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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Co-creating With Robert Genn: What's Next for Heli-Painting

"The Bugaboos Spires"
Oil on linen - 6x8"
Sold

In September 2010, Robert Genn and I taught an inaugural plein air workshop in the Bugaboos. We used the helicopter to lift us quickly to high, stunning vantages. It was a life changing and unique painting experience for everyone involved, and we all returned home with records of time spent in very sacred, magical places.

In 2013 we completed our 4th annual trip, and each year it has gained in popularity. Heli-painting is a rewarding and challenging experience that can’t help but grow you as a painter - it has become a “bucket list” opportunity for adventurous artists looking to expand their range while connecting with like minded souls.

Taking A Hard Right

Shortly after our 2013 trip, Robert was diagnosed with cancer. As many of you who follow his blog The Painters Keys know - he is meeting his diagnosis with remarkable grace, and a surprisingly pragmatic attitude to getting on with things.

I spent a few hours with him in his studio when I was in Vancouver this January. For most of our visit he reclined in a comfortable chair in his studio, working away on a painting. It was so obviously a form of meditation for him, a way of staying present in the moment, of navigating his new reality while staying connected with one of his greatest passions in life.

Over the course of our friendship Bob has been an inspiration to me in many ways. Observing how he is meeting this experience has taken that to whole new level.

I watched as his assistant, his son, and voices from the outer world all kept checking in, interrupting his sacred space to get input on the unfolding tasks of getting and keeping his affairs in order. He would pause to address what was needed, and then return to his painting and our visit. He is clearly choosing peace, acceptance, and a commitment to living now - not in past or future.

Where We’re Going From Here

We discussed at length what direction we wanted heli-painting to take going forward, and determined that we both felt strongly it was a distinctive workshop experience that should continue.

We considered what artists might best complement the kind of teaching and painting experience we have created, and for 2014 we have invited Stephen Quiller to co-instruct. Stephen is a very accomplished studio and plein air artist who has taught painting to hundreds of students. He has developed a proven approach for creating transformative shifts in the students he works with.

Stephen and I taught together on Salt Spring Island in September of 2012. He is incredibly laid back, extremely articulate and infinitely generous with his wealth of knowledge. Our intention is to continue to share with you a remarkable, trip of a lifetime painting experience.

If you’d like to join us next year – please click here for full details and booking information.

Click here to view a Heli-painting photo album

Monday, February 24, 2014

Diving Head First Into "Wrong"

"Queens"
Oil on linen - 8x10"
purchase info

What kind of relationship do you have with getting it wrong? Does it feel like it's something to be avoided altogether, or resisted after the fact?

It can be so compelling to edit in advance, to deny our creative urges, to not take risks in order to avoid potentially making a mess. There are moments when fear of screwing things up can be almost paralyzing. (Think: painting that's 3/4's done and working.)

On the other hand, it's tempting to beat ourselves up when we do act and then decide what we did was stupid or a mistake. (Think: painting was working, and you just killed it.)

If we decide killing the painting was a bad thing, we start to reinforce our tendency to act with caution in future paintings. Our focus shifts toward painting "successful" paintings instead of exploring 'what might be' from the beginning to the end of the painting process. It becomes an ongoing cycle of painting timidly in order to edit all risk out of the painting process.

Stay in the Game and Keep Shooting

Through a lot of trial and error, I've come to the realization that getting it wrong is not the problem, it's our interpretation of it that sends us into the ditch.

A great metaphor for this is a basketball game. Can you imagine only taking shots if you were sure they were going to go in? Or if every time you missed a shot you started telling yourself a story about how much you suck, how you should be better than you are, how you shouldn't be on the team? Every time you do this, you are effectively benching yourself.

The point isn't to have every shot go in, it's to stay in the game and keep playing.

What's Right With Wrong

So what about a reframe. What if wrong is a magical, essential part of the creative process unfolding? Yes, you may have killed the painting. And you may have no idea how you did that. Even so, every wrong stroke was information - rich, juicy, creative feedback for your soul. Wrong is always valuable information about what 'not right' is.

Trust that you know more now than you did before, even if you don't know what it is that you know. Your cells know. The space knows. There's important data on the hard drive that wouldn't be there if you had held back and been unwilling to step into scary land.

You don't get better by developing a shot that works and then taking that same shot over and over. You rise to the top of your game by taking shots from every possible angle, expanding your range, not caring about 'wrong' or 'failing', and trusting everything is information to create from.

Wrong is a necessary part of getting to right, in painting and in every area of our lives. The more we choose to befriend it, the faster was can integrate the value of it - and get on with the game.


PS: Huge shout out to reader Roxanne Tongco for reaching out to connect - and calling me forth to get my butt in the seat and write a long overdue blog post. This one's for you!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Using Vivid Colour to Flex Your Value Muscle

"Red on Red"
Oil on Canvas - 6x6"
sold

(*Note - all proceeds from the sale of this painting will go to Typhoon Relief in the Philippines. These funds will be matched equally by the Canadian Government, so you'll get an awesome new painting and do a whole lot of good at the same time!)

Dive In to Some Serious 'Seeing' Bootcamp




One way to build your skill at seeing value is to paint your subject with a palette that is limited to varying shades of grey. Another is to paint it in colour and then use a photo to check out how you did in black and white, as in the example above.

Choosing a subject to work from that is monochromatic and colourful is a powerful way you can challenge yourself to represent value accurately in your paintings, and it works an extra muscle at the same time. You're not just challenged to see value, but to mix the nuances of it correctly in one colour. This throws a whole new ball in the air.

Play With Creative Combinations

Try this exercise with every colour in the wheel. (Wait 'til you get to yellow on yellow - seriously tough one.) Then photograph your paintings and turn them into black and white to see how you did. This will tell you immediately if you've nailed your values or not.  If it reads, you have taken another step forward in learning how to see value in colour - and bonus, you have a cool painting! If not, you have some info about where you need to keep working. :-)

I am a huge believer in carving out time in our painting world that is solely dedicated to working on skills, with no attachment to outcome. It is not enough to just paint a lot of paintings, it's important to focus on our weaknesses if we want to become really skillful. Keeping an eye on intentionally working with them is dedicating yourself to mastery, and it can't help but show over time.

Painting is easy. Painting well is not - don't forget to eat your veggies you amazing artistic souls!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Essential Requirements of a Creative State

"Glacial Tarn - the Bugaboos"
Oil on linen - 8x10"
purchase info

How connected are you with your creativity?

Once one gets past the idea that creativity is a thing only some of us are gifted with (the truth is if you are alive, you are creative) - we arrive in the land of how to best tap into our creativity.

I recently listened to a brilliant talk on this topic by John Cleese. (I've shared the link below, well worth a listen.)

Open vs. Closed

What I loved most about John's talk was what he refers to as 'open' and 'closed' states. In order for us to achieve anything of value, both of these states are necessary, but we can only be in one or the other at any given time.

The objective is to learn how to dance in and out of them skillfully, intuitively knowing which moment requires which state.

Work Time - Getting It Done

The 'closed' state is about execution. It has a narrow focus.
  • It is about getting on with it. 
  • It is action oriented and purposeful. 
  • There is not much humor or lightness in this state. 
  • It has tension, and sometimes an anxious, impatient quality which can be exciting and pleasurable.
  • It is a bit manic.
  • In the closed mode, information that we weren't looking for is considered irrelevant.
His most important point is that while the closed state is essential - there's no room for creativity here. Which brings us to the place where creativity thrives, the open state.

Play Time - Letting it Find You

The 'open' state is about the opposite of execution. It has a wider perspective.
  • It is about being less purposeful and more expansive.
  • It's relaxed and contemplative. 
  • It is playful and explorative. 
  • It asks the question - what is there to discover in this moment? 
  • It is completely free of the pressure to get somewhere - not at all outcome focused.
  • In the open mode, information we weren't looking for is a clue, something to be curious about.
With regard to painting - I think the most relevant point John makes is that the confidence for being creative comes from knowing that while you're being creative - nothing is allowed to be 'wrong'. Everything that happens is fascinating.

"You can't be playful and curious if you're frightened that moving in some direction may be a mistake. You're either free to play or you're not."

Integration - Making Room for Both

Here are some ways I have found to weave the open state into the closed 'execution' state:
  • Choose subjects that make you ask, "What's possible?" It's not about how to best copy what's there - it's about stirring up the artist in you. What moves you about the subject? What do you uniquely have to say about it?
  • When working from photos, play with the reference a lot before diving in. Try cropping it in different ways, use filters in photo editing software to create different effects and see what gets triggered in you. Throw a bunch of stuff at the photo and pay attention to your gut responses.
  • Once you are into the painting, get back from it often. It is easy to get sucked into the 'doing' and forget to create space for your muse to offer input. We need that contemplative distance to connect with what's wanting to happen as the painting unfolds. This is not a place of knowing, it's a place of listening.
  • When you're stuck, instead of worrying that a wrong move might wreck the painting, just try something. Be spontaneous, throw a brush stroke down, wipe out something that doesn't feel right to create room for something else. 
"Painting is a process of discovery. Trial and error. A search for self."
I can't remember where I found this quote, but it's hanging in my studio and on especially smart days I remember to reflect on it.

Finding a Balance That Works For You

I think many of us spend a disproportionate amount of time in the closed state - brush to canvas, getting paintings 'done'. As John puts it, "Too often we are stuck in the closed mode because we are addicted to action and outcome."

My quest in my painting life for the past 2 years has been to turn this around, because it simply stopped making sense to me as an artist to spend more time in production than creativity, and that's what was happening.

As I stepped away from painting to contemplate what felt true for me, I wasn't sure what I would find, I just knew that what I was doing wasn't bringing me joy and something had to change.

My current goal is to have the creative state be where the disproportionate amount of my time is spent. What's needed for this is freedom from self-imposed external pressure, full permission to explore in my work, and trust that this will lead me where I'm meant to go.

Your Wisdom

Many artists find ways to keep up with commercial output and still spend much of their time in a creative mode - the open state. I applaud them! I'd love to hear your comments on how you manage this balance in your work.




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Friday, August 30, 2013

Wild Mountain Painting

"Looking Out" - oil on linen - 6x8" (sold)

Just back from our 4th annual Heli-Painting adventure in the Bugaboo Mountains of BC.

Each year Robert Genn and I, along with his amazing daughter Sara, co-lead a plein air workshop in one of the most visually spectacular places on earth. This year we had 15 students ambitious enough to brave the elements and get to work in an environment that calls forth tenacity, determination, and a willingness to stretch in service of artistic growth.

Bob doing a demo with Bugaboo Spire in the background.

The more I paint plein air, the more I realize that the gift is not in striving to take home a painting that matches what you saw, but rather to be present for the experience of connecting with what you're seeing, and expressing what is true for you about it in the moment.

When you add in sharing the company of like-minded souls immersed in the creative process together in a sacred place - it is as high quality a life experience as one can have.

Thanks to the gang of 2013 - it was a great pleasure to paint with you in this wild mountain sanctuary!

Hunkered down with Robert in a cozy shelter.


"Looking Out" - detail

I love playing with the combination of transparent darks and thick opaque lights to create interest on the painting surface. I find oil-primed linen allows me to get the most from this approach due to it's non-absorbency and organic, irregular weave.

Raymar Art offers an incredibly light 1/16" thin panel which is ideal for plein air work. Here's a link to the panels I use.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post with a link to a photo essay of this year's heli-painting adventure.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

5 Tips to Creating Strong Design from Photos






















"Cruisin'" - 8x6" value study - oil on linen

Have you experienced how difficult it can be to take a compilation of photos and combine them into a sound and compelling design?

If you like painting life unfolding - you have no doubt encountered several 'moving target' scenes that present challenges due to the number of varied elements landing in different positions in each photo. Some examples are:
  • street scenes
  • restaurant interiors
  • children playing
  • boats in a marine scene
  • groups of animals or birds in motion
  • rapidly changing light in the landscape (such as a stormy day with windows of sun spotlighting different areas)
It would be so awesome if you could get the parts that were working to stand still until the others got lined up and in perfect position, but in any 'series' of photos, there will be elements that you do and don't love in each photo.

One option is to pick a single photo that is mostly good and work with it, finding your way as you go. I have done this often - with varying degrees of ease and angst, unexpected pitfalls, surprise wins, and frequent experiences of wading through confusion wondering how I got myself into this mess.

Good news! There's another way. What can really set you up for success is to choose what you like from each of several photos and combine these elements to create the best possible design before you start painting.

Putting in the time to develop your idea in the beginning can really free you up to play once you get into the final painting, as you will have solved many of the potential problems up front.

1) Let Your Muse Lead You

Begin by getting out in the world and immersing yourself in an environment that captivates you.

For me it's a feeling of fascination, intrigue and possibility - out on the hunt for reference is one of the most fun aspects of being an artist! This kind of enchantment with my subject compels me to find a way to explore my unique vision with paint. If you aren't inspired by your reference, it's pretty hard to get into action in the studio.

2) Sift Through Your Reference

Now that you have collected a series of images that are shot from the same viewpoint, and in the same general lighting conditions, lay them all out in front of you, or put them all up on your computer screen.

This is the 'chaos' part of the creative process, you need to get an overview of all the bits so that you can start to decide what needs to stay and what needs to go. Let your intuition lead you - it will tell you what is calling most loudly in each photo - the key elements that are wanting to be included in your final design.



 

 

 

 

 

 

3)Photoshop Time

Adobe Photoshop is an invaluable tool if you work from photos a lot. You can either buy it as a monthly subscription (one year minimum), or buy the software download as a one shot deal.

It's great for editing photos of your paintings for your website, juried shows, etc. - as well as compiling elements from different photos into one working reference as I have done here.

In the photos shown above, I've used Photoshop to merge different elements from each image to create the design I want. The 4th image (in black and white) is the final composite. This is a bit of a learning curve that I won't get into details of in this post - but if you are looking for an artist specific demo on using PS, here's a super valuable one that Scott Burdick put together.

4) Simplification

Once you have a working photo with the key desired elements composed as you want them - it's really helpful to do a value study in order to help you simplify your design further. By eliminating colour and detail, you will find your way to a strong design.

 "Cruisin'" value study - detail

What I am always looking for in a value study is where I can lose edges by bringing values together in order to connect shapes. Some examples of that here are the edges of dogwalker's hands, parts of the dog's legs and the left side of the middle woman's hat merging with the background value so that it becomes about a connected pattern rather than a bunch of individual shapes.


 5) Play With Paint

Now you get to dive into the final painting, knowing that much of the hard work has been done. Having value and design sorted out frees you up to play with colour, brushwork, detail and paint handling - the other challenges of creating a successful painting. :-)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Take Your Work to a New Level of Awesome

"Bog Grass - Fall" - acrylic on canvas 36x48" by Suzanne Northcott

An invitation to come on a journey of discovery:
The Maker and the Muse - Suzanne Northcott and Liz Wiltzen
Hollyhock - September 22nd-27th, 2013

About a year ago, Robert Genn suggested I consider teaching a workshop this coming September at the amazing Hollyhock Retreat Center on Cortes Island, BC - a beautiful and remote island nestled at the entrance to enchanting Desolation Sound.

The Maker

Robert and his daughter Sara were so enthusiastic and passionate when describing their time spent teaching in this remarkable place that I felt inspired to investigate it futher. As I began to explore the idea, I had a strong sense that the unique mystic of Hollyhock was wanting something in addition to the sound foundational principles that I am so committed to teaching.

The Muse

Suzanne Northcott is both an exceptionally talented artist, and one who breathes the 'why' of creating in every fiber of her being. Everything in me knew this place, this workshop, this undertaking called for a collaboration with this wise and innovative artist, and when she agreed to join me in creating a transformative experience for artists wanting to truly find themselves in their art, it was clear something fabulous was beginning to unfold.

The Adventure

What we have designed together is a soul shifting workshop. It brings the very best of each of our talents and experiences together to take you on a journey that will be a powerful merging of the practical and ethereal elements of the creative process.

We are creating a space that invites you to dive in deeply, to explore, to dance with what unfolds as it is unfolding. And to trust that there will, in the end, be evidence of who you are when you engage with your work in a uniquely playful, courageous and wide open way.

"Nesting II" - Acrylic, ink and charcoal on canvas, 36 x 60″ by Suzanne Northcott

 If you would like to register for the workshop or learn more about it, please follow this link or contact me at: liz@mountainartist.com


Thursday, May 16, 2013

"This Might Not Work...."

"Evening - Vermilion Lakes" - oil on linen - 9x12"
purchase info

Listened to a great interview with the brilliant and innovative Seth Godin recently. In it he talks about a liberating way to approach ideas or projects that he finds intimidating. He comes from the place of "This might not work."

It struck me that there really couldn't be a better way to approach painting. If you decide at the beginning that having it 'not turn out' is totally okay - you swing the door wide open to boldness, curiosity, exploration and a willingness to keep dancing with uncertainty all the way to the end. I've been playing with this a lot lately - it's an interesting way to engage with a painting.

The above painting is a demo I did last week for a group of 50 artists at Swinton's Art in Calgary. Painting in front of a group has a unique kind of pressure, and some whispering voices of self doubt showed up just as I was getting started. And then I remembered Seth's wisdom. Hmmm, this might not work. What if that's cool. What if I simply say my power word (Shazam!) and let the brushstrokes land where they may....

Poof! Just like that, stress gone - game on. Magic!

This is my current formula for fun in the studio, wanted to share it in case any of you were looking for a new secret weapon. :-)

Upcoming Workshops

I have a couple of workshops coming up in the next short while. I will be teaching a 5 day portrait workshop in my Canmore studio at the end of June - details here. And I will be out in Vancouver to teach a 3 day Daily Painting workshop at the end of May.


A Chat with Leslie Saeta on Artists Helping Artists

In April I sat down for an hour with Leslie on her blog talk radio show to discuss "Staying Positive About Your Art". We touched on all kinds of great ways to stay focused and in motion when challenges show up in your art world. You can listen to the talk here.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Learning to Design with Value

Value study demo - oil 6x6"

In order to learn sophisticated painting techniques it is valuable to break them down into simple exercises and build up from there.

Something that skilled painters excel at is designing with value. What this means is that you don't paint objects or things. You see the shapes of light and shadow that these 'things' are made up of, and paint those.

The skillful part comes in knowing where to push values, making some slightly darker or lighter than they actually are, in order to link shapes. This creates a pattern of light and shadow that forms a strong design - the structure of your painting - and when done well, everything else that is built upon it will hold together in a powerful way.

The challenge for this simple exercise is to create your value study with only 4 values (+ white for highlights). By limiting values you are forced to designate the same values to some shapes that are in reality different in value. Shapes will naturally connect into an interesting pattern as a result.

Things to Keep in Mind As You Proceed

  1. Determine the important big shapes that fill the painting surface. Remember the shapes of the shadows and background are AS important as the shapes of the objects themselves.
  2. Draw out these shapes, filling the canvas.
  3. Block the shapes in with paint using only 4 values.
  4. Begin modelling form by introducing intermediate values within the shapes.
  5. Refine edges - hard and soft edges can be determined by squinting down. If an edge disappears when squinting - make it soft. High contrast areas will often be harder edged. Use your powers of observation to lead you.
  6. Finish with highlights and accents (small lights and darks) to complete the story.
The most magical thing happens when you find a great place to connect two shapes and the design starts to find its way. I definitely find this way more fun to do in paint than doing a little thumbnail sketch in pencil, not sure why. Give a try and see what you think.

Since I paint these studies alla prima with impasto passages, I don't then paint a color version on top. If you want to follow with color in a grisaille fashion, you could either paint your value study very thinly and wait for it to dry, or paint it in acrylic (as long as your canvas isn't oil primed) followed by oil on top.

If I want to do an actual finished painting, I will start a new painting using the value study as reference for the underlying structure I want to stay true to. If the colour or detail start to make things busy and the structure gets lost, I have the value study to lead me back to a sound design.



Thursday, April 4, 2013

Daily Painting and Heli Painting

"Late Dinner" - oil on linen - 9x12"
purchase info

After a 5 month hiatus, my instructing calendar is firing up again. Click here for my full 2013 schedule.

First Up - Daily Painting

Coming up very soon - April 20th-22nd, I will be teaching a Daily Painting workshop in my Canmore studio. I keep this one small, limited to 8-10 students, which allows for an intimate environment and a lot of personal feedback for each artist. We have a lot of fun and build some high quality connections. The focus is on really getting a handle on the key fundamentals of value, color and strong design.  More info / Registration

Heli Painting - A Totally Unique Experience

Robert Genn and I take a group of painters into the Bugaboos each summer to spend 3 days heli-painting. Last year Robert's daughter Sara joined us and added a whole new twist to the mix. The 3 of us are quite varied in our teaching approach and philosophy which exposes the group to a broad range of stimulating concepts and ideas.

I appreciate that many people can't afford a trip like this but here are some things to consider if the idea of coming along has you teetering on the edge of diving in:
  • It is truly one of the most beautiful places on earth.
  • There is a lovely bond that is created when a group of artists get together and share this kind of experience - it's more than a workshop, it's a captivating adventure. 
  • Robert is fascinating to spend a few days with - and he won't be doing this forever.
  • You benefit from the experience of 3 very diverse instructors. 
  • I was a heli-hiking guide for 10+ years so from experience I can tell you that flying around in a helicopter to paint in stunning mountain places is a unique and super cool thing to do in your life.
Finally, if you are a professional artist, the trip will provide you with all kinds of valuable reference material, and of course it's a write off. It easily pays for itself if you are productive with the inspiration you gather when you're there.

If you're ready to leap, we'd love to have you join us!
Registration
More info
Photos


 "Late Dinner" - detail

Here's my latest NYC painting - yay! I had a ton of fun with the bits and pieces of color in this painting - it is one of the reasons I'm finding city scenes so incredibly captivating to paint!


Friday, February 22, 2013

Navigating the 5 Phases of Rejection

"West 57th" - oil on linen - 9x12"
purchase info

I received notification today that my submission was declined from this year's Oil Painters of America National Show. (not the above painting)

I thought it might be useful to write a post about rejection right now, in the thick of the sting of it, before I have processed it and landed in a more empowering perspective.

Putting Yourself Out There

First of all - SO bummed! I was certain that this time, this painting (view entry) was getting in.  I was feeling super confident that it was strong and worthy of being in the show. That there was no way they'd say no to this one. Yep, I thought after 7 consecutive unsuccessful attempts to get in the OPA National - this was my year.

Having gone a significant number of rounds with this particular demon, I believe there are 5 key phases that lead into and eventually out of the experience that is rejection. The time spent in the middle phases varies depending on a few factors such as:
  • emotional investment in your painting
  • caliber of show entered
  • what you feel is riding on your acceptance
  • who else is in the club
  • how many times you've been in the ring
Over time I have come to cycle through the stages pretty quickly, but I have never escaped riding the wave for a few moments at least.

Phase 1: Dear John...

Today the news came in via posts popping up on FB from some really great artists, "Hey, so thrilled that my painting was just accepted into the OPA National!"

Uh-oh, know what that means...logged on to check the status of my entry, scrolled past one accepted entry (Yay! Melissa got in!) after another (Yay! Sarah got in!) - all the way down to the "W's" to confirm my name glaringly missing from the list.

There is always a brief moment here when I think, 'Well that can't be right, they must've made an error. Forgot to put my name on. For sure, cuz I know my painting belongs in this show."

Ha ha, I wonder if they ever actually contact an artist and say, "Whoops, our bad, your are so in the show, we just screwed up on the acceptance list."

Phase 2: Owning It

For the most part, I have come to the place where it barely phases me anymore as I am confident in my work and I know that I am doing the best I can, but this time it knocked me around a bit more than usual as I really, really love the painting I entered.

So I walked around feeling heavy and down for a while and then I decided to be really present with whatever was rising up in response to the news, starting with getting curious about the overall sense of disappointment and negativity wanting to creep in and run my day.

Phase 3: Spinning It

Here's what I noticed my particular story is around this one:

There's this exclusive club of the best painters in North America. Every now and then they let me come to their meetings (I have been juried into a few regional shows), but they are never going to let me be a full fledged member of the club. Nope, no national shows for me. (Did I mention my friends - who are fabulous painters - are getting in?)

Phase 4: (Mis) Concluding

Therefore, I must not be very good. And if I'm not any good, then where's the fun in painting? And what's the point in painting? More importantly, I reaaaallly want to be in the club....but they keep saying, "NO". What's wrong with me? Oh wait, right, I'm not very good....

Rinse and repeat.

Phase 5: Shifting Gears

Of course none of this has anything to do with fact, but as long as I tell myself it's fact, it is a big dark cloud circling around me and pulling me in. If I choose to let it, it will feel like the truth and interfere with my peace.

The solution lies in the freedom to choose. I kinda need the pity party for a while so I can process the natural feelings that rejection triggers. For me this starts with a huge wave of 'so not happy', wallowing in that for a time, and at some point deciding I really would prefer not to feel this way. From there I start to get clear what the negative messages are, give them space to have their say, and mindfully reflect on their validity.

Then I ask, "What else is true?" This is the way out from under, back to center, back to what's important. "What do I intend as an artist? What compels me to paint? How far have I come since my very first painting?"

These questions inevitably lead to a deep satisfaction in what I have accomplished so far, and a sense of joy at how much room there still is to grow. These two things, and the fact that they will never cease to be a part of the experience,  are precisely what make painting such a rich and rewarding pursuit.

The rest of the game: sales, shows, awards, credentials - the many forms of external validation - while worthwhile, are secondary to my primary passion to see what cool things I can do with paint.

And next year I'm getting in dammit! :-D

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Taking Charge of Procrastination

"Door #3"
Oil on linen - 8x10"
purchase info

Do you find the hardest part of painting is getting started?

I can get to the studio and masterfully kill a good 2-3 hours before I ever pick up a paint brush. A lot of it "looks" like work, sorting through reference, cleaning brushes, checking frame inventory, etc...but it is definitely about avoiding diving in.

Pomodoro into the Deep End  

I just discovered a very cool procrastination buster. Some of you may have heard of it as it was developed in the '80's. (Ok I'm a little out of the loop).

It's called the Pomodoro Technique. Follow the link if you'd like more info, I won't get into all the details here, but I gave it a test drive tonight and found it to be surprisingly effective.

Here's the dealio: A "pomodoro" is a block of 25 minutes of focused, uninterrupted work (you must be vigilant with this) followed by a 5 minute rest. You decide in advance how many pomodoros a task will take, or in the case of painting, how many pomodoros you want to commit to stringing together.

For example, with the above painting I decided I wanted to commit to 4 hours of focused work, so 8 pomodoros. I downloaded an app that has an interval timer, set it to run for 8 cycles of 25 and 5, and dove in.

Here's What Happened

First of all, and most surprising, I came out of the gate instantly focused and engaged. Something about the commitment to the time chunks put me in the mindset that I had to get after it.

I noticed that it was challenging to break when the timer went if I was "in the middle" of something, but I honored the system and stopped for 5 minutes each time. After 3 cycles I realized the break was beneficial even if it interrupted the flow as it gave me time for valuable contemplation and a brief check out from intense focus in a more structured way.

At 6 pomodoros (3 hours) I began to ignore the break and paint on through. In the end I wound up painting a total of 6 and a half hours with only a couple of breaks in the last two hours. The good news about that is it was because I was on a roll and totally engaged - so the technique got my momentum going, yay!

I am going to play with this some more as well as read the book because I think there might be a key value in honoring the technique exactly as it was developed, and I'm curious what the creator believes about that.

I'll report back in on my progress. Would love to hear how it goes for you guys if you decide to give it a try.

About "Door #3"

When we were in NYC we rented the top floor of a brownstone instead of staying in a hotel. This room was halfway down the stairs and I loved passing by it each day. I found the warm tones created by the little table lamp, the old brass door hardware, and the radiating shadows all super captivating and just a little mysterious.

"Door #3" - detail

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Show Up and Let Go

 "Girl Candy"
Oil on linen - 9x12"

In a recent post I talked about being flexible rather than tightly wound when life throws us curve balls. In this post I'd like to share what I have learned about how this theory applies to painting.

Askin' for Trouble

In the beginning of a painting, all is good as I start making marks and get things going, but soon, and almost always, I find myself in the "ugly duckling" stage, in that tenuous middle of the painting place where I am not at all sure of a successful outcome. This is when the door to anxious and stressed swings open, beckoning to me to "take charge", and I have found walking through it inevitably leads to my trying to wrestle the painting to the ground, a game I often lose.

A Better Approach

Instead of getting busy trying to predict and control what's going to happen next when in that uncertain place, there's an option to make the much more spacious choice of sensing and responding to what's happening. In this space, there is room for more than just us. The painting and the subject also have something to contribute if we take the time to contemplate and listen.

As you paint, the process of relativity begins, and the painting starts to take on a life of its own. It has valuable information to offer about what to do next, as does the subject, but if you are locked on to a rigid idea about where you want to go, and what needs to happen to get there, you'll miss the great info that is being offered up. It helps to remember that painting isn’t something you do to a canvas - it is a dance between artist, subject and painting, an ongoing conversation until together you have decided the expression is complete.

 "Girl Candy" - detail

Carolyn Anderson taught me: "Having a fixed idea about how a painting will go is like walking down a hallway slamming doors of possibility closed behind you." Valuable advice, it's a reminder to step back often and make room for curiosity and intuition to be a part of the painting process. Pay attention, be flexible, and trust - everything you need to know is right there with you.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

So Much for Best Laid Plans...

"Night on the Town"
Oil on linen - 9x12"

Late post tonight so it'll be a quickie.

First - 30 in 30, consecutively or otherwise, ain't happenin'. I was completely committed to finishing a painting each day I went to the studio, but that's not what happened. Each painting I've started has required more care than I could give it in a day.

So the choice became: figure out how to paint something I can finish in a day for the next 25 paintings, or embrace what's happening, and ditch plan A. No choice, I'm going with what's showing up. The reason I signed on for the challenge was to find out if I even wanted to paint anymore, after an almost 2 year hiatus. The answer is a resounding yes! I am loving painting, and that has not happened for a very long time. Something huge has shifted in the time away, everything is different now. Lots more to say on this, but will save it for a more energetic moment.

I am still honouring the commitment - with my latest revision. :-)  I am going to keep going until I have 30 New York paintings done, and will post as I go. Please keep checking in, I am loving all of your feedback, and glad to hear that lots of what I'm discovering is resonating with you guys.

In keeping with the new format, here's a detail of this piece:



Wednesday, January 9, 2013

What is Creativity?

"Window Shopping"
Oil on linen - 9x12"
purchase info

I have pretty much always believed that I am not creative. Technically proficient yes, creative no. A couple of recent conversations got me thinking more about this, and began to lead me to a new perspective.

In pondering what exactly creativity is,  I'm starting to think that it isn't some mysterious thing that we have to find within ourselves and draw out, some magical something that rises up from the depths when it's ready to show itself. It's occurring to me that creativity is simply about curiosity.


Focusing on the Questions

Instead of starting a painting with the intention of getting to the end of it, I'm noticing it's different when I focus on how many things I can get curious about going in. Things like:
  • what exactly compels me to paint a certain subject, and why
  • what is my specific, unique way of looking at the world
  • where does my excitement to tackle a subject come from
  • what drives my personal choice about what to leave in and what to take out
  • what is my immediate response when I lay one colour, one value, one edge down beside another
  • what's it like to really experience, moment by moment, the act of transforming a flat white canvas into bits of colour that tell a cool story 
When I forget about attaining a finished product and dive deeply into experience, I become connected with my authentic creative self. It's been there all along, but I was thinking it was something different. This is where I seem to be being led to, and the more I open to it, the more the act of painting is becoming a fascinating adventure. A successful outcome, when it happens - is icing on the cake.

"Art isn't a result; it's a journey. The challenge of our time is to find a journey worthy of our heart and soul." - Seth Godin

PS: A friend suggested I start posting some close-ups of my paintings. Here's a closer look at the detail in this one: