It’s that time of year. Spring. You know—in with the new, out with the old.
Checking the studio supply cabinet, I found ten jars I didn’t recognize. Lined up in front of me, I have to ask: when did I buy that? It can’t have been ten years ago.
But you know how we creative types love to experiment. We tell ourselves unless we try things out, we won’t know if we like them. (Which is true, but don’t I understand moderation.) For good measure, I also tell myself that a new brush or paint could make all the difference in my painting.
Today I spent the afternoon trying out various supplies with a hodge-podge of found objects from paint trays to pill packaging to test out the types of texture and markings they would make on board, heavy paper, and Japanese paper. Can you believe I had four—no five kinds of gesso. Who knew they made so many? (Well you did of course.) And then there were tubes of dried paint.
Where does all this lead? Hopefully to extra space on the shelf and to well, shopping. You know, just a little paint…and maybe more gesso.
Having spent my recent Saturday night at a minor league
baseball game, I have begun thinking that as an artist I am no different than
one of those players dressed in a striped uniform. I too must warm up, size up
the opposition, determine how to play the game, learn from and correct my
mistakes, and still pull off a win before the 9th inning.
Last Saturday we got there a few minutes early and everyone
seemed to be frantically throwing balls to each other. But I could tell something
else was also happening. I knew that with every throw they were also checking
out the opposing players as well. It’s what I do every morning in my studio. I
look at what’s on the easel or table and hope I’ve left myself a note as to my
thinking the day before. If not, I miss the ball and have to chase the grounder.
Do I start by reviewing new art by artists I love? Do I write about the art I
am working on? Do I sketch? Do I start with a collage or just random painting?
Sometimes it feels pretty frantic, so I imagine it looks that way as well. And
yes, at some point during the day, I will definitely check to see what other
artists are up to, though they are not opponents since no one is keeping score.
Right Off the Bat
It is always important to determine direction—to know what to do next. Am I working on a new painting or finishing one that is not yet complete? If I have made mistakes (never…), can I correct them easily or will it stretch into overtime. Every once in a while, a painting will come together quickly. It is probably because I have carried the image around in my head subconsciously for days or weeks. You would think that such a painting would be my home run.
Out of the Ballpark
But my home runs are different. It not a hit the first time I come up to bat. It’s the third or fourth time with 3 balls and 2 strikes. It’s the painting that I struggle with the most and that finally comes together. The others are just base hits, a double or a triple. When you put hours and hours into a piece and it finally feels right—when you know it’s good, that is the home run. Then you really feel as if you’re floating around the bases to home.
Sometimes I do strike out. And every once and while, I give
up on a particular piece. It seems overworked and tired. But I immediately
start again, sometimes on the same piece with a different twist. You see just
like baseball, art gets into your blood. It becomes essential to your everyday
life. There is no season; it’s a year-round pursuit. You are always in
training, always playing the game.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
Actually, there are no mysteries in my studio. There are no special brushes, no perfect paints, no easel at just the right height. It’s not even a huge space. But I am grateful to have a dedicated space in what was once an attic. Still, I work any place I can— table, bench, or floor. And my back testifies to that.
On the Table
Most of my paintings start on the same Home Depot table you probably use at Thanksgiving. You know the fold-up, fold-out variety with the handy carrying strap. My own tables have been used at Christmas—minus the paintings of course. I have added wheels to a couple of them so they can move around easily. An easel that would hold 3-inch deep wood panels would be great, but I haven’t figured that one out yet (How do we accommodate the sides?). In the past couple of years I have been working a bit more on paper, building up texture with paraphernalia and gesso. Because I am often pressing in found objects to create texture, I still need a firm, hard surface.
Beneath My Feet
My artwork is constantly moving— from table to either wall or floor for drying, viewing, and gaining perspective. So while I can hang a cradle to stare at it, I usually use the floor for my work on paper.
If I leave a piece overnight, I must be careful: to be certain to first turn the light on the next morning to avoid stepping on artwork, but most importantly, to pick up all extraneous art materials to avoid enticing the cat (She is easily motivated.).
She will play with and has played with every thing I leave on the floor from paint brushes and charcoal pencils to tubes of paint and bits of fabric. And of course, her personal favorite is string. It has not escaped my notice that a few of my pieces may have cat DNA attached.