Finding My Voice

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This is Part Three of a series of blogs about the Journey to becoming a Full-time Artist. 

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.”

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Thursday dawned misty and cool , with a wind out of the east, announced  melodically by the chimes on my deck.. A weird vibe in the air; somehow unsettling. By late morning, storm clouds hung low, gray and menacing over much of the area. By noon, the first reports of tornadoes hit the airwaves. By all accounts a most unusual occurance for these parts - we in the Fort Collins area are usually protected from tornadoes by our close proximity to the Rocky Mountains. Our prevailing northwesterly winds are usually too far aloft over our town - the storms that spawn tornadoes grow and explode to our east, over the plains. But on Thursday the winds came from the southeast, and like the Wizard of Oz's Wicked Witch of the East, brought with it a storm that gave birth to several tornadoes - one that was reported to be nearly a mile wide, packing 168 mph winds and several smaller but destructive funnels. One came within 800 feet of my home, destroying farm buildings and the roof of the fire station as it blew blindly to the west. Compared to the disasters in Burma and China, our storm was just a tiny blip on the radar screen. And yet, there is something about the power of Mother Nature, with her random fury and equally random mercy that reminds me that we, as humans, are not as in control of things as we like to believe.

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Defining Goals



 In my last blog I talked about being confused in my art life, and feeling like I was on some kind of weird reality show. I enlisted the help of a creativity coach to help me organize the steps needed to attain my goals. 

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.

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Art Jenga - a Reality Game for Artists

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The Direction of My Dreams

This is Part One of a series of blogs about the Journey toward becoming a Full Time Artist.

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. 

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Where's the Beef?

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I've been painting a lot of cows lately. I've had the good fortune of getting seven cd's worth of photographs from a ranch in Montana to use as reference, and I'm having a blast. I find it interesting that as I'm painting more cows, especially these cows that are free range, living in harmony with other herds - elk and deer - that I almost get a sense of them before domestication.

When we think of cattle today, we mostly think of them as dumb animals. Some of that has been bred into them - after all, dumb animals are easier to control. As I'm painting the cattle from the ranch, I notice that they are leaner than the cattle I'm used to seeing in feedlots. It doesn't take a big stretch of the imagination to picture them more like the deer and elk that share the pristine meadows of Montana. There is an intelligence in their eyes.

Which gets me thinking about the beef we eat, and the lives the cattle live before sacrificing their lives. And how much better it is for all if the cattle are respected and treated humanely and allowed to live in natural settings, not some overcrowded, unsanitary and stressful feedlot. The ranch whose cattle I'm painting has it right I think. The cattle are fed only grass and corn. No steroids. No hormones. No antibiotics. They are moved from place to place on the ranch on horseback - no stress of ATV's and pickup trucks. And when it is time for slaughter (not a nice word, but that is the reality of it) they are taken to a facility that uses Temple Grandin's humane chute system. Perhaps not as stress free as slaughter on the home farm, but I think they are moving in the right direction.

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The Art of Acceptance

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According to some Native American traditions, May’s Moon is the Corn Planting  moon. It's meditation is Acceptance. Why waste time stressing over things you cannot change? In a year, will what’s upsetting you now still matter? Or will it have resolved itself? I know myself that I waste a lot of energy stressing over things that will work themselves out on their own. I worry about my children, things going on in the world, money – the list goes on and on. But if I think back on what I was worried about last year, or even last month, I can see that what I stressed over either happened or it didn’t. My worrying made no impact: everything has worked itself out in its own way. Maybe not the way I had wanted, but in many cases better than I could have imagined. It is hard for me to accept that most things are out of my control. The only things I can control are my actions and my reactions. 

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The Joy of Painting with Children

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In the last couple of weeks, I've had two opportunities to paint in front of kids. The first time, I was the "demo" artist at a local elemtary school's second grade art show. The art teacher set the gym up for the art opening, and parents, grandparents and siblings were invited to view the wonderful works the kids had done in their art classes. She wanted the kids to have the opportunity to see a "real" artist painting, and to ask me questions about my process and my life as an artist.

I was amazed by the questions the young artists asked - they were thoughtful and enthusiastic and seemed genuinely enthralled by my painting process. They wanted to know how long I'd been painting. How I knew what I wanted to paint. How I chose colors.

I found that an interesting thing happened. As I answered their questions, I kept painting, but I wasn't really thinking about painting, at least not on a conscious level. It was like I was using my analytical side to answer their questions while my intuitive side kept the brush going. The resulting painting was loose, spontaneous and fresh. I had several offers to purchase it (I ended up donating it to the art class.)

Then my grandchildren spent the weekend with my husband and I. They are 5 and 7 (or "5 and a half" and "almost 8" as they like to tell me.) The kids wanted to paint, so we went to Jerry's Artarama and bought 16x20 canvas panels and brushes and acrylic paints. We came home and set up in my studio (luckily, I have three easels.) As they dove into the painting process, full of enthusiasm over using real easels and real paints and real canvas, I decided to dive into painting with the same abandon. 

I didn't worry about making a mistake, or even creating a painting that would be "good." I just painted with joy. We were silly, we danced, we got paint all over, we talked about painting, and brushes having "bad hair days." We had a blast. And we created some very fun paintings. One of them evolved into the painting shown here.

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