Studio Materials 2

Studio Materials 2

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

5 Tips for Surviving and Thriving with an Artist Block

The turning of the New Year is historically a time for reflection, evaluation, and initiating beginnings. Ring out the old and ring in the new. For many, this is a time of increased energy and creativity, of experimentation, and thinking and acting outwardly.

For others, however, this can be a time of anticlimax and inertia. The Holidays are over and it’s back to our regularly scheduled programming. Artist’s block, creative funk, SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), depression, and what feels like laziness can easily set in this time of year. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, the days are shorter and light is at a premium. We want to hibernate like bears, curl up in our lairs with a cup of tea and a good book and wake up in the spring.

Thoughts and ideas come to us at an overweight snail's pace, if they occur to us at all. Better yet, let me curl into my snail shell and call it a day (week, month). We all have felt one or more of these feelings of wanting to move inward instead of outward at some point in our lives and creative careers. These states of inactivity can be extremely painful and disheartening. Many people believe that the condition is permanent and that they will never create again or feel that sense of creative ease and enlightenment.

However, I am happy to report that these working blocks are part of the creative process and somewhat necessary in our artistic development. Sometimes we are active, sometimes inactive, sometimes outward, sometimes inward. In Chinese philosophy and medicine, there is no Yang (light) without Yin (dark). As N.C. Wyeth used to describe during his own creative inertia, “I have to refill my well.” Just like N.C. found ways of replenishing his creative juices, you too can add some creative spring to your winter step. Here are my 5 favorite tips for moving out of the beautiful blahs:

 1.     STOP trying so hard!!! If you don’t want to create then don’t. It’s that simple. Nothing will initiate a block or feed an existing one than convincing yourself that you have to create or beating yourself up when you don’t.  Put the brush, pencil, engraving tool, needle and thread, whatever you use to make stuff with down and step away from the studio. Take a break, and give yourself an even bigger one.

2.     Try another creative outlet. Ask a friend if they might show you some tips using their medium. Take that pottery class, creative writing course, or volunteer at your local theater group. Go dancing or take up an instrument. Watch the entire Oscar nominated movie list. Nothing can perk up and nurture your inner Da Vinci than exploring another medium, one you know nothing about. Who knows, this new venture might lead you down a path you never dreamed you’d take.

3.     Get active!!! Go for a walk. Better yet, find a walking buddy. Use that gym membership. Help someone with household chores… or do your own!! Volunteer to help a local farmer. Get your body moving and your heart pumping. Endorphins rock!...and they help improve your mood and creative drive. Turn off the computer, the TV, and the phone. Tune out technology and tap into your mind, body, and soul.

4.     Eat healthy!! These chilly winter days are the perfect excuse to concoct something hot and healthy in the kitchen. For those of you in the Southern Hemisphere, take advantage of your locally sourced summertime veggies. Eat local, fresh, and well. As with exercise, nothing feeds the mind, body, soul, and creative spirit than a healthy diet. Cooking is an art. The color palette in the kitchen is an ample source of inspiration. Share recipes with friends and family and invite them over to cook and sample your gastronomical portfolio.

5.     Remove emotional blocks and toxins in the mind and body. My personal experience with removing toxins in the body involves many forms of bodywork including massage, myofacial release, Reiki, mediation, and acupuncture. If you are open to these practices I suggest trying them all to find out what works best for you. If you are skeptical, I suggest sitting quietly for at least 15 minutes a day and focus on your breathing. Let thoughts come and go and, without judgment, come back to your breath. This practice will calm your mind and allow thoughts and emotions to gently come to the surface. Journal what comes to mind without judgment. Pay attention to how you feel around certain the people in your life. If you feel anxious or drained around certain friends or family members, it may be time to edit them from your day-to-day activities. Address stress at work. Talk therapy is a wonderful resource for managing the difficult challenges we have in our lives. Any and all of these body and mind toxins will create creative blocks. Awareness is the first step toward recovering authenticity and flow.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Drawing is the Mother, Painting is the Child

Recently, I was teaching  class with a relatively new student whose goal is to improve her drawing skills. She has innate skills and an observant eye, but needs practice and some range in her mark making language. We had been working on an extended pencil drawing project and were nearing the end of class with a few minutes to spare. I gave her a ball point pen and asked her to play with it, making a variety of marks, values, and layering effects.

She was thrilled with this tool, one she had used her whole life to write with, but now re-examining it with an artist's sensibilities. She couldn't wait to get home and give her children, who she home schools, a chance to make expressive drawings with this everyday item. I was taken by her enthusiasm, and spent the next few days revisiting my own relationship with simple drawing tools. What I realized is that I had allowed that relationship to stagnate.

I had a mentor when I was new to the fine art world, about 20 years ago, who gave me some very good advice. His name was Isa Barnett, a well-known artist in the South West and where I live near Philadelphia, PA. He told me to draw as much as possible. He stressed the importance of drawing not only to keep skills sharp, but to nurture new ideas, exploring inner worlds, and for refilling the creative well. His phrase, "Drawing is the Mother, Painting is the Child," is always included in my pastel course description.

I must admit that I have not followed his advice very often since his passing about a dozen years ago. However, I have not forgotten his urging to keep the foundational elements of creating visual art at the front of day to day artistic process.

It's very easy to get enthralled with new materials, processes, or the notion that our art must be big, bold, and important. My feeling is that nothing is more important that communicating with the simplest means possible. If you can't communicate your ideas with a pencil, how will you convey them with a full palette of paint? Visual ideas are best distilled directly. What could be more direct than a ball point pen?

What simple tools do you use on a regular basis?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Chromatic Shades of Gray

I'm working on a series of landscape paintings in which I am experimenting with working on top of a highly chromatic background color. Ironically, this backdrop allows me to see grey in a colorful way. These paintings have a low horizon line, therefore the cloudy skies I am immersing myself in take up most of the compositional acreage.

When we think of cloudy skies, we tend to imagine them as being grey. The question I like to ask myself is, "What kind of gray?" Is it green gray, purple gray, yellow, orange? When we paint gray, we can, of course, include color into our palette. In fact, I always mix my grays by mixing opposite colors. For example, the warm grey at the bottom of my palette in this photo was created by mixing burnt sienna and sap green, two somewhat opposite colors, helping to create a still warm but more chromatic grey.

When I began work on the structure, I used a purple grey that absolutely sang on the yellow canvas. Immediately, my grey painting had color. What a joy!

Here, the yellow underpainting still shows through quite a bit and I am working to match the chroma of it with greens at the bottom. The "grays" in the sky appear blue and purple.

In this last image, I've adjusted the movement of the blue grey in the middle of the composition, a very important element, and shifted it's location to the left in order to better balance the painting.

The painting at this stage still feels "yellow" but now the background color is more integrated into the heavier layers of paint. It shows through just a bit here and there in it's raw state, yet informs every color choice I have made.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Big Edit

I've been working on some small paintings, some done en plein air, some done in the studio, where my main objective is to simplify what I am seeing. This is no small task. Our eyes and brain are programed to observe the details of life. Editing seems to go against our Human MO.

It helps when I squint my eyes so that I can see the simplicity of the shapes and value structure. Using large brushes, at least 3/4 inch wide flats, has also helped the process of keeping it simple. This brush size still allows for a fair amount of control, but I'm also having a wonderful time creating sweeping, expressive marks which convey the essence of the thing I am painting rather than the details.  So far, I've come up with two 10 x 8 paintings that I am happy with. One was done mostly on location, the other was finished entire;ly in the studio from photographs. Can you tell which is which?


Wednesday, August 1, 2012


About 4 years ago I was feeling rather ho hum about my work in pastels. I had been working with them for about 20 years and felt like a change (go figure). I decided to try my hand at oil painting since I admire so many artists working in that medium. Learning, rather, reintroducing myself to oils was challenging and exciting. My naiveté with making marks in paint as opposed to dry pigment felt childlike and I enjoyed the learning curve I allowed myself. I've explored the full palette of both opaque and transparent colors and enjoy the sculptural quality this medium offers as well as it's sensuousness .

I have by no means mastered the oil medium. I feel I am still in the intermediate stage of my education, so one would surmise that the learning I see ahead of me would keep me engaged. However, for the last few months, I've felt a very string sense of inertia and have not been able to place it's origin, until today. I'm painting for a show in September and am very aware of the looming, heaving deadline quickly approaching  me like a competitive runner lapping me on the track. Seriously, I'm starting today to paint for this show. Luckily, the venue is small, so a half a dozen nice pieces will suffice. I have my ideas; some abstracted florals (the venue is a flower shop) and some abstracted landscapes.

As I was choosing my canvases to begin work, a wilting flower arrangement eagerly waiting for it's close-up on the table next to my easel, I thought, "This needs to be a pastel!" Rather than start with a fresh sheet of paper, I wiped out an older painting that had been taken out of it's original frame. The background color I ended up with once the image succumbed to my 4 inch bristle brush was a glowing reddish orange. "Perfect!" I thought. Where's my charcoal? Like swinging my leg over a trusted bicycle seat, my hand sketched in the foundation for a new pastel painting. Wiping, making marks, wiping again, pushing and pulling the black lines hear and there, then blocking on the negative shapes feels so....right!

After 4 years of working in oils, I forgot I was a pastel painter. Let the dust fly!

Sometimes we move on to new pursuits and adventures. Sometimes it's time to reacquaint ourselves with former passions. What former passions have you reacquainted yourself with lately?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Life Reboot

I'm so glad to be back here. It has been more than a year since my last post and quite a lot has changed since then. If you will bear with me, I'd like to take some time and space to get you up to date, so that subsequent posts will make sense and feel cohesive.

At the time of my last post, June 21, 2011 (Summer Solstice Day) a spiral-shaped bacteria was growing rapidly in my body. Within a month of being bitten by a deer tick, I could barely walk due to symptoms of Acute Lyme Disease. I had severe muscle cramps in my legs, and my brain fog was so bad that I was afraid to drive for long distances. I was sleeping anywhere from 8 to 12 hours a night and would take 2 or 3 hour naps during the day. Needless to say, my life came to an unceremonious halt. I kept thinking, "How can an organism so small make me feel so bad and unable to function."

The good news now is that I am healed, for the most part. I began antibiotic treatments in July 2011 and finished up in April of this year. So far so good. I have residual foot and leg pain that may or may not go away on it's own, but I can live with that. I get regular acupuncture and massage treatments that are very helpful in reducing that discomfort.

The other good news is that I take much better care of myself now than I ever have. I had to stop drinking alcohol during the time I was on the meds. That dry period was so good for me and now I rarely touch a drink. I love my newfound clarity. I eat exceptionally well. I joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and participate in a work share. I work on the farm for 4 hours a week and in return for my efforts I receive more fresh, organic vegetables than I can possible consume. My body is rejoicing! Dare I say that contracting Lyme Disease has made me more healthy than I was before.

During this past year I moved back to my hometown, which has turned out to be one of the coolest places to live in the whole country. We are the first Fair Trade Town in the country, where the majority of the shops carry items that are purchased directly from the makers, rather than second or third-hand vendors. I have become active in some other very progressive community initiatives, including a time bank, and tool share. I can walk to most of my routine shopping, to friends houses, and to the plentiful festivals and events on the main drag. The sense of community that I feel here is so satisfying and I finally feel as though I'm where I belong. Yes, you can come home again!

My artwork is...well...a bit all over the place right now. Future posts will get you up to speed on where I am headed creatively. From what I have read from other artists of my age and career stage, I'm right on time. I've entered my Second Creative Adolescence, where experimentation and taking risks are crucial to further artistic evolution and movement. With that being said, life happens too. The bills still have to be paid, the economy is still stagnant in many areas (mine, for sure), and needs require a certain reality check. I have only myself to fall back on. It's a scary yet exhilarating and liberating time of life!

It's a time for new ways of thinking, new approaches to challenges, building new relationships, and accepting the "new normal." It's time for a new blog title! It's a Life Reboot. I would love for you to share some of your Life Rebooting with me here. What no longer works for you and how are you coming to terms with the changes you feel you must make in order to move forward? What are you editing out of your life? What are you adding? Where do we go from here?

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.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The View from Both Sides: The Job Interview/Part Two

Interview/ Part Two
Business Nitty-Gritty

The next few questions may make you squirm while asking them, but it is a good idea to glean this information from the gallery director before commission agreements are signed. In this way, you will know exactly what business practices to expect from this gallery and avoid any unpleasant  surprises.

What is the gallery’s commission percentage? Most galleries take 30 to 50%; get used to it. Don’t bother with galleries taking more than 50%. That extra 10 % isn’t worth the moral dilemma of a gallery making more money than the artist in my opinion.

What is their payment schedule? Fair payment turnaround is in the range of 14 to 30 days of the sale or from the end of an exhibition. That gives plenty of time for checks and credit reports to clear. Any more time is an excuse to cover expenses the gallery can’t pay for.

What does the gallery’s insurance policy cover? You’re not asking for an umbrella dollar number here but whether your work is covered for it’s retail or replacement cost if damaged on gallery premises, covered in transit in one of the gallery’s vehicles, covered in a satellite venue of the gallery, and covered in shipping back to you, the artist, if proximity to the gallery is a problem for you. A reputable gallery will cover all of these scenarios.

Wow! This is all heavy stuff, but important stuff that, once clarified, will make your relationship run as smooth as an Alpha Romeo. Again, as in a previous article, I offer inspiration from The Godfather. When interviewing for the right gallery, “It’s business, nothing personal.” Further quoting from that classic film, “Leave the gun, take the cannollis.” Put aside your potentially explosive emotions while involved in this complicated process, and you’re more apt to reap the sweet rewards of your efforts.
Next time, I’ll discuss presentation and  marketing strategies for your work and delve into specifics of the consignment agreement.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The View from Both Sides: The Job Interview/Part One

The last article’s reconnaissance mission concluded with your revealing yourself to the gallery director as an artist seeking representation. I’d like to continue this mission with the interview phase, which is your opportunity to gather as much information about this gallery as possible. Remember, you are an employer  searching for someone to represent you and your work.

Interview Materials
Always be Prepared

Have along with you at least 6 of your best pieces,  a few of which should be professionally framed.  Also, bring your updated biography, resume, and a good quality reproduction of your work. Now, leave these items in the car. Never assume that the director will have time this day to view your work. The gallery business can be a hectic one and you don’t want to interfere with sales or the process of cultivating them. Suggest showing your work now but be prepared to schedule an appointment in the future for reviewing work. After scheduling, offer your reproduction as an opportunity for the director to make an initial decision about whether they feel your work is appropriate for the gallery.

Interview/ Part One
Getting the Big Picture

Asking the director some very basic questions will help avoid wasting time reviewing your work with a gallery that isn’t a good fit or doesn’t live up to your business priorities.

Is the gallery currently looking for artists? Obviously, the answer to this question will tell you whether this is a receptive new partner. Be prepared that they may wish to represent only the current handful of artists or they may have so many artists already on exhibit that there’s little chance for wall space for your work. If this is the case, be gracious and offer to leave behind your information. Keep the director abreast of your exhibition schedule with subsequent mailings. They may hope to add  you to their roster in the future. If, however, they are looking for new artists, continue with the next question.

How would the director describe the theme or mission statement for this gallery? The answer you receive should reinforce your initial instincts about the gallery and reveal something of its director. For example, their answer might be, “ We specialize in promoting local and regional artists,” or, “Our focus is providing high-end contemporary artwork to our clients.” These responses show some clarity in the mind of the director as to the goals of the gallery. If, however, the answer you receive is somewhat scattered, you may be dealing with an inexperienced or unmotivated director. Make a mental note of this and move on to the next question.

What is the best-selling subject matter or genre for this gallery? Related to the previous question, the answer reveals whether the gallery’s goals are reinforced by its sales. If the walls are filled with landscapes but the director mentions still life as the best-selling genre, clearly something is askew. If your work fits the best-selling genre mentioned, clearly it would  be a marketable addition to the current collection. However, if your art is out of that realm but you are still partial to this gallery, don’t be afraid to ask if the director would consider trying something new and fresh.

What is the most common price range for sales in this gallery? Ideally, the bulk of your prices should fall somewhere within the range mentioned or no more than 30% above or below. Allowances might be made for work that is higher priced than average but which obviously shows high standards of craftsmanship and presentation. If your work is currently inexpensive and/or isn’t measuring up to this gallery’s standards, consider improving on these levels of craftsmanship, presentation, and ultimately pricing.

How have sales been lately? Hopefully the director will be forthcoming with this information. Even if sales have been slow lately, a positive response to current market conditions is a good thing. Your future employee needs to match their good attitude with yours. Steer clear of gloom and doom directors. Their demeanors never seem to get any better. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Yes To Change

I’ve gone through a lot of changes in the last few years. I got divorced (well, it’s not quite final but pending), I moved, I’m making a living as a teacher not as an artist at present, I started a new relationship (keeping it light, though), I’m living with a teenager (not my own), and last, but certainly not least, in fact most importantly, I’m saying yes when, in the past, I usually said no.

I suppose most of the changes in my life are due to my newfound tendency toward the affirmative. I entered into my current relationship not because I was lonely, but because it felt good, even though most people I confided in warned me that it was much too early for me to get serious about anyone. This relationship felt so good I moved in, again ignoring the naysayers. I liked what I saw happening at the house, I liked the house, and I liked the neighborhood. I have river views out my front door. Sweet!

The house has a charming little courtyard out back. We had a rough winter and are experiencing a very wet Sring, so there is much debris, city grime, and moldy slime all over everything. Cleaning this up is requiring some major work. We rent, so there is only so much time, money, and energy we want to put into any one project at this place, cool as it is. But, dammit, I want this little gem of an outdoor space to look good, and I want to enjoy it this summer. So does my guy. Budget? Sort of. I’ve bought some plants. I’ve got my eye on a nice little bistro set. I’m hoping to get a coupon online. I’m also asking for free stuff, giveaways and discards from my friends. Guess what. I’m getting free stuff. YES!!

I’ve said yes to just about every teaching opportunity that comes my way, mostly because I need the money. Artwork just isn’t selling like it used to. Besides, I’m rather good at teaching and I enjoy it immensely. I didn’t used to. I found it stressful. I used to plan my classes from start to finish. You know, I was trying to control them. Now, I just show up, and I am very present. I listen to my students more now than I used to rather than talking at them and hurling information their way.

When I thought again about learning to cook (for the 50th time in my life) I finally found myself saying, “YES!” Do it. What are you waiting for? As it turns out, my timing was perfect because I had recently met a chef who wanted to start teaching people how to cook. We both said yes at the same time. Perhaps serendipity comes more often to those who say…well, you know.

When I was married we said no a lot. We were frugal with our money, and we worked a lot, so we said no to many social opportunities. We felt obligated to have a hard life, for some reason. There was always something more important to do than nurture our lives with fun activities. I don’t think anyone was to blame; it was just the dynamic of that relationship at the end. Actually, it was how I treated myself. Now, I say yes to joy. I say yes to frivolity (within reason-I am cash challenged). I say yes to silliness. I say yes to new things that either present themselves or that are required in my life due to …well, change. I say yes to change and it’s pervasiveness.