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June 2008

Sunday Salon: Sitting Down With Dale Lang

I received an interesting comment after posting last Sunday's Salon, The Three Stages of Growth.  The author is Dale Lang, originally from the south of Montreal, Quebec, and currently living in Mississauga, just west of Toronto, Ontario.  I responded to her after visiting her website, thanking her for her kind comments about Ancient Artist.  It turns out that she found this blog quite by accident, while researching ancient art.  I can tell you that's probably not so far off for me as I sometimes feel old enough to have painted those antelope in Lascaux.

What followed was a delightful exchange of emails over the next several days.  I  asked if she would be interested in a Sunday Salon, thinking I would have to craft some formal questions, but as our emails progressed I realized that our conversation was far more fascinating. So, with her permission, I am sharing our discussion with all of you.

"Sue...I have been reading your blog for awhile and really enjoy it...but this piece hits so close to my experience that I had to connect to express my gratitude for your sharing.  i so relate to the "what used to be so exciting and promising about creating art has come to a difficult and painful crawl" experience.  I graduated with an art degree in 2004 at 52.  The past 4 years have been about...processing expectations, beliefs and growth,  My struggle kept me from creating but at the same time it also would not let me give up. So in a sense I have been standing still.

The image I feel is of standing in the eye of the storm with chaos and destruction around me.  In that place, with courage, curiosity and determination, I have learned about patience, openness, kindness, willingness and acceptance of who I am.  From that a new way of being has emerged and a new direction for art making has revealed itself.  It is like a rebirth/renaissance/revival of artistic purpose and meaning and it feels sooo much better or maybe that's relief from weathering another of life's little crisis of meaning..."

I responded that I could completely identify with the feeling of being in the eye of the storm, and that I felt like I had been wasting a lot of paint lately.

Dale responded, "Here is another perspective on 'wasting a lot of paint.'  I have come across an exercise in a Buddhist magazine with the following instructions: use oil paint and paint while being mindful and present.  When you feel the image is right or dine, appreciate it and take turpentine and wipe it away.  Begin again and do this process repeatedly.  This develops an experience of detachment and it eventually creates a space where your image making comes from a deeper source.  Aviva gold refers to this as painting from the source.  It also reminds me of 'drawing from the right side of the brain.'  Sometimes I feel like I stand in my own way and find these exercises helpful."

Dale, I am intrigued with your Buddhist exercise.  Have you used it often?  What else have you found out like this? I am always open to learn different perspectives that I haven't encountered through my own wanderings.  i do relate t being mindful and present, but this seems to take things further and I would like to hear more of what you think."

Dldawn Dawn, Archean Series @ Dale Lang

  I have only just set up what I need to do the exercise.  I work mainly in acrylic but for this I will  use water soluble oils and non toxic water soluble turpentine and I gessoed a couple of masonite boards.  So I am ready...but for the moment I am still in the midst (eye of the storm) with a lot of transitions...back injury, my daughter moving back to England, moving my studio up to our cottage for the summer.  when I stay grounded this is all good and exciting.

However, since graduating in 2004 my art practice has tended to fade to the background yet my calling to create has been ever present. 

What do I do when I don't do the thing I want to do?

To get past the frustration and confusion I have had to figure out the place art making has in my life and its place in the world at large.  What I have come to understand through some of my personal challenges is that if I am attached to outcomes and expectations then I find myself desperately holding on to the suffering with both hands. If I can let go and cultivate detachment, then I can experience some peace and calm.  It makes room for better things to happen through really what often happens is that it lets me notice the good things that are in front of me.

Cultivating detachment is not that easy so this exercise is intriguing.  What happens when i am not attached to what I create, when I don't judge, when I just appreciate what appears and then let it go? What rippling effect will this process have in m life?  Since I am questioning how art making fits into my life right now this exercise has the potential to move my investigation from the intellect (which has been spinning its wheels for some time) to something deeper...patience and curiosity...don't leave home without them."

Wow.  I so relate to what you're saying, Dale.  And I'm beginning to see how my fascination with the Elements Series I create stem from these ideas, since it is very much a letting-go process.  when you were in art school, did you emerge with an idea of what art should mean and then over time, realized that your understanding had deepened and changed? 

Dlflow  Flow, Archean Series @ Dale Lang

 "You are right on the money about what happened to me after school. I loved every second of school but found the constant reference to "emerging young artists" disorienting and isolating.  i did "emerge with an idea of what art making should mean" and I am still working out what it means to me, how I fit in and how I can make a contribution.  As far as an art career, I am still working on art practice."

You know, I have dreamed of having a cottage or cabin in the woods or near a lake or river, even the ocean (although that would be 5 hours away) where I could get away and just paint.  i talked to Jo-Ann Sanborn awhile ago and her studio is right along a canal in Florida, where guests could arrive by boat...I live in the middle of the High Desert, not very glamorous...does your art making change when you change studio environments?

I do think your environment influences your subject matter.  For example, my archean series is based n the rock that my cottage studio is built on. In the suburbs I live in a park area with electric hydro structures that were the subject of a photography piece and collage series.  then there is psychological space...when that is good then environmental space isn't as important. 

Dlportal  Portal, Archean Series @ Dale Lang

 The first summers after school I was surprised at how little I got done at my cottage studio.  My home studio is a small room at the end of a one car garage.  the room is a bit claustrophobic so I have some tables set out in the garage, but that space is always encroached upon by lawnmowers and snowblowers and I get frozen out of the garage in the winter.  It is not ideal yet when I was in school and had a project due i would do it in the kitchen if I had to.  In that case, psychological space trumps environmental fantasy studio is a loft in Paris overlooking a park with a cafe, bookstore and cinema close by."

Going back to an earlier comment, you are right about holding on to the suffering and disappointments, and how really urgent issues often demand our attention...yet the call of art making remains so strong and necessary through all this...why, I wonder?  Is it because there is something in the act of creating that grounds us or connects us to a higher spiritual experience? 

"Fundamentally, I feel that art is about communication and I am particularly interested in the first signs of the creative impulse in ancient humans.  As a matter of fact, it was during a search for ancient art that I came across your site and had to laugh when I realized what you meant by ancient artist.  What a relief to find someone else like me!  Don't get me wrong, i love my young artist friends but the experience just isn't the same.

I would agree that the act of creating grounds us or connects us to a higher spiritual experience.  As a visual person, the act of creating images is where I can uniquely express myself and my experience.  When that expression feels difficult it is a sign that my inner and outer world are not aligned."

I then confessed to Dale that I probably had enough material for the interview.

Generous as always, her response was good-natured: "Wow, that was easy...if you had told me I was providing material for an interview I would have reacted like a deer in the headlights,,,I didn't know, I didn't react...pretty cool strategy, the way, I have an iMac...

She then gave me a list of shortcuts that solved my "right-click" withdrawal. I even managed to successfully download the images she sent me, get them in the right file, then upload them to typepad.  Yes, I am smiling right now!
Souvenir, Archean Series @ Dale Lang

So Dale, just one more question...are those your feet in the Ascension Triptych photographs?

You can see Dale's work on her website.

Sorry for the many typos - Typepad has been going through "improvements" and the bugs have been getting worse and worse.  Last night I tried to use spell check and the entire post froze up.  I saved it because the last time this happened I lost an entire post and 2 hours of work.    Now it wants to underline everything and I can't make it stop...eeegggaaaddd!!!!

Going Back to the Well

The Accidental Creative had a recent pod cast on the importance of pacing yourself when working in the "create-on-demand" field.  It is equally important for artists to recognize the need to pace themselves, to allow time for artistic activity, and equal time for creative introspection.

Since many of us are experiencing a slowdown in our economy, this seems a perfect time to revisit the source of the inspiration that drives your artistic practice. 

In his book, Creative Authenticity, author and artist Ian Roberts discusses the necessity of returning to the"headwaters of our inspiration."  He believes that "the source of our own work is so close and we respond to it so often that we may grow to ignore it.  And each time we ignore it, we diminish it."

Taking the time to sit quietly with yourself and listen to that inner voice is just as important as working in a sketch book every day, or taking classes, or visiting museums.  We can certainly find inspiration in the work of the artists who have walked this path before us.  But unless we have a clear understanding of what is uniquely our own, our art making will only echo the marks and patterns that have crossed our path.  To achieve true authenticity, we must return to the well of our individual inspiration.

Of Course You Know This...

Of course you know this...artists need websites.  Good websites.  Why?  Here are just a few reminders:

  • Every gallery that has ever represented me found me first through my website and then approached me about representation.  Here's an example.  I went into a new gallery several weeks ago and introduced myself.  I almost fell over when the gallery director exclaimed "I know you.  I know your work.  I just sent you an email...."  Now he has a funny story to tell about how, after exhausting what he thought were all the local artists, he found me in a national search.

  • I was recently interviewed for a book due to come out next year about people who successfully changed careers at mid-life.  This author found me first, through Ancient Artist, and then went to the websites.  She told me how she had reread my artist statement several times -- a very good reason to make sure you have the best possible statement.  How many opportunities might be lost if your statement does not intrigue them?

  • In this increasingly challenging market, artists will have to take more responsibility for developing their own careers.  The discipline of maintaining a site will help you focus on new directions, building a good body of work, writing and talking about your work, setting goals for yourself, and reducing your feelings of isolation.  While you might wonder if there's anyone "out there" looking at your site -- and often it seems like the only people looking are from the Russian Federation -- know that quality attracts the right people, even when you don't realize they're there.

  • Your "About the Artist" page will keep you motivated, either to enter shows (so you can add them to your vita) or submit to organizations (ditto, for the vita).  There's nothing more motivating than looking at your resume and realizing the your last show was the group exhibition from your college days.  

Of course, we know all this. But if you're like me, it never hurts to remind oneself about it now and again, because it's easy to become complacent. 

How complacent?

I had to go back to reread my artist statement after the interview, because I had no idea what that author was talking about.

Thankfully, I hadn't embarrassed myself. 

And thankfully, too, she only looked at the Elements Statement, and not the loser statement I have with my I have my next assignment.  Guess I won't be doing much painting this week. 

How about you?  Are you proud of your artist statement?  What methods did you use that made writing one easy?  Hard?

Here are some of the resources I've found helpful:

As an PC has been making humming noises for weeks now, which means that the power supply is most likely terminal.  So yesterday I purchased a MAC and will be trying to get files moved over and things back up and running.  No clear picture of when this will all be accomplished, but I am optimistic that I shall survive the transition and be back to posting in no time.

If you don't hear from me again, it's a sure sign that I got sucked into the hard drive and can't get out.

Sunday Salon: The Three Stages of Growth

    When I was a child, all I really wanted was to grow up.  To be In Charge of myself.  I thought growth was a destination, an obtainable benchmark with smooth sailing from then on.

    And it was for many years.  Life was good.  I understood the rules and functioned fairly successfully.  Until one day I realized I had a choice.  I could stay where I was, at that benchmark.  Or I could follow the calling of my heart into unknown territory.

    I think we all feel the tug at various times in our life, the question "Is this all there is?" Sometimes, circumstances gently tell us, "Yes, it is, for now."  And then one day the answer is different. And we realize we need to grow.

    Growth evolves gradually, and in stages. 

    There is the first stage, when we are filled with the rush of exhilaration, an explorer discovering new territory hidden within ourselves.  We decide to take out that journal and start the book we'd always said we'd write.  Or spill out the box of pencils and charcoal to find just the right piece.  It's a delight to rush to the store and select new paper or canvases, as the possibilities seem endless.

    The second stage begins to creep in when we measure our work against that of others: the rush of joy and relief when we think our work is "better," and the depths of depression in the next moment when we recognize that it's not.  This is when growth becomes an obsession.  When every new book or DVD or blog or workshop  promises to supply the answer, and we struggle over mastering a style that is not our own, or speak in a voice that feels foreign to us, using words we can't understand.  It is at this point that many artists feel like giving up, myself included.  When all the things that once delighted us have now become instruments of self-inflicted torture. 

    The third stage comes when we give up our expectations.  And for many, this becomes much easier to do the older we get.  Maybe it's the sense of time flowing by so quickly we know intuitively that we must let go of how it should be and just enjoy the way it is. 

    It is at this stage when real growth occurs.  When our own style emerges, our own voice, our own success. When we finally embrace who we really are.

    If you are struggling with the second stage of growth -- and I've found that I tend to slip back and forth from the second to the third, and then back to the second -- here are some of the recent insights that have helped me.

    Close your eyes and think back to the reason you embarked on this journey.  Remember the feel of the passion your inner dream ignited.  Believe that you have within yourself the ability to live that dream.

    Then open your hands.  And let it go.

  " Rebirth is a gradual process of giving embrace and welcome to the person we really wish to be."  Marianne Williamson, The Age of Miracles: Embracing the New Midlife.

And the Question Is...

I spent the morning giving a phone interview to an author writing a book about people who change careers at mid-life. And I spent the last two days worrying about what I could say to her.

She wanted to know about my life as an artist. 

She wanted to know what the difficulties were.

What would I say to those who had been "down-sized" and were facing age discrimination, or fear, or lack of finances, who wanted to follow their life dream, or just find out what their dream was, or...

I asked myself,  when had she talked to me before?  Because her questions sounded just like myself in a past life.

I ended up telling her this:

Once I gave up my preconceived expectations, the world of opportunity opened up for me. 

Not necessarily profound.

I hope the book reads better.

As an aside, vacations are wonderful for recharging your enthusiasm and opening yourself to new hiking in the rain.  Unfortunately, they have at least a 10 day hangover during which nothing much gets done, like checking stats on your websites, or thinking about posting to your blog, or doing anything else that's 10 days are almost up.  Thanks for being patient.  I'll be profound next week. 

Or...maybe not. 

In Search of New Inspiration


I've been on vacation this week, and using the time to scout out new landscape painting locations.

    Monday, our first stop was Chimney Rock.  The first order of the day was to program in "home"  in our GPS guided directional thing-y.  That way, if we got ourselves lost, the little machine could direct us safely home.

     Our goal was to hike to the top, described by the guide book as an "easy" climb.   We made it about a third of the way, discovering a nearly 45 degree slope with a lot of wash out.  We called it good, promised ourselves that next time we would try to get up to the "dry waterfall" which was supposed to be about 2/3 of the way to the top, and headed back to the car.
    We discovered another back way to the reservoir, drove through hundreds of acres of BLM land filled with junipers and sand, then discovered a lovely little gem called Mill Creek Valley.  Well worth the time.



Tuesday we went out toward the Oregon Outback to check out several landmarks.  There was Fort Rock, a great hike in the spitting rain and wind that kept you from the edges of the rocks.  Next, we wanted to find
DSC02466         "Crack in the Ground."  Since our map directions weren't very clear, we stopped to ask two of the locals for advice.  After much hemming and hawing, they decided that we ought to take "that road over there, cross the cattle guard, then it turns into a gravel road.."

    "Ain't that pretty washboard this time of year?"

"Naw, they prob'ly kept it up...then you go up through Green Mountain, and there's that Ranger Outlook up there, and you keep on goin' around the mountain..."

    Thanks fellas.  I'm sure they thought it was funny.  We took the long way, and came in on the other end of that "washboard" road, back 7 1/2 miles through open range.  I'd been warned previously about the cattle, and the resident bulls.  Yup, they were there, and that bull didn't appear all that friendly.  As we got out to hike the short trail to the "Crack" we could hear him bellowing to the herd as he moved 'em on out. 

    The "Crack in the Ground" was somewhat anticlimactic after all the trouble to get there.  Eastern Oregon has a rich geological, volcanic history.  The "Crack in the Ground" was where a huge crack had opened a-la Hollywood Blockbuster Disaster Movies, although thousands of years ago.  It was navigational if you were young - which we aren't - and willing to climb back up that which you scrambled down.  We took a pass at seeing the "Crack" up close and personal.

    We got back to the truck just as the bull was sending a final cow and calf around the bend.  He stood under a tree and glared at us -- yes, bulls definitely do glare. The next stop was another geological wonder called "Hole in the Ground".  That's what it was.  6 miles back on a forest service road, and then quick, stop, before you drive over the edge.  No information about it, but my guess is that is was a collapsed cinder cone, or maybe an asteroid hit.  It was pretty deep.  But not painting material.

When we got home, it was obvious we were not expected to return so early.DSC02149

I wonder what they do when we're at work?

    So today, we decided to try going into the Cascades.  This was supposed to be the warmest day of the week.  No rain.  But the wind was still chilly.  The goal was Three Creeks Lake.   By the time we reached the gate leading to the last leg of the trip, the clouds had rolled in again.  And there was a sign saying that the road was still blocked by snow with no turn around.

    Now, normal people would have probably taken that sign at face value.  We, however, decided to "discuss" it as we drove ( "I don't know, if there's snow..."   "Do you want me to turn back?"
"well, maybe we should..."  "We have four wheel drive.."  "Uh-oh, what's that? Snow?")  Have you ever experienced sitting in the passenger seat of a truck when you are afraid of heights and your intrepid driver is backing up, turning, pulling forward, turning, backing up, inching around, and all you can see out your side of the window is that sheer drop off where you imagine the truck rolling over and over...?

    The drive back down the mountain was really fun.  The downgrade is about 15 degrees.  And the road is really bouncy at 45 miles an hour.  Have you ever tried to take reference photos out the side window of a vehicle traveling at that rate of speed?  They look sort of like this.


But...there's still several days left on our vacation.  We're planning to go up around Mount Hood, next, on our way to Portland to visit family.  And if I'm lucky, I might get that perfect reference photo.

At least I now have some good ideas where to go paint en plein air. 

But that's another vacation!