Blog . . . or maybe a Newsletter? Journal?
The truth is, I rarely read blogs and have little desire to create my own. I'd much rather be at the easel than at the keyboard. Having said that, there are times when I'd like to pass along information, ideas, resources, or musings to others. Call it a sporadic blog or an occasional newsletter. . . I'll try to post something every month, depending on my schedule. If you'd like to receive it directly, you can subscribe by sending me a note on the Contact page. Remember to include your email address!
November 2012: Who said it's supposed to be easy?
[from a submission to the Creativity Coaches Association website]
From the moment we begin making art, we are confronted with the challenge and necessity of mastering our craft. Although we know the task is unavoidable, we often wish we could bypass the hard work and somehow magically acquire the needed knowledge and skills. We wish, in essence, that it would be EASY. Even artists who have years of experience can fall prey to the fantasy that, as soon as we master this technique or acquire that ability, the work will finally become easier. But if we’re honestly living the life of an artist and constantly striving to grow, we find that learning takes place only on our edge, in the unknown, where we always will struggle and often fail. And that’s not easy. Nor is it meant to be.
Some artists never stop growing. They are always on their edge, working hard to expand the knowledge of their craft and the depth of their art. (Cezanne comes immediately to mind.) And some artists taste a bit of success or mastery, stop growing, sit back, and crank out the same old stuff year after year. (I name no names.) What is it that drives those artists who never stop growing, who are willing to resist the siren song of the “easy” and continue to work hard year after year? One ingredient may be their biologically hard-wired personality; another may be their upbringing. But there’s one crucial element that they all share: they are passionately committed to what they are doing--it’s deeply meaningful! For these artists, the discomfort they feel as they push themselves to grow is always less than the discomfort they would experience doing safe and facile but meaningless work. In other words, creating authentic art is more important to them than their emotional, psychological, or financial comfort. Day in and day out in the studio, their passion trumps their fear.
We need to let go of the fantasy that art-making should be easy. Exhilarating, yes. Deeply meaningful, of course. Frequently frustrating and even terrifying, you bet. But easy, no. If you've been seduced by that little dream, wake yourself up by finding work that is deeply, richly, and enticingly meaningful.
September 2012: On Plein Air Painting.
Painting plein air is substantially different from painting in the studio. Painting in the studio is like cross-country skiing. It's deliberate and methodical. We take one step at a time with our focus on the far destination, a goal that is often visible during the entire, slow process.
Plein air painting is skiing downhill at a blistering pace on a narrow, twisting run that always seems to be rated one level above our ability. It’s risky and unpredictable and crazy and frequently ends in crashes that are anything but pretty. So why do so many representational painters do it?
There are probably as many reasons to paint plein air as there are artists. All my reasons can be reduced to this: painting plein air is unparalleled training for the eye, the head, and the heart.
Those of us who paint in the studio invariably rely on photographs. They’re often an important and necessary resource for painters. But even the most expensive camera can’t compete with the astonishing sensitivity of the human eye. It’s through repeated painting in front of raw nature that we train the eye to see clearly and sensitively and consequently we learn the limitations of the camera. We discover that a camera cannot capture many of the subtle tonal and color relationships found in nature nor the way in which light reveals form. Painting plein air vastly expands our visual vocabulary as we become much more knowledgeable and skilled in seeing and understanding tone, color, and the interplay of light and form.
Paintings created en plein air fail at a much higher rate than studio paintings. There’s no avoiding it. But it’s tough to fail. No one enjoys looking like a rank beginner. Failing repeatedly gives our self-confidence a thrashing and then goes for our jugular as it inevitably evokes anxiety and fear.
Simply put, plein air painting is superb fear training. It will show us how we manifest and react to fear—all those subtle little games we play with ourselves to avoid feeling the uncomfortable emotions of fear and anxiety. When a painting begins to fall apart during a plein air session, do we succumb to the temptation to fall back into safe, formulaic, painting? To avoid the uncomfortable feelings of fear, do we shut our eyes and crank out safe, predictable, and boring images that reinforce our belief that we’re in control? Instead, why not use plein air painting to help us learn to recognize, understand, and then manage our fears? We can learn to keep a beginner’s mind and an open eye—looking intently and freshly at the visual information in front of us—even while our mind is in panic mode and is throwing a fit. Managing our fears and trusting in the process is no guarantee that the painting will succeed but it does guarantee that we’ll have an opportunity to learn and come out of the experience as a better painter. It’s precisely when our paintings fail that we can learn the most and plein air painting is a brutally honest teacher—it takes all of our artistic limitations and sticks them in our face. If we can manage our fear and continue to paint honestly, then our failures will help us become stronger and more skilled painters. And then they're no longer failures.
Painting outdoors will invariably attract the curious. Occasionally, at the end of a conversation (hopefully brief!), a bystander will say something like, “But even when a painting doesn’t work out, isn’t it great to be outside in this beautiful scene?” Yes, it truly is. Whether or not the painting is destined for the wall of the gallery or the trash can in the garage, in the seeing that accompanies the painting there is often a fading away of the sense of self and a merging with the beauty of this world. In the process of painting our eyes can open like never before to the miraculous interplay of color and light and texture. Then the awareness moves beyond the visual as we get lost in the joy of feeling wind on the face, the incredible music of moving water and dancing leaves, and the feeling oneself as being an integral part of it all. Painting on location gives us the opportunity to see this world in ways that others can’t even image. What a parade of miracles is passing in front of us! We end our plein air session, clean up, and return to the studio, shutting the door behind us and pulling out the paints and canvas—one more time—but now with with a greatly expanded appreciation for and awareness of this world and this crazy but precious activity we call painting.
[from a submission to the Creativity Coaches Association website]
Patiently Sow – Trust in the Harvest
If you were to ask successful artists to list the most important qualities that are needed in order to create to our full potential, patience would surely be near the top of every list. And nowhere is the ability to remain patient so necessary as in the slow maturing of our skills. Whether we require skills of drawing, writing, painting, or composing, the time needed for them to reach an adequate level of expertise is measured in years. The proverbial 10,000 hours of work is not an exaggeration. Being willing to work diligently, year after year, requires a great deal of patience, particularly in regard to our individual rate and style of learning.
Each of us is on a unique trajectory of growth. What we learn, how we learn, and when we’re ready to learn will differ among us. Sometimes we're ready for the information offered by a teacher and sometimes we're not. And sometimes the information offered by one teacher will be incomprehensible to us yet the identical information by another will click only because it's given to us in a different way. We need to become aware of our specific learning styles while simultaneously exposing ourselves to as many different and varied ways and opportunities of learning as possible. Because we can never foresee the moment when we’ll be ready and open to a teaching that will lead to dramatic growth, we should expose ourselves to new information constantly. We should never stop learning. So read books, attend workshops and lectures, and watch videos. Discover your learning style and dedicate yourself to learning. Create your work diligently, measure it against what you’re learning, and patiently trust that the moment will come when new information will make perfect sense. Having exposed yourself to a new teaching or concept, it will remain within you. And when you're ready for it, it will take root in you and flourish.