A month and a half after my father's death, I am still struggling. I thought I was prepared, but I wasn't - not for the emotional upheaval, the feelings of being adrift without an anchor, the sadness of my loss mingled with the happiness of knowing that he no longer suffers in a body and mind that were failing. I guess I didn't expect to feel such a profound sense of loss. The waves of grief wash over me, sometimes leaving me unable to breathe, sometimes leaving me cleansed and at peace. I hear his voice in my mind; I know he is ok. And I know I'll be ok. But it still hurts.
In August my daughter and my grandbabies moved into their own home an hour awy. They have lived with Dave and I for two years, since Kolby was 18 months old. Kora was born here. And even though having two little ones in the house curtailed my painting time - and certainly sapped my energy - the joy of being intimately involved in their everyday lives in many ways made up for it. Now we see them once a week at most, and I miss them terribly. There is a hole in my heart.
Painting helps put things in perspective for me. It gives me an outlet for emotions when words can't. That, more than anything, is why I paint. Matters of the heart are often obtuse, and the more I try to define them within the contest of spoken language, the farther I get from what I actually feel. Part of the problem is I don't always know what I'm feeling.
A few years ago I came upon an interview with Lance Green, a colorist and expressionistic painter. The interview brought me to tears, because it was the first time I had ever heard anyone describe their painting process that sounded even remotely like my process. Most painting classes and workshops teach the "correct" way to paint is through careful planning: preliminary sketches and studies and neatly laid out palettes. In other words, before putting brush to canvas, you should know where you were going to end up. I tried and tried to paint that way. To my eye, everything I painted ended up looking stiff, devoid of emotion.
And then I heard Lance, and decided if I ever got a chance, I would take a workshop with him. That chance came just a week after my Dad passed. Without grandchildren in the house to worry about, I was free to take a Saturday to drive to Littleton and take the class. I have to admit I was pretty nervous about the whole thing. I'm used to painting at night, in the sanctuary of my studio, with my Gypsy music and sleeping dogs. The prospect of painting in a room full of other artists was daunting. What if I couldn't paint at all, couldn't get into a groove?
Lance gave a great demo and reminded us that we might or might not come up with a "great" painting that day - but that wasn't the goal. Opening our minds to a new approach to painting was the goal. For me, it wasn't so much a new approach, as it was confirming the validity of my own process. Letting the canvas and the paint draw out the images residing in my subconscious mind. No, I didn't end up with a great painting, or even a good one. I was too distracted by the hub-bub of the workshop to focus and let my mind float freely and creatively. Although I tried not to be, I was embarrassed by what I ended up with at the end of the day.
That night in my studio I had a bit of a melt down. I completely destroyed the painting, covering it with a coat of gesso, knowing that was the only way to save it. A few days later I reworked an old canvas that had been in my studio for 2 or 3 years, thick with the history of a half dozen or so failed paintings. "The Healer" is the painting that finally emerged.
In this painting, it is unclear who the Healer is. Is it the horse or the human?
When you think about "Coming Home", what emotions does that conjure? For me, "home" is not a particular place, although where I live is certainly my physical home. But when I go to San Diego to visit my parents, I am also going "home", although they live on the oppostie coast now from the "home" in which I grew up, in Norwalk, Connecticut. For me, San Diego is home because that's where my parents and siblings live.
"Coming Home" also means returning to a place in my heart where I feel happy, secure, loved. In this series, Coming Home is returning to a subject that I haven't painted in a few years - barns. Until a few weeks ago, I hadn't been inspired by barns. I was off on a painting journey, a vision quest, searching for my artistic voice. I am still on that quest; perhaps (and hopefully!) I always will be. It is in my nature to explore, to investigate, to try new things.
One thing I have learned is that each painting builds on the one before it - for me, the process of painting from the heart involves spiritual exploration and immersion. That is why I tend to paint in series. Much of "finding one's voice" consists of acceptance of personal process. Instead of beating myself up for not picking one genre and focusing exclusively on it, I finally understand how I process - kind of like walking a medicine wheel, with different aspects along the way. I revisit them over and over, bringing new knowledge learned from the others each time.
With this latest revisit with barns, I am exploring the meaning of home. At a time when there is so much uncertainty in our lives, finding the "home" within becomes vital.
Sacred Places: Fox
Much of my work over the summer has been experimental in nature, pushing past what I see into what I believe. My trip to Taos with my friends Carolyn and Susie provided the key to open a door in my mind. Much is written about the magic of Taos – I concur that there is a palpable energy there unlike anything I have felt before. We all felt it the day we found a little-known morada. As we walked into view of the old adobe structure with the calvery cross (the very one Georgia O’Keefe painted!) three turkey vultures circled overhead. All three of us welled up with tears, so moving and beautiful was the experience. We painted for hours, with two stray dogs being the only other visitors that day.
Later that day, we strolled through the galleries on Kit Carson Rd. I was happy to see my friend Marie Massey's colorful paintings at Walden Fine Arts, along with work by one of my favorite artists, Lance Green. And I got to see three magnificient sculptures by my buddy Chester Armstrong at Old World Fine Art - the three raven sculpture just blew me away. I spent quite a bit of time visiting with Joshua Franco, an artist whose surrealist work intrigues me - not only for his compelling compositions, but for the iconoclastic nature of his imagery.
Since returning, my paintings seem to come from somewhere deep inside; the memories of places where I felt connected to spirit percolating to the surface.
This piece started out as a plein air landscape, but once I got it home into my studio, Fox showed up with a couple of her buddies.
Sometimes life likes to throw you little surprises. Not that the birth of our newest granddaughter was a surprise – we’d been expecting her for quite a few months. But the surprising part is – I didn’t realize who much time and energy a newborn can take. And since little Kora lives with us with her mother and big brother, Kolby, the amount of energy and time has hit very close to home!
Its been a struggle, these past few months, to find the time to paint. But until Kora arrived on the scene a few weeks ago, I still had some semblance of a routine. Work at my day job until 5:00, home to take care of horses, throw some dinner together, read a bedtime story to Kolby, then down to my studio to paint for a couple of hours.
All that has flown out the window. It’s a new ballgame, and I haven’t quite gotten the rules down. Even though I’ve snuck down to my studio a few times in the last few weeks, I find I have neither the creative energy or the stamina to work on a large piece. And so I’ve begun painting little 4x4’s. It is a way for me to still create, without the pressure of a big painting. A glass of wine, my favorite cd playing, and maybe an hour to myself a few days a week.
I find it interesting that my painting has taken on a very childlike quality. Lately I’ve begun by painting on some colors and shapes with acrylic paint, then painting over in oils, just stream of consciousness painting, a stroke of color here, another there until something starts to take shape. A bird. A horse. A flower.
Right now it seems that’s all I can manage. And I’m struggling to be okay with that; to accept that I am exhausted. To give myself some slack. Those of you who know me well know how difficult that is for me.
What I cannot do is stop painting. So these little paintings are keeping my creative juices flowing, even if the flow is little more than a trickle some days. I’m trying to find my equilibrium one tiny painting at a time.
I haven’t been blogging lately, or writing my newsletters. The spirit is willing but the body is just… tired. Life decided to heap more on my plate this past summer, and so my creative time has been cut down. Sometimes it’s all I can do to muster the energy to go into my studio and paint. But I must paint. Something had to give, and I’m afraid it was communication with my tribe that had to take a back seat for awhile.
As I’m writing this, I’m listening to the sounds of my 18 month old grandson playing in the living room. What a joy it is to have him in our lives! But, I had forgotten how much energy those little ones have. By the time he goes to bed at night, I’m ready to go, too. But instead I force myself to go into the studio, if only for an hour. Sometimes once I’m in there, I get on a roll, and paint for three hours. Then the next morning I’m dragging.
My grandson loves the outdoors, and everything is new and exciting to him. After we clean the horse stalls, we like to throw the ball for the dogs, and look for the flocks of blackbirds that fly overhead. He has gotten so that he hears them now, and looks for them, pointing his finger skyward, tracing their path across the sky. Nothing escapes his curious eyes, from tiny bugs crawling in the dirt to the sound of my neighbor’s cows mooing. Each sight and sound is noticed and cataloged, his mind a sponge for all the wonders of life.
Being with him has opened my eyes as well. I delight in discovery with him, seeing the world through innocent eyes. This childlike curiosity has spilled over into my art.
Since the end of August, I’ve been experimenting with acrylic paints and palette knife and am excited by what I am creating. I guess I am still shocked at how much I am enjoying acrylic. In my latest paintings, I’ve started combining loose brush work and dripping paint with the knife work. Although I still love the feel of oils, I am appreciating the quick dry time of acrylic which allows me to layer the paint, creating depth and texture. In that way, acrylics remind me of painting with pastel, and using the palette knife further enhances the similarity.
But even more than the act of putting paint on canvas, I’ve been trying to be more aware of my intention when painting. Sometimes I ask myself why I do this. It is a path fraught with struggle, frustration, exhaustion – highlighted with moments of serendipity, insight and oneness with the Universe. It is an expensive undertaking. Canvas, paint, frames, show entry fees, shipping costs, advertising… all costs money. And frankly, the sales are few and far between. I get discouraged. And yet… I keep painting. Why?
The reasons are complex, but perhaps it all boils down to this for me, the questions: Can one move hearts through art? Is it possible for a painting or a sculpture to change someone’s heart, to open it up, if only for a moment, and flood it with universal light and knowledge? Can art affect change?
This is my quest, my journey, my course charted. To create a painting so emotional that through the visual experience it creates an opening for the spirit to enter someone’s heart, if only for a moment. Then the memory can start seeking out the connection, to keep returning to a state of bliss, the place where we are perfect and interwoven in the fabric of the universe. A place of Love."Glory Daze" is a 18x24 acrylic on canvas, gallery-wrapped on 1.5" stretcher bars. Someone who saw the painting said, "It brings me back to a time when I was happy." I couldn't ask for a better compliment. If you are interested in purchasing "Glory Daze", click here.
Personal Goals for 2010:
1. Eat more healthy food. Switch to organic and locally grown as much as possible- at least 50%. Cut out refined sugar. This is an on-going goal - I started making changes last year but need to take it to the next level.
2. Exercise more regularly. Again, a goal from last year. I was doing pretty well then got derailed. Back at it!
3. Get rid of stuff that no longer fits my life. I tend to want to hold on to things passed the time they are of any use to me. My mantra this year? Pass It On!
4. Ride my horse more. I love to ride, but making time to ride is difficult.
5. Write in my journal daily.
6. Continue to grow spiritually -
7. Get out in nature more (riding my horse is a perfect way to accomplish this!)
1. Improve my technique and focus on my style by completing a painting a day - small pieces, no larger than 6x8". I'd like to think I could keep up the pace for a full year, but realistically I'll start with the goal of a painting a day for 52 days. I started on Sunday, January 4. You can see my progress here. I'll be posting these paintings on Facebook, Daily Painters Abstract Gallery and on this blog. Click here to see the paintings I've completed so far.
2. This year I'd like to complete 10-15 top quality large paintings.
3. Clear older works out of my studio. Look for my studio sale/open house in February!
4. Organize the business aspect of art - this may be one of the most important things I do!
5. Enter six national shows.
6. Research galleries - in preparation for next year's goal!
7. Take at least one workshop.
8. Visit the Denver Art Museum at least twice.
9. Post to my blog at least 3 times a week.
10. Don't forget to enjoy the scenery!
My gut feeling is that this will be a year of big changes for me. I just need to remind myself that change is good and necessary for growth. Letting go of the past frees one to live in the present.
Anyway, back to the painting of Wolf...getting the background to look misty was a bit challenging, as I wanted it to feel like light was breaking through. Like this Wolf, I hope someday wolves will be able to come out of the cloak of myth and fear that surrounds them and understood and respected for the important role they play in nature. We humans could learn a lot about ourselves by studying their ways.
I find it interesting that I've been compelled to write words on my paintings. I did a little of this when I was painting my Equine Spirit series, but in those the writing was obscured - you really have to look to find them. And I was using quotes from books I was reading at the time. Starting with my series of Birth Totem paintings, "The Heart of..." , the words are mine and are an integral part of the painting. I also wrote on Kestrel Weathers the Storm, which isn't part of that series.
In writing "The Way of Wolf is the Way of the World" I returned to my first working title for my study painting. And so the painting comes full circle. This mixing of words and imagery just seems right, as it is a way of returning to using words as a part of my creative process. I am excited to see where this road leads.
The Heart of Deer is the third painting in my Birth Totem Animal series. Deer is the birth totem animal for those born between May 20 and June 21. This original paintings in this series will not be available for sale until the series is complete; however, 8x8 gallery-wrapped canvas giclees are available for individual purchase. Contact me if you are interested.
The Heart of Deer - session II
I’m not talking about the song recorded by the Surfaris back in 1962. I’m not even referring to “fall badly and painfully.” Nope, I’m talking about the technique of using a rag to wipe out passages in a painting that aren’t working, to get back down to the texture of the canvas. It’s a technique I used last night during Session II of painting “The Heart of Deer.”
The session started well. I knew from looking at the photo I took of Deer after Session I that I needed to go back in and soften her ears, redefine her face, redraw her back leg, warm up the background and “carve” out her neck and chest. I was also bothered by the dark patch on her back and sides; the shape seemed too regular, too sharp-edged. I also noticed some areas where the color had gotten a bit muddy.
At some point in my learning process working in oils, I switched from using Viva paper towels to wipe my brushes with to soft cotton painter’s rags. My initial reason for doing that was to save money; it seemed like I went through an inordinate number of rolls of paper towels! But then, because of an “accident” where I had to wipe out a good portion of a painting, I discovered that the rags did a great job lifting the paint without leaving behind fibers like paper towel does. And, once I let the rags dry, I can wash them and reuse them, which appeals to both my penny-pinching side and my “green” side.
As I looked at Deer last night, I knew I would have to go backwards before going forward, and would have to wipe out some of the painting I’d done in Session I. This is always a scary thing to do – I want to leave what is working and wipe out what’s not, but sometimes it is difficult to determine which is which. In this case I knew that dark patch was calling way too much attention to itself, and it had to be take down a notch or two. I also needed to wipe out some areas on the neck that had gotten muddy looking. And I needed to do something about the legs. In my reference photo, the deer is standing in deep snow, so her feet are hidden. But I didn’t like the way they just faded out in the painting. As I was wiping, I decided to wipe out the legs, pulling them down off the bottom of the canvas, exaggerating their spindly nature and partially obscuring the words written on the bottom. As soon as I did that, I knew it was the right move. The painting felt more pulled together. I have to admit that sometimes I get attached to my reference photo and let it be more important than the actual painting. This was a case where I was able to subjugate the “reality” of the photo and paint the reality of the painting.
I finished this session feeling satisfied with the progress made. Deer is revealing herself slowly, cautiously – different than Wolf with her confidence and desire to impart knowledge. With Deer, the message is about containing nervous energy, holding the heart still long enough to let the mind assess the situation. And then taking appropriate action.
The Heart of Deer
I wondered last night when I went down to my studio what inspiration I would find after over a week of not painting. So I went through my usual rituals: I put on my painting shirt, opened up the container of my “secret blend” painting medium, scraped away old, dried paint from my palette and added light cadmium red, cadmium orange, cadmium yellow, cadmium green, sap green, ultramarine blue, radiant blue, brown-pink, quinacridone violet, brown-pink and titanium white. Before my week of not painting, I had done the preliminary sketch for Deer on the 10x10 canvas using quinacridone violet. I kept my mind open to the possibility that I would not find inspiration in Deer, but as soon as I saw the drawing I could hardly get my palette set up fast enough! The paint seemed to flow off the brush with a mind of its own; my job was to let it be.
When I paint, I usually listen to music: my current favorite is Loreena McKennitt’s “An Ancient Muse.” But some nights, and last night was one of them, I’m treated to live music. My husband’s band, Trash Kings of the South, was practicing, and much of what they play could be considered “head” music, in that it is improvisational and full of interesting space. Perfect music to paint to! Listening to music seems to click off my fussy, analytical mind and let the intuitive side play.
In an earlier journal entry, I think I wrote about how important it is for me to get the eye of the animal correct, so that it has a personality on which I can focus. Sometimes I hear words in my head as I paint. These words also help me to focus on the essence of the painting, and reveal something about the nature of the Animal. Sometimes the words become the title. In this series I’ve been painting the words on the canvas.
“The heart of Deer shows its true colors.” As I was painting, I thought about the nature of Deer, and how that corresponds to people born between May 21 and June 20. Think of Deer as she moves quietly through the forest, ever alert for the subtlest of movements, the slightest of sounds that will warn her of impending danger, and yet her own flightiness often leads her straight into the sights of the Hunter. One who has Deer as her Birth Totem must learn to calm her restless nature and quiet her frantically beating heart which sometimes causes her to get into the very situation her nature wants to avoid. By first accepting herself, embracing her “true colors,” she can then spread this acceptance and begin the manifestation of an Integrated Universe.
I was almost able to finish this painting last night – and maybe I did. I’ll have to look again tonight with fresh eyes. I’ll let you know…
A Deer study
For the past week, I have not been in my studio to paint. Nor have I written in my Art Journal. A weeklong visit with my youngest daughter and my two-month old grandson kept me happily preoccupied. But that is not to say I haven’t been thinking of painting; I’ve snuck into my studio a few times and looked at the Wolf painting, which waits patiently for me to be ready. I don’t feel ready though. The work I need to do with Wolf requires limber creative muscles! So tonight, my first night back to brushes and paints, palette and canvas, I’ll start a new painting and wait until Wolf howls with clarity.
My plan is to continue with my Birth Totem paintings. Deer has been wandering through my dreams and emerging from the shadows of my peripheral vision. Perhaps Deer will materialize tonight on my canvas. As I write this, I have to chuckle a little, having just read Keith Bond’s latest article in Fine Art Views about being so focused on what you think you are inspired to paint that you miss the opportunity to paint what truly inspires you. So I’ll make a promise to myself to not have tunnel vision, and to let myself be open to possibilities.
I’ll let you know how it goes!
Painting aftr Session 3
Session Three: When I started painting tonight, the rear legs still looked off, so I re-drew again and then painted in some darker and lighter values in the legs. I’m still not thrilled with how they look, but decided I was putting way too much emphasis on what is “wrong” and not looking at the big picture, which is mostly “right.”
I had a hard time tonight getting into that space where the painting talks to me. I couldn’t seem to relax into the painting process. Even though I felt like I was painting with some confidence, using thicker, bolder strokes. I’ve covered up much of the transparent under painting, with its beautiful rivulets of pure color. The painting looks more like the study now. I decided to keep the painting part of Session Three short, and spent some time on the couch in my studio (with dogs Jackson and Taahlyn laying next to me) just looking at the painting.
When I paint Animals, I am trying to initiate a dialog between the Viewer and the Animal. I paint realistically, in that the Animal is correctly proportioned. But I’m not going for an exact representation of the Animal as it appears on the physical plane. I’m more looking for a way to reach into the soul of the Animal, and for the Animal to reach back into my soul so that communication, true understanding, can begin. And then hopefully that will transfer to the Viewer and open in the Viewer a pathway to the Wild that lives within.
Wolf Painting - close up
I’ve been thinking a lot about focus lately. It is all a part of my attempt to simplify my life and my paintings in order prioritize and focus (there’s that word again!) on what is really important. One of the best ways for me to gain clarity is to journal, and so I’ve been keeping a painting journal – writing about the process of painting. There are many blogs out there that tell you how to market your work, how to stay motivated. But I haven’t seen many – or maybe any – that provide insight into the creative process of the artist.
Last year I started writing about the journey to becoming a full-time artist. It quickly became apparent that I had to focus on finding my own voice, my identity. I worked hard on painting from my heart, letting go of the pressure to produce art that would sell, or art that was popular, or what someone else was doing. What happened when I let go truly astounded me. That is when my totem animal series began, and through the series I continue to refine my voice. What follows is an excerpt from my journal as I work on my latest Wolf painting.
The first excerpt is from my second session painting the Totem Animal Wolf. I am working from a reference photograph and a small 8x8 study that I painted. In the first session, I had sketched in the basic pose of the wolf, and had blocked in values using transparent washes of Gamblin ultramarine blue, quinacridone magenta, brown-pink and napthol red.
“ Session Two: As I was painting tonight, it felt like the Wolf was communicating with me – encouraging me, like a Teacher. I started the second session by painting in the eyes. I’m not sure yet what gender Wolf wants to be. But it doesn’t seem to matter; both aspects of masculine and feminine are present. The eyes, one leaning toward a green-gold and the other a reddish-yellow, seem to look right into mine. But not in an intimidating way; rather, an open, confident, accepting way.
I knew at the close of Session One that my initial drawing was off, especially in the rear end. After painting the eyes, I worked on wiping out areas that weren’t working and re-drawing, getting angles and lengths corrected. And I thought I’d never use high school geometry! (The concepts of wiping out whole passages of painting and re-drawing were learned from both Michelle Torrez and Patti André. It took me a long time to be able to wipe stuff out without feeling a sense of panic.) When I felt myself losing concentration (that’s when I start dabbling paint…) I quit for the night.
With this series, it is like I am finally in the zone. By painting the same animal over and over, using the same technique, and the same palette, I feel a strength of purpose and a real connectedness to the work. "Buffalo Sun" is number seven in the series - number eight is nearly finished. The more I read about the Buffalo as a totem animal - a spirit guide - the more I am convinced that I am on the right path.
Click here for more information on the painting, "Buffalo Sun."
Playing with Paint!
Visual journaling is painting from the right side of the brain, suspending the analytical side for a while (send your left brain on an errand!) My coach suggested painting with tempera paints on big sheets of white craft paper, tacked up to the wall. Since tempera paints and craft paper are inexpensive, your left brain won’t be able to complain that you are wasting precious “good” paints and substrates. The other thing is you won’t get too attached. As in, “hey, this is actually turning out pretty good. I think I may have a decent painting here…” You don’t want to do that. Because the minute you start thinking that way, the left brain starts whispering “don’t screw it up.” That defeats the whole purpose.
The purpose is to freely paint whatever comes into your mind. Are you mad about something? Paint it! Are you feeling silly? Paint it! Remembering a weird dream? You know what to do…
A funny thing happens when you allow yourself to just experiment and have fun. You try new things, you take chances. Sure you end up with some pretty hideous stuff. Who cares? Because you will also end up with some gems. Maybe a new color combination. Maybe a new brush stroke. Or maybe you’ll discover using your fingers or a rag or letting paint drip.
Try starting out every session in your studio with 15 minutes of visual journaling. Or try it when you are feeling blocked. Just like writing in a journal, visual journaling will help unlock the doors and windows to your creativity and your artistic voice.
Imagine you are about four years old, wearing your smock and standing in front of an easel, contemplating the big white piece of paper that beckons you to dip your brush in tempera paint and make a mark!
The paper is your world, it can be anything! Perhaps without conscious thought, you choose a color, and with a flourish of your arm (dripping paint on the floor) you stroke a bold line across the paper. Another dip of the brush, perhaps into a different color, and another confident mark. Dots, lines, thick strokes, thin – a flower, a bird, a whirling kaleidoscope of colors cover the paper. You step back. You are finished with this painting. You ask for a new piece of paper and begin again.
Invite your four-year old self to paint. No judgments, no pre-conceived notions, no goals (other than to have fun). Go ahead, make mud!
Land, Sea and Sky
The interesting thing about finding one’s artistic voice is this – its not really lost. Perhaps hidden (did you look behind the milk?) or misplaced (I have no idea why I put the car keys in the silverware drawer!) or put away (you know, in that place where it'll be safe.) But not lost.
Your artistic voice is not something that you have to buy and it’s not something that someone can teach you. Although the right materials and techniques play into communicating your voice effectively, the thing that makes your paintings uniquely yours is something that grows inside you like a seed, informed by your life experiences, shaped by your temperament, nourished by your soul. It is a passion for something, a unique way of seeing that is entirely your own perspective. Your artistic voice is something you are born with.
I believe all people are born with this kernel of self-truth within them, but as we become self-aware, the kernel it is hidden by layers and layers of self-protection, encrusted in doubts, fears and the distractions of living. Only those of us who are artists – whether we are visual artists, writers, dancers, actors or musicians - have this compulsion to peal back the layers to find that pearl of universal truth that we carry inside. When we’ve found that truth, if we can communicate it, others will resonate with it.
So one leg of the journey to “finding one’s artistic voice” is the journey within, to find what it is we passionately want to communicate to the world. How do we discover this? One way is writing in a journal. In her book, “The Artist’s Way,” Julia Cameron encourages readers to write three pages in a journal everyday for twelve weeks in order to break creative blocks. In this journal you write about anything, everything and sometimes nothing. I had a couple of days where I truly wrote about nothing, as in “I have nothing to say today. I am unmotivated to write. This is stupid…” The funny thing is, about 1-1/2 pages of writing Nothing, Something would just about write itself on the pages, usually something I had no idea in my conscious mind that I was thinking about.
In Part Five, I’ll talk about the other leg of journey to finding one’s artistic voice – visual journaling to find the outward expression of the inner passion.
When my creativity coach asked me what I wanted to accomplish in our sessions, I told her I wanted to find my own voice. She asked me to define this. That threw me for a loop. Wasn’t it obvious? But the more I thought about it, the more I understood the wisdom of her question. I wasn’t really sure what I meant. At first I thought, it’s having my own style. So that someone could look at a painting and know I did it. But then I thought, no, it is more than that. It is being able to convey through my paintings an emotion, a passion, a connection. I wanted my paintings to transcend the “pretty picture” and spark the spiritual embers inside the viewer. I wanted to say something with my paintings well enough that viewers would “get it.”
All very well and good, but what did I want to say? And could I say it painting landscapes, barns, horses, cows, goats and birds? Or did I need to narrow my focus with a series?
I had been working on a series called “Equine Spirit” for over a year, using the horse as a metaphor for the power, energy, emotion and passion of nature. What I had discovered in the process is that the horse was also a metaphor for my own spiritual growth. As I worked with my coach, I realized that part of my confusion with my voice had more to do with my ability to project my voice, rather than not knowing what to say. And it had to do with my fear of rejection. Which, of course, is tied into my confidence in my self.
She asked me if I ever painted “just for fun.” I wasn’t sure what she meant. Painting is fun for me (also frustrating, elating, depressing, joyful, angry - and every other emotion you can possibly think of!) No, she said, I mean do you ever just play with paint? See what comes out when you are not trying to create a “real” painting?
I had to think about that.
The answer was, no, I never just played. I sometimes painted intuitively, just putting paint on a canvas with no real idea of where it would go. But in the end, I’d always know I was creating a Painting. And there were certain standards that I imposed upon myself. And judgments. Is it good? Does this look right? Will anyone like it? (that is the worst question – anticipating the judgment of some faceless art critic!)
So my assignment was to do what my coach called “visual journaling.” I was to get some butcher paper and some tempera paint, tape large pieces of paper to the wall of my studio and just paint. These paintings would never be Paintings. They would just be experiments with color, composition, brush stroke and subject. They didn’t have to be Good. No one but me would ever see them. And so I was able to paint freely, without censorship, with child-like abandon. This wasn’t my Work, it was Play! And it was Fun!
And interestingly, what I learned in Play translated to what I wanted to accomplish in my Work.
My brushstrokes became looser and bolder. I began to “let go” of paintings that weren’t working – sometimes wiping out five hours of painting. My compositions began to get more abstract – I finally “saw” the composition as a framework for the painting. (Before, I thought the other way around – I saw a good composition as the result of placing separate objects in the right place, not as the underpinning and structure for the painting as a whole. I try not to analyze too much why I never “got” the concept of composition as a foundation for a painting. But suddenly, it is like the proverbial light bulb was turned on.)
In my next blog, I’ll talk about the next steps in “finding my voice.”
We started out by defining my goals – everything from goals relating to my personal life to goals in my creative life. (They are definitely inter-related.) These goals were further broken down into immediate goals – changes I could make RIGHT NOW; short-term goals – what I could accomplish in two months; to mid-range goals – what I could accomplish in a year; long-term goals – where I want to be in five years. Then the goals were prioritized – not so much in order of importance, but in sequential order – this has to be done before this, etc. Seemingly elementary, but for me, who tends to react rather than plan, it was huge.
Because my coaching sessions were done via email, all this had to be written down. The act of putting on paper (or the computer screen in this case!) what my goals were somehow mad them more tangible, more real. These were not just some ethereal dreams, they were honest-to-goodness, solid GOALS. And because they are “real,” they are attainable.
I have to point out that this was nothing "new" to me. I've had mentors tell me this before. But somehow, being held accountable - this was an assignment, I had to do it - really helped me.
Organizing and writing down my goals somehow relieved some of my stress. “I have a goal…and a roadmap. I’m not lost!” Next, we started working on creativity. My creative goal was to find my own voice. My creativity coach questioned me. What do you mean by “your own voice?” I’m not sure if I even know what I meant by that at first.
In my next blog, I’ll talk a bit about what finding my own voice came to mean to me.
The Direction of My Dreams
I just finished up a two-month consultation with a creativity coach.
Let me start out by saying I am in many ways a successful artist. I am represented by three (soon to be four) galleries, enjoy decent sales and have a style of painting that is uniquely my own. But I am not satisfied. I want more. I want to improve my painting skills. I want to be represented on Canyon Road in Santa Fe. I want to have articles written about my work. I want to be invited to show my work at the Coors Invitational Art Show in Denver. But what I want, more than all those things, is to pursue my passion full time.
And so the Journey toward full-time art began. And I was feeling overwhelmed. Like I was on some kind of warped reality show called Art Jenga. The goal was to be a full-time artist able to support myself from the sale of my paintings. The clock was ticking and all the building blocks to my goal were stacked up. Each block represented a step on the path to being a self-supporting full time artist. The challenge was to figure out the sequential order for pulling out the blocks so the whole thing wouldn’t come tumbling down.
There were marketing blocks and creative blocks and personal blocks and technical skill blocks and confidence blocks and just plain life blocks. And within each block, more blocks that had to be removed in a way to not undermine the structural integrity of the goal. For instance, to pull out the “spend $1500 on a Southwest Art ad” before pulling out the “master composition” block would result in the structure falling down. Pulling out the “Seek high end gallery representation” block before “Have a cohesive body of work” block had the same result.
Those examples seem pretty clear. Less clear is “Quit my day job.” Would quitting my day job give me more time to paint, thus allowing me to move more quickly to “find my own voice” and “get high end gallery representation?” Would that send the structure tumbling to the floor (even artists have to eat and pay their bills!)?
I realized I needed to analyze the situation and evaluate where I was. But I was paralyzed with uncertainty and doubt.
Now in this game of Art Jenga, I am allowed to call in “life-lines.” Such is the nature of the game that there are no pre-determined number of life-lines you can use. The challenge is to recognize when you need them, and when to trust your own guts. My first life-line was Patti Frinzi, a creativity coach and artist from California. In this case I trusted in synchronicity. While I was grappling with all this confusion, a friend sent me a link to website that was offering free creativity coaching to a select number of applicants. I applied, and was accepted into the program.
In Part Two, I’ll share my experiences with my creativity coach life-line.