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!

Tiny Paintings, a Tiny Beginning

It’s almost too soon to write about it, and too soon to show these tiny paintings to you, but I’m taking a chance.

Some time ago I wrote, on this blog, that I was unable to paint. I’d been working in encaustic for years, and everything I did felt like a rehash of something I’d done before, or a poor imitation of something someone else had done. The downward spiral began after my last exhibition, which was a number of years ago. I pretended it wasn’t happening and I kept spinning my wheels until early this year, when I decided to stop trying to make paintings.

Instead, I made drawings, both analog and digital, and I did an occasional watercolour where drawing was more important than painting. I enjoyed this immensely, especially when I was able to set aside the pressure to be good. This pressure is something almost all creatives experience. It’s intrinsic pressure, not pressure put on you from an outside boss. We’re our own worst critic. This is a necessary thing, but it can at times be crippling.

Last week I told you that being social isn’t only a human necessity, it is important to help you see the world afresh. I’d had a week of socializing. A long time for an introvert, and I thought I’d need a week or more to get back into to doing my work, both writing and drawing.

It rained on Monday. September is a weather turning-point in Saskatchewan and it was cold. The last thing I needed was to make myself unhappy by trying to paint, but for the first time in months and months I wanted to.  I pulled out a tiny panel, and some oils and painted. The next day I made another tiny painting, and so it’s begun. Already, I see where I have connected to my past work, but I’m seeing it in new light. It has possibilities. It’s like seeing a few feet of the path in the dark forest.

It’s too early to judge but I see that I will discard some of these beginnings, maybe all of them, but one…one, even in this tiny format, might be the seed of a new painting phase.

Dog Days of Summer

Red Trees
Red Trees, c1990s, gouache and wallpaper paste on paper

“The dog days or dog days of summer are the hot, sultry days of summer. They were historically the period following the helical rising of the star system Sirius, which Greek and Roman astrology connected with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck.” —Wikipedia

Wow, that describes my condition perfectly: lethargy and erruptions of irritation. Occassionally an idea will seek me out and I’m in a fever until the lethargy comes back in taking with it every bit of energy and leaving me, dare I say, mad.

I am overstating things, but yes, there is too much smoke in the air, it’s hot, I need a new project. My old projects, though not finished fill me with lethargy.  This happens.

Funny thing is it is exactly these hot, grasshopper hopping, cricket-singing days I remember from my childhood with nostalgia and longing. It occurs to me that perhaps I need not produce every minute of every day. Maybe it’s good enough, sometimes in the dog days, to lie back on a lawn chair with a good book, and look up every once in a while to watch the birds practise their flying and see the heat shimmer in the distance.

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!

 

 

 

 

Continue to Learn, Learning to Continue

Freckled Girl
Freckled Girl, digital, photo reference from Pinterest

A few weeks ago I wailed about not being able to paint. I’m not going to tell you that it’s all come back to me and I’m flying. But I am painting, and I’ve been completely immersed in it all week long. Everything is different, the medium, the style, the type of painting, but I’m learning, and I’m old enough to know that learning is one of life’s most important things for me. If I’m not learning, I lose interest and everything is washed over in blues.

Above is a digital piece worked in a painterly realistic style.

My whole art education was about abstraction with elements of either the sublime and/or expressionistic. I feel like a traitor to my education,  and my mentors, but man, there’s a whole other world of art out there.

I’ts Canada Day here. Au Canada!!

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Digital Studio Setup

Digital Studio Setup

After years of creating art, usually with my head bent over a panel placed on a table or on the floor, I have succumbed to serious neck and shoulder pain.

As mentioned in my last post, I’m not painting in the traditional way right now, though what I was doing wasn’t exactly traditional either.

For years I’ve worked in encaustic. Encaustic is a mixture of beeswax, damar resin and pigment, which is heated and applied in various methods on a panel. I preferred to use regular bristle brushes to apply my wax, but because it solidifies very quickly I found that the best way for me to work was to have my panel flat on a table. A slight angle was fine too, but a vertical panel didn’t work well.

Hence, my 7 pound head was hanging over a table at a degree that made it feel more like 35 pounds and hey, I’ve got one of those nerdy, long, skinny necks, which means I was creating a lot of trouble for myself.

Now, I’m mostly working digitally and I’ve been striving to find a way to keep my posture neutral. No slumping shoulders, no out-stretched neck, no reaching arm and bent wrist.

To that end I modified a small computer table I bought at Staples. In the picture above you see it as it would be if I use it for my drawing tablet, but I took off the side panel (where the mouse would normall go) so that I could put a drawing board in this same table and use it for analog drawing too. This little table-top tilts to a 45 degree angle, and because the whole thing is small and on wheels I can easily move it out of my way when I need to use my computer for writing.

It’s early days, but I think this might do the trick. Now if I could just figure out how to get the lighting right.

In the mean time, as you can see, I’ve decided to practice. I may not have anything to say in paint right now, but drawing for me is meditative, so for now, I’m doing the equivalent of scales: drawing hands, feet, gestures, contours, and so on.

Oh and I made this very strange lady. I stole some bits of her from a drawing by Wylie Beckert.

White Hair3

Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone

But Painting JacksonYou know that optimistic post last week? And the excitement about trying comics the week before?

Bleh! Crashed and burned.

Something has happened in my studio practise. Something I haven’t been able to talk about because I keep thinking ‘don’t be such a baby’. It’s been going on for months and months now. For more than a year.

I can’t paint.

This week I tried again. As before my efforts ended in disaster with me in terror, sure that finally it’s gone forever, this thing that has sustained me my whole life. Gone in waffley washes, in screeching colours that subside in mud and wander like zombies across my panel.

“Alright,” I say, “You can still draw. So draw. You can write…well, you can sorta write.”

And all the dominoes fall.

So last week ended on a way down note.

I don’t mean for this new week to follow its path. This morning I wrote my morning pages, I went for a walk and I hit reset.  I will remember to breathe. I will go gently and be kind to myself. And I’ll do it all again tomorrow and the day after, and the one after that…

We often admonish each other to be kind to others. Life is hard. Remember to be kind to yourselves too.

Learning

by Aaron John Gregory

On our recent visit to California we attended the Pacific Grove Good Old Days. I’m not a fan of believing that the old days are somehow better then the ones we’re currently living, but it really didn’t matter because the Pacific Grove Good Old Days are basically a street fair, with arts displays, live music, midway rides for the young, and lot of things for sale including food.

It was a great deal of fun to weave through the various display and sellers booths. Among them we found a real gem–Cotton Crustacean. The booth was manned by Aaron John Gregory and sold T-shirt decorated with beautiful images of sea creatures. If you’re a prog-rock fan you may have heard of Aaron Gregory before. He’s a member of the band Giant Squid. I listen to some progressive rock, but hadn’t heard of Giant Squid before. Give them a listen. They might be just what you’ve been looking for.

Aaron is also an illustrator and designer, and draws the images for the T-shirts himself–hours and hours of night-time stippling. Stippling. I had, of course, heard of it, but it was something I’d never tried. In fact with my high and mighty fine arts degree I probably thought it was beneath me. Phah! I still have a lot to learn.

So, I tried it. Aaron uses pen and ink. His images lingered in my mind and while watching television with my husband I started out drawing a creature, cribbed from William O’Connor’s Dracopedia on my Samsung Tab A with S-pen tablet in Autodesk’s Sketchbook Pro. As you can see, I didn’t get the idea of trying the stippling until I’d already added some colour. I let it stand, though it does nothing for the drawing overall. I think I need a whole lot more carefulness. Some of my dots ended up being little lines, but the process was enjoyable and I plan to do it again.

Digital Stippling

Huion: A New Tool

For a long time now I’ve wanted a digital graphics tablet, in particular, a screen tablet designed especially for artists. Last week I received a lovely gift of birthday money from my son, that he earmarked for a, someday, drawing tablet. You see these tablets, especially the ones developed by Wacom,the giant in graphic tablets, are very expensive.

But, but, but…

New manufacturers are catching up, and after I did a whole lot of research on graphic digital tablets, I found that companies like Huion, Ugee and others are producing excellent products at a fraction of the cost. A Wacom 13″ HD tablet on Ebay is still over a thousand dollars (CDN) whereas this lovely Huion 15.6″ HD tablet was about half that price. I pulled the trigger, as is obvious from the photos above.

So this brings me to a little philosophy about tools for artists. All credit to the wonderfulness of Wacom’s tablets, or Apples various devices, or any of those tools people rate as top of the line in paints, or inks, and papers. I’m glad these wonderful things are out there. But if you think you make art because you can’t afford these amazing things, think again. I hear that Shakespeare didn’t have a MacBook Pro and Scrivener. He managed to do a pretty good job of writing nonetheless.

I think artists are by their nature adapters. If they can’t afford one tool they’ll learn to use another. I haven’t tried a Wacom Cintiq, I can’t make a comparison between it and the Huion tablets.

Is the Huion tablet an excellent digital drawing tool?

I think so. The setup was easy. Krita, my preferred drawing application works well on it. Does it have problems? A couple. I hear it has more paralax (difference between where you put down your pen and where it draws) than some tablets. If it does, it hasn’t been a problem for me. One thing that annoys me a little is that the bottom right corner doesn’t respond as well to my pen touch as I’d like. I’ll figure a work around by moving my brush pallette to another  area of the screen.

So, yes, it’s a tool, but its also a toy and I love it!

Gasp! You’re Giving up Your Studio?

Studio View 330 Ave G

If you’re going to be a serious artist you’ve got to have a studio!

That is one of the things I learned in art school along with things like theme, balance, architectonic strength and structure. It was by far the easiest thing to understand. If you’re going to do work you need a place to do it, and if you are going to take yourself seriously and expect others to take you seriously you need a place you can call a studio. Ideally, this place is not your parents basement. At least that’s what I thought.

Before I even got my degree I managed somehow to secure a studio spaces–sometimes shared–in various warehouses in my home city. The amenities were often far from optimal when ‘very cheap’ is all you can afford. One of these studio spaces was a shared accommodation over a coat factory. On a cold November day, when a New York critic was scheduled to visit and pass comment on my art, the furnace went out. It was as bitterly cold inside as it was outside. Thank goodness she’d worn her silk socks that day.

There were times when I couldn’t afford even the lowliest space, but whenever I could I tried to have a place outside my home as a studio.

But Do you really Need a Studio Space Outside your Home?

Yes and no. The question is akin to Virginia Wolf’s need for a room of her own. I know of writers who clamp on a pair of noise cancelling headphones, find a corner in their home and write award winning material. I know visual artists who work on the kitchen table in their smallish condo. If you’re doing digital work, do you really need to rent an extra place to house your desk and computer/tablet setup? Probably not, especially if the cost of the studio eats up monies you need for that new graphics tablet.

Still, it is a nice thing to have a place to go that has only one purpose–the place you go to create your art. It’s a physical thing and a mental thing. And if your work is very large, or if you use a medium that it would be unwise to expose your family to, like say welding or encaustic painting, then a space with proper ventilation outside of your home is a must. If you have children who could be harmed by your materials, or who demand your attention at all times, you need an outside studio.

Are you judged on your seriousness as an artist by the studio space you have? Maybe, but I’d say don’t let that worry stop you from creating in whatever circumstances you find yourself. It’s not about where you create, it’s about what you create.

As a writer and a visual artist I do think it’s helpful for you to have a space you can go to to shut out distractions in order to focus. it’s helpful, but by no means a prerequisite. Artists are very good at focusing. They wouldn’t have come to their art if they weren’t. It takes a lot of focus to find your talent and go after it.

So why did I give up my studio this week?

Well, to be honest I didn’t exactly. I gave up a very nice space I had in what used to be the preacher’s office on the second floor of an old church that has been converted to studios. I loved this space, but for various reason (including a long period of creative drought–everything I painted sucked) it made sense. This does not mean I’m giving it ALL up. Another thing most artists have lots of is grit. They just keep on, keeping on.

No, I haven’t given up on painting and writing, but I have decided to convert a space in my own home to a studio.

Here is is.

Studio View 3

Painting area

Studio View 4

Digital Workspace

I don’t have the kind ventilation, here, that I would need to continue with encaustic work, so a shift in materials is in order. All to the good. I loved working in encaustic (beeswax and pigment), but I appeared to be at the end of the line with it.

The nice part of this new studio that it can be do triple duty as analog artist studio, digital workstation and writing office.

But hey you, if you can’t afford an off-site studio space or don’t have a room in your home you can commandeer, use your kitchen table. If it works it’s a worthy place. The important thing is not where you work, but that you do.