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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.
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 fellow teacher friend 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 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…. Most people say the town where they grew up, or their husband or 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,
it is 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)
This summer, I attended an artist’s workshop in Vermont. This was my first time traveling to attend one in person, as opposed to online, and I committed to make it a productive week and worth an 8 hour drive.
The time spent on an organic farm doing yoga, hiking, writing and painting was exactly what I needed. All the simple, delicious food we ate was grown and expertly prepared on the farm. I met other artists who were generous in sharing their work and words. My instructors were encouraging, attentive and challenged us to be mindful and aware of our natural surroundings, as well as thoughtful with mark making in our art.
When I do have time to walk or hike at home, I will often listen to a podcast or audiobook. Multitasking this way ‘makes the most of my time’. Or so I thought. When assigned to hike to a spot in the woods and spend a half hour in silence, writing and sketching, I realized how much I was missing. With my eyes and ears open, I heard the back and forth chatter of birds. The stream babbled past, making not one sound but two different patterns as it rushed actively from the hill to the smaller rocks level in front of me. I touched the damp moss and leaves while feeling a cool breeze on my face. The forest smelled rich and earthy after the morning rain, a distinctive odor known as petrichor. Petrichor is the musky, fresh scent caused by the water from the rain, along with certain compounds like ozone, geosmin, and plant oils. And yes, I was so enchanted by it that I looked it up to find out more. (You’re welcome). I sat by the stream and wrote notes, did drawings and color studies of the beautiful scene around me, but it wasn’t around me, it was in me. I was absorbed in it... full of awareness.
So present, in fact, I lost track of time and the group had to come and get me.
Researchers have found that our brain lacks the ability to perform multiple tasks at the same time- in moments where we think we’re multitasking, we are most likely just switching quickly from task to task. More importantly, we are cheating ourselves, as well as others, of our full attention.
I don’t think that my response to Vermont is because it is more beautiful than my home state of Pennsylvania. I was just completely present on that farm, full of gratitude and connection while there. What if I apply this presence to all aspects of my life? What if you do so with yours?
Thoreau said, “Live in each season as it passes, breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” Be fully present where you are, right now.
We don’t need to go somewhere else and seek out nature, we are nature.
It is not around us, it is in us, and I am grateful for that reminder.
It All Started with a Circle.
The March Covid-19 Lockdown had many of us reevaluating things.
As a busy type "A" person, much to my surprise, I was pretty ok being sequestered. The sudden world 'time out' made my life simplified in ways that both disappointed and liberated me.
Lockdown meant there were people and situations I did not have to deal with directly anymore. My time was spent with a trusted inner circle of friends and family I adore, with whom I share common beliefs and values. We had meaningful conversations, carefully planned meals and lots of laughter amid the uncertainty that surrounded us. The security of my bubble, my inner circle, helped to offset the daily reminders of chaos and mortality of the outside world. We had each other.
I am filled with gratitude for what I recognize to be a very blessed and privileged life. The great pause of Covid allowed me to ponder what provides true value in my life, what is just obligation vs. what brings me joy. I fully comprehend the necessity of genuine, vulnerable and trusted
relationships, of quality over quantity. Our inner circle is the foundation on which to build our authentic self, and in turn, a larger community of like minded individuals. With any luck, it could make the world a healthier place than it is right now.
Themes of circles continue occupy my mind and current art.
Pictured above: Lockdown: Inner Circle encaustic and antique hardware on wood panel, 18x24.