Yesterday my friend Chuck Putnins, whose other life is anesthesiology, wrote, “Next year I’ll be taking 6 months off work from May 1 to November 1. During that time I want to get better at painting and develop my own style. How do I best do this? I realize that the simple answer is ‘just paint Chuck,’ but I’m afraid of wasting a lot of time without some kind of structure. A plan is what is needed. Any ideas? I want to get the most out of my time off.”
I like this question. You know that I’ve got a system for anyone with a week, a month, or even for the big sabbatical at the end.
Think of putting a stew on a stove. You are going to live on this stew for the duration of your sabbatical. Every day you will take from it — and every day you will add to it. Sometimes your stew will be a “watched pot.” At other times it will be best left to bubble on its own. It will last from the minute of your beginning, to the minute of your finishing — always in a state of transformation and change.
You ought to structure your sabbatical by keeping notes of what’s going in and out of your pot. There will be surprises. Boiling over and boiling dry will be hazards. Sometimes you will have to refer to cookbooks. You’ll have to stack your cupboards. Clinging to the linear nature of your exercise, you’ll never loose sight of your cookery, and like a genie, your own true muse will arise from it. She will not bore you. The aroma of your concoction and the sense of discovery will have you up every morning, eager for the continued joy of the process, and it will keep you from the shallow temptations of the bars and dance halls.
Chuck, this is between you and me: There are those who will think I’m beginning to lose it. Pay no attention to them. I know you, and I know you can do it. You have imagination and ready ideas. Those that can’t stand the heat have to get out of the kitchen. Not you. You are going to love every minute. Also, for you it will be a nice change from needling people.
Esoterica: Commitment to projects can be reinforced by keeping a journal. “Weblogs,” or “Blogs” are online journals that proclaim a commitment to everyone out there. The intimate minutiae of progress can make surprisingly good reading, as well as satisfying narcissistic and exhibitionistic tendencies. “Blogging” is also used for building support groups, both spiritual and green.
Balancing the pot
Linda Saccoccio (Radha),Santa Barbara, CA, USA
It’s the awareness of balancing the needs of the pot as the source of sustenance and the receiving of that sustenance. It’s important to do the work that leads to our renewal, clarity and inspiration and then remember to taste it, experience it and let it flow. The most delicious ingredients we can add that excites our being. Awakening the presence of our sensitivity to creating with the right proportion of detail and patience. Attention and breathing or rest time to observe and acknowledge the progress. At times to share the stew with others who divine the truth with respect and a gusto for life. May the time alone be as superbly filled with awe as the time of breaking bread with those whose hearts understand ours. Paint as if your soul depended on it and you may discover that it does!
I cannot take a sabbatical and I work a lot but I do have one entire day to paint each week plus 2 hours every morning. My problem is I want the same things as Chuck. I need a plan to find my muse/style. I am intrigued by your statement that you had a plan for even two weeks because I could probably take two weeks off and dedicate the time to painting exclusively, if I only knew where to start to accomplish something rather than just ‘hoping something will come up.’ I think if I could get a good running start, I could then use my time each week to stay on the path I choose. I feel like I just have a lot of really unrelated work and no plan when I go to the studio.
Barbara Jean, Pleasanton, California, USA
I’m an intuitive abstract painter. I discovered my motivation for painting is to learn, not just about painting, as that would bore me in the long run, but how to live. I’ve discovered my process and my work are metaphors for who I am and how I live. I come across the same dynamics playing out in the studio as in the bigger world. How I respond to “not liking something” or “being stuck” or “not having what I think I need” in the studio is the same way I respond in the bigger world. My studio is my laboratory, a safe place to experiment. I know when I learn to approach things in new and hopefully better ways in the studio, I also am able to incorporate this knowledge into my day-to-day interactions with others.
Workshop your sabbatical
Sonja Larsen, Lake Shore, MN, USA
A sabbatical can be a time to become a workshop junkie and attend a week’s (or two weeks’) instruction and inspiration. Just be sure you attend a workshop that encourages your vision and isn’t a “cookie cutter” type where you all work from the same layout/design. I rarely do any good work at a workshop, but I sure get ways to improve MY designs, and do better work.
Mike Lauchlan, Calgary, Alberta, Canada (home from Seville)
My family and I just returned from creating our own Spanish stew over the last year. Our mission was perhaps more general than Chuck’s — to get better at life and develop a style of our own. Jumping off the treadmill for a healthy life meal is a requirement and a pleasure. You’ll leave the kitchen with a few messes and burns, but the result will stick to the ribs for a lifetime. Good luck and good painting Chuck!
Too old to ride the range
Grace Cowling, Grimsby, Ontario, Canada
I love your advice to your anesthesiology friend. It takes me back to when my husband retired. Gord is a food man from away back, having taken a chef’s and baker’s course on his army credits. His career moved away from ranges and ovens into purchasing but he never lost his touch and is now just two months away from his 80th birthday. He said to me, “Get off the stove, mother, you’re too old to ride the range.” I’ve had more time to paint ever since. And as my friend Jane so aptly mentioned Winston Churchill’s book, may I add: Emily Carr’s Hundreds and Thousands: the Journals of an Artist. For me it is cherished as a dear companion and inspiration and has a place beside your letters.
Style and smile
Theresa Bayer, Austin, Texas, USA
I used to think I didn’t have a style. When my artist friends would visit, they’d say well, it all looks like your stuff; of course you have a style. Yet my style was not apparent to me, perhaps rendered invisible by the notorious inner critic. On the other hand, I’ve been at shows where someone would bop up to my booth and inform me that my stuff looked just like So-and-so’s. And I’d go look at So-and-so’s stuff and realize that he and I did not resemble each other stylistically at all, we just did the same genre. The upshot of all this is that I don’t concern myself anymore with style. I just do the work and smile.
Building a career
My goal is $5000 per month through sales of my artwork. Presently, my monthly sales are $800.00 per month. If I increase my prices I will likely not sell as I am not well known and so the demand is not there. I can paint more but the sales will not follow without good exposure and promoting. I have concluded that I need to spend some money and time in marketing my work. I would like to tackle this promotion and sales activity myself. Through hands-on exposure to the art markets I will be in a better position to make good business decisions as my career progresses. I need some coaching.
(RG note) My instructor at Art Center School, Strother McMinn, used to say, “There’s no such thing as an undiscovered genius.” While there’s plenty of value in strategic career moves, the best way for most artists to grow their income is to work on the quality of the work itself. This route involves methodology of process, efficiencies, delivery systems and psychological motivators. Tackling promotion and sales activities yourself is to me the wrong direction. An artist has to have two heads in order to wear two hats. I’m of the “active-passive” school of self-promotion. I think artists should stick to their craft. I don’t believe in ballyhoo and baloney. Having said that, nothing — simply nothing, these days — beats the value of a web site. That’s where the world now looks to assess you and perhaps embrace you. Simple websites are the most valuable to artists, and there are lots of good examples in our links pages. The best are ones that empower, or eventually empower, those who handle your work. My own site www.RobertGenn.com is almost embarrassingly simple, but it is remarkably effective. Day after day it sends interested collectors to my dealers. Setting up your own free-standing site is the best thing you can do to get started on your program. If and when you do, connect up to our free links pages. That will help get the search engines working for you. This very minute there is someone in the world wondering what the current work of Glenn Morgan looks like.
Painting on wood
Kathryn Lissack, Vancouver, BC, Canada
I have been working as a collage/assemblage artist. I love painting on wood, and since I nail and hammer items into my work, wood suits my purpose. My concern is the acidity of that material. Canvas is non-acidic and paper/card can be too. But my understanding is that wood is naturally acidic so I am concerned about the longevity / value of my work if I continue to use this substrate. Would a certain type of gesso/primer assist? Any suggestions?
(RG note) One of the best sealers for wood, plywood, masonite, etc is acrylic medium. The first coat should be cut with plenty of water to make sure there is lots of penetration. Do the back, front and edges too. Acids in some of these products are particularly bothersome. Without proper sealing they creep through over a period of years or months and cause foxing, blotching and general darkening. Avoid tempered masonite — it’s so loaded with acid and oils that it’s practically impossible to seal.
In reply to Anonymous, Depressing Exercise, I’m wondering whether the writer realizes that often we hobby painters take our work very seriously, and also paint, draw, etc. because we enjoy it so much. The challenge to create a good painting is always present, together with an awareness of all that implies: the importance of composition, tone, atmosphere, originality and technical competence. This is not necessarily accompanied by dreams of fame and fortune, for many reasons, one of which is a healthy acknowledgement of the physical and mental effort required and a realistic assessment of ability. There are a lot of good artists out there. Yes, it is satisfying to win awards in competitions; it is also reassuring to know that our work is reasonable and worthy of notice. Anonymous — please give us a break.
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, 2003. That includes Nana Dixie of Surrey, BC, Canada who wrote, “I would love to hear the recipe of Chuck Putnins’ sabbatical.” And also Maria Theresa who wrote, “I have an idea, I put it down, I lose it somewhat, and then, with music playing in the background while I paint, I can see the work coming together just by itself. I certainly like this last part of the process.” And Anne Copeland who wrote, “I wrote and published a cookbook, and believe me, after some 250 or so pages of recipes, I began to see the whole world as one big kitchen! Thank you for the flavor of the day! I so enjoy these writings.”