Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Make yourself trip over it - the Feng Shui of the studio. 

This studio might look a little chaotic but believe me, each and every item is just where I want it! Below are some tips that work for me to make my studio it as conducive as possible to the creative process.

Put your high priority projects in the way. 
I am admittedly a little obsessive about the organization of my studio. Different projects lay in tidy piles in deliberate, strategic places. And some of them are very much in the way, on purpose. For a period of time in my life, when I was trying to establish a really consistent yoga practice, I would place my mat next to my bed so that my first step in the morning was literally into my practice. I do the same thing in my studio. I've found that in order to make sure I work on the project that is most important, I have make sure it is the first one I stumble upon entering the studio. Creative energy is fragile, fleeting, and easily clings to whatever object that comes its way. Keep it sacred by making sure that the first project it has the opportunity to seize upon entering your work space is an important one. Preferably not email. 

Keep your space dynamic.
When I find that a project has been lurking around the fringes of my studio, deadening the space and creating a black hole for creativity, move it to a more prime spot. You might start to notice that there are places in your space that draw your energy more intensely than others. Be deliberate about what you allow into those charged places. Where is the first place your eye goes to when you walk through the door? Where do you feel productive, inspired, or calm? Sometimes it's not about the project, it's about the emotional and psychological energy of the space you've delegated to it.  Make your studio conducive to focusing on the most important projects and free from stale, cobwebby corners. 

Allow a cycle from clean to chaotic.
Part of keeping my studio feeling dynamic to me is to take a day to clean and purge before a new project. Put completed work that hasn't sold out of sight, delegate projects that you need a break from to a quiet (but not stale!) corner of your space. Then let some creative chaos unfold. Use that space you've cleared to allow room for exploring and diving into your current project/s. Laying out your studio carefully doesn't necessarily mean it making it sleek and tidy all of the time- a bit of creative chaos can be invigorating.

Feeling stuck? Don't force creative work.
Giving yourself a half or full day here and there to simply be in your studio, organizing, cleaning, obsessing - not necessarily producing - can be a great way to recharge your battery, to rediscover beauty in projects you gave up on a few months ago, and to clean out those stale nooks and crannies in your inner creative space. There's nothing less conducive to creative work than forcing yourself to do it. Wait til the clarity in your studio invites you to pick up that brush.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Some thoughts on "Style"

Style is a word that often comes up in the world of art. I remember a discussion about style during a college critique with then-Pomona College professor Enrique Martinez Celaya. We were talking about what exactly "style" was. One conclusion was that style was the result of what kind of questions the artist asked him or herself while working. I remember suggesting that perhaps a good artist's style was the result of asking several questions at once so as to render the style more sophisticated. Today as the question came up for me again, this argument sounded silly.

I've been working on a series of six paintings of Idaho landscapes. Because they will be displayed together, I want them to be cohesive. For this reason I've tried to complete them in a relatively short amount of time and keep the process as consistent as possible - working at the same time of day, same types of reference images, etc. At first I was concerned because each seemed to come out very "stylistically" different anyway - some more gestural, some more refined. But after a bit of consideration I realized that there was an underlying continuity that tied them together and I ended up being pleased with the variation. This scenario has been common for me - my work has varied wildly over the years in what is commonly known as style.

My current thoughts on the topic is that the goal should be to move beyond "style." I'm trying to think of  something more satisfying to strive towards in my work. Style is something seen and then applied, a technique copied, a "look" attempted. True vision is the outward expression of one's inner lens. It happens without trying.

For me the most effective way of discovering what I will call my "inner vision" rather than "style" has been to take a scientific approach - to limit variables in size, medium, and subject matter so that I can instead concern myself with how exactly I am seeing things and then translating them into my own language of paint. Then I can become more internally focused as I work, taking comfort in the consistencies I've created for myself so that within those structures I can explore and express the particular beauties I see in the world.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Embrace Business.

A few years ago I was able to quit a few of my day jobs and become more or less, a full-time artist. Heaven. But sometimes it seems like I am now spending as much (if not more) time sending email campaigns, Facebooking, writing press releases, applying for grants, responding to emails, updating my website, and thinking of new ways to increase sales. And writing blog posts... Ugh. 

The best way I have found to combat the frustration of this feeling is to make sure I am painting every day. Even just a little 3"x3" painting, or a sketch. This is how my "tinyExpanses" got started, and it has been an effective way of staying connected to what I find meaningful about the career I have chosen. Make time for your creative work first, and then embrace the business side of things as the avenue for sharing what you do in the studio. If you get out to your studio first thing in the morning and get your juices flowing, your excitement about your new work will fuel a website updating session later in the day. Do what you love and what inspires you first. Before 11am, according to The Four Hour Work Week (Which by the way I highly recommend reading and picking what ideas work for you). 

Another way I try to stay excited about the business of art is to make it fun. For example, I held a contest on Facebook to have people post pictures of their dog portraits next to their dogs on my page and get their friends to "like" their photos. The person with the most likes got a free portrait, and I got some exposure on Facebook. Use your gift of creativity to come up with some fun marketing strategies, and try to enjoy the process!

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, if you feel reluctant to promote your work but would like to sell your work, consider the source of your reluctance. Sometimes I realize that it is because I am not truly satisfied with the work I am creating. At this point it's time to spend some time in the studio creating work that you just can't wait to share. And then give this work the honor it deserves by promoting it with pride.

I am always learning from other artists about how they negotiate the two worlds of creation and promotion. One source I enjoy are the newsletters I subscribe to from Padraig McCaul, a landscape painter in Ireland.  I also pay attention to how local artists are promoting their work and decide what is effective in my particular community. How do you find your balance? Do tell!

Make time for your work, make time to promote it, and see both facets of being an artist as part of your job.

ps. For those of you who were curious about the story behind the picture of the poor kitten with green paint on his toes...I was housesitting a few years ago for a family with a prize show-kitten (a Scottish Folded Ear cat, to be exact). Well little Scottie had some fun on my painting palette and his snow white fur. Why is it that green paint in particular manages to get everywhere?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Leave your brushstrokes alone.

My first blog post will begin with a nod of gratitude to Bob Ross and the many life lessons I learned from "The Joy of Painting." Thank you Bob Ross, and other under-appreciated teachers.

This is likely to be just the first of many tributes to Bob Ross. My mother can attest to the fact that while my peers were out drinking, playing video games, and otherwise being normal kids, I was often glued to the TV, mesmerized the daily lesson on "The Joy of Painting" with pencil in hand and an apple or some other orb-like subject matter lying between me and the television. I have many past teachers' voices in my head, including several professors - some wacky and kind, some militant and brutal. But Bob Ross sits on my shoulder whispering sweet nothings of pretty little trees into my ear most often. Today it was about the fan brush.

This tribute is with the utmost respect in the form of a rebutal. I remember the first oil painting I did after watching Bob use his fan brush. I was seduced by its ability to make a skyline glow. But over the years I have found it is easy to overuse the fan brush, and for a while I was even stubbornly boycotting it. While this tempting tool can beautifully soften and refine a painting, it can very quickly blend your brushtrokes into oblivion. Your brushstrokes are sacred. They are what make your painting your painting. Just as we are encouraged to soften the unique edges of our personalities, we are tempted to blur and blend our brushstrokes to the point of imperceptibility. This isn't the 17th Century - revel in the spontaneous aliveness of your unblended strokes!

Today's thought is short and sweet - Leave most of your brushtrokes alone! I've come to realize that there is a time and a place for the fan brush. But we all can be overly-seduced by the glowing softness it yields.  Be brave enough to leave most hard lines and courageous unfussy strokes untouched, and let your painting reflect your own raw beauty.