Thursday, April 24, 2014

A bad painting day.

What do all you writers, painters, sculptors, musicians, do with a bad creative day?

Yesterday I went out to Hull's Gulch to paint. I was very excited to be geared up with my big Plein Air rig for its first outing of the season - my Mystery Ranch sling was loaded up with my Guerrilla Painter box and wet painting tote, easel, stool, and the works. The sun was shining and I even had some dark chocolate for a snack. But what do you do when the stars finally align for a precious day in the field or  the studio, and you are all set up, and you suddenly find that you are NOT in the mood?

I often debate with myself if it's better to push through these days, or to just take a break and go get a cup of coffee or take a yoga class. The feeling is different than a creative block, where there is a feeling of impulsive anxiety that signifies one needs to just stay put and push through. On bad painting days I just feel like I'm in a funk, and rather than the sense of urgency that accompanies a creative block, I just don't care about painting.

Well on this particular day I forced it. I painted for about 2 hours, hating every moment of it. The beautiful spring day and bright idyllic flowers just seemed to mock me. I packed up, got a cup of coffee and went to the bookstore to look for a book on Richard Diebenkorn, (a painter who is far superior to me in what I was trying to achieve), of course didn't find one as it was indeed a bad painting day, went home and took a 3 hour nap. Then I went to the studio and completely wiped my chicken scratch painting out. I liked the wiped version much better.

Often a nap is the best remedy to these moods where I couldn't care less about the activity I love the most in the world.

But from my eternal optimist's perspective, I have come to feel grateful for these bad painting days. Looking back, I often realize that these bad days are ones where I have become very tired of myself. One of my favorite writers, David Whyte, says sometimes becoming good and tired of yourself is a blessing. These moments are turning points. Whyte also says in one of his books, "Sometimes the antidote to exhaustion is not rest. Sometimes it is full-heartedness." So those moments of dullness and apathy, either immediately or a little ways down the road, challenge us seek out new inspirations and experiences, and are the catalyst for growth and discovery.

In this sense I guess I could conclude that there are no bad creative days. There are days when creative work feels exciting and exhilarating. And there are days when it feels awkward and murky. They are all useful if greeted with full-heartedness.

So enjoy those bad days, dammit!

By the way the one painting that I came away with yesterday that I thought I liked was described on Facebook as looking like a "nekkid lady's bum." Thanks, Angela, for the laugh - you are quite right.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The post-show let-down.

Waking up the morning after an exhibition is always quite disorienting and depressing for me -  strangely regardless of how successful the show was.  I rise uncharacteristically sluggishly and inwardly bemoan The Artist's Predicament, temporarily deciding that "I just can't do this anymore!"  I am writing this post today, the day before a big show, because the post-show hangover has repeated itself enough times that I try to prepare for it in advance.

I'm sure that this experience is not exclusive to artists - that anyone who works months or years on a project that culminates in a short period of intense public exposure before being disassembled and dissolving into the ether can relate to the at-best anti-climatic, at-worst completely disheartening, day after. I think it has much to do with the act of exposing one's hard work and creative output to the public eye while under the complete exhaustion this output leaves in its wake. A few viewers will "get it," but most people's eyes will glaze over an artists' "babies" like they scan the boring parts of the newspaper. The excitement and forward momentum of the creative process can come to a devastating screeching halt the night of an exhibition - ironically even if sales are good. Plus, artists are usually introverted people, and having to talk to hundreds of people in one evening can be overwhelmingly draining. It's a feeling of vulnerability, misunderstanding, and exhaustion that creates the exhibition hangover the next morning.

I employ several strategies for dealing with the plummet. First, I  expect and give myself permission to experience the hangover by planning to do nothing productive that day - just spend some time outside and get some exercise or do something with a friend - things that make my body cared for, my spirits lifted, and my perspective regained.

Second, I have a shiny, new, unrelated project lined up to begin immediately. I order my materials ahead of time and start brainstorming some ideas so that if I start sulking around the house the day after a show, I can simply wipe the slate clean and start something new. Channel that self-destructive energy into new creative force as quickly as possible.

Thirdly, whether an exhibition is one night or 2 months long, I make it a rule not to have remaining work hanging around the studio afterwards. Using three storage racks I built for my shed, I hang those suckers up where I can't see them until a client requests to see them or they are needed for another show. I do this as soon after a show comes down as possible. This is a good way to get out to the studio the day after a body of work comes home - ceremonially stow those unsold works away - with respect, knowing that the reason they didn't sell wasn't because they aren't good but it just wasn't their time and place.

Different people will of course discover different methods for pulling themselves out of the post-show rut - I think the important thing is to just have a plan that involves being kind to yourself and creating an environment conducive to creative refueling - whatever that means for you. The roller coaster is an inevitable part of creative processes, but the time in the pits of despair can be shortened and lessened intensity with a little preemptive planning.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Film still by Jason Kauffman of Alpenglow Press

Some thoughts on outsourcing for artists.

As I painted in the lovely spring green of the Boise foothills today, I was feeling very grateful for all the people who help me do what I love to do. Very obviously this list begins first with my parents who have always supported my artistic endeavors, and second with collectors who keep my dream alive with their purchases of my work.

But a close third comes a list of skilled people who own their own businesses that help mine look and function better. Last year I read The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, and it gave me a lot ideas, many of which I now realize I've implemented. This book at first baffled me. How could I possibly reduce what I do into four hours, and why would I want to? I love to paint. What I realized is that there were ways to minimize the hours I spend each week doing everything involved in my business BESIDES painting so that I can paint more. I could very easily spend all my time working on my website, meeting clients, researching opportunities, and never actually get to creating new work.

This is where outsourcing comes in. The idea is to figure out which necessary tasks are time consuming, you don't enjoy, and don't make the best use of your skills. Then figure out if you can afford to pay someone better at it to do it for you.

Outsourcing is terrifying at first. How can I, an early career artist who is just scraping by, afford to pay people to do things I could do myself? But by changing this thought process into the question of "how much do I make per hour doing what I do best and only I can do" it quickly becomes a no-brainer. Professionals can do the jobs you find frustrated and incompetent doing in a fraction of the time. And at a fraction of the cost, once you figure out how much you could be making per hour doing what you are best at. Outsourcing is a leap of faith but it quickly reveals that you can't afford NOT to if you are going to spend more time doing what only you can do.

Here are some of the jobs I've outsourced: building, stretching, priming and sanding stretcher bars and panels, accounting, errands, printing and mounting exhibition materials, website maintenance, online research, and promotional videos.

Many of the things I thought I and I alone could do, really can be done by others much better. It was a process to admit this and trust others (especially making my own stretcher bars), but well worth it. Most of this outsourcing I've paid for directly, but for some items I have participated in mutually-desired trades. It has all ben so worth it, and I've noticed that my studio procedures have become more streamlined and efficient - after all if you are paying someone for their time you want to make sure what they are doing is necessary! I have also become much more organized, as my three studio assistants have witnessed.

I have found so many amazingly skilled people in this town, and I'd like to recognize them here! This is just a list of those I happen to work with, and of course there are many others who do great jobs too.

                 My wonderful studio assistants, Vivianne Siqueiros and Val Kempton, both seniors at Timberline High, prime, sand, and help me with online work. My third assistant (and mother) Teri Devine, does all my errands and accounting, and those who have met her know that she is much less rushed and friendlier than I am when I'm on the job. John Studebaker in Garden City is a local woodworker who builds beautiful custom frames and supports, and Jake and Moriah at Evermore Print in downtown Boise is my go-to for imaging and printing. David Ultis from the Reuseum designed and fabricated my wet painting carrying box. Jason Kauffman of Alpenglow Press just made a promotional video for my Indiegogo campaign that will launch next week. When I saw his seamless editing and beautiful camera work, it made me chuckle to think that a few months ago I was considering trying to make a film on my own.

                 Thank you to all these people and others, including fellow artists who have created such a vibrant art community here in Boise. From my experience, I encourage all artists to take the leap and find people who can help you do your creative work better and more often.