A respected fellow artist once said to me, “What you’re doing is okay — just do it more efficiently.”
It took me a while to rationalize his advice and figure out how to be more efficient. Now I realize it was some of the best advice I ever received. Here’s a few ways I put it into action:
I hired an assistant. The main areas where this person works is in bookkeeping, banking, shopping, wrapping, shipping, and other studio impedimenta that I don’t care to do. It’s money well spent — I’m left free to pace back and forth in front of the easel, bump into walls, and try to mambo with the muses. Later I discovered that many of my competitors had someone to do statistical reports and even dealer liaison. It was a pleasure to find that there are people who like to do these things — and do them well.
I also looked for ways in my daily work activity where I might be hung up with outworn, slow or sloppy methodology. I found many — I’m still finding them. For example, I had a basic brushing habit that slowed me down and made my work less than what I was looking for. It had to do with areas of color and where they touched one another. In short, I re-taught myself to overshoot and cut in. This simple painterly habit keeps the work flowing, simplifies gradations, and permits that which interests me to show up in my work.
I mention this technique as a sort of a generic example. Every one of us can find areas where we can make our work more efficient. For most of us creators, our minds, sometimes goofy and often visionary, run circles around our hands. Any opportunity for the hands to catch up is something we can appreciate.
And when you think about it — in attitude, in point of view — there are ways to more efficiently find and extract the spirit of the heart.
PS: “A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his mind is a craftsman; but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist.” (Louis Nizer)
Esoterica: In spite of his reported lack of concentration Michelangelo divided the Sistine Chapel into an organized progression of doable jobs. Secondary activities such as the buying and grinding of pigments were entrusted to assistants. As manager he focused on the important elements and orchestrated their completion. He never let go of control.
The following are selected correspondence. If you find value in any of this please feel free to copy to a friend or fellow artist. We have no other motivation than to give creative people an opportunity to share ideas and possibly broaden their capabilities. Thank you for writing.
Overshoot and cut in
by Mary Selman, British Columbia, Canada
Could you expand on the technique of overshooting and cutting in? Thanks.
(RG note) In opaque media try this: In painting a head, for example, paint a large medium skin-coloured smudge in the place of a face with perhaps a gradation going up into the darker area of the hair. Make sure the skin tone goes well out into the area behind the head. Now half close your eyes and look at the subject again and paint, for example, blue sky around the head and cut it into the skin color. See the head as silhouette and try to accurately form up the shape, around the ears, etc., in negative areas. Later you can come into the features area and make a cursory touch here and there. Wet into wet works in oils if there is not too much impasto in the first pass. In acrylic it’s a piece of cake. In watercolor it’s a sticky wicket.
by Boguslaw Mosielski, Richmond, Ontario, Canada
I think that the credit for the quote you attributed to Louis Nizer belongs to St. Thomas Aquinas. I had it pinned on the wall of my studio for many years, until someone visiting my studio “needed” it more then I did.
(RG note) I lifted that quote from the Resource of Art Quotations which is building daily. It’s important that we go through these and make sure the attributions are correct. Thanks for pointing that out. If anyone notes any errors in the resource, please let us know.
by Paula Sue Butts, Folsom, California, USA
I have had a major breakthrough in my quest for determining my true style and creations. Hallelujah! From all your support through the newsletters and philosophy and the Painters Keys, it was bound to happen. I must tell you more. My mind has opened up to receive artistic creations on its own. This is without any interference of others works of art I had hanging in my studio.
I realized that some of the pieces I had been painting were being influenced by what was hanging on my wall right in view of my work. Most of these were other artist’s work. I took off all the art on my walls including my own. Right away I was so inspired by my own creations flowing in my mind. The only images that I looked at were my own stock photographs.
The struggle of inefficiency to decide on how or what I should do is over with. I am able to open up and allow my brain to see the picture in my heart — and my hands express it on canvas.
by Lili London, Highlands, NJ, USA
Words like order, discipline, and efficiency seem to be dirty words to many artists. There is this misguided notion that somehow creativity must come out of chaos. I fight this tendency and belief system in myself all the time, not being a naturally tidy and organized person. I have found that all attempts to organize my life and my art make the work flow much better, and make time and space for art to happen. After years in the corporate world, I “dropped out” and became a professional artist and art teacher for 10 years until my husband had quintuple bypass surgery. Out of survival fear, a year ago, I sought and found more lucrative employment once again with a major corporation in the communications field. They were actually excited about my art and provided gallery space for a dozen of my paintings, and I have received a number of commissions from coworkers. My job is somewhat creative and relatively interesting BUT… Still I have found the 8 to 5 forced confinement in an office with no window excruciating. I miss the outdoors terribly and when I go for lunch time walks or drives I find myself painting in my head, literally feeling the strokes and mixing colors. Not completely productive but very efficient, and now when I paint on weekends, I work much more rapidly and with more surety. I have more passion for my work. A great deal of the planning process of a painting can go on in your head when you are waiting for a meeting to start.
by Eleanor Blair, Florida, USA
I, too, have recently changed my studio habits. For years I taught small private classes in my studio. It was a fairly pleasant way to meet my minimum expenses when I was just getting started, and had the extra advantage of coercing me to the studio first thing Monday morning. (A friend of mine had said, “The secret to a successful life is to have to be somewhere Monday morning.”) Ten years ago I finally moved into the ultimate studio; a beautiful turn-of-the-century storefront on Main Street. I brought my dear faithful students long with me. We’d joked that, for what they’d paid me for art lessons over the years, they could have put themselves through Dental School.
My career began to take off; increased visibility, more time to work since the kids had gone off to college, and, hey! my painting is pretty darn good, too! Large commissions, Art In Public Places jobs, etc., began to compete with my students for studio space. I was thinking that maybe I could turn one of the empty bedrooms at the house into a place to paint. Then I thought, “wait a minute! I already have a wonderful studio, what’s my problem?” The problem, of course, was that what I really needed was privacy and autonomy, and it was time to throw my little birdies out of this comfy nest. Let them find their own studios! Also, right around the same time (two years ago) I decided to give up hope that my loved ones and significant others could ever be relied upon to help me when I really needed help. I’d been left in the setting-the-show-up-all-by-myself-at-dawn lurch once too often, and decided it was time to hire someone. I put up signs around town, in the art supply stores, etc., but the only responses I got were from displaced homemakers. (I think just one menopausal woman at a time should be allowed in my studio and that hot-flashing femme fatale is me!)
Then my son, attending art school at the University here, suggested that I hire three of his friends, and my life will never be the same. Two girls and a boy, all third-year art students, came to work for me. Intelligent, hardworking, picturesque, and wonderful. The school actually gave them college credits each semester for the work they did for me. They essentially became my students. I taught them how to stretch canvas, build frames, deal with the public in a professional manner, etc.
Sadly two of my three assistants moved out of town when they graduated, but the last one, Kim, wanted to keep working for me. (Unbelievably, this job is highly coveted among Kim’s fellow art school graduates, most of whom are back living with Mom and Dad, or delivering pizza.) Her parents wanted her to get a ‘real’ job, with health insurance, and it was clear to me that the help Kim gave me was worth far more than it cost me, so I took a chance and made the job “real.” I pay for her health insurance, she has a pretty good hourly salary, and (this is the real bonus) I give her ten percent of the sales she makes. It’s amazing how motivating a cut of the profit is.
So now my studio is actually open for business five days a week (I’m rarely here then; I like to work at night) and hardly a day goes by without a sale. Kim does her own work in the morning and early afternoon (she’s started a faux finishing business) and gets here every day at 4 p.m. She puts the ‘open’ sign out, listens to the answering machine, returns calls, orders supplies, builds frames, stretches canvases, cleans and organizes the studio, and she’s developing into quite an art agent, emailing images of available paintings around the country. If there’s something I must do, she calls me on my cell phone. We’ve become quite a team, and now I wonder why it took me so long to decide to hire help.
by Kumar S Dahil, Mumbai, India
I had an old problem that I could not get rid of. In trying to paint in the Western fashion I found myself tightening up and doing more and more detail in the Eastern fashion. By using a palette knife and getting rid of all small and pointed brushes I was able to make my work more direct. The effect becomes more to do with the paint than the subject. As a matter of fact since I have done this I have been able to move into surprisingly large brushes which I never thought possible, and this has been good too.
by Andrew Miles, UK
Attitudes of the heart reminded me that I go get my ideas and inspiration by putting myself into beautiful and moving situations such as cathedrals and public art galleries that give me a feeling of spiritual and creative continuity. Alone is best. This, together with music, opera and ballet give me such a feeling of well being and artistic completion that ideas come flowing like gifts from a higher power.
“Worth looking at”
Sites of interest and value for creative people:
Cows, fire-hydrants and colorful cups at painter Philip Carroll‘s site — go to “fiesta.”
At Wet Canvas there’s Café Guerbois, an interactive exchange for artists. Site also picks up the RG letters and provides marketing tips, particularly online. http://www.wetcanvas.com
Russian folk tapestries and entrepreneurial site for the work of Olga I Knyaz and husband Yaroslaw A Rozputnyak of Moscow http://www.tapestrist.ru/Olga.html
You may be interested to know that artists from 75 countries have visited these sites since August 1, 2000.
That includes Arthur Chin of Hotmailia who says, “A man may be all heart but if his work is lousy it ain’t art.”
And also Linda Timbs of Coquitlam who says, “Chaos itself produces masterpieces because the artist’s mind is in the same state as his working environment. Like an old shoe, it’s comfortable. Therefore, let it be!”