This morning, Janet Morgan of Brooklyn, N.Y., wrote, “My husband Gregory Frux and I will soon be leaving our jobs to become full-time artists. We’ve been doing some brainstorming. We both have projects and trips in our wish-books. We’ve done residencies and will most likely do more. Have you any thoughts on changing from having very little time to having lots of time for art?”
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When asked about her writing process, Toni Morrison described a ritual of rising early — a habit she developed by being a mother. “I always get up and make a cup of coffee while it is still dark — it must be dark — and then I drink the coffee and watch the light come,” she said. “Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transition. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense.”
“If you can’t paint, paint big,” said American photorealist Audrey Flack. My dad, a student of the classical school and reducing grand themes onto 8 x 10 mahogany panels, quoted Audrey when he visited me at art school and noticed a syndrome of sizes going up and quality going down. We discussed how size could have its merits, and I reminded him that Monet’s most ambitious and groundbreaking work was huge — work he didn’t begin until the apex of his creative maturation when he was in his 70s and 80s.
When Alexander Girard and his wife, Susan, moved to Santa Fe in 1953, they finally had room to properly display their massive collection of folk art. Mexican Day of the Dead papier mâché dolls, Japanese wooden kokeshi dolls, Hopi beadwork dolls, Eskimo miniature dolls dressed in sealskin parkas and every other kind of doll from every corner of the planet had served as inspiration to Girard’s career. As a textile designer for Herman Miller, furniture and industrial designer and what is now known as a “total concept brand identity designer” for restaurants, an airline, private homes, corporate offices and museum installations, Girard worked from the magic of colour, graphics and expressive, anthropomorphic forms to spark joy in his signature worlds.
One day at school, my art teachers Jenny and Carolynn gave me a book of paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe. I was 12 and O’Keeffe was 96, still living on a 31,000-acre ranch in New Mexico. I didn’t know this at the time, but it would be Georgia’s last year there after summering on the ranch and wintering in nearby Abiquiú for over 50 years and now having lost most of her vision to macular degeneration. She would pass away peacefully in Sante Fe two years later.
Outdoor work can be confusing. Because there is often so much to look at, the painter may not know where to begin. Here are three basic approaches you might find useful:
Even though your planned subject may be off in the distance, before you do anything about it, search around your immediate environment and find something in the foreground. This can be anything that interests you or has design potential — a stump, colourful foliage, animal or human figure. Render this to some degree of completion first.
It seems that a struggling young composer asked Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to give him a few tips. Mozart told him to go home and work at composing for a few years. “But,” said the young man, “you didn’t have to work at it for years.” Mozart replied, “Yes, but I didn’t have to ask for tips.”
Last night I was giving a short talk and signing books at one of our local art clubs. I happened to notice no men were in the hall. The club has many male members, they assured me, but apparently they don’t come out on rainy nights. Not to listen to me, anyway. I wasn’t crestfallen — I was being sociologically informed. I’ve always noticed the 80/20 split in these organizations, but I knew the full-female thing was just around the corner. Anyway, it was a combined lecture and holiday-season windup, the shortbread was good, and no one asked me to dance.
When I was a boy my dad owned a sign shop. There were four employees: Nort, Mort, Phil and Bert. Each had their specialty — show cards, banners, silkscreen, illustration. It seems my dad was always walking around and asking, “Do you have something to get on with?” Dad lived in fear that one or the other would run out of something to do.
Not so long ago, I moved to New York to paint the paintings I had always longed to paint, with the dream of showing them in a place where they needed no explanation. I found a small loft behind Canal Street, between the fish market and the counterfeit handbags, and began filling my new-old studio with the largest paintings I could muster. There was no purpose or goal to it other than to see if it could be done.