Sunday, November 25, 2012

Artists Who Repeat Themselves-- Can you Say that AGain, Please?

Artists Who Repeat Themselves---can you say that again, please?
                I find it so interesting how artists seem to repeat themselves over and over with their subject matter. It’s like the artist is saying the same thing 100 times only saying it slightly differently. The first time, it’s “Oooh, I love their gestures.” The next time, she says, “Isn’t it interesting how the light falls on their different shapes?” And the next time she says, “I wonder what’s going on behind them?” Each time the artist paints what interests her and to her, it’s a whole new focus. It seems like a new idea to the artist and probably looks new to the viewer too but if you step back far enough, way back so you can see their whole body of work from when they first picked up a paintbrush until today and you analyzed it, you will see repeating themes. And you might even be able to find some Big Meanings in that work.
But most artists won’t know what the major themes are in their work.
                It’s the nature of the beast. An artist is so close to their work, their noses are stuck to the canvas, the writer to his computer screen. They can no more see their whole body of work and find the major themes than become an astronaut in space.  It’s like looking in a mirror and never being about to truly see how we look to others. We’re simply not very objective when it comes to seeing ourselves. Charlie Brown says to Lucy, after one of her long tirades of how much she likes everything about herself, “If you like yourself too much, don’t you think you’re liable to get a little conceited?” to which Lucy replies, “Don’t be silly, you can’t like yourself too much!” Well Lucy, you can. I think we artists adore each of our little strokes so much that we often fail to see the whole painting just as we fail to see how our body of work is a series of repeating themes.
                And that’s okay. Writers need to simply keep writing and painters need to keep painting and we shouldn’t worry about repeating themes. We should worry about the one painting we’re working on now and how can we make it the very best piece we’ve ever painted. Someone else can do the interpreting, should that ever need to happen. I still find it interesting and like to look at other artists to try to see their themes. But I leave the mirrors in my studio covered. My job is to focus on what’s on my easel.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Turning Over a New Leaf

Turning Over a New Leaf

Turning over a new leaf usually means switching to something new or changing course. For some, the time for this fresh start naturally falls in the fall. We're done playing outdoors in the summer sun and find it's time to come indoors and see what needs doing. Kids are back in school, the chilly morning air feels energizing, and when we finally come inside, we see heaps and piles just begging for some of your time and attention.
Autumn is the season that really feels like the beginning of a new year to me. New Year's means resolutions and resolutions means looking for solutions to old problems. I recently read part of a book called, "Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard" by Chip and Dan Heath, two highly educated brothers who have thought long and hard about what is going on in our brains when we want change that we know is right but we can't quite get done. They look at the emotional and rational parts of our brain and analyze how they compete to get us to do what they want. I found it all quite fascinating. Filled with lots of compelling stories about changes, big and small that made real differences in the world, the book's point on looking for bright spots made a real impact on me. What they mean is look for what is working, those are the bright spots, and do more of that. Pretty simple, huh?
I see the path I want to be on but how do I get there? Where exactly do I really want to go? Sometimes it's hard to define the exact problem. Clarification comes from many different sources. I find clarity by talking with friends and writing. Sometimes you hit on a few sentences in a story or article that seems tailor made to describe your situation. Or you're at the gym, generating sweat and have a sudden epiphany about your current struggles.
This fall will bring us a major US election as well as new paintings and writings, new subjects to learn, new jobs to start, new people to meet. Where are your bright spots and how can you make more of them? What path has leaves on it that need turning over? I’ll leave you with this quote, “Solvitur ambulando, St. Jerome was fond of saying. To solve a problem, walk around. ~Gregory McNamee


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Things Will Happen To Us

Side of a building in Lisbon, Portugal
There is nothing like a trip abroad to shake your brain up and give you a new perspective on life. Travel simply messes with your head in the most interesting ways. It's like someone shaking a bento box until its contents are all mixed into one big colorful mess so no matter how hard you try to put it all back, it's never quite the same lunch again. All those compartments you thought could fit stuff only in that one certain way are suddenly expanded. You can see new nooks and crannies that never had light shed on them before. How did I miss seeing all these new ideas? Solutions to old problems suddenly come easier now.

Clearly we just returned from a trip and my head is full of all the wonders we saw. It's all in there just tossing and turning right now. No new paintings are self-evident yet. I need some jell time before seeing what will emerge. For now, I'm enjoying a period full of happiness at the lovely, jiggled mess in my head right now. I feel expanded...enlightened even.

“When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego and when we escape like the squirrels in the cage of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don’t know ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in.” – D. H. Lawrence

I have no idea on how to keep these feeling fresh and alive. I can only rush to embrace them now; examining new solutions to old problems, looking afresh at my comfortable old world, and trying to make habitual in everyday life the new things I found wonderful and sensible.

Good travels to you!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Painful, Horrible, Awful and Wonderful Process of Speech Writing and Giving

"One Foot on the Path", oil on 32x48" panel, hanging at the Governor's Mansion in Olympia for one year along with eleven more of my paintings

Writing a good speech is second to none on the pain scale except the actual giving of the speech. You want it to be no less than great so right there you’re already in trouble. After seeing numerous Ted Talks, we all know what 22 minutes looks like and how good it looks when the giver isn’t reading from notes, uses inflections in their voice, poses with appropriate physical motions with and amazes us with a fabulously interesting topic.
So I did what everyone does. Well, after I panicked anyway, I looked it up on-line. I looked up how to write a speech, I poured over a scientific analysis on what makes up a great speech, I read about how to practice a speech, and I read and watched some really great speeches. Then I was truly stumped. I don’t have a PhD on studying the brain and then had a stroke so got to give a speech about what that felt like (which is one of the best Ted Talks). I’m not Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, both incredibly fantastic speech writers and great thinkers. I’m not the best artist I know nor have I won incredible prizes for my painting or had to paint holding the brush in my teeth because I don’t have any arms. It’s just me, folks, and I had to write a speech and give in at the Governor’s Mansion in Olympia. The invitations said the artist was “giving a lecture”. That threw me even more. A lecture sounds much more important than just a speech.
So I turned to my friends and relations to discuss what subject would be good for this speech. I knew it had to be on a subject I cared about and knew a lot about. My uncle, who was a judge and has given many speeches told me that what people really want to hear, was simply about my “journey to becoming an artist and leave out politics and religion, kid.” He always calls me kid. I could do that. I certainly knew the subject.
So I wrote and wrote and wrote. I looked up quotes (boy there are a lot of great quotes out there) and filled my speech with everything I could think of that related to art from the beginning of my life to the present day. And after a while, though it was much too long and didn’t exactly flow, I began to see this might work after all. Especially if I tossed out aiming for great.  After much editing and working on  flow, I needed to read it out loud to someone who would tell me truthfully if it was working at all, where the weaknesses were and if it would offend anybody. I was two days away from giving the speech when I realized that I’d better leave out the name of my university since it’s art department wasn’t portrayed in a very flattering manner! Imagine all those alumni in the audience tittering afterwards had I not just called it “my college”.  A dear friend, who had been my teacher when I was at the Gemological Institute of America, and gives talks all the time to large and small groups kindly offered to be my first listener. I am a firm believer in never anything I work on leave the house without another set of eyes on it. Debbie offered great hints and kind words which left me feeling surprisingly confident.
And then you have to practice. Routines work for me so every morning, after my  shower, I placed my speech on top of a tippy small table placed on a chair to imitate a podium and read my speech out to the world through the open sliding doors of the master bedroom. I told the sky how I grew up in a lovely, loving family. The birds squawked when they heard me tell that I created some weird art in college. Over and over and over I said it because I couldn’t imagine that I would ever get this thing memorized. My brain seemed too porous to hold it. Paragraphs ended and I was left wondering what came next.  But the amazing thing was that after I said it a jillion times, it eventually did start to tumble off out of my mouth unbidden. The transitions began to come more naturally and I found I could even adlib a little to help the speech along.
The day to give the speech finally came and though my heart really did hammer like a madman for the first five minutes, I remembered to breath and eventually I actually got the point where I slowed down the pace, relaxed and actually enjoyed the rest of the speech. Who’d have thought? I think the take away for me on this whole speech thing was something I learned from another friend of mine who encourages taking a big project and breaking it into smaller pieces in order to make it seem less overwhelming. At some point, I just told myself to quit complaining and worrying about it and just get on with working on it. Just do it—thank you Nike. I’m not sure I’ll ever willingly take up speech giving as part of my career but if it comes up again,  I’ll know more or less what to do. There’s something quite positive to be said for getting through the terribly, awful and wonderful process of writing and giving a speech.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Why Everyone Should Teach

I'm too busy, too selfish, don't feel like it, can't find the time, looks like too much work...the list goes on and on. We have excuses by the bushel when it comes to why we don't do what we don't do it. And why should we do it, you ask. Why should everyone teach- at least once?

Several reasons. I'll start with the fact that everyone knows something. And most of us know a few somethings really, really well. It's our job or hobby or simply a huge interest of ours but for whatever reason, we know A LOT about that subject. We gobble up articles, watch videos, listen to podcasts and go see demos becuase we're eager to learn as much as we can about this certain subject. We're rolling around in facts and surrounded by piles of information.

What being forced to teach someone else some of the stuff you know is to make you take that huge, messy pile of knowledge and sort it into smaller piles. It's taking the beach in the painting and stacking the pebbles in one pile, the short pieces of driftwood in another and so on. Because when you teach, you are forced to organize your jumbled thoughts and ideas into comprehensive, organized, carefully composed smaller pieces. Then you need headlines to group those ideas under and before you know it, you're able to tease threads of ideas throughout the whole and find similarities in areas you hadn't even relaized existed.

The human mind loves sorting things. Like goes with like. Teaching makes you not only sort and organize what you know, it also makes you imagine what it was like before you knew it all. How did that feel to first learn this? People don't learn by being stuffed with facts. They learn from doing, from hearing stories, from seeing visual aides. Teaching makes you look at your gorgeous, exciting subject and imagine how you can expand your excitement to others. Using your imagination to help others learn. Imagine that!

The painting for this month's blog is The Spit, oil on 18x36" panel. To see more of my work, visit my website!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How to Capture a Day

Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.
Lat., Seize the day, put no trust in tomorrow.
-Horace, Odes

Why is it so hard for human beings to be present in the now? Mr. Carpe Diem thinks we must be in the here and now and not wait till tomorrow but my head is usually in the future despite his good advice. I spend a lot of time worrying about my to-do list, making sure nothing gets left behind, making more lists and adjusting calendars. Spending time to make sure all my balls are still up in the air takes up a good portion of each day. Then there are errands to run, vacations to plan, groceries to buy. Am I even present during all this or just running on auto pilot? Discouraging thinking of my days slipping past with me hardly in them.

The one time I am fully 100% present is when I'm painting. The one time! That wonderful, fully-focused space is so very full and wide. I want to dive down that rabbit hole all the time to the place that is just me, the canvas and the paint. It's problem solving all the way. You might not know that if you're not a painter. You put a stroke down and it's lovely but it's also a problem. Now the stroke next to it needs adjusting and so on. In a nearly perfect state, the hours slip by and you look up astonished that the day is nearly done.
Carpe Diem! When I'm painting!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Artists and the Art of Making Money

Artists and the Art of Making Money
Sissy is an artist whose partner’s income isn’t quite enough to cover the bills so she is constantly under pressure to make up the difference. She came up with an on-line gallery in which artists pay a fee to join. It fills the income gap and challenges her geeky, well-developed skills.  For Cathy, it was either get a day job outside the arts industry or figure out how to bring in the art income she had before the recent recession hit. She decided to go into teaching art to adults leaving her time outside of teaching for continuing to create her own art. Mo, a lifetime artist who needed only to pay for his own supplies and $300 a month for his shared art studio sells art, art calendars, and cards every month at the studio’s artwalk.
There are as many ways and needs for income for artists as there are artists. Artists often have to scramble to make ends meet when they’re artists by doing many arts related jobs. If you’re trying to make it as an artist, you better consider yourself half entrepreneur and half artist. There is no getting away from running your own business though many artists wish they could!  
Lucky artists who have another income and don’t need to make money at their art are often still driven by income. We’re a capitalist nation. We take in income from what we sell. Galleries want to represent artists whose work sells, not artists who give their art away to relatives. I’m lucky in that I don’t need the income from my art to support my family but I do run my art as a business and I want my business to be successful for many reasons.

One big reason is that I give 25% of my profits to a local charity so the more I make, the more I give to neighbors who need the extra help. I don’t know of a single artist who isn’t as philanthropic as me. It seems universal that artists give a percentage of their work to auctions. I think last year I gave at least $5000 in paintings to auctions. Did you know that artists can only claim the cost of the materials when they donate art? That means they get to claim $106 for the canvas and materials when the work retails for $900 and they spent 30 hours of work on the piece.

Word to the wise; learn how to run a business and be a marketing major along with learning the skills of becoming an artist. Be generous. Be as creative approaching your business as when you create art. Help others along the way.

                Happy New Year everyone! And let’s hope this recession is behind us!
Painting, "Harbinger", Original 12x16" Oil on board by Joanne Shellan