How I Found Time

Just playing on paper on the new easel.
Just playing on paper on the new easel.

Actually the phrase “found time” is ridiculous. As far as I know there are only 24 hours in a day. The biggest difference is how you use your time.

I Get Up Early

My husband and I get up at 5 a.m. No we are not runners or photographers who like the morning light. We are grandparents who want to make certain our grandsons are cared for until school begins at 8:15 a.m. and this particular daughter can get to her job as a health care professional by 7 a.m.

While occasionally it feels a little like a burden, that is rarely the case.  It usually feels like a gift—a gift of time we hadn’t counted on. And while we do this only four days a week, we tend to maintain the schedule most days. I get the luxury of the “extra” time every day, but my husband gets the “benefit” of an hour with his grandson. We wish this were the case for all three of them.

I Do Not Focus on Emails

On the days we linger in bed until 5:30 a.m., we both get to enjoy the quiet of the morning. This  means we can get things done without the interruption of phone calls. My husband writes music and reads, and I try to spend as much of this time as possible in my studio reading, writing, and painting. With no one else up you feel that you are hours ahead of most everyone else. I also know artists that paint at night, usually after 10 p.m. Again, it is quiet and they can focus on the brush strokes, the colors, the composition without a plea for their attention.

Of course, there are days I get to paint a lot more, but this morning time is time I can generally count on. The trick is that to accomplish this, I must not look at emails or facebook, etc. until at least 9 a.m. or at the very least be disciplined enough to limit myself to 10 minutes. It is way too easy even for me to get sucked in to the magic hole of the internet.

I Still Get 8 Hours Sleep

Trust me; I am not suggesting you get less sleep. You will find us in bed by at least 9:30 p.m. almost every night and often before that. In the end, it is a matter of choice. Finding time is about prioritizing and rescheduling. So while our choice is eliminating most television and a bunch of internet, it may not work for others.

I Focus on the Rewards

Even if it is an hour a day, for me it is worth the rearrangement of a few things. The older I get the more I hate hurrying and hassle, so anything that makes life a little calmer is worth trying. And believe me, the time I get provides pleasure, insight, and sanity. Not bad rewards.

Creative Source or Distraction?

The large bulletin board that occupies a wall in my studio. Today it’s a mishmash.

What I stare at each morning before I begin work is the huge bulletin board pictured here (about 4’ x 8’). It once occupied my studio at McColl Center for  Art + Innovation when I was fortunate enough to spend 11 months there as a resident several years back. Later I decided to hang it in my home studio.

Throwbacks Can Be Helpful

While the contents change from time to time, the simple structure and its flexibility does help to keep me focused—and inspired. I’m sure there is an app for doing the same thing, but I still need the quality of touch. We know writing something down helps us remember. And as a former writing instructor, I believe something happens between yours eyes and fingers and your brain.

When I look up this morning, the bulletin board contains in the center a picture of my brother who died last year and to the side photographs of my mother and me when she was less confused. There are quotes that inspire me, and awards that gratify me. Artwork by my grandsons is tacked along the bottom. It is a mishmash today. I doubt that I would focus anyway this close to Christmas, but I have noticed that it helps to constantly look at elements of my current projects.

Sometimes the Switch Is Always “On”

It is amazing to me how many artist friends say that they are ADD, that they have difficulty focusing. I’m showing my age here, but I’m not certain there was such a diagnosis when I was in elementary school or perhaps it was the small size of my school. From the comments on my early report cards I certainly had the symptoms of this “ability.” I won’t call it a disability because as current research indicates,  it is just seeing the world from a different perspective—and don’t we all do that in some manner. 

From the second grade on my report cards would say,“Patricia can not seem to sit still and focus. She will wad up clean paper just to get up and throw it in the trash.” In the third grade, there were at least three comments about talking too much. The final was “Patricia is a good student but she does entirely too much talking!” Talking continued to be a problem for me. It wasn’t until high school that I became really good student and surprised many teachers by being a member of the National Honor Society. I had figured out a few ways to focus that worked for me. Go figure.

So this large bulletin board is my saving grace for both creativity and focus. If I only want to think about color, I can fill it with color. If there is a subject that interests me, I can pin up everything about it (and I help the pushpin manufacturers).

But for right now, the bulletin board is a jumble of all sorts of ideas and so is my brain. All I want to know is how many more days until Christmas.

Church Can Be An Art Blessing

I’m really glad I went to church today. I discovered an incredibly inspiring artist who painted more than 7 decades ago.

helene_schjerfbeck_-_self_portrait_1942
Helene Schjerfbeck, Self portrait 1942

I’m really glad I went to church today. Yes, it’s always a comforting place where I can find friends and words that normally uplift me in this crazy, confused world. And today, I found an incredibly inspiring artist: Finish artist Helene Schjerfbeck (1862 – 1946).

I guess I should explain that in our Unitarian Universalist Church we use art, music and poetry every Sunday. When we removed a hand-made tapestry from behind the pulpit several years ago and added a large projection screen, I was concerned that we were becoming too computerized and maybe a bit cold. But they use this wide-screen to project poetry, words of songs, and yes, art every Sunday!

An Artist That Inspires

My newest artist that inspires painted more than 7 decades ago, and while she is best known for her early realistic paintings, the ones that mesmerized me are her later paintings that are nearly abstract images.

While unknown to me, Helene Schjerfbeck is a Finnish national icon. Her early style was very naturalistic, honed during her studies in France. Her talent was recognized early and she was widely traveled However, in her later years she spent much of her time in a quieter atmosphere.

Next year (2019), the Royal Academy of Arts will exhibit over 60 of her portraits, landscapes and still lifes. Their exhibit publicity calls this a “long-overdue survey  that traces the evolution of her remarkable career.” They plan to highlight a sequence of her self-portraits, which they believe reveal her “lifelong fascination with the physical and psychological process of aging”—what lies beneath the skin and bones.

Influences of My Current Work

I too have found that as the years pass, I am simplifying my paintings. While a lot goes in at the beginning, much gets covered up and painted over. I am finding I must be honest and clear about my intent, and I must spend a lot of time journaling and observing. It is not linear, but rather a process that allows for overlap—a back and forth, a push and pull, an addition and reduction approach.

In particular, I am observing women artists because I believe they are best at distilling ideas and objects to their essence. This is a challenge I have given myself: to find what means the most to me and to simplify the imagery until only the important elements remain.

Naming Our Children

Like most artists, paintings are somewhat like my children. I have a lot of time and effort and angst invested in them. So I want to send them into the world well equipped for any struggles they might encounter.

 

IMG_20180922_085638029
Untitled, “10 x 8” Mixed media on paper

Continue reading “Naming Our Children”

A Touching Story

I’m not alone in my love of texture. There are those of you out there just trying to control your urges every time you visit a gallery or museum.

texturebeforesanding copy
A textured panel ready for sanding.

I know you aren’t suppose to touch a painting, but one of these days I’m going to create an entire wall of paintings and a large sign that says “Go Ahead; I Know You Want To Touch It.”

Obviously, I’m not alone in my love of texture. There are those of you out there just trying to control your urges every time you visit a gallery or museum. And there are painters who apply paint so liberally that their yearly cost of paint is probably a budget I could live on (Brian Rutenberg).

In my world, texture comes in two varieties: tactile and visual (though I now understand there is a 3rd variety, hypertexture.) I spend weeks developing this texture, and often wonder why we say “don’t touch” when we spend so much time perfecting something. Perhaps it just becomes too precious.

Building Texture

My first love was physical texture, the variety that you could build up with all types of materials including wood, gesso, and gypsum. I am still enamored by it, just as I am also fascinated by rocks and stones that show so much beauty and energy in their layers. But the time I am able to spend in the natural world has also made me value visual texture as well. For example, the variation in leaf patterns and veining that we are able to see so much clearer in the fall when the leaves turn colors, the variations in the bark on different types of trees, the wisps and furls on clouds.

I think there is a subtle difference in the types of tactile texture. Architectural surfaces are often rectilinear and their texture is often controlled, perhaps by the materials they are using or because their textures must be structural. But some architects (think Antonio Gaudi or Frank Gehry) and many artists crave textures that are more organic and built layer by layer by adding to a surface slowly.

I experienced some of the challenges of structure in my 3-dimensional pieces with added wood as well as gypsum. While they have more of an architectural quality, I want them viewed as both stable and ever-changing at the same time. I use the wood elements to develop a bit of direction and movement. Then after sealing the wood I add gypsum and press in found objects for the tactile texture.

Texture With Emotion

Why are some artists drawn to color or composition and others to texture? Could it be artistic DNA or just individual choice? Obviously all of these elements must be incorporated into a successful painting. So how did I get from a flat undecorated surface to two-and three-dimensional paintings? Slowly, very slowly.

For my work on wood panels it is important that I anticipate the emotional quality of my texture. When I make markings in the gesso or gypsum surface, my goal is to create movement and foreshadow the emotion of the piece. Once the texture is prepared, dried, and sanded, then comes the moment of truth. It is the under painting that reveals all— the type of tactile texture and where I can best embellish or create more. It is just the beginning, just the start of the excitement.

And the next question: “when is a little too much.” (That’s Part 2)

 

 

Lost-and-Found

Thomas Merton is quoted as saying “art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

Mill Shoals Falls,  Brevard, NC
The video “Connections to Nature” shows my paintings and their inspiration. Follow the link: https://www.patriciasteeleraible.com/videos.

Inspiration

Where do you get your inspiration? It’s a common question for artists. For me, inspiration comes from many sources. Sometimes ideas come from reading, listening to others, or writing in my journal. Other times it is both as simple and as complex as being overwhelmed by my feelings as I watch waves cut trenches into the sand at high tide or water cascading over rocks from 30 feet above me. And lately it seems, much of my inspiration comes from nature.

The Painting Process

Thomas Merton is quoted as saying “art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” With my art based in nature, I find the opposite is true. I usually loose myself first and then find myself again in the painting process. And I do mean loose (set myself free). It is a back and forth, pull and push process that can be frustrating at times, rewarding at others.

My nature paintings are usually based on specific places, but they are not unlike other similar locations. In fact, it is this sameness that interests me most—the connections between what is visible and what is below the surface. It is this connection between the physical aspects of the place and the emotional reaction of the viewer that I hope to capture.

It is difficult to explain what happens during the painting process. I am creating my version of the waterfall, the trees, or the seashells at low tide. But as an abstract artist I am not replicating them. Rather, I am striving to duplicate or even elevate the “experience” of walking up that tight, rugged trail to the summit of Mt. Mitchell. I want the viewer to have the impression of being surrounded by fir trees on both sides and sweating from the effort of climbing over roots and rock. I want them to feel the connections, that oneness with what surround us.

Coming Together

Painting is my method of working out ideas and their relationships to one another. It is a mystery or a puzzle to be solved. Often there is resolution. Other times the search continues, and I paint the same ideas over and over. But ultimately it is all a part of the great energy that is within us and that surrounds us.

Unfinished

Does unfinished artwork provide insight into the creative process?

paul-cc3a9zanne-la-montagne-sainte-victoire-vue-des-lauves2La Montagne Sainte Victoire vue des Lauves, 1901 – 06, Paul Cézanne

 

Is an artwork ever finished? Some artist can say yes, sign it, and let it go out into the world. Others, unless (it goes into the world) will keep changing and refining it. So we have finish as in “complete” and finish as in “process.”

When I did a little research I found that Paul Cezanne was among the painters who left many paintings incomplete. One historian blamed some of this on his analytical methods and his use of thickly placed layers of paint since it likely took months to finish any piece. But editors of a book called Cezanne Finished- Unfinished explain that the unfinished areas were possibly experimental at first but were later deliberate and provide us with insight into his creative process.

This all started because I am constantly “finishing”—one of those who fits both definitions. Just a few days ago I decided that a small portion of a large painting that had been hanging for at least two months wasn’t right. A shape in the corner seemed to lead your eye off the page so of course I had to fix it. And now it is “finished” again.