Monthly Archives: June, 2015

Letters Michelangelo_Delphic-Sibyl(detail)

Do you ever wander back to that time when you first started thinking about making art? Do you ever think of the vision you first had — how your art would be made, its themes, its look? How simple it all was then. For some of us we thought it was just a matter of learning the skills and enacting our vision.

Then, with a little seasoning under our belts, we modified, changed, expanded, contracted — we grew. Or perhaps we regressed.

Letters 091914_alice-munro_portrait

I’m laptopping you from an airplane somewhere over the Atlantic, where I’ve been reading 29-year-old filmmaker Lena Dunham’s 2014 memoir, Not That Kind of Girl. Risking an evening of unsavoury navel gazing or too much of the wrong information, I find the book has instead revealed the tale of a human being unloading a poker-faced truth. “She simply tells her story as if it might be interesting,” wrote artist Miranda July of Lena’s work. I thought of painting.

Letters Hokusai_Cranes

Recently I wrote a letter about the similarity of running a business and being an artist. As usual a whole bunch of artists agreed with me, and a whole bunch of others told me I’d been drinking my turps. Then yesterday I picked up a reading sample–that’s book-talk for a preview of an upcoming book. The Starbucks Experience, Five Principles for Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary by psychologist Joseph Michelli will be out next month.

Michelli was granted unlimited access to the inside workings of Starbucks. In case you didn’t know, Starbucks is the biggest chain of coffee shops in the world. There are now more than 11,000 outlets in 37 countries–five new ones start pouring coffee every day.

Letters vangogh-bernard

There used to be a joint in the East Village of New York called the C-Note, where you could get a gig if nobody had heard of you. During your set, the bartender would pass a tip jar, and on a good night you could recoup the cost of your cab home. An ice machine would fire up at timed intervals with a hum, then burst like a firecracker, dumping ice into a metal bin. It flanked the stage and could be heard at all five tables and out the front door, serving as a finger-wag to your art-dues still-owing.

I played early and then packed up to get to another gig, while the next songwriter slid behind an electric piano. She was small, ginger-haired and wearing a cardigan, her eyelashes curled out like spiders perched on a pair of glossy rain puddles.

Letters georgia-okeeffe_pelvisIV

I’ve been asked, “How should I structure my time in order to build momentum and keep it going?” She has in mind concentrating for the summer. The fact that she mentioned structure and momentum indicates she understands the main problems. Here’s what I suggested:

Make plans to cut back on socializing, restaurants, Ultimate Frisbee and visiting relatives. Think of your project as an internal adventure but make sure your library card is up to date. Get lots of art materials in advance, particularly supports. You may plan on a format or a set, but be prepared to change your mind and to go out and get something different.

Letters 061215_rembrandt-studio2

Janet Coulson of Cobourg, Ontario wrote, “I’m about to move into a condo where my studio will be in the basement with small, high windows. Do you know anything about lighting or could you direct me to someone who does? My studio now has a large window as well as sliding glass doors. I’m a little worried about the change.”

Thanks, Janet. You want a space that provides steady ambient light with options for dramatic lighting of painting subjects and a secondary easel area for reviewing work. Here’s what you’ll need:

Light that doesn’t change too much over the course of the day.
Light that’s not too warm or too cool.
Light that delivers a full spectrum of colour.
Enough light.

Letters 060515_js-sargent

Dear Artist, John Singer Sargent painted Two Girls in White Dresses between 1909 and 1911 while…