Belief

27

Dear Artist,

When asked recently about plans for my work in 2020, I found myself struggling for words. I wanted to please the person who had asked, but I simply didn’t know the answer. How does one predict the future of the most powerful and mysterious, unfolding force of one’s life? While the nuances, challenges and pleasures are all-consuming, they remain impossible to plan or describe before they appear. Even the process is in flux. And while many artists find talking aloud useful for keeping them on track, for me, there’s a kind of guilt when I do it — as though I’ve somehow betrayed the gift of my Hero’s Quest. My Quest only reveals herself to me when I pick up my brush.

Nature Abhors a Vacuum, 1973 Acrylic on canvas 103 1/2 x 112 1/2 inches by Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011)

Nature Abhors a Vacuum, 1973
Acrylic on canvas
103 1/2 x 112 1/2 inches
by Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011)

After this latest bout of uneasiness, it dawned on me that it probably has something to do with fear. Self-doubt is unpleasant — it’s why some people avoid making New Year’s resolutions. “Vulnerability is not weakness,” wrote Brené Brown in her 2015 manifesto Daring Greatly. “I define vulnerability as emotional risk, exposure, uncertainty. It fuels our daily lives.” And so I won’t ask you about your plans for your work in 2020. Instead, I’ll invite you to ponder with me some ideas for creative development, with a preference for behavioral tweaking over sweeping productivity goals, which may or may not advance your ideas or growth. Instead, habits, developed over time I’ve noticed, can change outcomes and determine the course of a life. Here are a few ideas, which are implemented by practicing:

Into October, 1983 Acrylic on canvas 71 1/4 x 133 1/2 inches by Helen Frankenthaler

Into October, 1983
Acrylic on canvas
71 1/4 x 133 1/2 inches
by Helen Frankenthaler

Instead of a painting a day, what about every day for painting?

Experiment more. Try adding or omitting one stage in your existing process.

Three hours in the morning, first.

Change your ground colour for two months.

Cut your palette in half.

Leave paintings 10% unfinished as a gift to yourself for the following day, with the idea that you’ll decide if it’s actually already finished, tomorrow.

Stronger design.

Better, more specific titles.

One neat area.

Two mysterious areas.

Three material areas — surface quality, edgemanship and brushwork, because you are making a painting.

Be a more powerful translator of that which you are celebrating.

Cloud Burst, 2002 Acrylic on canvas 79 1/4 x 68 1/4 inches by Helen Frankenthaler

Cloud Burst, 2002
Acrylic on canvas
79 1/4 x 68 1/4 inches
by Helen Frankenthaler

Sincerely,

Sara

PS: “I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.” (Brené Brown)

Esoterica: Earlier this month, while dreamily wading through the low tide at St. Kilda Beach, an artist friend pointed out what she felt might be a good habit. “You are regularly creating opportunities for happiness,” she said. I accepted her observation as true.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” (Brené Brown)

Helen Frankenthaler in her studio in Darien, Connecticut, 2003 Suzanne DeChillo photo

Helen Frankenthaler in her studio in Darien, Connecticut, 2003
Suzanne DeChillo photo

Wishing each and every one of you happy holidays and the very best for 2020. Thank-you for your continued friendship. With gratitude, Sara

The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys. 

“Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.” (Émile Coué)

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