Looking, Seeing and Inspiration

Anne Bachelier: Artist from Erin Faith Allen on Vimeo.

Seeing things through another artist’s eye can inspire like nothing else.

In 2018, I joined Debra Eve in her The Artist’s Way Book Club .

I’d read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way a long time ago. It’s what turned me on to writing Morning Pages, a practice I continue to this day. Morning pages are three pages of long hand, stream of consciousness writing. The reasons for doing these are many, including an aid to building a creative habit.

Debra Eve, who is the writer behind the website Later Bloomers, posed thought provoking questions, and offered encouraging words, images and video to aid our rejuvenation as artists. One such video is this one created by Erin Faith Allen with the artist Anne Bachelier. Great Video! Enjoy!

 

Taking Stock

Last year at about this time I talked about setting goals. I tried not to call them New Years resolutions, but we all know that was what I was making. It’s exciting to start anew at the beginning of the year and plan to be better, but more often than not our resolutions become a kind of tyranny of ‘shoulds’ and if we fail even once to comply with our self imposed rules we mentally shout at ourselves until in a complete failure of confidence we give up. After which we call ourselves dispicable names until next year.

So this year, no goals, no New Years resolutions. There are some things I’d like to get better at–there always are–but I won’t mention them here or anywhere else either.

Instead, this year I’ve decided to take stock of what I did accomplish in 2018.

Paintings:

 

In 2017 and early 2018 I had a terrible time painting. I felt as though I did nothing but repeat myself, and everything was boring and lacklustre. In the summer I had the privaledge of visiting the studio of Lorenzo Dupuis,  I love his egg-tempera paintings and I began riff off his work. (Steal like an Artist, eh?) And just like that I was back and excited to work. In 2018 I paintinged more than ten paintings in oil, acrylic or egg-tempera. This is a small number compared to my usual output, but I’m so delighted to be back.

Sketches

 

I filled up a Moleskine sketchbook and part of another sketchbook with drawings. In totally this amounted to more than seventy analog drawings in 2018. There were many more digital drawings.

Digital Drawing/Painting

I’m not going to post my digital work because my last two post featured digital artwork, and surprise, I can’t remember which works happened in 2018 and which works came before. Note to self: Include dates in file names.

Writing

There were times in 2018 when I was pretty discouraged about my writing.  I’ve been writing fiction for over ten years, and during those ten years I have submitted work to various publishers. I’ve had some near misses, but to date nothing has been published. Yes, we live in the age of self-publishing but when you no longer have the day job the expense of edits was more than I could manage. Ten years is a long time write and have no readers. This depressed me no end.

Nonetheless, I rewrote and revised my 75,000 word young adult fantasy novel, The Spell, as well I wrote and revised a Boomerlit novella (35,000 words) I called Hannah’s Hearing, and I’m in the midst of  a major revision of my time travel novel The Chronos Project.

It turned out I couldn’t stop writing, drawing or painting even if I had no gallery exhibition in the works or a publisher for my stories.  Why is that?

I suspect there are many answers, but one of them for me is that as long as I’m learning and creating, I’m alive. More alive than at any other time. I live in a vivid world of my own making, and I swear to you that the ‘process’ of painting is a form of deep meditation. Time disappears and scratchy everyday problems fade away. How could you not pursue that?

This was my first year of retirement from my day job. Surprise, surprise, retirement calls for a bigger psychological adjustment than expected. Also, two close family members died, both in their fifties. My husband got a promotion and a pay raise. My grandchildren and children are wonderful. It was the worst of time and the best of times, as is every year.

So, at the beginning of this New Year, I’m super proud of what I’ve accomplished in 2018.

Take a look at what you’ve accomplished. I bet you did a heap of great things in 2018 that you forgot about. We tend look at our failings more than the positives in our lives. That might be something worth changing. Hmmm….

Excited about Illustration

A few years ago, as I mentioned in my last entry, I purchased a tablet on which I can draw. For my birthday, this year I received a larger Huion display drawing tablet.

Because I do visual art, and write, it occurred to me to consider painting book covers. I’ve come to realize that many illustrators are amazing artists. They know things we didn’t learn in fine art school. Above, you see some of my illustration attempts. Many of these pieces lean heavily on the work of other artists. Most are at least modified by my ineptitude.

Like many creatives, I set up way to many learning projects each year. Learning to be an illustrater didn’t get as much time as it needed, but hey, my learning time isn’t over.

Judging Improvement

celmissia_coriacea
Celmissia coriacea, 2002 Digital Drawing

One of the hardest things in the making of art is judging improvement in your skills. We talk about the necessary 10,000 hours of practice that make you good at something. We think about that and decide maybe it isn’t 10,000 hours of practice that is needed, but instead, you need 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to make you a master.

I’m old. I’ve had tens of thousands of hours of practice in all manner of things, and I don’t think I’m a master of anything. There are things other than practice that make you a better artist. An intimate familiarity with the things of music are a necessary tool but that knowledge alone doesn’t make art. What is necessary is an openness to experience, and an understanding that experience in one domain has an echo in another. That somehow, curiously, everything is fractal and this is that. This is a hard thing to practice.

So how do you judge? Sometimes you know you’ve reached a point of excellence by the reactions of others in your creative domain. Sometimes you know because one day you find that you, yourself, know that this thing you made is good. And sometimes you have no clue at all. You just keep doing it because there is something more to be said and something more to be proven, or understood.

My son enables my passion for new technologys. In 2001 he gave me a Wacom Graphire II. One of Wacom’s tiny digital drawing tablets. With the use of the included pen and a software that supported the hardware, you could make a painting direct to digital.

I made the painting above with this little Wacom tablet, in a software called GIMP. (I was all about Linux in 2001, and still have one Linux only computer). The lines are wobbly, but, art-wise, this painting is no worse than many I make today.  In this case, I have no clue as to whether I’ve improved, so I’ll keep on keeping on until I do. Hmmm, how did I get that watercolour like look…

 

On Inspiration

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Blue Moon Rising, 2018, acrylic on panel

I read books on creativity all the time. I’m not sure if it’s because I, somehow, want to be assured that I’m creative, or whether I want to understand what goes on in that process. Either way, one thing that comes up time and again, is the admonition not to rely on inspiration. In fact talent and inspiration are two terms that almost everyone disses.

I understand it to an extent. Talents aren’t share equally among everyone, and we don’t want to make anyone feel bad because they were born with a little less of a particular talent than someone else. And there is in the creative community this idea that the talented rely only on their talent and don’t work hard. That’s wrong I think, but I’m going to leave that for another time.

Another thing that books on creativity disparage is inspiration. I’m not saying you should sit on your duff and wait for inspiration before you attempt your creative project, but for heaven sakes if it comes along grab it with both hands and enjoy the blessing.

In my last post I noted that I’d finally painted something I didn’t hate. I made a tiny beginning. Then a day later I had the opportunity to visit Lorenzo Dupuis’s studio. What a wonder! I still feel all melty inside when I think about his luminous work, and I was/am inspired. For months and months I’ve been feeling as though I’m repeating myself or taken what wasn’t mine from others. Now, there is a path, a way to learn, a voice to find and I’m going to follow that inspiration. And surprise, surprise there are hints that I’ve been moving in this direction for some time. Yes, I’m worried that my work will look too much like Lorenzo’s, and guess what, he worries that his work looks too much like someone else’s. Creativity is a funny circular thing. Accept your talent, your inspirations and make something of it!

On Writing: What’s your process?

Synapse
Synapse, 2014, encaustic on panel

I’m not thinking of whether you outline, write your thesis sentence first, or how you develop your characters. What I’m considering is the physical process.

It’s interesting to hear about the processes writers employ. Many get up very early in the morning before any other family members are up, and in this early morning solitude they invite their characters to play, blithely typing away as they watch. Some only write late at night. Some write in coffee shops and so on.

It is said that Thomas Wolf wrote with a pencil on paper, using the top of his refridgerator as his desktop. And yes, he was tall, and refridgerators were shorter in those days.

A number of writers, Kevin J. Anderson is one, dictate their novels into a small recorder while they hike or walk. They then use Dragon Naturally Speaking software to transcribe the spoken word to text.

I find that I have a more intimate connection to my story if I write longhand in a lined book. And it is easier on my back to sit in a recliner and write in a notebook than on my laptop. The problem is transcribing drives me crazy. Writing with a pen or pencil isn’t the hard thing. Reading handwritten narratives, is for me the hard thing. Tougher, still if you’re trying to type what you are reading, while you’re reading.

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Recently, in a Joanna Penn podcast, her mother, Jacqui Penn, also a writer, described her writing process. She writes her stories longhand in a notebook, reads it into a recorder and let’s Dragon take care of the transcription. She then edits on her computer.

This sounds brilliant to me. Her reasons for working this way, is that she finds sitting at the keyboard for long periods of time very hard on her. Yes! Me too. Sore neck, sore back, sore wrists…

I know that people write longhand less and less often. Times change. Technologies come along and do a brilliant job, but I hear that longhand writing is actually very good for you brain. (Check this, and this) And Google Docs has a facility whereby you can dictate a document on your cellphone without an intervening software like Dragon. There are plenty of issues to be sure. You have to tell dragon your punctuation marks along with the words, and Google only understand things like period and comma, but hey, what’s another learning curve! I’m going to give it a try.

What’s your best process?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Being an Art Snob

It's Written
It’s Written, c 1990s acrylic on rice paper (30 x 48″)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I studied Fine Arts at the University of Saskatchewan we made a sharp distinction between ‘fine art’ and what was often termed as ‘Sunday painting’. This university was very influence by abstract expressonism, especially the works that came out of New York in the 40s and 50s. A Prairie province, like Saskatchewan, coming late to the dominion of Canada (1905) and always tending to feel a little backward, embraced New York and it’s ideas with with a fervor we didn’t give Canadian artists.

The university had an off campus college at a northern lake (Emma Lake) and people like Stanley Boxer, Clement Greenberg and Barnet Newman (and many more) were invited to teach.  I drank it all in.

As a young sprout I wanted desperately make good art. But I had no idea about this kind of painting at all. What I wanted to do was make drawings and paintings like Rembrandt. But I learned. Iit was exciting to hear the theories of these men of (yeah, mostly men, but my painting above was influenced by Helen Frankenthaler) were exciting and nicely laced with high spiritual thought. Little by little I developed what Mr. Greenberg would have called taste.

And, though not intentionally, I began to looked down on those who could draw realistically and render. I made massive paintings using no method that you might call traditional.

Fishing with My Father

Fishing with My Father, above, was entirely built from bits of paper, glued down on a sheet of plastic, and poured over with acrylic paint washes. Then I added more bits of paper, string and whatever looked interesting, to come up with this final product. The painting is 8 feet tall by 12 feet wide.

Fast forward many years:  I still like abstract expressionist art very much, but I’ve found myself yearning to draw and paint recognizable people and things. I long to render and get lost in the minutia of the subject. And guess what I’ve found. There are so very many artists, from Urban Sketchers to Illustrators who do marvellous work, that I in my ignorant pretentiousness never looked at.

So here’s a thing I’ve learned. There are all kinds of taste in art. In fact because I’m a painter, I’m now pretty much a dinosaur because current tastes are for video art, sound art, and compilations of ideas that have nothing to do with the kind of esthetic taste I was taught to cultivate.

So, here’s some advice, younguns, listen to many teachers, stay humble and learn from everyone.  Here’s to staying open!