I have always taken photographs of my paintings as I worked on them. Using my camera as a tool helps me step back and examine my art. I look at areas of contrast and color relationships. I crop and rotate images of the paintings and turn them black and white to check the values. Many times I print out copies to draw and paint over so I am not disrupting the original work. I have shared this studio practice with other artists and students, encouraging them to critique their own work. Some artists use Photoshop or Procreate to view and edit their art. The digital world lets us easily document ourselves in ways that we have never been able to before.
Making an archive of my work in the present has allowed me to look back and examine my artistic history. Past work reflects what I was going through at a particular period of my life. In retrospect it’s pretty clear how much I was processing intangible things in a tactile way.
(Above: Work from 2016 'Depression and Anxiety Series').
My work is a visual diary of emotions and events, filtered through the current understanding of materials and techniques of that time. The photographs show artistic decisions as well as processes, creating a guidebook for me to expand upon or recreate. It is evidence of thoughtful decision making. What you choose to leave out is just as important as what you keep.
This studio practice reflects our human experience. We have a plan in place, but things can change pretty quickly. Change is inevitable, but essential for growth. You can fight it, or develop the skill of accepting and allowing-something we all have to work on. In a chaotic world, humans find comfort in structure and consistency. It’s important to remember that the most successful things that come from the creative process (and life) happen in that delicate space between deliberate intention and letting go. I have documented proof of that.
Left: Underpainting, Work in progress
Right: Completed work, The Lockless Door, encaustic on panel 18x18
A Year of Gratitude
I had a big birthday this year- the one where you get your AARP card. (How did this happen? Wasn't it yesterday I was wearing my Violent Femmes T-shirt in art school, or quietly rocking my babies?) My friends joked with me, asking me how I feel to "officially be old." Like the saying goes, I am older, but wiser. Very happy not to be so easily influenced as I was in my younger years. There is much to be gained from the good and (especially) the bad life experiences that got me here, to the mid 50 club. I know who I am and what matters. So how does it feel to be officially old? I feel truly blessed.
Many do not get the privilege of growing old.
In February of this year, dear friends of ours lost their son in a tragic accident. Just a sophomore in college, Greg was a ‘mini me' of his handsome father, and fiercely determined like his mother. Just like both parents, he was devoted to his family and faith. Surrounding the sorrow and tears is a sense of being cheated when we lose someone so young. There is that haunting “why?” that will not be silenced.
Tragedy such as this causes us to pause, reflect and not take things for granted.
This year I hugged my children tighter, sipped my coffee slower, and spent time in the beauty of nature whenever possible. I found joy in watching my garden flowers bloom and double in size as they fed the busy bees. I spent time with those closest to me who I could relax with and be myself.
I didn't waste time with people and things that aren't important. I traveled and found myself laughing and crying as we snorkeled in the clear blue ocean, thankful to be in such tropical beauty with the sun on my face.
Back home in my studio, I painted with intention, enjoying the process, open to letting go to allow the painting to lead the way. While reworking a painting in February, I didn’t do much thinking,
I put on some quiet music and got to work. It was one of those magical sessions where I feel like I've been painting for 20 minutes, but glance up at the clock and suddenly it's 3 hours later. My hands were busy while thoughts of my friends, grief, loss and what happens to us after we die filled my head.
There is a beautiful line from Wallace Steven’s poem, Harmonium (1923), that says,
‘Death is the Mother of all beauty.’ I have found this to be true.
The awareness of the fragile, impermanence of life cultivates appreciation for every moment we are given. Grief brings mindfulness to our everyday moments. Grief embodies all of the unexpressed love we have for those we have lost. We grieve the moments we are unable to share with them.
However, through the pain, we must remember that those we loved deeply are always with us. Because they ARE us. Who we love makes up who we are.
Our culture needs to normalize mourning and unexpected tears. They are not just tears of grief, they are moments of remembrance and appreciation for what we love.
We need to cry freely and talk about our loved ones often, because this is what makes them eternal.
I am selling prints of this special painting, Soul Plan (Ascension) encaustic on panel 16x20In Loving Memory of Gregory Anthony Anstine (January 11, 2002 - February 4, 2022)available for purchase on Fine Art America.
The proceeds of this sale will be donated to a scholarship in Greg Anstine’s name.
The site will let you select a poster, fine art print on paper or a print on canvas. The work can be framed to your specifications and arrive directly to your door. You can view and purchase here:
Studio Practice as Spiritual Practice
I start every painting session by setting an intention for the work, and taking a moment to express gratitude. Gratitude for all that I have and for time to myself to create. Grateful for the space and equipment to continue to explore encaustic painting. Since my studio area was completed last November, I have been extremely productive. One particular work I attempted was significantly larger in scale. Working on a bigger surface with encaustic wax requires a different approach, and it can be quite an expensive investment in materials.
I say ‘attempted’ because I worked at it on and off for months, picking it up then putting it away in frustration. It just wasn’t coming together. I was wasting time and precious wax as I built layer after layer. I would add paint, scrape it off and try again. Repeat, stop and work on something else. Eventually, I set it aside, giving up in defeat.
This week I gave it another go. I put the painting on my work table and examined the composition. I decided to change direction, turning the painting on its side so it was vertical.
I remembered some good advice from a fellow painter: Sometimes you have to let the work lead the way. So that's what I did.
I chose a completely different color palette, one I rarely use. I turned music on and enjoyed the process, not worrying about wasting materials or the end result. I just enjoyed making marks. I took in the vibrant colors. There were areas I screwed up, exposing the underpainting too much. It took time to correct it. However, in fixing my mistakes I discovered areas where I decided to reveal what was underneath. I reconsidered the concept of the original piece, then went in a totally new direction. A narrative in my head was developing about how the newly transformed painting could embody what I wanted to say. I grew excited as it progressed, my heart pounding. Stepping back from it, I realized that I had actually surprised myself.
This painting is a victory for me. It reflects two years of continued study of technique and color. More importantly, it's a step forward. Lately there have been many external ‘nos’ directed my way, but this was a yes. My own personal, empowered, internal HELL YES...which cancels out the pile of negative influences that discourage me. The external things are out of my control. This was mine. An artists studio practice is spiritual practice. The work reminds us to:
Get out of your head.
Enjoy the process.
How we respond to failure is more important
than the failure.
Creativity grows from challenge.
Challenge leads to resilience.
Have faith and change direction if it’s still not working. (It’s ok to quit and start over).
There is truth in the creative process. With a strong emphasis on everything being a process.
It’s the same encouragement I share with my nervous art students when I hand them a big blank canvas: "This is your little world, right here in this space. What do you want to say?"
Because I say," Hell yes!"
I hope you do too.
April 2022- Thoughts on Sharing
In modern times, all our business is out there.
A friend of mine, who is somewhat older than me, recently pointed out that there is no such thing as ‘Discovering’ anyone anymore. They explained that years ago, it was considered impolite to ask someone who they voted for, their religious affiliation or even their relationship status. That information was private, not because of shame or embarrassment, but because of its intimacy.
Details such as this were revealed after developing a relationship built on respect and trust. Particulars earned in a way, and disclosed over time. In contrast, today you can just Google someone and view their online presence and in 5 minutes you know a good bit about who they are. For teenagers, having a digital presence often adds to their already stressful life. On the positive side, there is continued encouragement in our culture to express your authentic self and speak your truth, so social media is a great platform for this. If you own your own business or have a side hustle, posting and sharing is an important way to promote your ‘brand’. It is not only important, it is often essential to your success. You have to get it 'out there' if you want your work to be seen.
I’ve been thinking about this from an artist's point of view, one that you might not have considered. Sharing your artwork can often be difficult because it falls into the category of revealing yourself. It feels vulnerable. Creating is private. I spend hours alone, working in my studio developing a painting. I am building, revising, thinking, making decisions. A painting is 1,000 decisions: What to put in, what to leave out. All this intimate time is spent, birthing an idea, just to send it out into the world…and then you wait. Sometimes people get it, sometimes they don't. A percentage are encouraging, and there are some people that enjoy being judgemental.
If nothing else, you have to admit that artists, writers, singers, actors, poets, and performers of all kind, are pretty brave people indeed.
Sometimes when I show my art, I make the conscious choice not to explain it.
I allow the work to speak for itself, encouraging the viewer to come to their own conclusion. Other times I will include a brief artist's statement, quote or poem that clarifies my intention when creating the piece.
I share differently with those that take the time to ask more, dig deeper, or view the work with me, either person, at a gallery opening or in my studio. I'll explain my thought process and inspiration for each painting, details about the materials, and personal symbolism in it that others would probably miss. I disclose this to people I have a relationship with, with those that I trust.
Because sometimes art is deeply personal, and I am working some shit out with my art.
That's kind of the point.
One of my favorite quotes about vulnerability comes from Brene Brown, who said, "If you are not in the arena getting your ass kicked on occasion, I am not interested in or open to your feedback." She refuses to be criticised by people who aren't being brave and taking risks with their own lives yet hurl advice and judgement. I have shared this quote often with creative friends I see doing the hard work, then being picked apart for how they do it.
Perhaps it is time to self check how much and to what audience we share ourselves with, professionally and personally. Who has put in the time and effort to get to know you?
If someone doesn’t really bother with you in real life, should they be allowed to be a voyeur of your life from a passive online platform? Maybe putting less information out there invites people that are truly interested to reach out to us. Besides, it’s always good to have a bit of mystery and discovery. It's a privilege to know someones intimate thoughts. Save that privilege for people who have earned that disclosure.
Posted below is a recent work that I completed, not for a gallery show or a commission. It was something that evolved during my studio practice, when I was working things out emotionally and visually. If you are interested in talking about it, we can have a chat about what it means to me. And then talk about what it may mean to you.
It’s a discussion that’s important enough to have face to face, over coffee, or a nice glass of wine. Then again, I may not say anything about it at all, because sometimes I don’t have words.
That’s why I paint.
A Teacher friend of mine assigns her students the task of interviewing people of different ages. They ask questions about life, seeking advice and different points of view. I have done these interviews numerous times over the years, but was recently taken back by an interesting new question they posed: “What is home?"
Without thinking about my answer, I immediately responded,
” Where I am centered.”
They looked up from their paper and put down their pen.
There was an awkward pause.
“ OH…. Um, most people say the town where they grew up,
or their husband or their wife.”
I was quiet. That is the obvious answer, and a good one, and at one time I would have said that too. However, I didn’t know how to explain to a 16 year old that yes, that’s true, but
I know better now.
I have lived in many places, each different and special to me.
They have all been home.
Home has been the people I’ve loved. Many have come and gone. There were those who helped me to understand what love is, and some who showed what it is not. They came to me as a messenger at the right time. A few were sent to teach me loss and the fragility of life.
I carry it all with me, they go where I go.
They were with me in my old house, and now in my new one.
When I am swimming in the ocean, staring at the moon, and as I hike in the woods, they are all connected to me.
They are me.
I am better for knowing all of the people and places I loved. I am at peace with it,
and it is this peace inside of me that is home. It’s not found anywhere else,
and it has taken me a long time to get here.
Sticking to my answer, I turned toward the student and repeated:
“ Home is where I am centered. Hopefully, someday you’ll understand.”
Above: Detail images of recent work in progress, Pennsylvania (left) and Vermont (right)