“I’ll tell you what I learned myself. For me a long, five or six mile walk helps. And one must go alone and every day.”
January is just whizzing by me. Surely, time moves faster as you chase it. And I feel as if I have been chasing it, with so much to do, and trying to fit it all in. Sometimes I have to remind myself to just stop, and breathe. And slow down the moment. And pay attention.
For months now, I’ve been simultaneously preparing for war and peace, so to speak. ( I think it’s an Einstein quote, and he actually said, ” You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.”) For about a year, now, I’ve been going to school part time to complete a certificate in technical writing. I’ve also been trying to increase my hours in the studio, ramping up my practice, trying to make a go of being a full-time artist. The sensible fall back plan, and the big dream. I feel like every day I get up and just throw myself at it all. There is rarely a sense of completion, because there is always something more to do. I just keep setting little goals, and moving forward. Inch. By. Inch.
There are financial pressures. I don’t know if the artwork can answer them. It seems to be gaining traction, but I have to wait and see how it all shakes out. I really want to be able to jump in with both feet into… something. But for now, I must simultaneously prevent and prepare.
Painting and technical writing might seem at odds with one another. And it does feel like I’m living two lives, or preparing for two futures, or even two potential selves, sometimes. Each activity exploits different parts of my personality. But the two things also compliment one another in remarkable ways. When I was working my way through my foundation technical writing courses, I was struck with how the skills I was learning could be directly applied to all of the writing that I am required to do as an artist- statements, bios, website copy, etc. Active voice, defining audience, elegance, efficiency, specific language, direct style. My studio notebook has become my constant companion, and I’ve learned to just get it all down, and edit later. My editing class sharpened my attention and further developed my appreciation for brevity and specificity in my painting practice.
Right now, I’m taking a course in Information Graphics, and I find myself asking different questions in the studio. Questions like “What is the question that the work answers?” and “How do I shape the data to answer the question?”. It’s all pretty interesting stuff.
One of the things I always do in January is clean my studio, and this year was no exception. I also tried to create a “clean” area, over to the right, for a drawing space. I’m trying to have a corner that isn’t covered in wax and paint splatters! (I know–good luck!) I’ve also added the memory foam mat on the floor, because all the standing takes it’s toll. If you don’t have one of these in the studio, get thee to thy computer, and order one. They are heaven.
Well, then, back to work! I have a data set to download, and some paper cutting to do!
A few days ago we had a low, low tide- the kind of low tide that only comes once in a blue moon (literally, this time…), and so we all bundled up and headed for Maverick’s beach by the harbor. The sky was dark, the clouds low and threatening. It was windy. But I was so glad we went out.
There is so much beauty in these gray and blustery days, and this particular day, we had the pleasure of seeing what is usually hidden by the sea. We walked on rocks usually submerged. We could see the kelp anchored to the rocks, starfish clinging, and crabs backed into the deep cracks, staring out at us, as if we had crashed their party, and they were utterly annoyed. The beach becomes unfamiliar, foreign, and all the more beautiful for it.
It occurred to me that this is often the work of the artist- hunting the unseen; making it seen. Finding unnoticed beauty, and bringing it to the light. And sometimes a low tide is just what we need…
Here’s to 2010, a new year, and a new decade. May it bring you all light, love, and prosperity!
We don’t get a whole lot of fall color here on the mid-California coast. But I am savoring fall, anyway. This is my favorite time of year.
After a long bout of illness this summer, I “came to” sometime in early October, and realized that my blog (among many other things) had been sorely neglected. So in the spirit of catching up a bit, here are some things I’ve been up to. I somehow managed to pull together my show here in town at Enso; we had a wonderful opening and I received loads of positive feedback. I’m now busy preparing for another show coming up in February. So, I’ve been working in my studio, if somewhat sporadically. Earlier this month, I attended the IEA retreat in Carmel, and got some wind in my sails. The retreat was wonderful, and I met many other artists from all over the country. The speakers were great- hearing Tony Scherman speak was definitely a high point for me- and members demonstrated techniques, which was also interesting. I came away inspired and full. On my drive home, I pulled over several times, because I had to write down everything I was thinking before it got away. Just download into my notebook. Somehow, talking with and listening to other painters helped me crystalize some of my own goals, which have been fuzzy for a while.
And now, after the buzz has worn off a bit, I realize that it is fine and well to think about painting, but a time comes when it is painfully obvious that I’m doing more thinking than painting. And that it is time to shoehorn painting back into my life, an hour at a time, and re-set some priorities. It’s never ending- the process of picking oneself back up, brushing off, and walking back into the studio.
“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.” -Rumi
One of the trickiest things, I’ve found, about making images is the simultaneous need for experience and innocence. On one hand, we want to bring our years of experience to bear in the studio. On the other, we want to be able to see as if for the first time; an adventurous and inventive eye must not be hobbled by what it thinks it knows and sees.
This summer, I’ve been walking the same route through the fields, almost daily, and like to practice seeing things with a fresh perspective. A few times, I’ve taken my camera, and it has been so fun to look through that magic window and see how limiting the view can sometimes expand how I see.
Artistic perception is this great elastic thing that must be exercised to stay limber and responsive. Ironically, doing something repetitive is sometimes just the thing to practice keeping things new.
Sometimes, the hardest thing is simply beginning.
And once I begin, it is rare that I want to stop. As I approach a painting session, or a block of time in my studio, or begin a new painting or body of work, my doubts and insecurities often crowd me, beckoning me toward some other soothing activity like working in the garden or reading a book. Baking cookies. Catching up on email. Cleaning the toilet.
No, really, it is fascinating to me that after 20-something years of painting, that I can still have these feelings. It’s like that squirmy, resistant feeling you get right before jumping into a cold lake or swimming pool. After jumping, I always get a little rush of adrenaline, and then have the thought that it’s really quite nice. Wonderful, even.
How do I get to the other side of those feelings with my artwork? I remind myself to just begin. Then I give myself permission to do something other than painting in my studio if I just do not feel the flow after a little while. I could tidy my studio, or do some preliminary drawings, I could go outside and photograph, make some color charts, write in my art journal. Whatever. But almost always, I find myself caught up in the riptide of creative momentum, and I paint.
“Leap, and the net will appear”
What makes a routine work?
When I first started writing this blog, I had recently been to a yoga workshop, taught by Rod Stryker, called “Yoga of Fulfillment”. One of the most powerful things I came away with was the idea of a “Samkalpa”. Samkalpa means a resolution, a resolve, or an intention. Mine is defined by my desire to have momentum in my studio time, and to feel the thread of fearless creativity running through my life, weaving what then seemed fractured, together. Since then, I’ve supervised the building of a studio in back of my home, to better integrate painting into my busy family life. I’ve been much more productive than I’ve been in a long time, and have at times felt the momentum running strong.
I’ve always gotten my household and homeschooling “work” done in the mornings, and eked out a few hours of painting in the afternoon. Most days. Much of the time, this works great, and I love the way my studio warms up in the afternoon, and the sun through the skylights. But lately, I’ve been thinking about how the first things I do in my day pretty much always get done. I don’t find myself wondering first thing in the morning, “hmm….. I have time to either take a shower or brush my teeth. Which one do I do?” But I do find myself having that mental converstation with myself over, say, painting and exercising at 4 in the afternoon. Or painting and seeing a friend. It dawned on me that the things I do first are- literally and figuratively- the things I put first. So I’m experimenting with getting out into my studio earlier (after I’ve brushed my teeth, of course!), and working a bit longer. It feels strange and different. But productive.
One of the most uncomfortable aspects of it is not checking my email before I go out to work. But if I do, before I know it, I’m reading the New York Times online, or catching up on my blog reading- and there goes an hour. Or two. Ahem.
So I’m curious about you artists out there- what habits and routines do you have that help you get your creative work done? How have you changed unproductive habits to productive ones?
Sometimes, you have to almost kill something to make it work right.
I had that thought last week, staring at my oregano. Meet my oregano:
Last year, I planted this in my garden. It did well, growing tall and blossoming late in summer. By fall, it started to turn brown and sickly looking. With my kitchen scissors, I trimmed it back, hoping this would be enough. And still, it continued to get worse. So I took a deep breath and cut it all the way back to the ground. Not being a very experienced gardener, this always scares me when I do it. Sometimes the plants love it, and sometimes they just die. All winter it seemed as though the oregano was dead.
But spring arrived, and it came back about eight times bigger than it was before my hack job. I’ve just been amazed, and as I stood the other day looking at it after clearing the weeds away, it occurred to me that one of my paintings was in a similar state of need.
I’d put hours and hours into this painting, and it just wasn’t working. It bothered me every time I looked at it, and every time I looked, I found something else I didn’t like. This painting was sitting in my studio, daring me to do something about it. And I’m a pretty experienced painter, but it always scares me to risk destroying something to try and make it work.
I reminded myself that I had nothing to lose , because, though I loved parts of it, I didn’t love it as a whole…
Here it is, with it’s new layers obscuring the parts that bothered me, and ready for new imagery to be put on.
I like it better already.
Those of you who know me well know that I love lists. I am positively addicted to my “Ampad Project Organizer”, and write a list in it every day. Without it, I feel unanchored. Today, I was reading Beth’s blog, and she had this great list. In the spirit of list making (and not having those photos of new work that I promised!)… a Life List:
(I’ve highlighted the things I’ve done)
1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the stars- Joshua Tree was especially memorable
3. Played in a band- not a rock band, but jazz band and orchestra/concert bands for 8 years.
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower- on the hood of a car, when I was 15
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13.Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill 24. Built a snow fort- with my kids, as an adult
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse.
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset.
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied-
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing- a few times. I was the crazy girl too paralyzed to move. Never again.
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung Karaoke- Last year, in NYC, koreatown. The dynamic duo made me do it.
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight.
46. Been transported in an ambulance - when I was 11, I ran through a sliding glass door, and then told the ambulance workers all the jokes I knew. Which, when you are 11 is a lot.
47. Had your portrait painted.
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud - I don’t think I did much else as a child. Much to my mother’s frustration. We stole all of her spoons to make mud pies.
54. Gone to a drive-in theater – Grew up going to the drive in with my parents. went as a teenager to the Santa Cruz drive in.
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business - I had a jewelry making business for a few years.
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies - And tons of chocolate for concert band in middle school.
62. Gone whale watching
63. Gotten flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check – All the way to china and back.
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar- once was enough (I agree with Beth)
72. Pieced a quilt- very badly, I might add.
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book *someday…
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby – two, now 12 and 15!
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit- sued my landlord in college for not giving me back my deposit. I won.
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
I’ll Add #100, Little Known Fact: Played the baritone sax in junior high and high school jazz band. I could make a lot of noise with that thing.
I went to visit snow and play in it last week, and the timing couldn’t have been better. After many months of drought, we’ve been blessed with precipitation. Here on the coast, it’s been rain and more rain. In the mountains I was greeted by a blanket of pristine, dry, sparkling snow. My daughter and I went snowshoeing, and I brought along my camera. The landscape reminded me of my “White” series, and I was totally inspired. I’ll post a few more of these this week… I think they may inspire a few new paintings….