Monday, October 22, 2007

The psychology of a painting

I have neglected my blog terribly! I used to be so faithful with my posts. I don't know what has happened to me. I will make a concerted effort to write more often. The good news is that I have been painting. I organized a 4 hour drawing/painting session with a wonderful model on Saturday. We met here, at the new house. There were only 3 artists, but the intimacy of the group was actually very nice. I think everyone enjoyed themselves.

I did not finish my pastel painting, but I did take a photograph, so I think I will be able to finish it from that. Here is what I did.
I was working on a dark reddish paper, and as you can see, the left hand part of the painting is quite unresolved. I will try to post it, if I can get a bit more resolution.

I find that I tend to fight with my art quite a lot. I am not one of those painters who merrily paints or draws away. I struggle, I agonize. I believe it is part of the process for me. All of my inner turmoil seems to come to the surface, and makes itself known. Sometimes, it seems as though the paint is actually blood, drawn from my veins, painfully creating the image on the surface of the canvas or paper. This may sound rather exaggerated or dramatic to some of you, but I am trying to describe what the experience is like for me. That is how it feels! You might be wondering why I continue, with an experience like this. I will admit, there are times when I ask myself the same question. Yet, there is a catharsis to the release. I can honestly say that there is nothing that makes me feel the way creating art makes me feel. I need that feeling.

I think part of what comes out when painting is my own insecurity. I have such doubt and fear that I can create a painting that I will like, or that anyone will like, for that matter. "Why is this important?", I ask myself. It is important because I want validation. All the time and money I spend on making art needs some kind of justification for me. After all, it has taken up the bulk of my life, this obsession. You can't spend nearly 15 years of your life on something without needing some kind of progress report, some kind of pat on the back. But even after 15 years, I always doubt my capability as an artist. That insecure part of me fights with another part of me, who has confidence, even a bit of arrogance about my own ability. I don't think either side of me really wins, per se. Each side may score a "point" from time to time, but I think most of the battles end in a tie.

When I look at my work, I can see this conflict, this tug of war. I think it makes the art more honest, because I reveal all of myself. Not just the confident part, who knows I can do it. But that other, more fragile part, with all its doubts and fears. Isn't this really how all of us are, when we allow ourselves to see it? Perhaps it is the reason I love to paint human beings so much. I know, intimately, what it is to be a human being.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Day Late

I was fully planning on being part of the action day blog, which was yesterday. Apparently, you put a paintbrush in my hand, and I forget about everything else! So I am going to post about the environment today. Better late than never, I hope.

I love the environment of this desert we live in. It is so foreign to me, having lived most of my life in mountains and hills, covered with pine trees, aspen, and juniper. There was that brief stint on Maui, but otherwise, I am a mountain girl. The desert seems so stark, at first. Yeah, it is dry. However, upon closer inspection, there is an abundance of plant and animal life here. I have only begun to get to know all of these hardy plants and critters.

On the daily walks with Pono the dog, I am slowly aquainting myself with our new surroundings. One of the disturbing things we have discovered is that for some people, the desert seems to be a giant dump. If there is a dirt road, leading off onto empty land, you will find piles of debris - old window panes, beds, disintegrating sofas, glass, tires - anything imaginable. Just two blocks away from our house I have already discovered at least 4 of these piles of trash.

I respond to them in a way that is similar to seeing a car crash. It is horrific, and yet I can't seem to tear my eyes away. I find myself moving closer, to see what comprises each pile of stuff. Being a creative person, I also wonder if I will find something that will inspire me, or something I can use to make art. The funny thing is, I really am not much good at assemblage, or found object art. I have a friend, emmet, who is really amazing at putting together things he finds in alleys, but I usually don't like what I end up with. Yet, I can't stop myself from perusing these piles.

Despite my fascination with the trash, I have to say that the desert is so much nicer when it is in a more pristine condition. On our camping adventure last week, when we stayed overnight at Cactus Flats, one of the best qualities of that place was that I saw very little trash. It still seemed quite untouched, despite the 4 wheel drive roads criss-crossing the area. It was the way I imagine Joshua Tree looked before people began developing it.

I often think that human beings have the opposite of the Midas touch. Everything we touch is destroyed. That is a severe judgement, I suppose, but when I see trash all over the place - blowing Walmart bags in the wind - it comes back to my mind. Our environment is not as resilient as we may want to believe. No matter where I have lived or travelled, I have seen piles of trash in places where I would rather not see it. I have taken up the habit of picking it up, putting it in my pack, and carrying it home with me. But I do think if each one of us made a more conscious effort to not only pick up the trash we see, but also try to produce less of it (reduce, recycle, reuse!) this problem could be tackled. Wouldn't that be cool?

I leave you with one of the paintings I worked on yesterday. It is an older painting, one from the series of 100 I did for my gallery in Colorado. Yesterday, I reworked it. It is oil on canvas, and measures 12 x 12.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The search for galleries

I took Matthias to the airport this morning (at 5:40 am!). He is on his way to Louisville, to begin his training with UPS. It is exciting! Waking up so early has thrown off my usual patterns, and consequently, I haven't gotten much done today. I will feel good about posting in my blog.

I have been meaning to get into the studio all day, and still haven't done it. It is the coldest room in the house, it seems. It is pretty warm outside, and in the rest of the house, but when I walk into the studio, I can feel a definite drop in temperature. I have a severe aversion to cold, and I know this is a problem I need to solve very soon. I know it will be much warmer here in Joshua Tree this winter than in Salida, where we came from, but I did not move here to be cold! So I will have to find a way to warm up my studio for the winter, so that I won't have another excuse to not be in the studio.

You would think, as a full time artist, that I would paint all the time. It is amazing how difficult it can actually be, to paint all the time. I know I will never be one of those "painting a day" painters. I don't find it interesting, nor do I think it is good for my creative self. I need a lot less structure in my life, in order to tap into the creative strengths within. I do hope to develop a better routine for more consistent painting. I am not too worried about it right now. Everything in our lives has just gone through radical change, and I have moved enough times to know that it takes a while to settle in. I am going to give myself a couple more weeks, but then I plan on developing a consistent schedule for painting.

One thing I have noticed is that it is easier for me to paint when Matthias is out of town. When he is home, he completely disrupts my patterns. He doesn't intentionally do it, but it happens every time he comes home. I do think that if I set a schedule for myself even when he is home, I will be able to stay within my schedule, and still give him the time and attention he deserves. So this is something I am going to work on.

Part of not painting much lately is also due to the fact that I have been spending a lot more time on the business end of being an artist. Art does NOT sell itself, I don't care what anyone says. You have to spend time to get it out there, where it can be seen. You have to learn to talk about it. I am hoping to make the transition from gallery owner/artist to just artist, and so I have been putting together materials to take to galleries, so they can see what I do. I have been visiting nearby galleries, to find one where I think my art would fit. I am also meeting people in galleries, in order to discover gallery owners I can talk to.

I have learned that it is good, as an artist, to be picky about which gallery to put my art in. You want to find a gallery where you can talk to the gallery owner or manager. If you don't have a certain rapport with the people at the gallery, how can you work with them? It is important to establish a certain amount of trust. After all, most galleries don't buy the work outright from the artist. It is almost always consignment these days. So that means, as an artist, I am leaving my artwork with them. I have to feel good about this gallery, this person, in order to do that. Sure, you do sign a contract with a gallery, and have them sign a consignment agreement, but a piece of paper will only do so much for you. I have to trust that they like my work enough to be able to sell it. It doesn't do me any good to have my art in a gallery if it isn't selling. I have to also know that they are going to put the work OUT - preferably ON THE WALL - where it can be seen. You might think these things are all a given, when you enter into an agreement with a gallery, but I have learned not to assume anything. It is better to talk it all out, find out what to expect from the gallery, and what they expect of you, as an artist. A good friend of mine in Hawaii who is an established artist told me once that the artist/gallery relationship is very similar to a marriage. I now believe that is absolutely true. You must communicate! It should be a win-win situation. If they are excited about your work, they will be able to sell it, and then everyone wins. You must be pretty picky, too. After all, this is your work, that you have put your heart and soul into. Why would you leave it with just anyone?

I recently met a gallery owner/artist who was looking for other artists to show in her gallery. She wanted the artist to pay a certain amount of money every month, for a certain amount of wall space. She would also take a commission on any art that sold. These kinds of galleries are becoming more and more popular. I was considering it, until I handed her a photo of one of my paintings and she said, "it doesn't matter what your work is like." When she said that, I knew that I was not going to show with her. If she doesn't care what my work is like, how will she be able to sell it? How will she talk about it, if someone is interested? It felt to me like the only thing that she was interested in was the rent money I was going to be paying her to display my art. She would have more to gain out of this kind of relationship than I would. I would have no guarantee that she would be motivated to sell anything for me. After all, she would be getting a check from me every month, regardless. Plus, her gallery was not close to where we live, so if I would have wanted to go in there and sell and promote my art myself, it would involve a long drive. It was the right decision, not to be in there. I think if I were living in the same city as a gallery like that, I might consider it.

I think oftentimes, because there are so many people creating art, artists feel privileged or flattered if ANYONE will take their art. The competition for wall space is pretty stiff. I have fallen into this trap myself, but I have learned that if you respect your own work, and the time and money it took you to create it, you should demand the same respect from someone who agrees to show it for you.

There is much more to being a successful artist than just being able to paint, but certainly, being able to paint, and creating the time to do it is the biggest part. I hope to have more new paintings to post for you by the end of the week!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Home again

We returned from our VW camper van adventure yesterday afternoon. The van ran pretty well, with only a few minor glitches. We stayed overnight at a place called Cactus Flats, which is a little south of Olancha, on Highway 395. It was beautiful where we were, camped out in the middle of nowhere on some BLM land we found. I finally got a chance to take some photos of Joshua Trees with seed pods on them! Most of the trees near our house don't have seed pods. The Joshua Tree (or yucca brevifolia) does not flower every year. A winter freeze followed by plenty of rain in spring is what will do the trick, according to Joshua Tree, The Complete Guide by James Kaiser. After the Joshua Tree does bloom, the branch will split, which is how the tree gets its distinctive shape. The name "Joshua Tree" was given to these unique trees by Mormon settlers, who thought that the trees resembled the prophet Joshua, pointing them to the promised land. I love these trees!

We also got a chance to enjoy more fall leaves on our leisurely drive home, when we drove to Convict Lake. It was sensational up there!!! The color of that lake was almost indescribably vivid, and the leaves on the trees around the lake were decked out in their finest fall color. If it hadn't been so crowded up there, we would have camped there. But the crowds there deterred us from staying overnight. We did manage to get Pono down to the water, where he could splash around and chase some sticks. Then, we hiked halfway around the lake, drinking in the scenery and warm fall sunshine.
I actually have more to tell you about our journey, and the things we saw, but I need to get ready for the drawing session tonite. More soon!

Monday, October 8, 2007

And the winner is...

Lee!!!! My fellow blogger Lee has won the drawing for the framed art!!! Congratulations Lee! Thank you, everyone who entered. I am sure I will be having more fun contests, as time goes on. Lee, I will ship your art to you on Friday, since I am not at home right now.

Matthias and Pono and I loaded up the new-to-us VW van yesterday, and drove up to Reno. We needed to see how the new engine would run. So we are in Reno right now, and we are going to drive back later this week. It is fun to get a chance to get away for a couple of days, and I am happy that there were some fall leaves to enjoy on the drive up here. Now that we live in the desert of Joshua Tree, we don't see many leaves! Isn't Pono cute, stretched out on the backseat.

I finally found a group of artists that draw from the human figure in our new area, so Thursday night I joined them and got to draw. It felt good to sharpen those charcoal pencils, and work from the human figure once again. Here is the drawing I did during the longer pose. I could tell I am rusty, from not drawing in a while. You can see how my proportions are not quite right. Practice, practice, practice!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

100th Post!!

Well, this is the long awaited 100th post on my blog! I didn't think it would take me so long to reach this milestone, but I am happy I am here. As a celebration and thank you gesture for the faithful readers of this blog, I have decided to give away a piece of art. No, not an original painting. Sorry. It is a framed giclee reproduction of one of my more popular images. Called "Colorado Landscape", the original painting was oil on paper, and measured about 22 x 30". I have always loved the colors in this painting. The giclee I am giving away measures 13 1/2 x 11 1/4" in the frame. The frame can either hang on the wall, or stand on its own. The art is an archival ink jet reproduction printed on a heavy somerset velvet paper. It is matted using acid free matboard. This is a nice piece of art, either for you to keep, or to give as a gift. (Christmas IS rapidly approaching! I know, I know, where does the time go?)

Here's how to win this art: contact me via email with your name, address, and how you found my blog. I will put all the names in a hat and have my husband pull the lucky winner out. My email address is I will draw the names this Sunday, October 7th, at 5 pm. So you must email before that in order to get your name in the drawing. Good luck to all of you! Thank you for reading my blog.