Some recent items in my inbox: “I’ve been busy this past month and not doing much painting.” “My work had to wait.” “Sometimes I’ll sneak in an hour or two.” “These days I can’t paint.” “I have wrung myself dry.”
Sometimes my inbox is so full of this sort of stuff I fear people will unite, rent buses and march around our circular driveway with placards reading, “Can’t paint,” “Won’t paint,” and “Don’t paint.”
It’s been my experience that telling people what you’re going to do can steal the thunder of doing it. It stands to reason that telling people what you’re not doing is even more deadly.
As an antidote, how’s about those birth notices you see in the classifieds: “Aidan James Wyatt, seven pounds eight ounces, 2.15 am, March 28, 2010, to Scott and Marion Wyatt of Plattsville.” Just the facts. It’s a notice of accomplishment with no mention of the problematical conception or the current jaundice. No invitation for criticism either. Little Aidan has merely been announced and welcomed into our world.
Consider something similar for the birthing of your art: “Morning, Wiggins’ farm, 11″ x 14″, March 28, 2010, oil on canvas, by Bill Buckley, Plattsville.” Just the facts. Accomplishment. Twitter with words to spare. Or post it on Facebook for the eyes of the non-busy. Illustratable, too, if you feel like it. Thousands of “daily painters” know all about this and publish online while the paint is still wet. For those of you who are less exhibitionistic, archive it on your computer, print it out for your own album or journal, or quietly send it off to a friend.
The buddy system is as good as any. When two close friends mutually announce their accomplishments, progress speeds up and negative placards get dropped. As kids, we leave our stuff lying about for parents and grandparents to find and register. An approving nod may be all that’s needed. For folks who start early, accomplishment becomes natural. Late starters need to consciously build the habit of publishing at birth rather than agonizing the labour.
With the buddy system you can also confide personal baggage and perceived impedimenta, if any. These confidences are best made orally, in person. That’s what friends are for. A good friend for free is greater than two psychiatrists paid.
Birth notices need to be in writing — evidence of effort and the demonstrated ability to complete. May you print lots of them. Send ’em to me if you want.
PS: “I don’t know what’s come over me lately. I can’t seem to get going. What’s wrong with me?” (Subscriber) Esoterica: Speaking of starting early, we’ve posted a few shots of our granddaughter Zoe at the top of the current clickback. The Painter’s Keys site is family friendly. On Saturday, Zoe and I had a creative afternoon. We had a great discussion while we were at it, and while she has a few English words like “dada” and “papa,” most of our conversation was in something like Armenian. As art discussions go, she made a lot of sense. Nothing negative.
Fallen off the wagon again
by Duncan Long, Manhattan, KS, USA
I seem to have the opposite problem. The yard goes unmowed too long, I fail to exercise, I put off answering emails… I don’t do a lot of chores that need to be done — instead stealing this time to create new artwork. I find that not creating is a terrifying prospect and many other things I care a little less for go untended. I suppose from the standpoint of creating art, this is a good thing. But it can become a problem not too dissimilar to alcoholism. “Duncan has fallen off the wagon again and is busy creating art in his studio.”
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Be careful what you say
by Dorenda Watson, Columbus, OH, USA
This is the precise reason that my students are not allowed to say the word “can’t” in the classroom… “I CAN’T do this” most certainly leads to “I WON’T do this, and I’m not even going to try!” I have always believed this has more to do with fear of the unknown, fear of criticism from peers, or fear of success, rather than actual skill inability. My response when they say “I can’t” is to kindly and sympathetically say, “You’re probably right,” pat them on the shoulder, and walk away… this leaves them quite puzzled, but it starts a little fire burning and the creative engines slowly start chugging… if nothing else, to prove me wrong! They like the fact that they might be “right” but hate the idea that it is a negative “right.” Eventually they will “birth” a work and I always go back to them and say teasingly, “Oh, I guess I was MISTAKEN… and apparently, SO WERE YOU! We laugh, the barrier is broken, and they can continue the creative process minus fear. What you say about yourself, more often than not, is true… so be very careful (and kind) when talking to yourself!
The secret’s in ‘laying down the tracks’
by Margie Cohen
Letters to A Young Artist: Building a Life in Art by Julia Cameron talks about “laying a bit of track” everyday. Even if you are blocked, go into your studio and organize, or clean brushes. Make a couple of sketches. Just “show up” everyday for a while. Some days I have done that and only stayed for an hour or so then wander off again, but other days I find I get engaged, I look up later and realize the sun has gone down or my husband is arriving home from work… hours and hours later… and I was never aware of the time passing as I worked… laying my own tracks.
Another thing I notice is, that when I have a tight deadline, like a show coming up…. boy, oh boy, can I lay track then. So… book a show even if it is a tiny local art gallery hungry for new work… even if it is in your own living room for family and friends. Put a little pressure on yourself. Not stress, pressure, there is a fine line of difference. I keep remembering raising kids, I used to say, “They won’t grow unless you stretch them a little.” Just a little gentle pressure in the right place at the right time makes a person reach a little farther, keep at it a bit longer, dig a little deeper.
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The value of quick smalls
by Kathy Weber, RI, USA
I’ve been plugging along since I graduated from art school, making a living first as a commercial artist, now painting and teaching. It’s a struggle, but it’s what I’ve chosen to do. I have a number of friends who were also painting majors, and I’m so tired of hearing them say, “Oh, I wish I had time to paint” or “You’re so lucky you have time to paint” as they head to the bank to cash that paycheck they get regularly. For those who really feel stuck getting started, my suggestion is paint small (6 x 8 or so), something that doesn’t require a huge investment of time. Paint a piece of fruit, if you can’t think of anything else.
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The joy of many possibilities
by Robin Shillcock, Groningen, Netherlands
Oh my, what is wrong with me? I cannot seem to stop the plethora of ideas “coming through.” Full immersion in the work process opens lots of tiny doors in my head, giving me vistas of what may be. At the end of the day, somewhat fatigued of working on, say, a chook scuttling across a floor composed of a multitude of stone shards, I grab one of the gessoed panels awaiting such an occasion and slap down an idea that has been fluttering around in my brain. Anybody can have a great idea, but all depends on execution. I am preyed upon by ideas, by possibilities, and need to see which of those contain “life.” Even then there’s no guarantee. “Don’t tell me about it, show me.” Don’t disparage the hour or two snuck in between other activities, it might produce unexpected treasure!
Sharing on Facebook
by Dr. L. Anne McClelland, Mountain View, AB, Canada
I’ve been in the practice of emailing out ‘birth announcements’ for the past couple of years and I also post on Facebook. I have a growing mailing list and I think it’s one of the smartest things I ever did. I keep it simple (size, medium) but also try to include some brief background about the origins of the image — devoid of artspeak or apology — just a personal note or experience or reference. I’ve had really positive feedback about the ‘blurbs’ from 98% of the responding recipients — only a couple have asked for ‘no commentary’ to accompany the image.
Although I earn my living by producing these images (reason enough to keep going) I find that the regular emailing helps to propel me into the next image. I know that people are waiting to see what comes next. I also started a Facebook album called “Over my shoulder” which allows visitors to see each day’s progress on the pieces. When a painting is done it is emailed out, loaded into the finished work section of my Facebook albums and I clear out the “Over my shoulder” album and begin again with the new painting. I was surprised how many people follow the works in progress and LIKE to see how an image comes into being.
The doable ‘daily painting’
by Gaye Adams, Sorrento, BC, Canada
Daily painting! What an epiphany this has been for my development and productivity! Very small canvas, limited amount of time, painting from life. Difficult, but highly engaging. It’s also wonderful on a day that as a painter, one feels scared or overwhelmed. The small canvas (6×6 or 6×8 inches) gives you a sense of the thing being “doable,” even if you get a late start or if your energy is low. The painting isn’t as precious because of the lower time commitment, so if it’s not going well, wipe it off and try again. Of course, working from life is hugely beneficial for sharpening one’s eye. Also, it is wonderful for honing design skills. It also seems easier to spot design flaws on a small piece, and a sense of play can develop around it.
Although I don’t get one done every day, I am doing them frequently. I would highly recommend this approach to any artist suffering from “failure to launch” syndrome. It’s a wonderful balance to doing photo reference based larger studio paintings.
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Kicking self in butt
by Ron Gang, Kibbutz Urim, Israel
Imagine one saying, “Well, I just couldn’t get myself to go to work the last two weeks.” Of course he/she would be fired and unemployed. It’s the same with painting, just that no one’s clocking you.
So no matter how tired, “uninspired,” lazy, whatever you feel, you just got to get out there and start painting. It’s often that same struggle for me, so I just have to bend over backwards as it were and give myself a good kick in the butt and get going. The experience is that with this self-kick start, not long after the brush picks up some paint and starts scouting around on the canvas, the creative mode takes over, and you’re “on the road again.” Then, you can’t imagine what the problem was.
No room for indulging oneself in the inertia of non-action.
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Sharing, sharing, sharing
by Cory Trepanier, Caledon, ON, Canada
I am focused on painting landscapes, mostly wilderness. I’m presently doing a multi-year project painting the Canadian Arctic called INTO THE ARCTIC: An Artist’s Journey To The North. My 3rd arctic painting trek of the project was last summer’s 7 weeks, mostly in the high arctic (northern part of Ellesmere for a month). Now have about 50 paintings in this new collection, a number finished, and a bunch at various stages that will keep me busy for another year or two in the studio. In addition to painting a part of Canada that amazes me, I have also been using this project as a means to share my experiences as an artist traveling the north through a film, video journals, photos, stories and more. A new video journal is being every month as I continue to complete my paintings (over 1/4 million views so far). The sharing of my stories in other mediums has also opened the door to gaining the confidence of many sponsors, and I am able to expose their brand to a large audience in the context of what I am doing.
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by Frank Messa, Long Beach, CA, USA
I have been painting seriously for over thirty-five years, through good days and bad, for the Joy of the creative act and to discover what is behind the veil. I share my knowledge with all who are responsive, for the love of Humanity.
(RG note) Thanks, Frank. And thanks to all who, out of the blue, sent birth notices, many of which were born on the very day they arrived here. Some, like Frank’s, were big ones. We’ll certainly archive them. We have a huge capacity. Keep ’em coming. I love collecting things.
Horses in the Basilica
oil painting by Shirley Peters
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes George Alles who wrote, “I have reached the conclusion that my computer and its Internet connection with all that it has to offer is the single greatest impediment to actually painting.”
And also Kate Pethoud of Modesto, CA, USA, who asked, “May I use this line: ‘A good friend for free is greater than two psychiatrists paid.’ ”
(RG note) Thanks, Kate. Yes, and everyone else who asked. We may have to territorialize the line and designate that certain people can own it for certain geographical areas. Los Angeles is proving to be a problem. We have one for Beverly Hills, one for Van Nuys and one for Watts. But then again there are a lot of psychiatrists in the area.
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