two (or start one, or finish one) and head to work. Other mornings, I fly down the stairs, pass my robots, say “hey”, and then head to work without even touching a pen to paper.

Either way, I know that having some sort of dedicated space to paint makes me paint more often. If I don’t see the thing I want to be spending time on, I will forget about it. Or the thing will be on the edge of my mind, in the place where good intentions live. I had to put my paint supplies directly in the center of my house to make sure I didn’t ignore them. I turned my kitchen table into a desk. I figure that I won’t forget to eat, just because the table has been re-purposed, but painting, I could forget about.

Maybe you don’t have the space in your home to set up a crazed art studio, but a little corner should do the trick. Get your knitting/painting/model train supplies out and into your line of sight. If writing is your craft, set up some sort of writing desk that serves as a reminder to write, even if you end up writing from the couch. Get your stuff out! Leave your running shoes in the middle of the room if that helps you make running a regular practice. I don’t have science to back this up, but it seems like a pretty good experiment. You should try it and then tell me about it! Does creating space or at least a dedicated presence help your personal practice? I’m so curious!