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March 2009

Life Lessons From The Pursuit of Art

Lately, I've been reaching more and more for my favorite books - The Art Spirit, by Robert Henri, and Art/Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland.  I know why.  I'm searching for the perfect phrase, the words of wisdom which will make the suddenly long walk to my studio seem worthwhile.

Just recently, I came across this statement from Robert Henri: "A red flower placed in a window may expand its influence over all the area of your sight."

While Henri was speaking about a compositional plan, his words made me stop and realize how I was allowing outside messages to fuel my insecurity.   I could choose to place a red flower in my window, too, letting the positive influence spread throughout my life. 

I decided to go back to my journal and reread thoughts from a year or so ago.  Maybe I could see the progress I've made over the past few months, and find the fortitude to head into the future.  Here are some of the Life Lessons I discovered from my pursuit of art.

  • Let go of expectations tied to your personal timetable.
  • Trust in your talent and ability to create even in the face of the unknown.
  • Do what matters to you.
  • Have the patience to wait for the positive outcome.
  • Live in the moment.
  • Regret nothing.

Sometimes I get what I want - even when I don't want it

There are days when you think you're on top of your game.  Take the other day.  I'd submitted images to a juried show that I wanted to get  into - the Pacific Northwest Art Annual put on each year by the University of Oregon.  I was sure I was giving them exactly what they wanted. Marked the acceptance notification date on my calendar.  I had submitted three paintings which have been consistently getting good reviews - I really wanted it to be a shoe-in for at least one of them.

DSC03720 copy I had the highest hopes for this painting at the left.  It's titled Listening To The Stones.  Oil on panel,  16 x 16.  My process of painting - which began with the Elements Series - has been evolving over time into this landscape-influenced work.  I had looked at other paintings accepted in past years and thought - for sure - this one would make the cut.

I was so positive about having this painting already committed, that when the prospectus for the National Association of Women Artists came in the mail, I decided I had nothing else available that met the size restrictions. Last year, I missed the opportunity to exhibit in the annual show for the same reason - not having anything of sufficient quality in the right size to submit.  So I was determined not to put myself in the same position again this year.

But I was facing an uphill struggle.  I had no more 16 x 16 panels available, and with the image deadline just two and a half weeks away, there wasn't time to order in a new supply and still complete a painting . There was no other choice but to use what I had on hand. 

Most were too small, 12 x 12 panels, or too large, 24 x 24 (which would have met the size restriction but been too difficult to ship).  I had only one real option.  The 12 x 24 panels.  But how could I get inspired enough with that format to challenge myself to produce my best work ever?

So here I was - wanting both outcomes.  And time was running out. 

And then something happened.  I'm not sure how, but I think many artists have experienced those moments when inspiration comes in full form and your job is merely to produce what you've been given. 

DSC03922 copy This painting is called Rapture.  It is unlike anything I have ever done in terms of content. 

And, of course, just as I was finishing up the final details on this painting, the acceptance day came and passed without the expected "Congratulations" email. 

The point is, I was so sure that Listening to the Stones was committed - because that's what I wanted -  I had to produce something else.  If I'd thought anything less - maybe they won't like it, I'm not good enough - I probably would have adopted a "wait and see" attitude.  And - oh,  I know myself so well - when the University of Oregon didn't want my painting, I surely would have decided that it wasn't good enough for the NAWA either.  Who wants to embarrass themselves on a national level when it's more discrete to do it on a state level? 

Maybe we do get what we want, but we don't always realize at the time.  Perhaps circumstance conspires to put us in a position where we have no choice but to reach beyond our current expectations.  Either way, I know that this painting had opened a door for me: it's shown me a new direction.

Right now, I hear from so many artists who are struggling with the conflict between their expectations and our economic reality.  A friend recently asked, "How can I market my business when I have no money to market my business?"  But maybe it's simply getting what we want when we don't really know we want it: maybe the circumstances of "right now" are asking us to reach beyond our expectations and find out what else is out there.

So now I'm wondering...what else is out there?

I know that the font size can be a little small for a lot of us, so if you are using a PC, here's a tip:

While holding down the CTRL key, press the + key and this will enlarge the image on your computer screen.  Press the + as many times as you want to get the font to where it's comfortable to read.  Trying to change the font within the typepad post causes the post to be too long, space-wise, especially for those who view these posts in their readers. 

It's such a Catchy Name

The's such a catchy word, isn't it?

I'm a member of *The Tribe*.  It's like, you belong somewhere, with people who understand you.  Many of you are members of the same Tribe that I belong to...oh, I don't think it has an official name or anything, but there are so many of you who participate in it.

DSC03915 Take Linda Blondheim, for instance.  Linda recently bought one of my paintings and I bought one of hers.  We Twit back and forth on occasion.  She sent me a gift certificate for painting supplies.  I sent her one of the Dream Boxes.  Then, out of the blue, she sends me a small painting.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because," she answered, "it's my Lent project.  To send 40 paintings to 40 nice people."

The Tribe.

Then there's the Deevine Miss M, who emailed me after reading "The Near-Extinction of Blind Faith." She wanted to share how, by reading that post, she rediscovered some of the encouragement she needed. 

And Constance Vlahoulis, who operates two galleries and supports artists despite the hard economic times.  And Judy Wilder-Dalton, Katherine Tyrrell, Rebecca Shapiro, Bonnie Luria, so many of you...

I've started a roster, and you'll see it in the right hand column under Resources for Artists, where I will post your name, a brief statement and image with links to your website.  This is an easy way to get an outgoing link back to your site.  Also, maybe a little exposure.  If you would like to participate, please email me with information and the links you would like me to use.  I originally called this the Patron Support Network, but I think The Tribe has a catchy ring to it, don't you?

And I am honored to be a member with all of you.

DSC03918 I will post my progress on priming the linen panels with rabbit skin glue and oil painting ground over on Sue Smith's Studio, for those of you who are curious.  So far, so good.  But I've only completed the first layer of the ground.

Hey, at least everything is sticking now!

Live on Purpose. 

Paint something beautiful today. 

How To Mentor Yourself - Tangerine Tango part Deux

I believe one of the most valuable skills I have is the ability to mentor myself.  But what exactly does this mean? 

For me, it is the ability to see what it is that I am trying to accomplish and then sort through my options for the best solution.

Take the little painting, Tangerine Tango, from the last post.  I left off at that holding position.  I knew it wasn't where I wanted it to be but I just wasn't sure about the solution.

Untitled-5 copy

As I scraped back some of the thicker paint, I started asking myself questions. What did I love about this set-up?  What was it that my eyes and my emotions were responding to?

I realized it was the color relationship between the tangerines and this brocade cloth, the way the light moved across the forms and the feeling of warmth and intimacy.

How could I capture that?

It became clear that the 6 x 6 format is too small for a lot of detail - as in painting the cloth.  There is too much for the eye to look at and not enough space to allow the viewer to explore the detail that I wanted to paint.  With such a small format, there can be only one area of emphasis, which had to be the tangerines.  So I softened the detail on the cloth, worked on creating a cooler light to contrast with the warmth of the oranges. And I put more air - gradation - into the background.

And another thing I realized was that  - from this viewpoint - it was difficult to convincingly depict the lovely fold and the way the light flowed.

But I still loved this still life.

So I swiveled my setup around.  Dug out my very last Vincent oil primed canvas (20 x 24), gritted my teeth and refused to think about how much that canvas cost me in case I painted a mess (okay, I had a back-up plan, had just reordered some more of the good stuff) and set to work.

Untitled-4 copy2


Here is the photo of the set up again.  I guess this is halfway between the small viewpoint and the large viewpoint.  I love the reflected colors in the cloth and the glow on the underside of the tangerines - this is what I was thinking about, plus the way the light changes as it flows across the cloth. 

I could not have painted the larger piece without first working through some of the ideas in the smaller painting.  I don't always know how to paint something until I try.  Sometimes, my intuition is good and I succeed.  Other times I come close but fail to capture everything I wanted to express.  Being willing to walk through my thinking step by step, asking myself questions, and then being willing -- or enough of a risk-taker -- to step it up a notch, has helped me to grow as an artist.

Never be afraid to use your best materials, to paint the same subject again, or to ask yourself to reach for a new level of accomplishment.

Be your own best mentor.

Tangerine Tango


Tangerine Tango

6 x 6, oil on panel, work in progress

I really enjoy it when other artists post information on their painting process - I learn so much watching someone else do the work.  But sooner or later, I'm the one doing the work.

I've created a slide show so that you can see slivers of my process, start to nearly finish. I added comments when I created the show, but I'm not sure that Picassa will reveal them to you, so here's the running commentary.

The very first image( which is actually the ending image) is my faithful studio companion.  More about him later.

Okay, press play to see the official first slide,  a shot of my set-up.  Then an example of how I use my view finder tool to settle on a composition. Next, the required shot of my palette.  I knew this would be a warm painting with a complementary color scheme, so I laid out yellows, oranges, reds, violets, and blues to work with, plus a puddle of liquin.  As I'm working, I mix my color with a dab of liquin, paint, wipe my brush, mix...I seldom use the OMS unless I'm switching from a dark back to a light (Tip I learned watching an instructional DVD).

I paint 95% of the painting using an old fan brush that I trimmed to an angle (Another tip I learned). I'm amazed that I can make so many different marks with this one brush.  I start very thin, get the placement of my major shapes, make sure they're where I want them. Then I will use a paper towel to wipe back the paint, erasing some lines - a reductive method very similar to charcoal drawing.  When I'm happy, I can start to build up the painting.  Since the liquin and the paint film dry quickly on this gessoboard I don't worry about muddy color.

The next few images show how I build up the under-painting.  I try to keep the paint thin, working on the volume in the forms.  Things I am thinking about at this stage are:

  • gradation, left to right, cool to warm
  • color relationships - warms and cools
  • direction of light and shadow pattern
  • suggestion of a pattern in the cloth

Every painting decision is a mixture of these ideas.  I constantly compare - is this area warmer or cooler than that area, darker or lighter.  It's common for me to work slowly and repeatedly through this process as one correction instigates another.  I've also learned to sacrifice a *favorite* mark if it isn't working with everything else. Along the way, I'll use a palette knife to smooth down brush marks, scrape back thicker areas of paint, and blend color.  I don't want to get ahead of myself and start putting in the fun stuff before the painting is ready.

I eventually spend more time thinking about what to do, studying the painting in reverse using a mirror, putting it on a small easel and looking at it from a different position, different light, and going to get coffee, check email, go on twitter, check facebook, see what's selling on eBay, and in general procrastinate before I have to go back in and make the final mistakes---oops, make the final marks that will bring it to completion.

Now I use a small brush and a palette knife.  What I am thinking about, in no particular order, is:

  • what is dominant?
  • how am I going to use color now?
  • how can I make this paint surface beautiful? 
  • does the light source read correctly?
  • do the shadows link forms?
  • does the cloth read correctly?
  • are there any brush marks going in the wrong direction?

At some point - like now - I stop and let the painting have some alone time.  I will usually put it back on the small easel and then throughout the next few hours go back and look at it from the doorway.  I do this because my vision prescription is wonky for close up right now and I can see much better at a distance...casualties of older age.

And speaking of older age, the last image (or the very first, depending on how the slide show loads) is of my faithful studio companion and prison guard, asleep in the doorway so that I can't leave without him knowing it.  Of course, he's older now, too, and doesn't hear as well as he used to, so if I'm really careful I can step over him and escape for a while.  He won't even know...yes, I know, bad artist. 

I've already decided that I need to work on the cloth a bit more, smooth out some of the active brush marks.  The background needs to be flat with better gradation, but I can't go back in until that layer dries.  Those of you who work on gessoed panel know that some applications of paint need to dry before you go back over them - otherwise your brush just pulls off paint and leaves scratchy brush marks.

 So enjoy the slide show.  And share your own painting tips.

Tip for viewing the slide show and the comments: Click on the link *Tangerines* by Sue and it will take you to the Picassa public album, full size with my comments in the comments fields below the images. 

Alternative Spaces - Furnish Hosts a Grand Re-opening

design is beauty meeting function.


Grand Re-opening in their new, beautiful space
761 nw arizona avenue
bend oregon 97701

Friday, march 6, 2009
5pm to 9pm

If you've ever wondered about showing your art in an alternative space, let me share with you what *furnishdesign* owners, Jed and Noelle Teuber, have done with their contemporary furniture and design company. 

DSC038050000   The retail space fills two floors of a gorgeous, loft-style building in the Old Mill District, with stainless steel, high ceilings, exposed pipes and beams.  This piece is called Copper Mountain. 

 DSC03799 copy

DSC03793 copy

DSC03798 copy

DSC03792 copy

DSC038010000  DSC03795 copy

And you haven't seen the half of it!

If you are in the Bend Area Friday Night, I hope you attend the Grand Re-Opening and see all the fabulous furniture, lighting, sculpture, art...everything you need to create a magical contemporary space.

The Near-Extinction of Blind Faith

Somewhere, right now, in a studio, or a darkroom, or a pottery shed, blind faith is on the verge of extinction.  A politely worded decline letter lies crumpled in the wastebasket.  The stacks of old photographs taking up too much room for too long are piled by the door.  That shelf dipping low in the middle, so that the pottery vessels slide toward one another and gently kiss...even the two-by-fours that have supported the center of that shelf for years look shabby and old. 

And yet still, we hope. 

Why is this current economic *crisis* so threatening to the idea of blind faith?  Is it because too much has changed too fast?  Can't seem to get our feet beneath us, let alone on what feels like solid ground?

No doubt the gatekeepers are suffering.  Without consumers collecting art, galleries struggle to maintain their relevance.  Successful artists struggle to maintain their visibility.  And the unsuccessful ones, those who are just approaching the market and experiencing only failure?  They have to struggle to hold on to their blind faith. 

Does this sound like your experience in this moment? 

Except that it also describes the experiences of artists throughout history.  Especially for the artists Malcolm Gladwell includes in "Late Bloomers" , a 2008 article he wrote for The New Yorker.  ( I should add my thanks to Nicole Strasburg for telling me about this article.  Be sure to visit Nicole's beautiful site and look at her art, as well as her blog. )

Gladwell discusses ideas that other writers have touched upon, that creativity often comes in two forms, Early Genius and Late Bloomer.  I'm firmly in the Late Bloomer camp, an "experimental innovator" who isn't completely sure of what they're after and often frustrated by the result, although I'm with some pretty good company.  I'm even going to creep out on a limb here and add that I think most of the readers of this blog would identify themselves with the Cezanne "Late Bloomer" profile in some way. 

But I also admit that, while most people are aware of the concept of "late Bloomer" -  toiling for years in obscurity before finally gaining recognition - my frequent response is a mental "so what?"  Lots of people work hard and never achieve success. Which is why I wanted to write this post about the Gladwell article.

 "This is the final lesson of the late bloomer," Gladwell writes, "his or her success is highly contingent on the efforts of others."

Blind faith doesn't exist for long in a vacuum.  It can't.  Soon or later the doubt creeps in, the sense of guilt, or responsibility.  How can I spend this time trying to create art that nobody wants when my family needs a second income?  What thoughts run through your own mind, insidious but so rational?  Without that supportive "patron" network, it can be nearly impossible to persevere.

Who do you have in your life who supports what you do?  I mean fully, willingly, ready to tell you to go back into that dark room or pick up that brush.  Who walks in and gives you a big hug and says, "Honey, you're a hell of a good artist?" Or "I believe in what you are doing."

Who else can you cultivate?

How can you reach out to a fellow artist and be an "emotional patron" who offers support?  If you are on the receiving end of this generosity, how to you turn around and pass it along?

Even while some things remain the same, other things change.  In this technology age, artists have more opportunity to become the gatekeeper of their own career than ever before.  Innovation doesn't come from thinking a step ahead of the status quo - it comes from standing in front of a change-induced problem and finding a way around it.  Just for the fun of it.  Or out of blind faith.

Here are a few of the things I've been doing to cultivate my "patron" network:

  • Started painting work specifically for eBay, and in the last 3 months have sold 11 pieces, and added 10 names to my mailing list (one was a repeat client - yay.)
  • Started building an Etsy shop, creating more work specifically for Etsy, and in the last 3 months sold 2 pieces (added them to the mailing list, too). 
  • Started to post more frequently on my Sue Smith's Studio blog, talking more specifically about what I was doing.
  • Worked on exploring the uses of twitter and facebook.  

I know that many of you are doing the same things - I've "friended" you or you've "friended" me, or we are fellow tweeples...come on, you've gotta have a sense of humor about this. And if I were to give one piece of advice - which of course I am because I'm just that kinda person - it's to reach out and thank those closest to you who support what you do.  Tell them how much it means to you that they believe in you enough to take on a little extra load, or cut you some slack on taking out the garbage.

Please share your experiences with this blog.  Tell me what you've learned along the way, what pathways you've discovered as you made your way around the change-induced problems, how they may have yielded silver linings, or drenching downpours.

And for those of you who told me you thought I was crazy last week for not liking that little painting...THANK YOU!  You are part of my "emotional patron network."  I would love to return the favor.