On Friday I was visiting in the studio of an elderly and respected artist. There were other visitors around and I heard someone casually and ignorantly ask if she was still painting. “There’s something going on all the time,” she replied. It was as if, in some obscure corner of her building, there was a staff silently producing her work.
While it’s great to go at our projects in concentrated leaps of action, and stick to them until they’re signed — there’s yet another way. Studios can be filled with works in progress; inventions in a state of development. I’ve noticed work easily drifts into “pause mode,” requiring a bit of re-think. Also, there are times when there’s so much going on around that it seems not likely that anything can be done. On Saturday, for example, the tax-person, the computer-troubleshooter and the lawn-aerator were all hovering around my studio. At times like this I say to myself that there’s nothing to do but paint. Between interruptions and distractions it was possible to start and make considerable progress on a 30 x 34. Work evolves almost automatically under these conditions. It’s as if one is working in a time-wasteland, and anything that is produced will be a bonus. Perhaps it’s because I’m used to it — other artists tell me they can’t work unless conditions are perfect. My brush tends to slow down and only half a brain is engaged in the work. Perhaps it’s the better half. When everybody left at 5 in the afternoon I looked at the canvas and it was almost satisfactory. Within striking distance of finishing. Then I thought of the advice of Lao Tzu: “Wise travelers always stop short before they come to danger.”
This effort will require further thinking in the cold gray light of dawn. Besides, I’m getting a buzz from the house. Time to get into the tux. I’m outa here.
PS: “If you believe in what you are doing, then let nothing hold you up in your work. Much of the best work of the world has been done against seeming impossibilities. The thing is to get the work done. (Dale Carnegie)
Esoterica: Artists report that an effective system is simply to give into “work-love.” The deposition of paint from a brush, or the laying of words on paper. There’s a realization that it’s all of value, and it is, after all, what we do. Painters paint. Writers write. Sculptors make dust. “Work is love made visible.” (Kahlil Gibran)
The following are selected responses to this letter. Thank you for writing.
Mother of all inventions
by Jenny Malin
That should make mothers the best artists… or those with visiting in-laws?! I totally agree and have experienced this phenomenon. Definitely. If one is waiting for the perfect moment one will never paint. Also, I think it was Lindsay Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac who said, “Those who are good know they can be better.”
by Frank Tiffen, UK
One of the problems that we elderly artists have to contend with is the constant question by curious relatives and friends whether we are still artists. Somehow they expect us to retire like everyone who has put in 45 years at a job and is glad to get out of it. Down deep I suspect a feeling of jealousy that I am still alive and thriving and stimulated daily by my art. Then again, my relatives have always been remarkably thick when it came to understanding what it is that I have accomplished in my life. I have respect and appreciation from other artists as well as collectors and strangers who I will never meet. I’m 86.
by Nils Ole Olsen, Roskilde, Denmark
There is of course no such thing as a “time wasteland.” All time can be put to use for some creative pursuit when you are tuned for it. Your attitude indicates that it is no big deal to be working on your art at any time. Those kinds of wastelands only exist for people who must put in time waiting for someone or something else to make a move. There’s no need for this in self-employed art.
Always something going on
by Philip J Carroll, Haddonfield, New Jersey, USA
There is always something going on even if you cannot see it. We as artists are always working in our minds. It never stops. That is the part that others cannot see. That secret place we claim as our own. I find I work in spurts and right now is one of those times. I have been in a mode for the last six months or so. Producing paintings and am now on a series that will lead me through another 10 to 12 paintings before the end of summer. After that I may very well not paint for two to three months while I gear up for the next journey inspired by the next turn around a corner which I call the “AH HA” and then I will be off again.
PS: “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.” (Shakespeare)
by Sharon Williams, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
The thing that gets me about the ‘business’ of our business, is the subjective nature of what makes ‘good art.’ I have gone to shows where the artist nearly sells out, and I think that the work is not very good at all — where are these people’s heads, don’t they know what good art is? Then again, I see some work that I think is outstanding, and yet it sits. Go to any juried show and I will bet there will be much discussion and disagreement with the paintings that were selected as juror’s choice, best of show, or award winners. How is one to know what ‘quality’ is… it all seems so subjective to me. Why is it that the painting that gets rejected in one show wins the best of show in the next? Is it even possible to have a definition of ‘quality’ or ‘good art’? Maybe all there is to it is to put your work out there and let those with whom it resonates decide. And in all things, to thine own self be true; please yourself first and don’t be too concerned with the fallout.
by “Dave the Badger Brush”
Here’s a useful tip which works for me. I have always found that the natural tendency to work and work on things until they are overdone is easy to be done. If you stop and work for a while on something else then the needs of the first one become more obvious. This way there is a steady evolvement in the studio and it is sometimes amazing how much is done by the end of a session. It makes it more interesting too.
by Francisco Solano Oribe, Montevideo, Uruguay
I discovered ‘work-love” when I put my hands on my first professional quality camera. Before that it was all wonderful theory and dreaming late into the night. Now every roll of film is a new color challenge and an opportunity to explore the potential of the instrument and the variety of ways to handle differences in all of the subject matters.
Spontaneity of William Hook
by P B Sen
In the teaching of William Hook, who I think is a great artist, he uses methods which keep the spontaneity in acrylic work. One of his systems is to spray areas of paint with a fine mist of water from a spray bottle. This prevents the natural tendency of things to tighten up — which can be a problem when you deliberate about a painting for a while. Thinking is okay, but spontaneity and directness should be achieved at all costs. Wet into wet, which can be a problem in acrylic, is facilitated with this system. Another valuable method William Hook recommends is to load brushes fully right up to the ferrule. A decision can then be made as to the type of stroke (light or hard) and angle of brush. Seemingly minor things like this can make a big difference.
by Alec Rutgers, Ontario, Canada
As you were recently talking about illustrators I thought I would draw readers attention to a site they might not be aware of. It’s dedicated to professional illustrators and represents some of the better people in the profession. www.theispot.com
by Hazel Andrews
In the Dale Carnegie quote, which I believe in by the way, there is a problem. It’s the part about thoroughly believing in something. It’s hard to believe in what one is doing these days because there are so many who are busy debunking. This is particularly true here in New York where everyone has a column and they are not happy unless they are knocking fine art and praising the dumb stuff. It’s a daily hazard when you open the newspaper. In my opinion artists are lucky who live in countrified and “culturally deprived” places and I think that’s where I want to be as soon as I can get “outa here.”
by Helene McIntosh
When I am painting, I lose myself… the space I’m in is comprised of the canvas or paper, the medium, the tools and the thoughts that run through my head. What’s around me is totally inconsequential. I feel blessed to have the opportunity and time to be doing something that I enjoy so much. I have spent a lifetime looking forward to doing exactly what I am now and the fact that it’s in one corner of a two car garage doesn’t enter into the process since I am in front of my easel with a paintbrush in my hand!! I feel blessed and chosen and offer thanks each day for the path I have been traveling on. There are so many on this planet who haven’t even a corner to call their own, who struggle with the dynamics of everyday living to survive and who will never experience what I have been blessed with.
Please help me if you have time
by Corrinne Wolcoski
I am doing a project for my art course and need primary research to complete the business plan I am working on. Please help me if you have time — I have 3 days & it is due next Tuesday. If you could go to the web page and complete the survey, it will most definitely help me with my business plan proposal for the Professional Business Practices for Artists & Designers course I am taking. I will not use this info except to compile statistics for the proposal and I will share them with you if you request a copy.
Leave me alone
One of the things that I get out of your letters, and particularly the responses to them, is that we are all on our own. We may pick up a bit here and there, or an idea from an instructor, but basically this is not a job for people who follow directions and take down recipes. The volume of books and “how to paint this and that” sites seems to grow daily. I think it’s an idea to throw out all the books and get into one’s head. That way we can call what we do our own. I now realize that “attitude” is more important than anything. That’s why I want to be left alone to get on with it.
You may be interested to know that artists from 82 countries have visited these sites since January 1, 2001.
That includes Marc Doyle of Manchester, UK, whose online Art Magazine http://www.artmagazine.co.uk joins the publications that republish your letters for the benefit of even more artists.
And art dealer Michelle Kirkegaard of Whistler, BC, who says, “The learning curve in the gallery business is just so grand.” She sends this quote: “Art is an articulator of the soul’s uncensored purpose and deepest will.” (Shaun McNiff in Art as Medicine.)
And John Adkins (Aries) of Albertville, Alabama, who is a professional pharmacist but plans to “retire in nine years to pursue my art career full time.”
And Pascal Valu of Paris, France, who tells us he has had 25000 visitors to his male nude photographic site during March.
And Brenda Bisiker who wonders, “Who is Esoterica?”
Please continue sending your horoscope information. The results to date are published in the previous clickback. We will continue to collate this material until we have an even wider survey prepared. The following letter came in today and put us in mind that some artists who work in groups might be kind enough to put a wholesale collection together:
Report from St. Bart’s
I mentioned your Horoscope survey to our painting group today and they all expressed an interest in being included. I should tell you that this group, St. Bart’s Artists, have been painting together for eight or nine years. We limit our numbers to twenty, with an average attendance any given day being about, as today, fifteen. Our results show that most of us consider ourselves to be left-brained, but since we’re this interested in painting, I think we can presume that the right brain kicks in sometimes because there is some good work produced.
2 Gemini “art hobbyists”
1 Virgo AT/SPVa “occasionally right”
1 Sagittarius AT/SVPA “definitely right brained”
2 Pisces, one “occasionally right”
1 Pisces PVA “pretty right”
1 Aries SPVA “left/right”
1 Taurus “lame-brained” – that’s me!
(RG note) “St. Bart’s Artists” is named after the church they meet in — St. Bartholomew’s, in Gibsons, British Columbia, Canada.