Art is definitely a big "go for it" practice. It's a practice of constantly taking a blank page, or canvas, or stone, or space, or whatever you are working with and turn it into something that is not longer blank, or making it different than it once was. It is the practice of putting that thing that that didn't exist before into a space for people to see that it now exists. It is the practice of gestation and labor and birth; and that is not an easy or a small task.
I think that people often imagine that artists just play in their studios all day. That they dance around lightly brushing their canvas with paint as they go. That their days are pure ecstasy and at the end, as if by magic, a piece of art is created.
But making art is work. It is setting down to work when you want to do something else. It is working through the hard spots. It is making mistakes and fixing them. It is knowing when to keep pushing something and when to stop. It is setting down to the same thing over and over and over, and still bringing your whole self to it. There are some days that I've looked at the same image for so long I can't really "see" it anymore.
Don't get me wrong, sometimes painting is one of the most peaceful, joyful, meditative activities; but some days it's like trying to coax a stray dog out from under a porch with a soggy hamburger. Some days I think, "what in the world did I get myself into with this piece, it is never going to be done." But then it is done, and I get to step back and realize that I made that thing, and that every brush stroke was worth it and that there is now something beautiful where there was once something blank, and that in the making I am changed too.
But then it is done, and I get to step back and realize that I made that thing, and that every brush stroke was worth it and that there is now something beautiful where there was once something blank, and that in the making I am changed too.
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I can only be in this moment, in the present, where I actually am. All the worry and anxiety about perfection, and chance, and good or bad luck are nothing. I can only be where I am.
"March 3 2021
There is nowhere else to be, but here.
This morning I went back to sleep after teaching. I slept too long, and I felt groggy and had a hard time waking up. I felt bad about this, and maybe a little about myself-- oscillating between 'I just needed rest and to be kind to myself,' and 'I'm never going to succeed if I don't work harder.'
I finally got myself up and out for a walk-- convinced that it was in vain (as far as photographing wildlife goes). To my surprise in less than a mile I saw a bobcat. He didn't worry much about me. (A lot of animals don't in the Valley. They can be pretty desensitized.) I got quite a few photos- thankful for my luck and thinking [super] early mornings may not be the best/ or at least better. I also got some photos of a small heard of deer in the meadow by the school. I've seen them there before and think wild animals must get into habits just like us.
I had intended to walk out into the big meadow in the middle of the valley, but changed my mind at the last minute. I questioned myself on this, wondering if I'd be missing out on some 'ordained' photo if I veered from my course. How odd a thought, and what a silly anxiety. I think, just like in my morning delay, 'I'm right were I need to be; and where else can I be anyway.' I can only be in this moment, in the present, where I actually am. All the worry and anxiety about perfection, and chance, and good or bad luck are nothing. I can only be where I am.
As I sit here looking at Yosemite Falls I think about water and the relationship between water and rock, hard and soft, rigid and malleable, permanence and ephemerality; and the illusion of permanence in the things we see as strong.
One might look at the falls and think the rock is directing the water, but in actuality the water carved it own way out.
One might look at the falls and think the rock is directing the water, but in actuality the water carved its own way out. The rock had some say-- some rock is softer and easier to erode, maybe there was a crack that filled with water and froze. Maybe a fallen object directed the water along a course. Many things contribute, but there is nowhere else that water could be. No other way to flow, except in another life, in another world, but we are after all in this one. There is nowhere else you can be. So be here fully, presently, and open to the glorious experience that is living."
Since moving I've been trying to set up a really solid schedule that balances all the important things in life and keeps me accountable to my art. For me, getting into daily/weekly/monthly habits can take a bit of practice. One thing that I have found to be the most beneficial and enjoyable is to get outside. (Ironically it is also one of the first things to suffer when I get really busy. I guess it's just so enjoyable that it seems frivolous, which is a ridiculous notion-- definitely something I need to unpack there).
Anyway I did really good for a while with waking up very early, doing a little work, and then heading out with my camera and sketchbook for an hour or two. It was such a restorative practice. I came home feeling energized and excited, and I got so much work done when I got home.
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One day I was looking through Instagram stories and a sponsored ad from L.L. Bean showed up. It was for an article about "Shinrin-Yoku," which means "forest bathing in Japanese. It discussed the benefits of immersing yourself in nature, and went right along with what I was discovering about my daily "art walks." I'd highly recommend the article, as well as practicing "forest bathing." The L.L. Bean article says, "A study in the journal Psychological Science, for example, found that just an hour spent walking in nature improved attention span and memory by 20%." That's pretty impressive... and only one of the benefits the article cites.
The fact of the matter is our bodies developed to live and move in our natural world. When we take that element away from our lives our bodies and minds suffer. Try it for yourself: go out for an hour and just sit, or meander. Listen to the sounds, notice the colors and textures. Find beauty, and joy. If it is warm, let the sun warm your skin or the breeze stoke your face. Don't mess with your phone or other technology. Turn your phone on do not disturb. If you feel like you need something to do with your hands take a sketch book and practice sketching what you see. If you take a camera, make sure to maintain your focus on the experience of nature, not the act of taking photos. Let me know how it goes!
A few photos from some of my walks in Yosemite.
My brain does this interesting thing where it will just come up with random images. Sometimes it is so quick, I literally see (in my mind's eye) the image in the blink of an eye. I might see an abstract image with tons of shapes and colors, I might see an idea for a painting, an image from my memory, or just colors next to each other or mixing together.
When I paint a lot this happens more frequently, especially when I get settled in for bed. It actually makes a lot of sense for a visual person to have this ability, and for it to increase as one practices visual skills. Nevertheless, I find it a bit fascinating.
When I was struggling with the colors of this painting the flashes of color combos and mixes were happening a lot.. After several days of working on this painting I realized I needed to take a step back and be more mindful about what I was doing. It was then that I noticed that those color combos that had been flashing in my mind's eye were some of the solutions for this painting. I don't know why I didn't make that connection immediately. Oddly enough, I've never considered these images to be about what I'm actively working on, but to ideas for future works-- my subconscious processing visual information that it has taken in, not necessarily processing through a problem I'm working on now.
Also Read- Big Lessons in Painting and Life (part 1)
The day after this realization I sat down and put an entirely different color on the background. It was an immediate transformation. The little deer that had been so boring, drab, and flat popped to life. All those color tricks I had been using on the hair were working all along, it was just that the background was literally sucking the vibrance out of the subject.
Colors are really interesting and can look totally different based on the color(s) around them. Artists have to be conscientious of this affect as they work, which I clearly was not doing at the time. I'm really happy with the way this little deer turned out, and got to learn a whole lot on along the way.
Also read- An Excerpt from my Journal
The lessons we learn in the process of making art often mirror important lessons for life. Here are my big take-aways:
1: When things aren't working you can't just try harder with the same approach and expect different results. (Muscle memory, habits, and patterns can be powerful tools for growth or for digging ourselves deeper into ruts.)
2: Sometimes you already know the solution, but you just have pause and listen to your intuition.
3: If your background is killing your vibrance consider making a change.
Have you learned any unexpected lessons in your creative endeavors? Also, I'm super interested in knowing if anyone else has a quirky visual brain like mine! Let me know if that is you!
Growth can be a hard thing. Sometimes it's hard because we resist it, we don't want to do the work, we don't want to accept something, or we feel safe in what we know. But sometimes growth is hard because we don't know what we don't know.
In a lot of ways I've been pushing myself pretty hard, artistically speaking. I've been putting in tons of hours, and pushing my style more. I usually paint intuitively; I don't often have a solid plan, outside of my subject. I just get to painting, and work it out as I go. The process itself if much like a conversation, and the conversation leads the way to the final piece. Right before I moved, I went through a phase where I was getting paintings completed much faster than normal. I thought I had hit a stride and advanced to a new way of working in which I'd be able to crank out paintings with great efficiency.
That turned out to be wistful thinking, and ironically I've felt that the last few paintings I have completed or that I am currently working on have been some of the most challenging. In some ways that conversational aspect of my process felt more like an argument.
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The painting shown above (cropped) was one such piece. As soon as I transferred the photo from my camera to my computer I knew I wanted to paint it. I was excited to get started on it and thought it would just flow out with ease. That was not the case. Instead, I struggled and struggled with this piece. I changed this piece so many times. I shifted colors, I shifted shapes, I played with more texture, less texture, more light, less light. Nothing was feeling right, and not matter what I did I felt like the colors were sinking into themselves instead of shining, and my normal techniques were not working. Struggling to this extent with a painting was something new, and it was very frustrating. I even began to feel like a fraud, and my confidence was being affected. (That's not something I really want to admit, but I think we often hide our struggles and the real aspects of life when we'd be better off, as a species, if we learned to be more open.)
Anyway, the solution came from an unusual, and quirky way in which my artist brain works. I'll tell you about that in my next post, but in the meantime remember to be gentle with yourself, sometimes big lessons can be really challenging, but without the challenge you never grow.
The second round of the Co-op Concert Series was a lot of fun. I had the pleasure of hosting Oklahoma-native, Mallory Eagle. I have been following Mallory for several years on instagram, and regretfully never had the chance to see her live while I was living in Oklahoma. Hopefully, I'll get to catch one of her shows when I'm visiting Oklahoma or Nashville.
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If you love Americana/Roots Country check her out! You won't be disappointed. Mallory told us about the real-life inspiration for her soon to be released single "Carole with an E." Hear that and more on the IGTV video, and make sure to give Mallory a follow on Instagram @malloryeagle
I'm working on the line-up for future Co-op Concert Series events, so if you are a musician and interested in participating send me a message.
One of the guiding principles in my life is finding balance. I'm not even sure that balance is the right word, because there are times where certain things have to be front and center while other things are put on the back burner, but overall I want to live a holistic life in which each of the important parts of life are given a share that is adequate for them.
It's hard to sum up exactly, but for me, it means a life in which I work well, pursue my passions with joy and thoughtfulness, cultivate loving and compassionate relationships, eat and move in a way that promotes mental and physical wellness, and approach problems with integrity and creativity.
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Lately I've had some deadlines and goals to accomplish so I have been putting in a lot of hours painting. I wouldn't have even thought I was capable of putting in so many hours a day focused on painting, but it was a nice surprise to learn that I could. The last 10 days were particularly crammed. I was trying to finish several paintings in time for a deadline. I painted with such focus that I didn't even notice the tree outside the window I paint by had bloomed!
Yesterday I finally had time to reinstate my morning walk, and it was like coming out of a stupor. It was shocking that I could be surrounded by so much beauty and not have seen it for so many days. In some ways those days are lost because they didn't have that element to them, but it was a necessary sacrifice. I really didn't have any of that time to spare, and worked right up until the deadline, but it was a good reminder of how easy it can be to lose sight of important elements of our life. What do you consider to be the important elements in your life? Do you have any strategies for finding balance?
Nashville based singer-songwriter, Van Darien, and I teamed up this week to bring a combine concert and painting demo to Instagram live. This was the first in a new series of Instagram Live and IGTV videos that I am doing. I'm currently working on the new line up starting with Mallory Eagle on the April 12. (I'll be posting more on that soon.)
There are a lot of things in the works around here, so if you want to make sure that you don't miss anything follow me on instagram and sign up for the newsletter. (I promise I won't send you tons of email or share your information with anyone.)
This commission was a great way to stretch myself and try something totally out of the ordinary for me. It was a good exercise in observation as I had never looked really closely at a crab. They are quite complex creatures, and working on this painting really brought that front and center for me and was a nice way to gain some appreciation for an animal I had previously not paid a lot of attention to. What is an animal that you were surprised about when you learned more about it?
This painting is going to a beach house near Fairhope, Alabama.
Over the years I've discovered that the way I set up my creating space is really important. I'd love to say that I can just create anytime, anywhere, but the fact of the matter is I am just far more productive if I set up my studio space in the right way. I've experimented a lot to find what works for me. I know, for example, if I try to hide all my primary art-making supplies out of sight it will create a barrier to my ability to just sit down and paint, which can hinder painting if I'm in a time crunch. I also don't like to feel too crowded, or to feel that things are too cluttered. I used to love to have all the things I found beautiful around me, but I discovered that it actually makes my brain feel cluttered and distracted, which affects my productivity and planning.
If you are a creative person, make sure you get to know yourself. Pay attention to what you use as excuses and when you feel the most creative and productive. No need to judge yourself, just be curious. Then work with your strength and not against your weaknesses. I don't know why it took me so long to figure that out, but following this strategy has helped me a lot. Now when I am developing goals, new systems, schedules, etc. I always ask myself, "Am I working with my strengths or against my weaknesses." If it is the later I make a different plan, or if another plan is not an option I can plan strategies to help with my weak areas.
I recently moved, and this above photos is my new studio space. I teach online as well so the space needed to be able to accommodate an easy transition between teaching and painting. I accomplished this with my rolling table that doubles as a place for my palette, computer, and brushes when painting; and can then be rotated to the front to serve as a desk. In this position my painting becomes a backdrop. I love the big windows and there is a wood burning stove in the room as well. I'm really pleased with the set up, and have found it to be a productive space. What strategies do you use in your work space(s)?
Below are a few of my past studio spaces, and if you need some inspiration for yourself check out this post.