When I was a boy my dad owned a sign shop. There were four employees: Nort, Mort, Phil and Bert. Each had their specialty — show cards, banners, silkscreen, illustration. It seems my dad was always walking around and asking, “Do you have something to get on with?” Dad lived in fear that one or the other would run out of something to do.
The situation is similar to the plight of the self-employed artist. Of course, there’s generally no Nort, Mort, Phil or Bert. But like it was with those boys, getting started might be a problem, as well as getting stopped, but as long as one is in the middle, things are okay, just like my dad and his creative company.
Yesterday I tackled a 60 x 60 inch. I had been looking at that blank canvas for about a week — watching a motif struggling to emerge like a photo in a tray of slow developer. Finally the canvas propelled itself to the easel and I got going. Working largely out of my mind I committed thick and fast. It seemed a long road ahead — perhaps this might become a tiresome project — like one of those big real estate development signs with lots of lettering, a site plan and an architectural rendering. But as soon as the start was made, there was stuff to get on with. It’s what I was talking about in the last letter — letting the project and its process engage, make demands, take over. With every stroke a need arose for another stroke — to correct, tone down, brighten up, redesign, simplify, complexify. Many artists relate to this exciting engagement that can lead to forgetting to check the mail, or eating, or bathing. There’s always something to get on with, actually one damn thing after the other. Eventually there comes a time when there’s nothing more to do. We made a photographic record of the progress of this particular painting — its faults, fumbles, and hopefully, its recoveries, in the form of a slideshow, here.
While results may not always be totally brilliant, having something to get on with is still one of the great feelings. This particular job and this condition lasted two days. Now I’ve written this and I’m going to have a tub.
PS: “Boldness has genius, power and magic. Engage, and the mind grows heated. Begin, and the work will be completed.” (Goethe)
Esoterica: Frequently artists say, “I don’t really know what I’m doing.” This is generally followed by the idea that somehow they muddle through and somehow they work it out. That’s creativity. But creativity is also being efficient. To me it’s important to proceed in a somewhat logical order. Order requires thinking ahead, planning, anticipating. Management is an acquired skill. You’re the boss.
This letter was originally published as “Something to get on with” on February 13, 2004.
You can see the complete Ramparts slideshow, here.
“The only bad studio is an unused one. “ (Robert Genn)
Traditional Japanese mineral pigment painting with Judith Kruger. Make water-based paint from cured shells, minerals, soils, pine soot, indigo and cochineal with natural glue. Learn to stretch Kumohadamashi paper and prepare wood panels. Metallic leafing and oxidation techniques will be covered. Emphasis on the creation of purposeful, multi-layered paintings stemming from ancient practices that embody the power to nurture the spirit. Historical information and powerpoint presentation included. Traditional and abstract painters are welcome. All levels.
More info on http://www.judithkruger.com
Shawn’s paintings evoke the feelings of the West Coast, its shores and islands, ponds and lakes.