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April 2009

Stealing Magic

In mythology, a common theme involves the hero facing danger and travail while he ventures into the unknown to steal the magic of the gods.  While our hero battles bravely, often times it appears he is overwhelmed until that moment when he snatches destiny from the fingers of disdain.

We could also use this analogy to describe our art careers. 

We paint, we struggle, we think work is good only to decide weeks later that it isn't.  And just when we start believing that it's time to pack things in we steal the magic. 

But think about this for a moment:  If art's only value is what someone will pay for it, doesn't that mean we'll need to create a lot of valueless art before we produce art that has value?

It does make a difference what we do, when we are producing all that "valueless" art.  Not every gain is measurable by a monetary standard.  The struggle is about improving your personal understanding, developing your artistic voice with dignity, authority and self assurance.  This is what makes art "interesting."  What we see in a work of art and want to know more.

Stealing the magic doesn't mean what you might think it means.  It isn't a secret that someone else holds. It isn't something that just happens, like chance, that was not earned.

Stealing the magic is realizing one day that  - after months of painting the way you've always painted - you're suddenly producing art like you've never produced before.  It's that small, electric moment when you step back from your easel and realize something happened.  That a door opened, and you are stepping through.

Steal the magic.

DSC04018 copy Shallots with Pearl Onions
6 x 6
oil on panel

@the artist

The Four "P's" that Determine Success

I have been fighting with my muse all week. 

Actually it's been a little longer than that, but holidays don't count.  We usually fight about the directions we want to go...well, I'm fighting about the direction I want to go while She can't help saying something about it.

It starts because I haven't been doing something.  Haven't been painting.  Haven't been writing.  And then the idea of "not doing" starts to get in the way of everything else. 

I've identified four "P's" in this cycle: two black, two white, bound together in a creative yin-yang relationship. 

Procrastination.  This is one of those sneaky activities that gets a toe-hold during a legitimate "time-out." Company comes.  A holiday arrives.  Anything that lends itself to cleaning the studio and then closing the door.  It's important to take time off -- that's my side of the argument.  Muse, on the other hand, loves to point out that time off becomes something worse when it extends for more than a few days.

Protectionism.  Now, isn't this just one of those politically correct words that means "I don't want to change and you ain't gonna make me?"  Muse's argument, not mine.  But on this one she's right.

Practice. And that's the catch, isn't it?  If you've been procrastinating you aren't practicing...

Persistence.  Which doesn't mean beating your head against the "I'm not inspired" wall.  It just means that the professional - the serious artist - understands that inspiration isn't something that "comes to you" but something that evolves out of what you are doing. 

Of course, just because I might know that doesn't mean I can easily break away from the grip of the first two "P's" because Muse is nagging me.  I have to work into these things.  Slowly. 

Yeah, I know, I hear her laughing, too.

5 Easy Ways to Escape Your Studio

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"Quick - let's get out of here

before she sees us!"

It’s been a long winter. Don’t get me wrong - winter is the best excuse I get these days to spend uninterrupted time working in my studio. It’s not unusual for me to spend an entire day working and emerge only when there’s coffee and chocolate.
Quick - let's get out of here before she sees us!

But it is valuable for any artist to shed the cocoon of isolation and see what else is happening in the art world. Perhaps you’re like me, and need a little help to escape the confines of your studio. If you are, you might enjoy these links I’ve recently found. Why not set aside a little time and explore this virtual vacation?

Art News Daily The first art newspaper on the net. I have a dream vacation where I visit every art museum in the world, and what I really like about this site is that it comes close to that dream. There are the links to museum exhibitions that include all the images, not just a teaser image with a bit of text. You’ll have to scroll down on the main site to the Photo Gallery, but you’ll probably get sidetracked by everything else that’s there. Eventually, look at the museum art exhibits.

Artcyclopedia This site includes an interactive map of the world: click on any area and find links to museums with an online presence.

Arts Journal advertises itself as the daily digest of arts, culture & ideas. Easy readability, lots of news, and worth the visit.

Art Newspaper offers news and links to current buzz in the art world, as does Art News, which claims to be the oldest, most widely-read magazine in the world. Both are worth investigating.

(This post was originally published in Visual Arts Junction, Professionals banding together to offer you a one stop art exchange.)

Are You Ready for This - Found on The Artful Manager

I recently found this YouTube video on The Artful Manager: Andrew Taylor on the business of arts and culture.  It's a creative example of what one "artist" can do with the information already out there on the web.  Read the entire post here.  Visit The Artful Manager here.

Taylor introduces us to the inspiration for his blog, which began in 2003, with the following quote:

    "But what if, all along the way, we fundamentally misunderstood what it meant to be run 'like a business'?...What if, in the end, the arts organization is not a problem to be managed, but an instrument to be played?"

While this blog is directed to arts administrations organizations and the culture roles they play, I found some of his observations and insights to be thought provoking and worth thinking about.  Enjoy the video, then skip on over to The Artful Manager and take a look.

Why do I like this idea? 

The music is great.  The creativity is fantastic.

The Inspiration - how to use what exists all around you and present it in a new form - invaluable. 

sheesh - I sound like that bank commercial!

Why Self-Directed Learning is so Hard

Every artist book I pick up has something about how an artist is always learning.  I'm okay with that - I'm one of those people who is never satisfied with what I produce and I'm always looking for improvement. 

As I gained more success, I rewarded myself with books which I have long coveted: The Painter Joaquin Sorolla, by Edmound Peel, hardcover with dust jacket intact, and Sergei Bongart, by Mary N Balcomb, also hardcover and mint condition.  And while I will always regret not acknowledging my artistic bent while Sergei Bongart was alive and teaching not more than a few hundred miles from here, I have been learning and following a self-directed path.

I shared with you the process of painting Tangerine Tango.  Now, I want to share with you the learning process -- although it felt more like a mental battle -- that I went through this past week. 

Sm1 Yes, I was happy with this painting.  Then I put it away.  And read Bongart, then looked at Sorolla again, back to Bongart -- pulled this painting out and thought - "Egads!"  Boring.  (I actually sent this off to the OPA's critique service, I can just imaging what the "Master" will have to say about it - but that's for another post.)

I do think that this painting is nice.  The color is good.  The cloth is nicely painted.  It reminds me of a yellow frog, his yellow bug eyes and nose, peeking out of a yellow pond...yes, perhaps the composition left something to be desired.  My first decision was to take a risk.  Do I just let this one be, probably never finding a home, or do I learn with it?
DSC03878 copybwsm
I started by looking at the values.  Okay, the biggest criticism is that there isn't enough interest between the two tangerines.  After looking at the Russian and Spanish Impressionist approach to paint handling, I knew I wasn't using enough paint, I was modeling too much, there wasn't enough visual interest with the color...

Oh, a big tip here: Another benefit of using really good canvases is that they stand up to paint scraping beautifully.

DSC03977-web This is Tangerine Tango now.  I will admit, there are elements in the first painting that I really liked and which I'm sorry I lost.  But there is more in the second painting that I actually love.  (there was an interim version which was scraped off, but which also gave me valuable information on color choice)

    I love the warm/cool contrasts between the tangerines.  I discovered the color I actually needed to use to cool down the left tangerine was blue/white, and that the shift into the shadows in the right tangerine needed to be more violet.

DSC03977 copydetail

I love the highlights on the tangerines now. By scraping back the surface, I blocked in 3 values on the form, then after that had dried overnight I dragged color over the top.I think the surface of the forms are far more visually exciting this way.


DSC03977 copydetail2

I struggled with creating form without "airbrushing" the modeling. This is really hard for me to do - I switched to some older bristle brushes, leaving my beloved sables alone. 

DSC03977 copybw

Here is a black/white image.  I lightened the background, thinking color temperature, putting warm against the cooler light, cool against the warmer edge. I ended up totally abstracting the cloth and just working on the changing light.  Do I like this version better than the first one?

Well, that's one of the side effects of pushing yourself to learn something new.

  Yes, as a finished painting, I think the new version holds together well.  The paint handing is energetic and provides variety across the entire surface, the color is better - more subtle in places, exciting in others.  The forms have FORM and are not flat - one of my challenges.  I learned something - a tiny bit about applying the paint in a different manner than my usual habit. 

But I also love the color and the pattern in the cloth in the first version, even though I feel that the flatness of the tangerines left the painting with an *unfinished* feeling.  And as soon as I began to repaint the tangerines...well, everything else had to change. 

This is all part of learning, though, isn't it?  The exciting, mentally exhausting part?  You fall in love with that one tiny part and you hate like hell to give it up...but then you realize that maybe you have to in order to create something stronger.  Taking risks...being willing to lose something beautiful in an effort to gain something else...all I know is that I have a long way to go and I'm going to love every minute of it, even if at times it is frustrating and feels counter-productive.

Just lift your glass in a toast to all the beautiful paintings you have loved and lost.  And know that when your learning is self-directed - well, yes it's hard, but it's how you really grow as an artist. 

 Just make sure that's not turpentine in your glass!  Just checking...I know how you are in your old age...

Click on the images to see larger versions.