There are times in the days of artists when we rise to our easels or workstations with a sense of heightened sensitivity. Why? — It’s a bit of a mystery. It seems to me there’s a sort of unbidden balance between calmness and excitement. The blessed situation merely arrives and the artist is the beneficiary. Most common is a feeling of well being. The tools of the trade and the agreeable mind slip more into interactive harmony, the art is a thing to behold and the work simply snorts beautifully along like a vintage Bentley.
The condition is not available every time one goes to work. Some of us achieve it more regularly than others. For many it’s necessary to wade through or wait out less than satisfactory periods. It’s almost as if sometimes you’re too far ahead of what you’re doing — other times you lag behind — and any amount of caffeine stimulation or yoga relaxation won’t make it more even. On the Bentley it’s a matter of setting the timing correctly — so the explosion is at just the right place in the stroke. The human psyche and the artistic muse are just not that mechanical. But there are knobs that can be tuned:
The reference-material knob, in many ways, comes first for many of us. Feeling that the subject is worthwhile gives courage and timeliness to the hands. We all know how fickle this is. The reference-material knob includes desire, passion, thought, patience, energy and a steady eye. Above all it needs an idea. Spending a few minutes at the neatly organized light-table or among sketches or notebooks is practically always time well spent. The workstation then presents itself as a place of accomplishment rather than a place of frustration. Needless to say, in our advanced courses in vintage tuning there are other knobs to be discovered and adjusted: The spark knob, the demand knob, the play knob, the proper-order knob, the pause knob, the love knob.
PS: “Just as our eyes need light in order to see, our minds need ideas in order to conceive.” (Napoleon Hill)
Esoterica: Having said that, the proper-order knob, particularly on larger, more complex works is often useful. To work this, cruise the reference material for opportunities of efficiency. Think it out. Pre-mix, simplify, think big, and you can approach the work holistically rather than piecemeal.
The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thank you for writing.
The making of meaning
by Nicoletta Baumeister
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the process of art: For me a huge component of it is the making of meaning. Taking stimuli, sorting it and reconstructing it and communicating it. Context has a lot to do with it. Synchronistically, I recently met a woman who had studied phenomenology and has ended up studying it in relation to my painting.
(RG note) The philosophy of phenomenology, as I understand it, consists of realizing the presence of an object, and finding its meaning through intuition. Phenomenology dismisses theoretical ideas and presuppositions. Thus, and as applied to the production of art — it would mean that one might begin to paint a stone, for example, and during the process of painting, the meaning behind that stone might be uncovered.
Process most important
by Larry Moore
I call what you are referring to as “frequencies” in painting. Many times I’ve gone to the easel and felt that I was not in tune, that whatever magic was required to paint well was just beyond my grasp or comprehension. Other times, though fewer, I’ve been one with the paint, in harmonious frequency with the medium and the message. It took me years to realize that the moment of harmony is fleeting and that the real meat of painting is the doing, the process. It also seems to me that working through the rough spots is more valuable in many ways than nailing it right out of the gate. Also, preparation is 98% of it as well.
by K L Parapond, Los Angeles, Calif, USA
To what degree is the balance that is so necessary for steady production dependent on a fortunate appropriateness of the mind — and to what degree is it due to prepared character and self training? Like you I think it is neither all this or all that. There is the basic mental inclination that leads one to art — but there is also the desire to fine-tune the ancillary skills. At the present time I am finding it very near impossible to achieve any sort of a smooth and steady Nirvana within the walls of an art school. I long for my own private space.
by P Nishikihama
Regularity will outstrip by far any mercurial work habits. It’s not so much that you must work certain hours — it’s that you must prioritize your life so that unnecessary socializing and other time wasters are cast aside in order to open the spaces to steadily look into and do your work.
by Sintha Anderson
Your letter today hit home with me. It’s all part of the “flow” that lets an artist work smoothly. The more I paint, the more I learn to “let go” and let the universe be my home while I paint. All my cares of the day fall away. I often paint at night, perhaps because by then I need to leave those cares behind for awhile. The great thing I like about these letters is that they show how other people handle life as an artist.
by Elzire, Princeton, Massachusetts, USA
The knob that clicks it on for me is most often music. If I’m in a dry spell, and can’t find that perfect CD… Sitting here laughing how I must look, putting one CD in, listening for a second, whipping it out, trying another, sometimes frantically… I go buy some “new” music. Usually that is all it takes. The muse is happy again and creativity flows.
Sensitive to art school
by Harvey Tong
Speaking about sensitivity. Does anyone have anything to say about the stuff that we inhale when we work? Art school stinks and gives me a headache, a rash, and congestion every time I enter the building. I’m wondering about this game.
(RG note) Toxicity is rampant in the materials we use. See Artist Beware, the Hazards and Precautions in Working with Art and Craft Materials by Michael McCann.
by Yaroslaw Rozputnyak and Olga Knyaz, Moscow, Russia
I came to art from pharmacy and chemistry disappointed with harmful influence of majority of our drugs, with useless of a lot drugstore goods, with lie of wholesale firms that sell spoiled dosage forms for profit only, but not for health, sometimes against health. But the artist needs more than other people to be healthy person and to have healthy soul to better be able to help all peoples through his art.
An artist’s problems
by Jack White, Florida, USA
Our dealer in Santa Fe has zero paintings until the one my wife Mikki just finished is shipped Monday. They have been selling them from the digital images I make and email to the gallery. This is their season. Indian Market begins this week. They are selling some very large pieces 42″ x 50″ 46″ x 58″ and 50″ x 72″. Santa Fe alone is selling more than Mikki can paint. They have a waiting list… the moment I email an image they spider it out to collectors… it sells… they then email us shipping instructions. Good Problem to have during this so called ‘slow economy.’ Senkarik has completed 141 original oils this year and we have sold 157 when you include the commission waiting list. Even with our recent price increase the sales have not slowed. Commissions are backed up till next May 2002. Our marketing plan is working to perfection. All I need to do is clone Mikki (two 25 year old beauties)… or talk a few of you artists that I have been coaching to move in with us and let me teach you to paint in her style. Set up a Senkarik Factory. I think if we had the art we could easily sell 500 pieces a year… maybe more. We can move Hong Kong to the USA. Our new Cyber Store is cooking. We are getting orders on a regular basis. The book sales have really picked up. Now if I can find time to finish it. Complain… complain… complain… I have one more complaint. Next week I go in to have 6 crowns and 5 root canals in one sitting. He made me a deal… $7,500. Yeah a deal… sounds more like he needed to make a Harley Payment.
by Charlene Ediger
I relate to the frustrations you mentioned. I began the summer vacation by cleaning and organizing my studio, knowing my reward would be a two-week vacation. Now the summer has nearly ended and I am teaching art classes. Well, the studio was so organized I couldn’t locate any of the last minute material needed. The class was over-enrolled and I felt I was still in jet lag. This was such a frustration to get back on track. The following day I noticed an antique shop and decided to stop and browse. The books I searched through seemed to be rather ordinary art textbooks and I was not interested, as they were all very basic. However, a quick scan and a few book purchases, gave me a renewed interest of ideas and enthusiasm for the presentation of art with a new format. Same art principles — new renderings introducing new art products, techniques, etc. I had lost sight of why I enjoy painting and teaching.
by Marc Tandy
I’ve been interested for some time in making photocopies of my work and putting them on the market. When I made some a few months ago and put them out in the sun they faded pretty fast. So I’m worried about the light-fastness of the colors. Any advice?
(RG note) Quite a few artists have wondered about this. With the new ink-sets and advanced inkjet papers, it’s claimed the prints will last much longer than previously. New papers on the market are 100% rag and acid-free. The papers feel velvety — they are coated with either gelatin or ceramic particle surfaces. These coatings apparently hold the ink droplets on the surface of the paper to produce sharp, well-defined images. There are now a wide variety of archival ink-sets and papers that may mean your print will last for 15 to 100 years, depending on the source. Many artists and other producers are using test results from Henry Wilhelm of Wilhelm Imaging Research, Inc. Updated results can be accessed at www.wilhelm-research.com Recommended papers include Concorde Rag, Somerset Enhanced and Epson’s Archival Matte and Watercolor paper. You can get more information at the following sites: