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October 2010

Late Blooming - It Might Not Be What You Think

I confess – I’m a closet researcher.  When I’m not painting I’m digging into what other people have to say about creativity – what it is, how it manifests.  In art, the classic Young Genius/Late Bloomer example comes up frequently: Picasso as a child prodigy, and Cezanne, painting for years before he achieved high acclaim.  The analogy supports the idea that our star either rises brilliantly and then slowly declines, or it builds steadily over years of experimentation until finally bursting forth as the Late Bloomer.

On the one hand, I like the reassurance that there are Late Bloomers, but I have trouble with the part about Late Bloomers needing to work all those years before they find success.  What if you start late?  Is it still going to mean years of frustration before the light bulb goes on?

A recent article in Psychology Today points out that the standard definition of Late Blooming is not by itself sufficient.

Here are the takeaways from the full text:

  • The last century added 30 years of opportunity to our lives, often called the second middle age.  This extra time opens doors like never before.
  • Complex gene traits - like creativity - develop in the human brain at a different rate than, say, the motor skills of an athlete, and are often years in the making.  Researchers call it the “10-year rule”, or the 10,000 hours required for mastery – but what the article points out is that “the rule is an average with variation, not a fixed threshold…what may take the average person 15 years to master may take later bloomers only five once their genes sync up: even though they started later, progress can be rapid and make up for lost time.”
  • The reason for this has to do with all those years of neuronal ripening in the older brain.  Information moves through our brains with the help of a fatty coating called the myelin sheath.  Research suggests that the older we get the thicker these fatty sheaths become, “transforming the brain into a high-speed, wide-bandwidth internet-like system.”
  • While myelin speeds access to information, it is the knowledge gained by years of experience that matters.  Experience also comes into play in areas of self-discipline, and the perseverance needed to achieve goals that are a long time coming.
  • Key elements in creative success include finding purpose, a moment of revelation that “this is what I have to do,” and passion, “the thing that won’t let you sleep at night.”
  • Self-teaching is perhaps the most over-looked component, the element of the outsider, one who feeds his passion with his own ideas “uninfluenced by the established order.”
  • Running into roadblocks at any age is not necessarily a negative where creativity is concerned.

It may feel like we’ve missed the boat because life events kept us focused on other things until mid-life, but in fact we’ve been gaining all the experience, brain function, development and insight necessary to make up for the lost time.  It is never too late.

If you would like to read the full Psychology Today article by Scott Barry Kaufman, titled Confessions of a Late Bloomer, you can read the entire text here. 


Sunday Salon: Sitting Down with Linda Bray

  ATT2 Oregon artist Linda Bray isn't letting anything slow her down.  We "met" through twitter, and when she emailed about participating in the Sunday Salon, she said, "I am currently 70 years and counting." A professional artist for more than ten years, Linda works in both watercolor and acrylic.

"I have started a whole new adventure with my art.  This is the most exciting work I've done so far and it truly has a mind of it's own.  I cannot wait to start painting each day," Linda says on the homepage of Linda Bray Fine Art, where you will see her painting, titled Second Banana, a Finalist Winner in Fine Art Studio Online's BoldBrush Painting Competition for September 2010. 

Her journey is inspiring.  I hope you enjoy what she has to say.


 "Banana Dance" shown left, copyright Linda Bray, used with permission.

What did you do before starting to work as an artist?

Hmm, I think I've always thought of myself as an artist, but I finally got on the ball and started to actually "work" at it in 1992.  Before that I was busy raising a family and pretending to be something else.  I tried my hand at clothing design, jewelry making, and photography.  Maybe I was afraid to commit myself totally to art, for fear I might find out I didn't have what it takes.  Art was always in the deepest place in me.  It was the secret longing, if you know what I mean.

Who or what has encouraged you or helped you the most?

I've been lucky to have tremendous encouragement from my whole family.  Even when I first started to get back into painting, my family cheered me on.  I can look at some of my very first efforts and as lame as they were, my family loved them all and they still hang on some of their walls.  Humility is a big part of being an artist.

How do you define your work?

Art is the only true way for me to open my heart.  Before I start any painting, I have to "fall in love" with the subject.  This is something I learned while working as a photographer.  When I would have a model sit for me, I would keep looking through the lens at different angles and lighting until I had that moment when I just caught my breath.  Then I knew I had found the absolute core of the beauty of that person.  It's the same with any subject.  I don't paint it until I fall in love.

ATT3 "Top Banana" shown left, copyright Linda Bray, used with permission.

Are you involved in any projects or creative ideas you would like to talk about?

Right now I am painting a series on Banana plants.  I first fell in love with a photo of a Banana plant I found on a Google image search.  I seldom fall in love with someone else's photo, but this one was so perfect.  I wrote the photographer and asked for permission to use it as a reference for a painting.  She wrote back and seemed thrilled to comply.  When I finished it, I entered it in an on line competition and it won an award.  I sent Jill the news that our little Banana plant had gained some notoriety and we both celebrated.  I mention her contribution on my web site.  I have since learned that Banana plants are being threatened by some kind of mold which could eventually wipe them out completely.  (I hope not)  So, suddenly, as I am painting them, I have this feeling that they are having their last celebration of life and that I am to show their spirit of joy in the work I'm doing.  (Who knew Bananas have thoughts?)

I have been trying to locate some Banana plants where I live, (Eugene, Oregon) and finally had some luck last week.  Two glorious gardens only minutes away and the owners so willing to let me wander about taking tons of photos.  I only paint from photos for two very good, make that three.  One, the weather here mostly sucks.  Two, I need to be at home to take care of my husband.  He had a stroke last November.  And three, I just like to paint from photos.  Life's too hard as it is, and painting is one of the hardest things of all, so I try to make it as pleasant an experience as possible.  I like Helen Van Wyk's quote, "Nobody cares how much you suffer."  (She meant as an artist.)  So, I ignore those who say we must stand out in the rain in order to capture the truth of the moment.  Besides, nobody cares how I painted it.  They either like it or they don't.


Linda's story - as well as all the stories shared in these Sunday Salons - affirm that it is possible to live an artistic life on our own terms.  I hope that you will share your story in a future Sunday Salon.  You will be inspiring countless people who are starting on their own unique path. 




What Do You Do?

What do you do?

Do you create things?

Are those things that you create larger than the sum of the little things that went into the making of your thing?

In other words…do you create real, human, visual, emotional, and spiritual experiences out of canvas and paper and color that can only be found – can only exist for someone else to experience – because of your creative impulse?

Now…isn’t that something.


Fiona Morgan - Another Side

FionaMorgan-inthestudiosm We first sat down with Australian artist Fiona Morgan in the Sunday Salon for October 17, but there are so many sides to this artist I couldn't limit the interview to her series "Art Filled Seasonal Cookbook that happens to be Vegetarian" - a project that combines seasonal vegetarian recipes with original artwork. 

There are many dimensions to Fiona. This is an artist currently living an art-centered life.  Her blog covers a variety of topics, from studio concerns, to her Cookbook Project, to the artist scene in her home country.  After finding some new favorite recipes, I went exploring through her Where Fish Sing photostream, and was immediately fascinated by the images in a photo challenge titled  Found Creatures. 

Found Creatures are fanciful, created using whatever is at hand.  FionaMorgan-flatoutrunningcreature One of my favorites, called Flat Out Running Creature, is shown at the left.  When I saw these images I was immediately reminded of an exercise at an art workshop in Italy, where each student had to go out into the landscape and create an ephemeral art object out of found materials.  Afterward, we went as a group and each artist explained her piece.  I remember delicate baskets woven out of grass and pine needles.  I wove together leaves and feathers into the bark of a eucalyptus tree.  Seeing Fiona's images rekinded that memory - and the realization that simple creative acts define an artist just as much as the overt actions.

There is another post on Fiona's blog, Spaces Between The Gaps, which illustrates this exact mindset, titled Creative Cauldron - Miso of Melbourne, about Street Artist Miso, "Someone really contributing ephemeral beauty to the city." 

This is what I love so much about Collective Wisdom - the wisdom of artists across the world.  The next time I am out scouting for my next painting, hiking through an aspen grove or sitting by the river, I will take inspiration from Fiona's Found Creatures and leave something wonderful and ephemeral behind for someone else to find. 

What about you?  What do you do to life the artistic life?


Sunday Salon: Sitting Down with Fiona Morgan

I met Australian artist Fiona Morgan in response to my open invitation to artists to participate in the Sunday Salons at Ancient Artist.  She introduced herself by saying, “I'd love to be part of your Sunday Salon. Do I have to be an ancient artist to qualify? I'm not over 50, but I certainly haven't followed the usual path of art school straight after high school. My path is the self taught one and I have made the switch to full time artist later in life after a career in commercial design (medical graphics and animation).”

Meatless-Meals_Middle-Eastern-Roast-Vegetables I peeked at her website and was immediately smitten by this talented artist with her fresh-air approach. I mean, who could resist the invitation to "have a stickybeak around" on a website titled "Where Fish Sing - because the world smiles with possibility", or a blog titled "Spaces Between the Gaps"? She describes herself as Creative. Geek girl. Artist. Food. Oil painting. Found Objects. Sustainability. Environmental art. Symbolism. Myth. New technology. Animation. Add all & simmer...Hi, I'm Fi. The artist of "".

Image Above: Chunky. Spiced. Easy. Versatile.This food painting artwork is 30 by 30cm acrylic on textured Hahnemuhle 300 gsm paper.  Image used with permission. Copyright belongs to Fiona Morgan. The recipe is for Middle Eastern Roast Vegetables. Yum!

Here is what Fi has to say about art, food, living life and being her own person:

"My reason for blogging is to take advantage of the wonderful opportunity that the internet has given artists to make connections. Technology is a boon to artists for meeting with like minded folks without the blocks of geography or necessitating a gallery as middle man. Finally we can be in control of how we and our art is presented. We have the choice to shine our personality and chat about our influences to people who are interested. And people are interested. Most people are fascinated with creativity and want to know how a picture came about. There are so many beautiful images out there.  If anything we now suffer from image saturation. People need a connection to a picture to have it stand out. Which is why I think shining our personality and telling the stories, the why behind a painting, our influences and inspirations are so much more important than ever in making that connection with our collectors. This is why I blog"

Meatless-Meals_Pumpkin-Soup "My current project is the "Art Filled Seasonal Cookbook that happens to be Vegetarian". It's a year long project of seasonal meatless meal recipes posted freely on my blog 3-4 times a week. Each recipe has an original accompanying artwork. The recipes are not just for vegetarians. The aim is to have people swoon with yum and not care if the meal was vege or not. Because pretty much everyone knows a vegetarian nowadays. If a raving carnivore needs to cook a vege meal, they usually don't know where to start. This collection is for them as well as the full time non-meat eaters."

Image Above: Easy. Homely. Liquid. Gold. Pumpkin Soup, artwork is 30 x 30cm oil on canvas. Image used with permission. Copyright belongs to Fiona Morgan.

Fi adds, "The artworks for each recipe are originals that aim to capture the essence of the dish. They art all a modest size of 30 x 30cm to fit onto a wall in even the tiniest modern flat."

Is your interest peaked?  Mine certainly was. I’ve included some of my favorite art pieces and links to Fi’s recipes, and I know you’ll find favorites of your own, too

All the most up to date information on the cookbook project, including a Table of Contents can be found at Where Fish Sing.

Meatless-Meals_Creamy-Spinach-Pasta Image: Creamy. Delicate. Fresh. Light. Creamy Spinach Pasta. Artwork is 30 x 30cm acrylic on paper. Image used with permission. Copyright belongs to Fiona Morgan.

If you would like to see more of Fiona Morgan's art, visit WhereFishSing's photostream.  The blog for is Spaces Between The Gaps. 





The Real Origins of Ancient Artists – Are You One?

Over the years that I’ve been writing this blog one comment repeatedly surprises me: I’m under 50, but can I still be called an Ancient Artist?

My answer is yes, of course!  And I realized I needed to write about why this blog is titled Ancient Artist and why Age has little do to with it.

The power of art to change the way our brains work.

Back in school I wrote a thesis paper titled The Cognitive Benefits of Cave Art for Paleolithic Man. Here is the abstract:

Current archaeological and anthropological opinion supports the theory that the development of man’s creativity in the Upper Paleolithic was facilitated by the development of a complex language.  However, this approach overlooks research in the Art Education and Art Therapy fields that identifies complex interactions between drawing, visual thinking and brain functions, a process which may not be dependent upon language, but simply a parallel mode of thought.  If the function of art making had a direct influence on the critical thinking abilities within the human brain, then this would indicate that it also facilitated the mental shift from domain thinking into creative thinking, suggesting that the art played a more important role than previously thought.

This idea stuck with me - that art making, as well as appreciating and finding alternative meaning for the imagery could actually affect the way our brains function.  Imagine how powerful this idea can be – we make art, benefiting by increasing our own critical and creative thinking, and we send it out into the world where it has the potential of providing a similar benefit to others.  The original Ancient Artist was involved deeply in communication, intuition and out-of-the-box thinking, and this is the concept I identified with as I thought about the title for this blog. 

Age has everything – and nothing – to do with it.

Ask anyone over the age of 50 how old they feel and they’ll tell you,"I think of myself as 25 or 30."  But the real world often sees the external representation of mature age. 

As I began this artistic journey, my greatest challenge was not what I expected – I found that each day became a struggle not to feel marginalized. Our society finds it far sexier to encourage earnest young artists than earnest old artists.  In the profession, those who have reached a mature age are masters of their craft and have been working hard for decades. The artist who finally finds the opportunity to create at a much later age is often seen as not serious enough, or he would have started years ago. 

At age 51, trying to find purchase in this environment, I found myself dealing with both pressures – of not being young enough to excite the public and not being masterful enough yet to be taken seriously. It became difficult not to slip into the "mom’s little hobby" mode of thinking, and as I read blogs and took on-line classes and real-life studio classes, I was not finding answers specifically aimed at the challenges I was experiencing.

I wanted to address what I felt was a growing need – to write a blog centered on the unique obstacles faced by late bloomers of any age.  I wanted to provide a platform where I could share insights, solutions, experiences, and education with others, and to have them share their knowledge and experiences with me.  Age has nothing to do with this aspect, unless we’re talking about the need for increased lighting for older eyes or the unexpected physical consequences of trying to carry a 24 x 30 inch canvas and French easel on a two mile hike to paint en plein air. 

Some experiences are universal.  Everyone who finds something worthwhile in the voice of Ancient Artist is welcome here, and it's also the reason why this blog is somewhat eclectic.  I don’t talk just about developing an art career after 50, because the definition of art career is so unique to the individual that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.   I don’t talk just about marketing; there is so much of that information available it would become redundant.  I don’t indulge in too much positive thinking but when I do I try to temper it with real solutions that an artist should consider – goal setting, skill building, staying grounded or narrowing your focus.  I also talk about my art, how I create, why I create, and the successes and failures that I experience, because I want to share it with you and…heh…improve my own creative thought process. 

I draw on my experiences: almost twelve years and counting as a professional artist – defined as someone who has dedicated full time attention to the creation, showing and selling of art, and not as someone who has supported themselves full time in the creation of art. The idea that you aren’t professional if you can’t support yourself entirely is a false argument and does not serve the artist.  I have created and sold art steadily for twelve years, and that is my measure of success – that what I create sells even in this economy.  I value my collectors, not because they gave an Art Gallery money in exchange for my work but because they saw something there that had meaning for them.  The idea that I can continue the tradition of the original Ancient Artist is very humbling, and I am grateful. 

I have also spent most of these twelve years talking directly to the public about art, at artist receptions, art walks, studio sales and as a sales person in a gallery situation.  I continue to educate myself about artists who inspire me, methods of creating art, and methods of marketing art. In the spirit of a disclaimer, the opinions expressed in Ancient Artist are based upon my own experiences and are not applicable to everyone, although if they do inspire or encourage you then please let others know. 

If you would like to read more about age and creativity, here is a post that I wrote years ago, titled The Seven Characteristics that Distinguish Older Artists over Their Younger Peers. 

Upcoming News

The Sunday Salon for October 17 will feature Fiona Morgan, an Australian artist I think you’ll enjoy meeting. In defining her approach to art, writing and blogging, she says, "People need a connection to a picture to have it stand out..."  Be sure to stop by and see what she’s doing. 

If you are interested in participating in a future Sunday Salon, send me an email using the link in the sidebar.   As always I appreciate the time you take reading Ancient Artist.  If you find it worthwhile, please forward it to people who might enjoy it, too. 

March of the Mountain People - A Central Oregon Story

   DSC06314 smcopy
March of the Mountain People, 16 x 40, from the Raven Stories Series

from left to right, front to back in a zig-zag: The Three Sisters,  Black Butte (shown as a sweat lodge), Mount Washington, Three Finger Jack, Mount Jefferson, and Mount Hood in the far distance.

 Working in a series has been very exciting for me.  The inspiration from the Native American stories leads me to painting styles outside of my normal approach.  The March of the Mountain People was inspired by a story from the Warm Springs Indians of Central Oregon, as recounted in the book by Ella E. Clark, titled Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest. This painting is another entry into the Raven Stories series, which you can read about here and here.  

This story offers one explanation for the Cascade Mountains. The distinctive peaks that dominate our skyline are all dormant volcanoes (only a very few are actually extinct), so it's easy for me to imagine how the rumblings and earthquakes that have occurred over time became the "proof" of the "impending fight" that forms the core of this story.  Mount Saint Helens, which erupted on May 18, 1980, is believed to be the "girl" in this story over which the two boys - Mount Adams and Mount Hood - were fighting. 

As the story goes, Coyote was concerned over the growing argument between Mount Hood and Mount Adams over some girl.  The Mountain People from the Klamath Marsh country down South agreed to help and started marching north to a big council meeting on the Columbia River.  They planned to cross a great land bridge (Cielo Falls) to the north side of the river.  But before they could arrive, Coyote had to destroy the land bridge to keep Mount Adams from crossing over to fight with Mount Hood. 

The Three Sisters had been marching with the Mountain People, as well as Black Butte and her husband, (who became Green Ridge). When the Mountain People learned that Coyote had destroyed the land bridge, they stopped marching.  "They stopped just where they were, and later were given new mountain names.  They stopped where they are today - Mount Jefferson, the Three Sisters, Mount Washington, and all the others."

I really love this story.  Now when I watch the sun set I don't see the Cascade Mountains.  I see the Mountain People, watch their cook fires die down to glowing embers, and hear their laughter faintly on the wind.