I always like that scene in the movie The Jerk where Steve Martin leaves home saying, “that’s all I need…” He takes only a chair. Then he takes a lamp. He apparently doesn’t take a belt because out on the sidewalk his pants fall down. I think I identify with his situation because deep in my heart I know I can do quite well with less.
This time I left home without any art materials. I knew there was a box of old art materials in the closet of our friend’s home — enough to get started. Then I bought the basics in Liquitex, a brand I haven’t used for a while — I lucked into the only art store on Kauai. Keep it simple, I said. Limited palette. I couldn’t resist the Alizarin dark hue — haven’t tried it yet. And their Naples yellow. I was just curious. A few stretchers and a roll of Fredrix Polyflax — never tried that either. Just curious. I bought a staple-gun — I needed that. Gesso, molding paste, medium, gel, varnish, a small roller; you really can’t run even a Spartan studio without them. A new little easel. I needed that. I had to buy a throw-sheet so I wouldn’t mess up the patio. Had to have that. Oh, and Mozart. I need him. Portable CD and earphones. I’m all wired up. This all leads to a kind of virgin feel to the stroke. Simplicity perhaps in the work as well — a better design. Experience, yes, but somehow new. A new start.
It’s brilliant out here on the patio. Golden days. Simple, simple life. Oh, and I had to buy a bag of birdseed to keep the birds coming. My camera’s primed and ready beside my new palette. 400mm lens — I need that. Time off for shots of Java finches, cardinals, zebra doves, white-eyes, mynas, white-rumped shamas, overhead a long-tailed tropic-bird. What a place. I need the little tape-recorder. Also the bird-book, cell-phone, and this laptop. Oh, and a flask of wine. That’s all I need.
PS: “How difficult it is to be simple.” (Vincent van Gogh)
Esoterica: The idea is to avoid true clutter. Here, there’s a feeling that everything at hand is being used in its proper time. Nothing is extraneous and the only real distraction is the personal inadequacy of the human spirit. “Out of clutter, find simplicity.” (Albert Einstein)
The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thank you for writing.
by Robb Debenport
I get tired of the simplicity fad. Everyone yearning for the simple life – ah, yes, to be a simple man doing his humble work with simple tools. I live and work in an ocean of clutter – which enables me to have the exact tool I need to accomplish the task at hand, which is far simpler than having to improvise and make-do. The good old days were filled with illness, inefficiency, and endless boredom. All the modern clutter that we whine about has brought longevity, productivity, and effortless communication with the people we love. The genuine clutter we face is not in our physical surroundings, but in our goal choices. The “have it all” fantasy brings chaos. Choose one focus in life, gather your tools, and produce.
(RG note) You’re in good company. A recently revised book by David E Shi, The Simple Life deals with the off-on, fashionable attitudes about keeping it simple. “Those who espouse simple living,” he says, “become enmeshed in the opposite.” Quite a few have taken a go at it: Whitman, Thoreau, the Puritans, the Quakers, to say nothing of Gauguin, etc., etc. Emerson comes out the best: “He achieved the outward simplicity and clarity of vision he sought while avoiding the extremes he worried about in others.” (George Fetherling)
by Stephen Connor
Yesterday I locked the door to the “studio” (our bedroom) so I could work in a sort of idealized isolation and lack of distraction. To do this I have to look beyond a huge amount of clutter, all the paraphernalia and paint tubes on my desk, and not think of a million things. Somehow in all the craziness it works out. Perhaps the one thing I need is my intention. Everything else will follow.
Junk or not
by Lucy Bates, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
I have a great book called Clutter’s Last Stand by Don Aslett. It can be found in any bookstore, or ordered. He helps the reader to distinguish what is junk and how to get rid of it. It is an entertaining read. I don’t think the problem is knowing what one wants to keep, but parting with what you don’t want and what is of no more value than sentiment, or because you’ve had it for forty years. Even though I’ve read the book cover to cover and applied some of its philosophy, I still struggle. When it happens, what a sense of freedom!
(RG note) For an excerpt from Clutter’s last stand please go to http://www.scn.org/earth/lightly/vscluttr.htm
Away from the clutter
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville FL, USA
Sitting here in my overstuffed studio, a history of purge-and-organize events not all that obvious at the moment, I reflect on the real cost of material possessions. Yes, I need the paint, the canvas, the CD player, the shelves full of photo albums, the furniture, easels, files, paper, power tools, and all necessary. But the most energy and inspiration I ever feel while painting usually comes when I am working away from the studio with the bare minimum of equipment. I wonder why? I’ve been working on a mural. Everything I need (except my ladder) is on a rolling cart; reference books, paper towels, drop cloth, jars of Liquitex, lots of empty yogurt containers for mixing, brushes, plastic spoons, and a bar of soap. I work at night, alone in the building, so I also have a tape player and a pile of books on tape. I am in an inexplicable state of euphoria as I work. Time flies. I often intend to paint just a few hours, and am frequently surprised at the sounds of the staff arriving in the morning. Daylight, already? Maybe I just like painting in new environments. But I think I get a blast of psychic energy when I am free of my ‘stuff’ for a while.
Realization of gifts
by R. Kevin Obregon, Dallas, TX, USA
Also from “The Jerk,” I’ve made Cup-O-Pizza at home. It really is quite good. Plus, no fat from the crust! I’ve also tried, with further success, to limit my resources on excursions where I imagine myself in a prehistoric convention, where everyone around me brings their most austere of wares – but their most valuable gifts. Be it whittling flutes, drinking “Mormon’s Tea” (Ephedra nevadensis), or, in my case, carving into rocks with another rock. When forced to create with what little you have around you, you realize the gifts you truly have.
by Joan Gaetz
Awake at 3 am I pondered how to simplify my life, my studio, my work. Zen rules. And then, coming from our artist son-out-law’s new loft studio, filled to the brim with his art, books, music, collectibles (better than most museums), my place looked dull and empty and I gave in to the urge to put out more stuff. Striking a balance is difficult.
by Bob McMurray
I remember that scene in the movie vividly. Twice in my short history I visited my local art supply store and, after browsing thoroughly, decided that I had everything and left empty handed. It was depressing. But then I decided that it is not enough to have all you need but essential to have back ups for critical components and perishable supplies and now I feel good about going into the art stores again. Eighteen months ago I visited the Queen Charlotte Islands off the West Coast of Canada along with eight other artists and we were away from port and stores of any kind for ten days. After the third day I had earned the nickname “Art Commando” for the range of portable equipment and supplies that went ashore with me on painting trips. The enjoyment of painting is heightened by the anticipation of it.
(RG note) A short chronicle of the trip is at http://www.voyagesofinspiration.com/
by R. Duane Hendrick
As someone who loves to paint outdoors, I have designed several box-easel — backpack-chair combinations, and have tried to fit all my “needs” into the smallest, most convenient arrangement. I finally settled on a lightweight, folding table with a roll-up top, folding chair, and umbrella. It all fits into a backpack which also carries whichever art supplies I want for the day, and includes, of course, a lunch of bruschetta, hummus, cheese, baguette, fruit, chocolate, coffee and wine. One must be comfortable, and civilized, yes? Oh, and productive, of course!
by Curtis Long, Austin, Texas, USA
We humans always “need” one more little thing. True simplicity is a real challenge. My wife and I are heading out on the road in a couple weeks to travel and live full-time in an old Airstream trailer. Distilling my former house-based studio down to fit my allotted space into an RV has been quite a challenge. I hope I can accept the limitations of working this way. I’m optimistic!
by Paula Sue Butts, Folsom, Calif, USA
I believe that going on and enjoying a vacation, a long awaited event, entering kindergarten or college, getting set to paint begins with preparation. It’s in the process where the joy is born for the things we do in life. So, the bottom line is, yes I need that lamp shade, that chair, that CD player, that new CD, that new sun hat, that new easel, and that alizarin. I have a list of things I may need on trips, and I use it. This way, I can never ever forget my belt and certainly won’t be caught with my pants down. When I follow my list, I don’t need a thing. What an oxymoron that one is.
My essentials for traveling
by Jane Capellaro
One old Crayola Paint Box, very stained, the emptied out paint wells re-filled with pigments of my choice; Payne’s Grey, Oxide of Chromium, Ivory Black, Yellow Ochre, some blues, red and pink, oranges, yellows, more green, 2 purples, Chinese White too. These paints are squeezed in on the lid, used right out of the crayola originals. Three brushes, tin box, pencils, eraser sharpener, knife my special pencil and pens in a library bag, a plastic bag of watercolor paper, container of water public libraries, car with boxes and a friend.
Stephen King’s Creative Ideas
(RG note) My son James gave me my copy of Stephen King’s On Writing. He didn’t want his copy written in. Here are more of my marginal notes on the principles that propel King’s creativity.
Master the fundamentals.
Do not be always critical of popular success.
You learn from the bad as well as the good.
Comparison is the basis of improvement.
Work with joy or not at all.
Go in the direction of what you do best.
Work is best when it’s a kind of inspired play.
For the worker, not working is the hardest work.
Look and you will find what your work will be.
Always ask the question: “What if?”
The first thought is often the best thought.
Pay attention to the idea of “truth.”
There are no “magic secrets.”
A great deal of what you can trust is merely instinct.
Do it because it fulfils you. Do it for the buzz.
If you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.
The main thing to be concerned about is the language.
It’s about enriching the lives you connect with.
When you get to your room everything is on the table.
Work rapidly, particularly at first.
Don’t invite your friends to crit your work in progress.
Leave out the boring parts.
You don’t need a certificate to be a writer.
Appreciate and celebrate the quality work of others.
Sometimes it’s necessary to do some research.
Professionals, particularly, go to a lot of trouble to get it right.
Do not allow yourself to make shoddy work.
There is a pyramid in your craft: Aspire to the top.
Pay more attention when walking on highways.
Art Fair report
by Richard Thompson
Hitting day 3 at the San Francisco International Art Fair. Weather great. Beyond the people lying on the streets, it’s a beautiful city. I’m starting to hit the “seen too much art” and beginning to wonder about the whole business. There are some jewels here and there is a lot of “also-rans.” I carumba! Perception. Positioning. How can the buying public make a decision? My favorite artist of the show is Marcel Dzama. Nothing like it. Abstract Expressionism is in trouble here. It’s like eggs over-easy, scrambled, easy, pouched, fried, boiled, light boiled, raw, in a glass… A lot of encaustic. Blurry photographs. Abstract graphite. Less Picasso, Chagal and Miro this year. But Jasper Johns and Rauschenburg still have fans. Met with some new galleries. They all appear the same. Same strategy. Similar artists if you look closely. It’s who they know, knew, or are trying to get to know. It’s as political as running for district attorney.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 96 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002.