Studio Materials 2

Studio Materials 2

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

An Empty Well

For the last few months I’ve not been painting much, nor have I been pursuing ideas, reading about art, or participating in discussions about art. I’d had enough, already. I’ve made my living as an artist my whole adult life, twenty-four years to be exact. Twenty four years!!!! When I graduated from art school, I immediately sought out and landed freelance work as an illustrator. Seven years later, in 1994, I began painting for myself and exhibiting as a fine artist, and I never looked back…until this year.

Something inside dried up. It really was like that. The work I began at the beginning of this year felt like a slow drip, drip….and then….nothing. The well had run dry.

I’ve gone through periods like this, the dreaded artist block. It’s a period of time when you feel an emotional disconnect with your artistic soul. Everything you create is dreck, and the process of creating is painful. The first time it happened to me I was very frightened, but I was also very lucky. At that time I had a mentor, a wonderful illustrator named Isa Barnett who held my hand through the process. He told me to just stop. Stop making art. He told me to stop thinking about it, stop talking about it, stop worrying about it. He did give me one small morsel to chew on, though. He told me that above all else, I should, in the future, focus on my process, the atmosphere I cultivate for creating. He said in a phone conversation I will never forget that, if I focus on the process, the results would come. I have savored that advice for nearly 20 years and it has been reliable nourishment.

This time feels different. Fueled in part by an economy that makes it virtually impossible to sell artwork, I found myself surrounded by stacks of unsold paintings and a hovering feeling that making more of them was putting good energy after bad. Furthermore, I was really starting to resent my poverty, and therefore my artwork. Artists who make their living selling work have a different relationship with their art than those who create for the joy of creating. I’ve had a love/hate marriage with my art ever since I graduated from art school and I finally wanted a divorce. Once I put my brush down and pushed my easel out of the way, I discovered a view of my life I hadn’t noticed before.  I realized I could live a very different life if I chose to. Parts of my artistic personality had been ignored for too long and I wanted to nurture them.

I have lots of interests! Music and writing are at the top of the list. This blog was begun because someone took the time and energy to point out that I’m a good writer, and that I have something to say. He further took the initiative, or the great risk of pissing me off, to set up a Blogspot account for me so that I’d have very little impediment from beginning my online diary. (Thank you again, Tom Degan!) Now, I’m pondering my posts with anticipation. (ah, alliteration!) As for music, I’m seeking out more live experiences and investigating new acts via Pandora Radio. What a great invention that is!! I’m thinking of purchasing a mandolin once finances are in agreement.

I began cooking lessons and hope to continue them. My latest obsession is eating locally resourced foods. I savor visiting nearby farmers markets and natural food stores. The difference in quality and the knowledge that what you will be eating is the freshest food possible make it well worth the slightly higher cost. More importantly, I am much more present in act of choosing my food and preparing it. Shopping and cooking have become forms of art. The other day I purchased a $12.00 organic free-range chicken butchered the day before. I massaged that chicken with a butter, brown sugar and clove concoction and then slow-roasted it to perfection. It was the best chicken I have ever had and my dinner companion concurred. You can be sure, none of that bird will be wasted.

There may be a career for me in this localvore industry, I can feel it. Maybe I’ll work at a farmer’s market. Maybe I’ll write about locally resourced products, or farm-to table-restaurants. The other life changes and affirmations that I’ve experienced in the past few years would also make a good read. Since I’ve allowed myself to imagine a whole different life I feel liberated and empowered. Sure, an artist’s life is different from the norm and it is a rewarding life. For me, though, making my living as a painter began to feel stale. Now, the career possibilities I’m considering are new, fresh, and undiscovered. I’m scared shitless, but I’m also very present. I’ve got my attention.

There’s something else to share here, yet another development. While teaching a plein air painting class the other day, I was demonstrating to a student and working on a small oil of a garden scene. After giving her instructions about what I wanted her to concentrate on, I sent the student off to work on her piece and continued playing with mine. Suddenly, an idea came to me for a series of paintings. My well is full again.


  1. Very nice! This is something I would read in the NYTimes on Sunday! Tough being an artist. My Dad raised two boys being one. I remember his paintings hanging on clothes line along the Brandywine at art shows.

  2. Anonymous, the Brandywine Arts Festival is still running, although it took a hiatus 2 years ago because no one wanted to run it. Artists are giving paintings away these days, it's simply tragic.

  3. I'm reading this and thinking YES that is how I feel. I as you, are feeling like whats the point, and I feel like, I am really good at something no ones cares anything about, oh yeah, there always lots of praise, but writing the check is a different story, and not wanting to think its my art, I am just tired of making it a daily concern, and I want to stop.. I have always had a love for cooking and good food, along with the fresh wholesome way of thinking about food.. and yes its an art.. yes it is..I have had friends say , if your cooking , then yes we are staying.. and thats a awesome compliment, and I am very flattered. I cook for the love of it, and now I'm thinking I should paint for the love it, nothing more.. Thanks Donna, I'm glad I read this.. Rosie

  4. Rosie, thanks!I'm glad many artists are not thinking of stopping altogether, but seriously, when work isn't selling, why paint to sell? It doesn't make any sense. Sometimes we are forced to look further into ourselves for that sense of connection. Sometimes, we just need a break in order to refill that well.

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  6. food presentation is not a bad idea for painting..:-) will be something new for you also..:-)
    I think you should go ahead with this idea..