On the last day of the year several collectors were in my studio. They were looking to add to their collections or to buy afterthought gifts. These were old friends, so the Scotch and the laughs were important as well. But this sort of visitation always brings back memories of former anxieties.
In the old days, in expectation of visitors, taking a day or so to tidy up, I’d panic that I didn’t have enough to show, that my work was substandard, and that I was inadequate. It was then that I’d renew my vows to show only through dealers. Struggling with my neurotic distaste for being sized up, considered, and — Gadzooks! — purchased, I destabilized myself. Quite an admission for a born-again entrepreneur. Fact is, the presence of visitors in the studio can be disturbing. It can put you off your game.
Just as the professional golfer can lose concentration over a remark or even a cough from the peanut gallery, artists can be put off by the mere presence of others in a position to pass judgment. However, it’s good to realize that artists are always being put off by one thing or another. My inbox is currently loaded with exhaustive lists of all manner of personal problems — from abject poverty to noisy neighbors. I’m sure, upon reading this, artists will write and tell me of put-offs I haven’t yet thought of.
Long ago I realized that keeping an eye on the ball was a big thing. For the self-directed creative person, maybe it’s the only thing. How could I allow a few interlopers to set back the flow of my process? How could an artist allow any impediment to sack her?
I’ve taught myself to recycle quickly. This requires identifying the traps, a whack of self-understanding, and some calculated self-coaching. I always knew it had nothing to do with the visitors. It’s in the head. The artist needs to take a vacuum cleaner to that part of the anatomy. It’s a matter of shifting from one awareness to another. Run, don’t walk. Energetic cardio-vascular sets you up. Startlingly loud music realigns the neurons. Through cacophony and sudden exercise, the art-making is re-identified as the main continuum — as solid and permanent as the pyramids. Further, a squeezed-out palette before the guests arrive is eager to be used when they leave. You’re back on your game. “Was somebody here?”
PS: “Art is a form of supremely delicate awareness — meaning at-oneness, the state of being at one with the object.” (D. H. Lawrence)
Esoterica: Activity itself is the key to concentration. Re-dedication to this principle brings art-awareness and the blessings that ensue. Among the thousands of confidential New Year’s Resolutions coming in these days, the word “active,” appears over and over. Artists are dedicating 2007 to more activity. Activity flies right over the traps. With activity, sensitivity is rebooted to bring joy to the hours. With activity, the hours become miracles. We have 8,760 hours waiting out there in 2007.
Judith Gilley, Shawnigan Lake, BC, Canada
I remember well the day I realized that it didn’t “really” matter whether others loved my work, or even liked it. On that day, I became free to create without the fear of being judged. My art became much more fluid and, I think, more interesting. You are right — it is in the head. Psychology has taught us that if we wish, we can abolish negative thoughts (including those that others help place in there). If we wish to hang on to the negative, however, we can also paint the angst.
by Elin Pendleton, Wildomar, CA, USA
In George Leonard’s Mastery, the process of practicing one’s craft (in this case our painting) is a well-suited plateau that must be established before a rise to new levels of achievement will be evident in our performance. It becomes the backbone of our contentment. So many artists think that the “now” is of the most value, not aware that continuing practice is where the true rewards lie. In the past year of doing daily paintings, I have found that through the continued exercise of the knowledge I have allowed for bits of new energy, confidence and success to come in when least expected.
Something from nothing
by Odette Nicholson, Saskatoon, SK, Canada
Welcoming people to my studio is unnerving because it is inside my personal residence; I’m a very social and very private person. I’ve always been prolific but never show any work unless it’s complete. I tidy and fuss before anyone arrives but the studio is naturally bare, I like it that way. What unbalances me about this personal territory self-revealing act are the expectations of the visitor. That there may not be enough studio mess to convince of the pain and joy endured there! Most of my work is not obviously representational — the question most asked of me is “where do your images come from?” Studio mess or lack there-of, with me it’s the ‘something from nothing’ effect.
Pre-show pep talk
by John Fitzsimmons, Fayetteville, NY, USA
I’m hanging my first real solo show. Two galleries, one 20 x 49 feet, the other about 20 x 20 — lots of wall space to cover! My stomach has been churning, I did not sleep well last night, and I gained 3 pounds! Do I have enough work? What should I include? Are my newer paintings going to work with my older ones? Will the paint dry on the latest painting in time? Will anyone show up, will I get reviewed? It all comes back to self-doubt. Despite the incredible support from my wife and encouragement from friends and family I’m very quickly alone. I wouldn’t have gotten this far without some belief in myself, and I won’t get further without some more. I have to keep my eye on the prize. However this is what I’ve been waiting for and have been working for, so Carp Diem! Roll out the powder kegs and man the ramparts. More to the point, roll out the white wine kegs and man the cheese and crackers.
Preparation of ideas
by Colleen Lauter, Mooresville, IN, USA
One thing I learned a long time ago is to know what I’m going to paint before I get to my studio. Years ago when I first got my studio (away from my home), I would go and spend hours, or even most of a day, trying to figure out what to paint. Now I work it out before I get there, or set up a still life for the next day before I leave the day before. Otherwise it takes too long to get in the groove when I get there. I also keep my art magazines and new art books at home and don’t read them in my studio as it’s too much of a temptation as another diversion to put off working. I treat my studio as I would a place to go meditate… if you keep everything set up, ready to go, your brain gets into gear quicker.
Jumpstart with artistic activity
by Elsie H. Wilson, Fitchburg, WI, USA
Taking a small break to read, reflect, and think helps to keep myself focused on art, on myself as an artist, and helps me find a much needed sweeping away of my own cobwebs. As soon as I miss a few days painting, I start to let old doubts, excuses, and distractions move in. This week’s topic really hit home! When I stop and say, “Can I take the time to paint today? Will it be good enough? Am I a real artist or a wannabe?” it is easy to find some reason not to act now. But activity, jump-starting, is essential to get the quantity of work done for growth to occur. I have found much inspiration from two other sources: Stephen Covey and Julia Cameron. They would sum it up as “Show up and do the work!”
Physical exercise for art
by Andrea Harris, Chicago, IL, USA
As a nationally-ranked runner and cyclist (in my former life) I have been able to focus and push past that moment of momentary defeat. From a physical point of view, I feel that my morning run jump-starts my creativity. In my case, I have been athletic for so many years that if I don’t participate in some form of fitness routine before painting, my mind is a bit foggy. But more importantly, the years of training and dealing with the “character building” adverse conditions of weather, competition and yes, criticism, have helped me deal with rejection. As artists, we are most vulnerable because we put our soul on canvas for all the world to see. It takes a strong person to do that.
by Mary Moquin, Sandwich, MA, USA
It is that old two steps forward, one step back. We are self possessed and confident one day and then some slight criticism and those nagging doubts about our greatness resurface. The secret is to just keep doing the work. One painting leads to the next, one struggle overcome at a time. The confidence keeps rebuilding and we get stronger in our beliefs. Eventually it becomes harder for the well-meaning but often undereducated critics to injure us, because we have discovered a truth they haven’t found yet, the paintings have taught us to believe in ourselves. We have seen it first hand and nothing they can say can disprove what we have experienced personally. The worst out there is the somewhat educated critic, as George Bernard Shaw said, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” The more I learn and the more I realize I don’t know, the less likely I am to criticize.
Stay true to you
by Susan Burns, Douglasville, GA, USA
This year, when the seasonal events happened (strangers visiting the studio for a piece of art, family members visiting for some food and conversation, neighbors stopping in with cookies etc.) I didn’t make an effort to clean or decorate. I lit some candles. I made an effort to visit the studio every day, even if it was just to draw one line or paint one stroke. For me, making the art brings me into myself immediately. I become present in the world the way I was meant to be in it. When I am in that state, I am able to handle anything, and anyone, because the realized me is in the room. It isn’t the me that thinks about future masterpieces or past mistakes. It is the me that trusts my feelings a little more. What I noticed the most was that there was a lack of anxiety compared to other years. I didn’t change my life to accommodate anyone, and I did welcome everyone.
by Helen Zapata, Phoenix, AZ, USA
I had to laugh when I read about how easy it is for artists to get off their game. This is so true! It doesn’t take much. There are two things that can put me right out of whack. If I am spending too much time looking at other artists’ work, it’s very easy for me to lose all my self-confidence. I decide I’m a terrible painter, and have nothing to say. The other thing is when I show a work in progress to someone, be it online or in person. I’m fine if they just smile and say nothing. But if they like it… I fall to pieces. Invariably I panic. I’m afraid to touch the painting. What if I change what they liked? What if they hate it after it’s finished and say, “I liked it better before you did that!”
My good friend, artist Mickie Acierno, gave me some golden advice when we discussed this. She told me to put my “Blinders On!” when I stand in front of the easel. I must shut out all the other voices, including my own, and “just paint.” If I catch myself worrying about anyone else’s opinion or work, I must readjust those mental blinders and trust my own voice. This was such outstanding advice. I even wrote it on my easel!
by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada
It bothers me that artists think they need to be in some hermetically sealed environment free of any distractions, noise, light or dust. This is simply not the case. We are forever carving out studio space in abandoned spaces or in buildings deemed unlivable. I lived in a studio for nine years on the lower east side of Vancouver, B.C. It was in the worst neighbourhood in town with crack whores turning tricks in the parking lot. It was literally right on the railroad tracks as the trains would rattle the building. There was also the Animal waste reduction plant a block away, on a hot afternoon the smell was like nothing else. But I was creative there and showed two collections a year. I would crank up some disco music and paint away in a zone that was hermetically sealed from the environment I was in. I would have shows and openings with surprising success, often with hundreds of people crammed in my studio. I would have some of my high end clients calling me from their SUV’s in my parking lot, saying things like “I’m at your building and I’m not getting out of my car alone.” Being confident about my work has always been paramount. As long as my place is tidy, I have some coffee on and I make my clients feel welcome, I usually make a sale. I like having visitors to my studio… for a short while anyway.
Separating work and family
by Ted Lederer (Elliott Louis Gallery), Vancouver, BC, Canada
I am a practitioner of the art mastered by Bill Clinton, compartmentalizing. For instance, I do not take work related issues home with me. While they may play in my subconscious, I try very hard not to let them pollute the time I have with my family. Even when something is pressing and I must have a solution the next morning, I know from a deep place that worrying about it won’t solve things and that I should use the few hours I have to enjoy life. I can honestly say that by doing this I usually wake up in the morning with the solution. Often, it is something extremely simple, but entirely practical and doable. As importantly, I possess a deeply ingrained belief that I am not my circumstances. No matter how bleak things may look, I am not them. Life doesn’t get better or worse, just different. This does not mean that I don’t take satisfaction from success; I most certainly do, or sometimes get depressed by an event or series of events. It does mean that I am aware it is my interpretation of the world and I usually snap out of whatever funk I am in very quickly. It’s not always easy, but with diligence I can say this works for me better than 95% of the time.
Tintin in retrospect
by Anna Hayes, Edmonton, AB, Canada
I grew up on Tintin. I still have my 40 year old dog-eared and taped together French editions that I inherited from a cousin. They were left in a box until I dug them out to read to my children. Revisiting Tintin as an adult was a bit of a shock. The stories and drawings were still wonderful. What made me feel uncomfortable were the stereotypes of ethnic groups. If that is how Europeans saw Arabs, Africans or Native Americans — it might explain their current difficulties with minorities in their own cultures. People to be looked down on, made the butt of jokes and definitely kept apart. Herge was a brilliant artist and storyteller but he was also a product of his time. Belgium still had colonies in Africa and Europe was the center of the world… I now prefer Asterix and Obelix.
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA
I went for a walk yesterday, too quickly down a poorly lit street, tripped and broke my arm. My painting arm. So now what? The plaster cast runs from shoulder to finger tip. Shall I try to paint with my other hand? Tackle a one-handed creative writing project? A friend studying Jungian psychology asked, “What’s your body trying to tell you?” I wonder.
(RG note) Thanks, Eleanor. Ouch, that smarts. One is tempted to quote the platitudes: “An inconvenience is an unrecognized opportunity” (Confucius) and see what happens. Even if it only makes you appreciate that good arm when you get it back. I take heart in the thought that our bodies are trying to tell us something every day of our lives, and that when push comes to shove, we are all in some way disabled. We wish you a speedy recovery.
Puzzle paintings revealed
by Berry Banks, Salt Lake City, UT, USA
The Puzzle Paintings PPS presentation is by Artist Robert Duncan. Robert resides in Midway, Utah (20 minutes from Park City, Utah) with his wife Linda and their many children. Robert and his wife Linda lived about a block from me when we were growing up. His wife Linda was best friends with my older sister. Robert started out with cowboy art. He now paints on his homestead and includes his family in a lot of his work.
(RG note) Thanks, Berry. You were to first to recognize Robert Duncan’s paintings. Your email arrived at 7.36 on Tuesday morning so we’re going to send you a free copy of The Painter’s Keys book. Winters of Long Ago PowerPoint Presentation has been widely viewed over the Holidays. Several writers asked if the artist had been remunerated in any way. Downloads can go into the millions, but micro-billing is on its way.
by Elsie Kilguss, North Kingstown, RI, USA
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 Joe Jahn of Nibe, Denmark who wrote, “Most people that enter my studio cannot understand why RAMMSTEIN (Industrial Heavy Metal) is blasting from my speakers. You can.”
And also Phil Carroll of the USA who wrote, “For me visits from collectors are like a safari. You are with them on the hunt for that special trophy only you can provide and you are in search of a sending that perfect trophy home with them to be mounted on their wall.”
And also John D. King of TX, USA who wrote, “We just returned from Paris and I am on overload with the experience. From Rodin to Monet to Soutine. I find myself thinking why I didn’t use the GI bill to come here and live the life of an artist fifty years ago.”
And also Moncy Barbour of Lynchburg, VA, USA who wrote, “I am the snob of my art being reclusive to the views of the audience. I need not say a word for the painting shall speak for itself; I am quiet and listen not to speak.”
And also Sharron Middler who wrote, “I had been making excuses for myself today about why I wasn’t accomplishing as much as I seemed to think I should. The minute that I changed my focus to thinking about my successes (everyone has them) and to what I would be doing, I was suddenly feeling much better.”
And also Jean W. Morey of Ocala, FL, USA who wrote, “Holidays are serious interruptions to the pace of work. It brings new insights and deeper meaning to the next work session. Growth does not flow evenly. It comes in spurts. I welcome interruption and the insights it allows. The core focus is still there. Interruption gives it sparkle.”
And also Suzette Boulais of Peoria, IL, USA who wrote, “In my heart of hearts, I’ve known that feeling sorry for myself is a losing proposition. I need to keep my eye on the ball which is seeing the good things in my life and recognizing all areas where my glass is at least half full.”
And also Aleta Pippin of Santa Fe, NM, USA who wrote, “Barbara Meikle and I own a gallery in Santa Fe and we greet potential collectors daily. For the most part they are complimentary and express a great deal of admiration for our artwork. Though we are self-motivated and love what we do and would paint regardless of the compliments, it is nice to hear them. I observe my work through their eyes and appreciate it even more.”