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February 2010


When I was studying The Book of the Hopi, I came across the phrase "seeds in the sky like stars."  It stuck with me. As artists we are constantly under pressure to come up with creative ideas - what to paint or photograph, how to promote ourselves, how to grow our artistic experiences - plant seeds for future projects.

But sometimes you just feel empty.  Margie Middleton-Hudson recently wrote about waking up one morning to discover that her website was gone.  Everything - her photos, her creative life had disappeared.  

This time of year it's difficult to see any of the seeds you might have planted.  The ground is cold and hard. So how do we, as artists, go about the business of creating our ideas without burning out?

Margie talked about an earlier post of mine, Life Lessons From The Pursuit of Art, and she wrote honestly about her response to what I'd written.  I saw myself in each of her answers.  In the blog world, in our local artist communities - there's overwhelm in the information available, telling us how to do everything except maintain balance and create in the face of the unknown.  

When circumstances overwhelm us there are ways to take back our power.  Our experiences are not ours alone, and we can learn from others. 

How to you face creative overwhelm?  What strategies, practices, and thinking work best for you?

How do you plant seeds in the sky like stars?

Adventures With The Unknown

"Real students," said Robert Henri, " go out of beaten paths, whether beaten by themselves or by others, and have adventures with the unknown."

Over the past few weeks I have been adventuring into this unknown.  I joke that there are paintings from Before and from After.   I can tell the difference and it is not some pleasant preening over the fact that I learned something but more like the stomach clenching drop from the top of a roller coaster.  I am gripping tightly as everything tilts.  This is dangerous country, where something clicks in your perception and painting is no longer what it was but something else, and do you have the courage to push forward into the unknown or are you going to cling to what you thought you once knew like a little girl?

I don't know. I've lost just about all of my innocence now, about painting and art careers and what that might mean. The idea of a career as I once understood it simply does not fit with the reality of the artistic culture. This is not a nine to five proposition with a steady income and yearly promotions. It is far more intimate, visceral.  I heard one of the judges on American Idol tell a disappointed contestant that "we've all heard no more than we've heard yes."   There has to be something else motivating each creative impulse than what our initial naivety once suggested.

I have looked at a lot of my own paintings since the "After" and realized that what puts the magic there - or not - is something that can't be distilled down to a style, a color combination, a popular motif.   I see paintings by artists working in my chosen genres and styles, and the degree of talent is breath taking.  For me to focus on competing with that is mind boggling, a risky waste of time and energy.  Chasing after subject matter or technique to master a popular style perhaps has value for some artists.  But perhaps it is just as important to chase after something through the force of your own need, a desire to discover what it is that reaches into your soul and hangs on tight. 

Especially in art.  

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Across the Valley

22 x 28, oil on canvas


Getting From Here to There

The other morning I was driving to work and noticed a double row of purple leaf plum trees.  The ice had coated the red berries, and the sun was reflecting off the ice crystals: for an instant I thought I was looking at cherry trees in full bloom.  The poetry in this oddness lingered all day - I want to paint the winter ice briefly changing the season to spring, but I don't know how to convey what I saw.

So I ask myself,  "How do I get there from here?"

Shouldn't the first rule of painting be "paint what you see?"  We know to paint what our eyes see rather than what our brain knows.  And yet aren't there images so stunning, so visually unique they're better off left to the photographers?  Who would look at a painting of ice-covered berries that appear like blossoms and say, "I believe that?"  Yet a photograph would be believable, because it is.

Maybe the first rule of painting should be "paint the poetry of what you see."  Maybe the painter's challenge - or curse - is to interpret the magic in the world with totally un-magical tools of the trade - brushes, canvas, pigments, finger, sticks. 

There are days when I envy the photographers.

There are more days when I don't.

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Meditation - Steel Head Falls

30 x 40, oil on canvas