Decisions, decisions

Dear Artist, Choreographer Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit describes her morning routine of rising early and going through the same morning rituals; same coffee, same bun. She puts on the same leotards, goes down the same elevator to the same street corner, puts her same arm up in the air and gets into the first cab that comes along. By the time she gets to the studio she has made no significant decisions. Stepping out onto the dance floor, her dancers await. It’s eight in the morning and her first decision is yet to come. It will be a creative one. We painters also need to save our decision-making for things of importance. “Don’t,” as they say, “sweat the small stuff.” I figure an average 11″ x 14″ uses up several hundred thousand decisions. Compound that over a day of painting and it’s in the millions. Even the small decisions in a painting, some of them so micro and seemingly insignificant, are the building blocks of what we are to become. Fact is, some lives are so filled with impedimentary drama and ancillary decision-making that there is little time left over for work. While I sympathize with those who find it difficult to eliminate some workaday decisions, the idea is to step ASAP into the happy hunting ground. Here are a few ideas: Simplify morning rituals. Keep regular habits by day and week. Have your workplace nearby and handy. Work in a space unsullied by impedimenta. Use a day-timer — plan your work; work your plan. Always ask — “Is this action necessary?” Be businesslike — discourage time-wasters and interlopers. Be efficient and mindful of wasted motion in your space. Drive your car mainly for pleasure. As far as possible, get stuff delivered and taken away. Be modern — pay bills, bank, book flights, etc., online. Keep your dress code practical and simple. You don’t need to look good in a studio. Quit your day and move to a relatively decision-free mode: Play well, laugh much, love much, sleep well. Finally, and most important, with every non work-related decision, you need to decide: “Is the decision I’m making truly needed, or is it just another excuse?” Best regards, Robert PS: “We cannot directly choose our circumstances, but we can choose our thoughts, and so indirectly, yet surely, we shape our circumstances.” (self-help pioneer James Allen) Esoterica: The cosmetics tycoon and women’s advocate Mary Kay Ash said, “There are three types of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened… You can decide which type of person you want to be.” We artists, in particular, need to be among those who make things happen. Self-starting, self-motivating and self-critical, we focus our energy on thought, planning, observation, quality control and production. Difficult decisions — lots of them — are both the joy and the burden of creative folks. “Those who avoid the tough choices of life,” said author Robert Brault, “live a life they never chose.”   The good path by Ann Hardy, Colleyville, TX, USA  

“Flower Girl”
oil painting, 12 x 16 inches
by Ann Hardy

Sounds like nothing but good mental and emotional health. I have four what I call disciplines that I live by: base your life on honesty and beauty, take responsibility for all your actions and decisions of life, postpone gratification, and work for balance in life. If you follow these four disciplines, you can’t go too far off the good path.   There are 2 comments for The good path by Ann Hardy
From: Jim van Geet — Aug 29, 2013

Really like this painting. Delightful!

From: Edward Arthur — Aug 31, 2013

common sense rules

  Three in one by Warren Criswell, Benton, AR, USA  

“Still Life with Lost Book”
oil on canvas, 48 x 36 inches
by Warren Criswell

“There are three types of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened…” (Mary Kay Ash) I am all three of those people. Unlike you, Robert, I usually spend my mornings procrastinating. The New York Times, email, Facebook, working on my website, “cleaning up the studio,” anything to avoid looking at the painting on the easel. Then when I finally start painting — that’s when I’m the one who makes things happen, when I actually squeeze out some paint and pick up a brush — I immediately become the one who watches things happen. I may have made a decision or two about composition or color or whatever, but those are usually ignored by this hand with the brush. For about four hours I watch this hand doing things I had no idea were going to happen, screwing things up but also doing amazing things that I could never pull off in a decade of conscious deliberation and rational decision-making. Then at the end of the day I look at it and wonder what happened! OK, I’m exaggerating a little — this “trance” is actually a constant dialog between the conscious and unconscious mind, the left brain and the right brain, the objective and subjective — but without these surprises I don’t think I could sustain my creativity. A certain amount of routine is necessary, of course, but too much of it turns us into robots, cranking out the same painting over and over. Not that there’s anything wrong with that… Those are the ones “who make things happen!” — and I sometimes wish I could do it, but I can’t. Without the watching and wondering, I wouldn’t paint anything at all. There are 2 comments for Three in one by Warren Criswell
From: Chris Everest — Aug 30, 2013

I love the complexity. You’re absolutely right. Somewhere hidden in the process there lies the personal creativity which makes us get out of bed in the morning !

From: Carol Reynolds — Aug 30, 2013

I had a good chuckle when reading your comment because I totally relate to all of the above ! Well said.

  What’s original anyway? by Maureen Karagianis, Coquitlam, BC, Canada  

“Perky Pansies”
watercolour painting
by Maureen Karagianis

I am concerned with the issue of “originality.” For example: 1. Is a painting considered original work if the artist uses an image from the Internet or a printed image, with or without a copyright tag? 2. Is a painting original if it has been produced in a workshop where instruction has impact on the finished product (hands-on or simply general instruction)? 3. Is it acceptable to offer for sale, as original, a painting done from an image which the original artist or owner has given “permission”? 4. Is there a period of time when a work of art is considered “in the public domain” and can therefore be copied or used as a source of inspiration? (RG note) Thanks, Maureen. 1. It depends how far you take it. Say you wanted to paint a picture of a Dalmation dog and you went to Google images. If you copied one image owned by a photographer — even though it has been lifted to Google — that would not be Kosher. But if you scrolled through the Dalmation images you might understand their basic anatomy. In copying legitimately, the artist puts the spots where the dog in the picture needs them. 2. Instruction is okay but any areas with hands-on by the instructor makes it not original and off limits for shows and selling. Tell your instructor “Go away.”

So many decisions

3. Yes, if the original source and name of the permission giver is on the back. For example: “From a photo by Joe Bloggs” 4. Public domain varies between countries. Works in the public domain are those whose intellectual property rights have expired, have been forfeited, or are inapplicable. Examples include the works of Shakespeare , Beethoven, Michelangelo, Titian and Rembrandt. Some artists’ heirs go to the trouble to continue to own intellectual property, even for centuries. The term is not normally applied to situations where the creator of a work retains residual rights, in which case use of the work is referred to as “under license” or “with permission.”Some rights depend on registrations with a country-by-country basis, and the absence of registration in a particular country, if required, implies public domain status in that country. There are 2 comments for What’s original anyway? by Maureen Karagianis
From: Jackie Knott — Aug 30, 2013
From: Jim Oberst — Aug 30, 2013

This is the strangest description of a web browser I’ve ever heard.

  The Twice-Weekly Letters by Sheree Chapell, Victoria, BC, Canada   I have been receiving your emails for the past couple of months, recommended by a friend. I wanted to tell you what pleasure I am receiving in both learning about new artists and viewing their work and the newsletters you send. Part of my morning ritual has included sitting down with my morning coffee to these emails. It is delightful and inspiring. I then go for a walk in the woods, contemplate and enjoy the natural beauty before heading out for a full day of my chosen work. I am not yet an artist but I am developing my eye. (RG note) Thanks, Sheree. The letters are apparently read by about 250,000 artists, would-be artists, and others. It’s not promoted or sold and is always free. If readers know someone they think might get something out of it, please pass it along.   Our modern curse by Helen Howes, Norfolk, England  

“Red Trees”
textile art
by Helen Howes

Indecision and inability to choose is the curse of the complicated modern age. I see very small children given 5 or 6 choices of food or toy. How can they learn to decide under these circumstances? When I teach textiles I say, “Choose two fabrics, then put them together, then add another. Keep it simple. It’s the only way to travel. And then there’s the Internet — put in a simple Search and 6.4 million choices arrive in 1.2 seconds. No wonder we grab at the first thing to hand.     There is 1 comment for Our modern curse by Helen Howes
From: Anonymous — Aug 31, 2013

Like going to the Mall – so much stuff – so many types of, sorts of, prices, so many decisions. I leave empty handed. All the decisions to be made in making a painting can offer the same result. Start with focus and don’t think too much about where the painting is going. Paint in the moment, let it happen, like gazing through a window at the newly fallen snow. The snow goes where it goes, and it’s beautiful.

  Being your own good boss by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Port Moody, BC, Canada  

“North View from Mount Seymour”
acrylic painting, 30 x 24 inches
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki

Years ago, I asked myself how come it was so easy to go to the office while going down to the studio can cause so much anxiety? It didn’t make sense — I love my art! The answer was exactly what you are talking about. The corporate masters are very smart — they make it seamless for you to show up and start work every day before you are fully awake. Thinking process starts only after you have been brainlessly snared into your cubicle. Compared to that, going to a poorly set up studio can feel like being left to the wolves. Your list of strategies describes exactly how to deal with that, but may itself be a bit too long and complicated. I just decided to simplify, simplify and simplify everything that doesn’t require artistic thought. Painting setup must be seamless — pour some water in the bucket and start painting. This is tricky if you find comfort in satisfying by unnecessary rituals, such as organizing, filing, documenting and cleaning — all good stuff, but only if you are an organizer, filer, documenter and cleaner. Corporations have figured this out — they make all those things disappear for the creative work force. To be my own good boss in the studio and not having a support staff, I can at least eliminate miscellaneous tasks from my daily routine and schedule a minimum time for them for some non-disruptive time (procrastination finally being useful!). There is 1 comment for Being your own good boss by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki
From: Anonymous — Aug 31, 2013

This painting makes me swoon with delight. Love your work.

  Declining art sales by Darla Tagrin, Montgomery Village, MD, USA  

“Reaching Branch”
original painting
by Darla Tagrin

The art market here near Washington, DC is still very depressed. There are many talented artists who make beautiful paintings that get displayed at shows and then reside in storage indefinitely (the paintings, not the artists). People still want art to hang in their homes, but there is a divide between “regular people” and collectors who buy pricey paintings at galleries. The only contact between those “regular people” and artists (who can be quite irregular) is local shows and art fairs. Hanging art in restaurants and waiting rooms doesn’t often result in sales. There are interior decorators who might benefit from direct contact with artists, but how can we get more commerce between people who want art and artists? Booths at home shows? Free talks and displays at community events? On a separate note, Frederick, MD and the Eastern Shore of Maryland are areas with large, enthusiastic art markets. Why are some areas so much better than others for art sales? It doesn’t seem to be a matter of population density, but attitude. (RG note) Thanks, Darla. I’m not one who believes in booths, restaurants or community events, but others love these sorts of things. In my books, proper galleries are best. Indeed, some galleries have folded, but it’s an interesting situation right now. Some quiet, proprietor-owned, hole in the wall, low rent, off the beaten track, framing galleries — some even without websites — continue to do a steady, if unspectacular, business. They may only represent five or six artists — but they really froth at the mouth about them. These shops may be in touristy places, or they may be in small, well-heeled communities where they generate loyalty and fill a need. You’re right on about “attitude.” Never underestimate the personality of the shopkeeper. Hard working, dedicated and enthusiastic loners should be knighted. Funnily, it’s been some of the lovely, big, democratic galleries with hundreds of artists that can’t understand what’s happening. There is 1 comment for Declining art sales by Darla Tagrin
From: Yasel — Aug 30, 2013

So true! Artists and long term collectors are devoted to the honest, warm and supportive gallery owner who on occasion takes unproductive but humane actions to support art community. This guy always gets my best stuff and I rearrange my schedule to run errands for him. The trendy but impersonal gallerist who unapologetically ignores or bosses around artists is easy to leave, and no good references are passed on. Good business goes to good people, and lean times are when this makes a difference.

  Apple app for timer by Elle Fagan, Hartford, CT, USA  

“Loughcrew Backstone at Solstice”
original painting
by Elle Fagan

I love Twyla Tharp — a favorite since the ’70s. Thanks for sharing one of her stories.  Add to it this one: “Later in life, one of the compensations is gliding effortlessly into focus in a thing. Since it is who we are, anything that is not the focus or supportive thereof is just not us. Even outside issues, when they arise, are interesting in that they only help define the focus more clearly. Further, at your suggestion, I got the Pomodoro and loved it — but could not hear it, and soon abandoned it, as much help and fun as it was, until I found that Apple has an app called “Tomato” (the English equivalent of “Pomodoro”). It’s the same technique but it’s on my computers and digital phone headset, so I can amplify it and keep logs of it all if I choose. It automatically makes a task diary if you wish.   Rapt attention by Luc Poitras, Montreal, QC, Canada  

“Fall, Hwy 99, Vermont”
acrylic painting, 20 x 24 inches
by Luc Poitras

In searching the clickbacks for the 37-minute exercise, I found one of your letters on focus. You mentioned Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life by Winifred Gallagher. I picked it up. I realized that much of my life has gone by without focus… a lot done, but nothing accomplished. I’ve decided to change that and be the one who makes things happen in my life.   There is 1 comment for Rapt attention by Luc Poitras
From: Nicholas Cote — Aug 31, 2013

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Decisions, decisions

From: Rick Rotante — Aug 26, 2013
From: Marvin Humphrey — Aug 26, 2013
From: Susan — Aug 27, 2013

I just realized that every morning when I read my emails and see your letters Robert that your email is saved for last so I can enjoy every moment of it like a fine dessert or cup of coffee. Thank you for making my day. I think we are all creatures of habit.

From: Nina Allen Freeman — Aug 27, 2013

This letter really struck a chord with me. When painting, we make a zillion decisions while creating; I love this about it. When I have had older people in my classes I like to tell them it keeps their brain cells firing. This could also be the reason why I have trouble concentrating on painting when life gets in the way. Life, family and that kitchen renovation all interfere with a schedule to happily paint daily. Give me my zillion painting decisions, I will take them!

From: Carole Pivarnik — Aug 27, 2013

Keeping a tidy studio with the inevitable clutter neatly managed is an important part of my ability to relax in my studio space and focus on painting. When I close that door, I utterly tune out the rest of the world. Which can be a problem when there is laundry to be done, livestock to be watered and fed, bills to be paid, etc. My solution is to spend an hour or two each morning on the “necessaries” of life so that the rest of the day I can be comfortably lost in paint. I don’t always manage it every day, but do so often enough that it’s become somewhat of a ritual. My husband and most friends respect my studio time and know to leave me alone when I’m working. Because my work time is precious to me, I can be quite direct with needy people who think it’s okay to just show up unannounced. I’ve never had anyone repeat that offense :)

From: Kathy Ostman-Magnusen — Aug 27, 2013
From: Sheila Grabarsky — Aug 27, 2013
From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Aug 27, 2013

This is useful and motivational. I look forward to my Tuesday and Friday rituals! A long time ago, in Philadelphia, I stood in wonder at a simple unfinished landscape painting by Cezanne. On a naples yellow ground, he had made more color and tonal decisions than I usually made in a year. That really woke me up.

From: Liese — Aug 27, 2013

While getting ready to for work I realized that this article highlights why we all need an unpaid assistant. But it also helped me see that during intense times of decision making in the outside life it’s hard to work in the studio and this is not a failure on my part. I’ll be more conscious of of this affect.

From: Mimi Chen Ting — Aug 27, 2013

Very pertinent for us.

From: Petra Eubanks — Aug 27, 2013

This is so good for me. I made a copy and have it handy, because I am NOT time efficient!

From: Iola Benton — Aug 27, 2013

This is one of the most practical suggestions that you have made in your Twice-Weekly Letter. I totally agree with it and have practiced every step with success.

From: David Houlton — Aug 27, 2013

Robert, I do so enjoy your letters. Some I just read and others get pinned on the studio wall until the message has sunk in. Could I ask you to try and get the meat of the matter on one page just to save paper, save on cut and paste. We try and recycle as much paper as possible but we seem to be people who want to read the printed word if we are going to digest the matter.

From: CT Cummins — Aug 27, 2013

This is so true I can not imagine a more brilliant post. I really like what you have been posting lately.

From: Claudia Roulier — Aug 27, 2013

Bravo, home run, I agree totally!

From: Helen Harris — Aug 27, 2013

A valuable suggestion that was passed on to me long ago. It has helped me side step procrastination and not get bogged down in decision making. Before you finish your work for the day leave a doodle, a word, a splash of color, a texture or something that will call your attention first in the morning on your desk/easel to jump start your creativity. No decisions, just deal with it! The rest of the day will flow from there.

From: Jackie Knott — Aug 27, 2013
From: Jan Werdin — Aug 27, 2013

You, sir, are obviously male and are no one’s “wife”.

From: Jens Nielsen — Aug 27, 2013

By all means, people who are always having to make minor decisions are not able to get to make the big decisions. An example is the recent studies on overweight people. They awake every morning and have to decide what and what not to eat. Thin people don’t generally have much to decide about this.

From: Rhys Faldo — Aug 27, 2013

The bad business of having a lot of people in and out of your studio–one of the biggest distractors–begins in art school where students get used to people around all the time. You can always tell art school people–they wear buds.

From: Liberte — Aug 28, 2013

Dear David Houlton, You can cut and paste content of Robert’s letter into a text file and shrink or enlarge font, or format it to fit on one page before printing. The size of the printed text can only be controlled on the receiving side. I hope this helps.

From: Mike Barr — Aug 28, 2013

One of the greatest Impedimenta is actually holding down a 9-5 job, plus 3 hours traveling time a day and then try and think about painting. I have to laugh at the leisurely life some artists lead.

From: Peter Forster M.D. — Aug 29, 2013

Some people have the persistent bad habit of always finding excuses for not getting at it. There is always something that holds them back. When there is nothing readily at hand they create something. It is an illness similar to alchoholism or shopaholism and an easy tendency to gently slip into and allow to become chronic. People can take courses, I guess, but the most effective and cheapest way is to simply get hold of yourself and teach yourself new habit patterns. Positive (and economic) results are immediate and wide ranging.

From: Ron Wilson — Aug 30, 2013

Dear Scribe Bob – “ominous spires” are really looming obituaries. ‘Love your phrase “paint promiscously.” Seriously, today’s pointers should be pinned up on the studio wall.

From: sheila a — Aug 30, 2013

This sagagious advice goes right to the heart of it. Will you marry me??!

From: Costin — Aug 30, 2013

This is regarding someone’s comment about Bob being male and not a wife. I am a female and a wife and I have to say that nothing bad happens when I go to my studio to paint. Husband will eat by himself and go about his business and the house won’t implode when it gets messy. Dogs, cats, clubs, silly habits…unnecessary. Small children are always a priority, so in that case enjoy them and wait until they are 12. It’s all about choices and excuses.

From: Stella Reinwald — Sep 01, 2013
From: Patricia Neil Lawton — Sep 01, 2013

I noticed that our local hospital wants to start a Digital Mammography Campaign to raise $450,000. I made a decision to help them by offering up to 100 of my paintings for an Art Auction to start them off. The coordinator in the Hospital Foundation office loves the idea and the plan is to start advertising the event this month (Sept.) and to go ahead with the Auction in October. I like to “make things happen” and “make the right choices”……. By making the decision and then declaring my idea to the Hospital Foundation is a positive action that “makes things happen” as they will now take the ball and roll with it……. I only have to provide the paintings.

From: Kathryn Morris Trainor — Sep 12, 2013

ROBERT! I feel you were addressing me when you wrote this article. I take forever to make a decision. I dwell, stress, stew, lose sleep, talk to myself, make excuses (to myself!!!!!), etc., etc., over things that other people will take 5 minutes to decide on. Thank you for reminding me of all the UNnecessary things that I do. I guess it comes right down to simplifying. An artist and mentor once told me (when looking at one of my “almost” completed paintings) to “crop the crap”…I guess that could be applied to life as well. I’ll try.

  Featured Workshop: Mike Svob 083013_robert-genn2 Mike Svob Workshops Held in Canada, France, Mexico, and elsewhere   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order.      woa

Mount Biddle Seen from Opabin Plateau

oil painting, 30 x 40 inches by Georgina Hunt, BC, Canada

  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 Dave Skrypnyk of Cowichan Bay, BC, Canada who wrote, “I don’t understand it. You seem to be right inside my mind. I look upon this recent advice as the critical mass in a change of course about to happen.”    

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