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Planning to Improvise?

Planning to Improvise:

I enjoy planning vacations almost as much as I enjoy actual travel. The research extends each journey as I travel first in my imagination to all the possible choices of charming hilltop villages, scenic roadways, and incense-scented churches. I collect the hours for every museum I want to see and investigate restaurants rated unmissable by TripAdvisor. When I found a private garden in Tuscany open only two days a month I excitedly squeezed it into my itinerary for the week! Planning this way ensures I do not drive right past an incredible experience. However, I have many friends who fully endorse the “happy accident” method for travel. They make no plans at all and improvise as they go, seeming just as happy as I am. One of them said “You can’t get lost during vacation. Exploring is the adventure” I am curious about the trade-offs between planners and improvisers.

Are planning and improvisation really on opposite ends of the rational vs. intuitive spectrum? Many artists who fully embrace play, improvisation, and freedom resist the structure of observation, practice, rules, and research. However, too much of either one can lead to disaster in your art. Too much rigidity leads to work that is derivative, predictable, and boring ...and too much intuitive freedom is chaotic, oversimplified, and unrelatable. Embracing a strategy that harmonizes rationality and intuition invites synchronicity and magic into your artwork and probably into your travel too.

Like travel planning, picture planning includes at least a hundred interwoven choices. I have a full page of questions to ask myself for my first round of decisions and then I develop at least 3 or 4 scenarios in my picture planning process to ensure my most important decisions are made and my intentions for my artwork are clear. Before going on to the improvisation stage I have already practiced painting the picture in my imagination 3 or 4 times.

Planning increases my safety and confidence in my ability to succeed. Carefully selecting placement, shapes, and values allow me to choose a mood as well as what will be perceived first, second, and third. Certain color interactions will affect my viewer’s reaction - will I choose calming blues or challenging reds and oranges? Practice lets me edit what to leave out from my first idea and what to add to my work to make it clearer, richer and deeper. And, I can deliberately include variations, riffs, and references from my research to add layers of imagination and meaning.

Once these decisions are made I invite improvisation to join the process. Improvisation is a performance that requires focus, preparation, and curiosity to respond to what is happening in the moment and to release resistance to what “is”. I turn on inspiring music and open up to co-creation with joy. I let the colors and shapes blend, flow, and co-create with me. Likewise, when I travel, I often throw out my itinerary for the day when a new horizon or opportunity presents itself.

Incorporating accidents and opportunities harmonizes the rational and intuitive experience for the viewer and the artist. Practice improves the freedom and effortlessness of performance. It invites the power of the universe to drop in and elevate my artistic and travel intentions in new and unexpected ways that are usually even better than those I planned.

I teach this planning for improvisation process to my students. Blending rational and intuitive thinking is a rewarding dialogue between safety and freedom for me, my students, and our viewers. If you are interested in learning more about this process please reach out and let’s talk. I invite you to allow me to lovingly guide, support, and accompany you in planning your paintings.

With light and delight,



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