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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Take it to the Next Level in 2013

"Two Plus Two"
Oil on Linen - 16x12"

 How much did you stretch this year? Did you inch carefully out of your comfort zone or take a bold and daring leap? Will artistic growth be a priority in 2013?

I love this time of year because it always inspires me to reflect on the year past and set my sights on where I want to soar to in the coming year.

Know Where There's Room for Growth

This painting is a great example of where I am limited and how I want to grow. The end result was not what I intended. I wanted loose, painterly passages of thick and thin, expressive brushwork, an abstract quality up close. I got tight, controlled, careful, contained, photographic. I was playing it safe and it held me back from 'finding out'. It always will - can't have it both ways. Dammit. :-)

There are things I love about this painting, but I want something more for it. So I'm going to take another run at it and overshoot for loose, see what happens. An experiment in stretching with a focus on non-attatchment. Will let you know how it goes.

Once You're Clear - Embrace the Challenge With an Open Heart

There is value in finding a way to be in joy with a painting whatever shows up - while still keeping your eye on a higher bar. There is no value in feeling angst and frustration if what you're doing isn't where you want to be, and yet we all succumb to this occasionally.

What I have found is the more willing I am to carve out painting time that is focused on nothing but growth - no commercial or ego demands at play - the more at ease I feel with my results, whatever they are. And the more connected I become with the knowledge that becoming a skillful painter is a journey that has no end.

2013 Workshop Schedule

I have just finalized my workshop schedule for the upcoming year. Have lots of cool and varied learning opportunities on the books. I hope you can fit one into your schedule - I'd love to share a captivating part of the journey with you! Please follow this link for more info.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

How to Get Your Best from Workshops

Drawing demo from mannequin

Are you wide open to new learning when you take a workshop? Or are you maybe, even just a little, caught up in looking like you have a half a clue about what you're doing...

Embrace the Adventure

Just finished teaching a 4 day portrait workshop at my Canmore studio. At the beginning of my workshops I always encourage students to  think of it like a laboratory for learning, a place to try on NEW things, to explore territory that is foreign and unfamiliar, and most importantly to have ZERO expectation of going home with a "successful" painting. And then we all agree to celebrate frustration and fully welcome it when it inevitably shows up.

Bring Your Warrior Spirit

These things can be a hard sell, as they require a willingness to check your ego at the door, never an easy feat. My group this past week was whole-heartedly committed to it, which made it super fun to teach them. I was blown away by how hard they worked (pretty much had to kick them out of the studio each day) and stoked to watch them make leaps and bounds of progress.

This kind of "willing to fall flat on your face" commitment to learning serves our growth as artists more than anything else we can do. If failure becomes an important and valuable part of the journey forward, rather than something to be avoided at all costs, then the real learning can begin.

Focused engagement at work

How do you create optimal value from a workshop environment? Please share your #1 tip in the comments below - we'll all benefit from the wisdom!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Vancouver Opening

Degrees of Expression
October 29th - November 11th, 2012

I'm in a group show with some of my fabulous painting friends that opens tonight on Granville Island in Vancouver. The work is a diverse group of over 90 paintings by some very talented artists.

Please drop by to say hi between 6 and 9pm tonight if you can make it, would love to see you there! If you can't come tonight, the show runs until November 11th at the FCA Gallery.

The artists in the show are Sarah Kidner, Jean Pederson, Gaye Adams, Suzanne Northcott and Janice Robertson.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Developing the Skill of "Confusion Endurance"

"Eggplant and Lemons"- workshop demo - 6x8" (sold)

Robert Genn just wrote a great post on perfectionism, and how we are unique in our ability to either use it to our advantage (adaptive) or let it wreak havoc in our painting lives (maladaptive).  Check out his post - he offers up some great tips for addressing the issue.

Confusion Endurance - What It Is

His post has prompted me to write about a topic I have been contemplating for a while now. I recently read a book called "How to Think Like Leonardo DaVinci". In it the author states that all successful creative people have one thing in common, something that DaVinci had in spades: it's the quality of confusion endurance. LOVE this term, it is absolutely brilliant and it is something every artist can benefit from developing further.

Confusion endurance is the ability to get curious and roll up your sleeves when presented with a problem to which the solution is not readily apparent, as opposed to avoiding, procrastinating, getting anxious or just plain shutting down in the face of confusion.

How Confusion Gets in Our Way

From both personal experience, and what I have observed cropping up in the painting world of most of my clients, I feel I can safely declare this to be the number one reason for a lack of flow and momentum in our studio work.

I believe the need to check email, surf the web, put on a load of laundry, take the dog for a third walk in the middle of our painting day (or perhaps as a means of delaying getting started in the first place) - can be directly attributed to avoiding that uncomfortable feeling of being confused, stuck, or unsure of how to proceed - and lacking faith that we have the answer within us.

It's not so much that we don't have the answer immediately available, it's the idea that we should have that has us swinging into the world of panic, discomfort and unworthiness - or as  Robert likes to call it, the "Imposter Syndrome".

A Better Approach
What if we met the discomfort head on, with a sense of adventure and exploration, and a focus on this moment - rather than what might or might not happen as an end result?

Painting asks us to cultivate our capacity to be with confusion, to not label it as a problem or something to move away from, but rather a spacious place where all kinds of wonderful, currently unknown things are possible.

If we bring that, and a judgment-free faith in our own creative process, trusting that all we need is a desire to try things out and see where they lead - then open-hearted curiosity can take precedence over the idea that the goal is to be clever, skillful or accomplished enough to have it all figured out now.

A note from my other world:

I am co-facilitating a Women's Retreat in Canmore on November 17th and 18th. The focus will be on gaining tools to address conflict from a place of clarity and authenticity, strengthening your ability to respond from a place of wisdom rather than react from fear when triggered, and shifting limiting perspectives to ones that are empowering and filled with possibility. If you're interested in more details please follow this link.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

25 Truisms of Plein Air Painting

"Warm in the Storm"
Oil on linen - 8x10"

This was painted on a gray, blustery day this summer. Didn't plan on putting all the colour in, just kinda went that way.

This post is inspired by lots of personal experience - including some masterful whining - and from noticing, in teaching over a hundred plein air students this summer, that for artists new to the plein air game, there seems to be an idea that it is supposed to be, hmmm - easier.

25 Truisms of Plein Air Painting

  1. There will be rain.
  2. You will be cold.
  3. There will be sun.
  4. You will be hot.
  5. It will be windy.
  6. Your easel will fly.
  7. Bugs will bite you. Right on the back of your neck just as you are laying in the key highlight on the water.
  8. People, curious people with no sense of personal boundaries, will appear from out of nowhere behind you and enthusiastically exclaim, "Hey! Can I see what yer doin'?" Usually just as your painting has entered the ugly duckling stage.
  9. You will fight with your gear.
  10. Your gear will win. 
  11. You will bring way too much stuff.
  12. You'll vow to downsize.
  13. It will take a very, very, very long time for this to occur.
  14. Your painting will look nothing like what's in front of you. Most of the time. This can be good. This can be bad.
  15. You will learn and grow and improve each time you go out.
  16. It won't feel like it.
  17. You will feel frustrated, lost, confused, hopeless and very much like a total beginner. Alot.
  18. You'll feel like you will never get it.
  19. You will get it. 
  20. You will develop superpowers of sight.
  21. You will build character.
  22. You'll have rich experiences that will turn into treasured memories.
  23. You'll deepen friendships through the bond of shared adventure.
  24. There will be a sense of passion, joy, peace, inspiration, connection, and wonder available to you every time you go out.
  25. 24 is the very best part. And the easiest to lose sight of. Unless you forget easy, forget comfortable, forget outcome; and tune in to that.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Upcoming Portrait Workshop

"Moyra and Mary" - oil on linen - 16x20"

I will be teaching a 4 day portrait workshop in my Canmore studio this November.

The focus is to help you to really step up your game around seeing and accurately recreating what's in front of you. Our attention will be on:
  • careful drawing based on seeing your subject as a series of clear, simplified shapes 
  • making value and colour choices that come from accurately seeing the temperature changes that exist within the light and shadow areas of the subject
  • how to use a variety of hard and soft edges to turn form in a convincing way

For details and registration, please click here.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Joy of Unpredictability

"Passing Through Queens" - 12x24" - Oil on linen
Juried into the 2012 OPA Regional Exhibition and awarded Best Landscape in the 2013 AIRS Annual International Representational Show.

Do you ever find that in your painting world, and in life - when things start to go sideways your response is to get constricted and anxious? And that this is usually followed by focusing on what you don't like about what's unfolding, and how you need to fix it, change it or stop it?

In my coaching practice I often work with my clients around developing the skill of flowing versus resisting when the wheels start falling off. This is a tool that serves us in every aspect of our lives, and I recently had a great chance to work with it myself.

The Curve Ball

I was in New York city with a few friends and we set out one evening to go to a Broadway show. We decided that taking the subway would be infinitely faster than trying to get a cab at rush hour, and headed down to the nearest station to jump on a train.

During the ride some lovely New Yorkers (don't let them tell you they're not friendly - and they will try to) engaged with us in a conversation that led to the fact that we were on the wrong train, going in the opposite direction of Broadway. Yep, we were headed for Queens, speeding farther away by the second from our $200 seats for a show that started in 30 minutes.

The Choice

This was certainly a situation that warranted panic, and one of my companions slowly, quietly took charge of that department, while also managing to join forces with the other who had taken on the necessary role of recalculating the steps needed to get us to the show on time, with a grace and composure that was admirable I might add.

Since these two roles were covered, I opted for embracing the experience of being lost in New York City, hurtling entirely away from the intended direction of travel, and blissfully uncertain if we would make it to the show or have some other wonderful adventure in its place. Into the land of wild curiosity, wide open to possibility - exactly where the really great stuff happens.

The Magic

As we leapt off the train at Queens and were racing down the platform to catch our next train, we were gifted with the sight of the gorgeous evening sun shining through the city and bouncing off the tracks, wrapped up in a moment of perfect composition that we were running at top speed away from in order to get somewhere else.

I was fortunate enough to have my camera with me and managed to capture the critical details on the fly. I LOVED painting this piece, my first of New York, and one that wouldn't be if we hadn't gotten lost. In the end we made the show, and I got one of my favourite pieces of reference from the trip. And now to top it off, it's been juried into a really great show.

Always good to roll with the magic.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

3 Tips for Stronger Paintings

"The Kootenays"
Oil on linen - 4x10"
click here to bid

How often do you ask yourself: "What should I be focused on daily in my quest to improve as a painter?"

I just got back from teaching a 3 day plein air workshop in Kimberley, BC. On the last morning, I did the above demo to set the students up for an exercise that I have found to be enormously valuable in my own learning, and one that almost always creates a breakthrough for students.

The challenge was to begin by drawing out a composition that was no more than 10 shapes, and then to paint the painting in 50 strokes or less. (Not many takers on the "less" in either department.)

As I was explaining the ground rules, I had a terrific conversation with one of the students that went something like this:

Her: "What is the point of this exercise?"

Me: "What do you imagine it is?"

Her: "Well, let's see, the 10 shapes is probably about learning to simplify my composition."

Me: "Uh huh."

Her: "And the 50 strokes or less is about..... ummmm - mixing up lots of paint so that I have enough when I need it, and I guess I'm going to have to be very focused on getting the value and color as accurate as I can before I put each stroke on the canvas."

Me: "Yep, that about sums it up."

She thought about all of this for a moment or two, and then asked, "Soooo, why don't we always do that?"

Fabulous question.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Thank You!

You so are!

93 of you have weighed in to date on the question I posed last post - thank you all so much! I have replied to each of you individually, but for some reason I am getting a ton of returned emails from blogger, so if you didn't get a response from me, please know I sent one and I so appreciate your time and feedback in helping me create a fantastic book about the 100 in 100 project.

The A's have it by a landslide, so you can expect to see a book with all of the paintings and some variation of the commentary that best captures the experience and learning.

Why have I never thought to poll you fabulous people before?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Need You Guys!

"Secret Vantage"
Oil on linen - 6x8"

Hey guys, I would really love your feedback. Some of you who have been following for a while will remember the project I created in the spring of 2010 to paint 100 plein air paintings in 100 days. (The painting above was #74).

Well, I am finally getting around to putting together a Blurb book of the project and I am on the fence as to what would be most appreciated by viewers. If you could either comment below or send me an email at: with your vote for one of the following options I WOULD LOVE YOU FOR IT!

I started out working on a full blown version documenting the adventure but I can see it will take mucho hours to put together so I thought I would step back and check in with you all for your valued opinions. Here are the options:

  • A) The full project, all 100 paintings plus a fair bit of the blog commentary that went with them.
  • B) The full project - paintings only - no commentary
  • C) My favourite 50 paintings from the project with blog commentary.
  • D) Just my favourite 50 paintings from the project - no commentary.
  • E) Finally, if you think option A - could you please comment if you think it best to have the commentary along with the paintings, or the paintings solo up front with an indexed commentary at the back.
For those who weren't following the project, the blog commentary ranges from highlights of each day's experiences to the things I learned as I was working my way through. If you have the time - I really appreciate you weighing in on this!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hot Drawing Tips from the Trenches


50 minute drawing exercise from the Artsy Poses reference site.

The Challenge

25 people signed on for the July drawing challenge, and 10 of us connected for a conference call this week to check in on progress and buoy each other on.
The call was fantastic with lots of great tips and ideas. There was a mix of "success", with some of us managing to draw every day, and some missing as many as 8 days in the first two weeks. No matter, the point was that everyone is showing up and committed to keep tackling the challenge for the final two weeks of July.
We checked in on what was important to us about pursuing this goal and some great reasons surfaced:

Top Reasons to Draw Every Single Day

"I know that it is the key to becoming a masterful painter."
"I am an artist, and it is a critical component of perfecting my craft."
"I am already noticing that I am seeing differently: more clearly, more intensely, more accurately."
"If I can commit to making this an ongoing daily ritual, it will propel my skill to a higher level."
"It is engaging and fun, and once I get going, I get totally lost in the process."
"I find myself measuring without even thinking about it now, it has become second nature."

Next we checked in on what was getting in the way for those who were missing days, and what was working for those who weren't:

Fab Tips for Supporting Success in the Commitment

Know that it really is OK to draw for as little as 15 minutes, the short time frame is what helps to make it do-able. Then make that 15 minutes a priority over checking email, Facebook, TV, etc. 
Enlist your family and/or house guests to support you in your goal, simply explain what you are doing and why you need to excuse yourself for 15 minutes. They will admire you for it!

Keep your sketchpad by your computer where you will see it first thing in the morning and last thing at night. The visual reminder will prompt you to "eat your veggies."

Have small sketchpads everywhere, in your car, in your bag, in several rooms in the house. Then when the urge strikes you, the book is there and ready to go.
Stay focused on the outcome, the reason for the discipline. This is about becoming exceptional at your craft.

Final Thoughts

There is a line that gets crossed, a point where drawing goes from being "something I should do more of" - to being one of the most joyful aspects of being an artist. Drawing well is what creates the shift, and that can only be accessed through ongoing practice.

Next Call

We also talked about a few different approaches to drawing that mix it up and keep variety, motivation and different kinds of skill building a part of the process. Feel free to come on to the next conference call to hear more about this. There's no charge for this (other than long distance) - it's a labour of love and a great way to network with fellow artists on the journey. Send me an email if you want to join us and I'll send you the date and dial in number.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Drawing as Meditation - and a Drawing Challenge

Charcoal on paper

Recently I posted about finding ways to keep the creative flame burning brightly when the pursuit of commercial work has your art feeling more like a job than a calling.

Drawing is one of my favourite ways to lose myself in the creative process. Because my drawing is not geared toward creating 'saleable product' (as I don't set out to sell my drawings), I find being engaged in drawing, whether it is for a few moments or a few hours - to be a compelling pursuit that leads me into a very present moment, meditative state. Whether working from a photograph (above) or attending a life drawing session (below) - there is something about the experience of drawing that is entirely different than painting.

Slowing Things Down

Drawing moves more slowly, there is no paint handing or colour to think about, and erasing and correcting is a simple process. I also find the fact that a lot of the page gets left uncovered really centers my attention on the contours of the form I am working with, and how the angles and shapes relate to each other. It becomes a game of one shape or angle leading to the next, with attention on checking the accuracy of each mark as it is made, and at the same time noticing how each line put down relates to the whole.

Graphite on paper
17 x 14"

The Challenge

Of course the added bonus is that developing sound drawing skills will propel your painting forward. On that note, I challenged a group of students I taught this weekend to commit to drawing a minimum of 15 minutes a day for the month of July. I offered to join them in the challenge, and to facilitate a conference call mid-July, and one more at the end of the month - to share our experience around the challenge, support each other in staying with it, and celebrate what we learned by doing it.

If you would like to join us in the challenge, please email me and I will send you the conference call # and the date and time of the first call. You can jump on the program today and still get 11 days in before our mid-month call!

I encourage you to do some of the sessions from life (your cat, your kid, your foot) as this poses its own particular set of challenges. In addition, here are a couple of online resources for 2 dimensional reference that have a wide selection of images and provide an opportunity to do timed drawings (for example a rotating selection of 30 second poses):

Artsy Poses has great photos of models with fabulous lighting.
Pose Maniacs was suggested by one of my students and has anatomical drawings to work from.

Would love to have you join us! Your art will thank you for it. :-)

Upcoming Workshop

On another note: I am teaching a 3 day plein air workshop in Kimberley, BC August 8-10th, and there are two spaces still available. For details please click here.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Learning to See

Value study demo from mannequin - oil 11x14"

Just taught a 4 day portrait workshop to a small, enthusiastic group of students. The curriculum in this course is more demanding than anything else I teach because the primary focus is continued attention on drawing precision.

As painters, developing drawing skill may be the most tempting thing to skip out on. Not only does building skill in this area require intense focus and discipline, it may also seem like one can get away with poor drawing by clever painting. (Many artists do, I am guilty myself of not making drawing a top priority in the past.)

The good news is, if you take the time to truly become masterful in drawing, it enables you to paint anything you want with confidence and freedom, and to tackle the subjects that are impossible to pull off if your drawing skills are weak.

By the middle of the first day I thought a mutiny might be brewing, but instead these guys rolled up their sleeves and dove in, making it a true pleasure to work with them. 

We started with a day of drawing from mannequins, learning how to measure properly, rechecking and correcting as we went. On day two we focused on painting a value study from the mannequin, with a focus on form before detail.

Once they had a handle on this we started working from a live model, raising the bar several notches. Wheels started falling off, but the troops rallied and in the end really started to grasp the importance of getting the structure down correctly. This is primarily achieved through accurately capturing the design of light and shadow before pursuing detail. If the foundation is wrong, no amount of detail will turn it around.

Here is an excerpt from a book about John Singer Sargent's portraits: "He never attempted to repaint one eye or to raise or lower it, for he held that the construction of a head prepared the place for the eye, and if it was wrongly placed, the understructure was wrong, and he ruthlessly scraped and repainted the head from the beginning, sometimes after multiple sittings with the model."

A huge thanks goes out to Scott Burdick and Sue Lyon for providing me with some amazing tools for both my own painting and my teaching in a 10 day intensive I took with them last year.

Lastly, check out this great post on a contemporary master painter, Casey Baugh, demonstrating his approach to portrait painting recently at the Portrait Society of America National Show.

The Hard Core painting gang -  Invermere, BC. :-)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

5 Great Places to See Art In NYC

"Afternoon Sun" - Joaquin Sorolla - 116x171 in.
Hispanic Society of America

3 artist friends and I went to New York City a couple of weeks ago and absolutely LOVED it. Amazing vibe, visual stimulation on every corner, fabulous art - it was total sensory overload! We stationed ourselves in a lovely brownstone on a tree lined residential street on the Upper East Side and ventured out each day to walk the city streets and explore.

If you only have a short time in NYC, here are a few not to be missed places to see representational art:

The Hispanic Society of America

"The Tuna Catch" - Joaquin Sorolla - 137x190 in.
Hispanic Society of America

The farthest museum to get to was the Hispanic Society of America in Harlem, but it was only a half hour subway ride for under $5 so no big deal - and so worth it to see these enormous, exquisite Sorollas. The added bonus of its distance from downtown NYC was that we had the whole museum to ourselves for the first half hour we were there.

The Mural Room - stunning.
Hispanic Society of America

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Sargent at the Met

Ok, goes without saying you could spend a month in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and not see everything. We went for the paintings and barely scratched the surface, the collection of American and Impressionist paintings alone includes some of the most famous works ever painted, and seeing them live was breathtaking.

The Frick Collection
A third museum well worth checking out is the Frick. (Sorry no photos - they're prohibited.) It is an elegant museum housed in a former mansion built in the early 1900's with great period art, sculpture, furniture and architectural details.

Art Students League of New York

This one we stumbled across and were so glad we did, the caliber of student work was outstanding. You can book a residency here if you are interested in an atelier studio workshop experience - would love to do this - what a great way to develop artistic skill!

Chelsea was a bit hit and miss, but a wonderful, unexpected discovery was a show at the Bertrand Delacroix gallery by Francois Bard, a Parisian artist having his second show in NYC. These paintings are a classic example of lost in translation - the photos simply do not come close to doing the originals justice - we were absolutely blown away by this work. The show runs until June 2nd - if you're in New York - go see it! (details in the link)

"Not Guilty" - Francois Bard

"Untitled" - Francois Bard

Hugely inspired by the art, and even more so by the city, can't wait to get painting!

My fabulous travelling companions
L-R: Janice Robertson, Sarah Kidner, Jean Pederson

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Following Alice Down the Rabbit Hole

 "Fall Shadows"

In my last post I talked about finding a creative outlet that is not about commercial work - a place to go when you feel stuck or stalled and need to feed the fire in a fresh, imaginative way. One way that I love as passionately (and completely differently) than painting is following a camera wherever it might lead me. This in not about gathering painting reference, it is something uniquely its own, a treasure hunt for visual gems that stand on their own.

All you need is a camera, curiosity, and permission to completely lose yourself in the experience.

 "Dumpster Diving"

"Tree Wheel"

All of the photos in this post were taken within a 2 block radius, on the same evening, with my iPhone camera. It was very spur of the moment, and entirely captivating.

Just start looking, once you find your first thing, be open to what is possible and then watch what happens. Things will find you. It is truly remarkable how this works - it's like a magic thread drawing you in, one thing leading to the next, compelling you to follow them into a world of infinite possibilities. Things will appear that are unexpected and surprising, and have always been right there, waiting for you to notice them. Amazing.

 "Leaves on Brick"

"Primary Parking"

"Moments Apart"

Give it a whirl, doesn't have to be in the city, I do this often when I am out walking in the forest - there are things hiding in plain sight all around us...

"A good traveler has no definite plans and no intention of arriving." Lao Tzu

Saturday, April 21, 2012

5 Ways to Keep Creativity From Becoming "A Job"

"Eggs Planted"
Oil on linen - 6x8"
Click here to bid

I recently posted about the pull of commercially driven work and how it can be a road that leads us away from heart-centered creativity.

Of course if you are a professional artist, a good portion of your time needs to be dedicated to commercial output, and if you are joyfully engaged in the process of creating this work, then you are lucky enough to have the best of both worlds. Yay!

What I want to focus on are solutions for the rest of us, those who feel the angst and discontent that can come with external parameters and pressures increasingly overtaking our creative space. Several of my coaching clients are professional artists, and it has been interesting to find that almost every one of them has brought this topic to coaching. Clearly it is more the norm than an anomaly - so I thought it would be beneficial to offer up some suggestions for dealing with it.

Earn Your Living Another Way
Okay, might as well get this one out of the way right out of the gate. If the compromises of making a living from your art are interfering with what you really want for and from it on a fairly regular basis, then maybe earning a living from it is getting in the way. It's possible the best choice is to find something else you love to do for a living that won't require the same kind of compromise, and free up your art making time to be a total playground - no rules, no parameters, no demands other than the ones you want for it.

What's that? Really bad idea? Okay, I hear you - the dream is to make a living at this gig. Hang in, got some other ideas:

One for Them, One for Me
Not a bad strategy - you paint one for the market, one for yourself, and repeat. Honour this intention and it's highly likely that more than half in the "one for me" pile will be better than the ones in the "one for them" pile, so you'll have more than enough commercial work, but without feeling you're painting in a box.

Intentionally Segregate Your Creative Time 
I have been on this path for a while now, and it is the best way I have found to paint commercially while still honouring what I want most for my art, which is to be continually growing and excelling. I consciously segregate my painting time. When I'm painting for the market, I don't try anything super daring, difficult, or out of my comfort zone. I stay within my skill level and strive for competent work.

Then I schedule painting time in which I am either painting a subject that is not likely to sell in my market (but I am captivated with), or trying something that is totally about challenge and skill building. If I thought about saleability in these sessions, I would have shackles on before I even started. Again the end result often winds up marketable, but it is the mindset while in process that is paramount.

Paint First - Schedule a Show Second
It seems to me the system is backwards. Current system: Commit to a show date with your gallery and then start painting for the show. The only reasons I can think this makes any sense at all are:
  • the gallery can slot you into their show schedule for the year and start advertising
  • the artist has a job to get done - read "discipline" - which (speaking as someone who has issues with discipline) admittedly is a pretty valuable reason to do it this way
  • ideally the artist is going to get a big fat pay cheque at the end of it - but no guarantee there
Those reasons aside, this is so far from optimal when viewed in terms of creative freedom it boggles my mind. Right from the start there are parameters: the number of paintings, when they will be completed by (this is the biggest killer of honouring the creative process ever - don't even get me started...), the general sizes they'll be, the subject matter, etc.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately and here's what I've decided makes way more sense. Paint the paintings first, whatever you want, however many turn out, as long as it takes, the only goal being to explore what's possible. Once you have created a body of work you're happy with - call your gallery and ask if they'd like to book a show. I'm going to test drive it - will let you know how it goes. :-)

Add a Creative Outlet That is Not About Commercial Work
In addition to your creative "work", I have found it is a real asset to have an avenue of creative pursuit that is completely outside of something you would try to sell. On those days (or weeks) when you feel stuck or stalled, it is a place to go where your creative flame can burn in a different way. Choose something that is fun and engaging, and most important - freeing. An added bonus is that your "real work" will definitely benefit in indirect and magical ways.

I have found a couple of wonderful creative outlets that I'll share in upcoming posts, and I'd love to hear if you have some of your own.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

5 Day Skill Building Intensive

"The Back Way"
Oil on Linen - 6x8
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Quick post today to announce a 5 day intensive workshop I will be holding in my Canmore studio late June/early July.

We will be working on building skill in accurately seeing and painting color and value using simple still life set-ups for the first 3 days, and then speed painting from models for the last two with a focus on eliminating detail and painting instinctively.

This is the best of what I have learned over the years packed into 5 days, and it is certain to deepen your understanding of key fundamentals and propel your painting forward. More details here. *March 30th update: the class is now full with a wait list.

On another note, check out this very cool video merging 500 years of female portraits in western art.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Value of Taking a (Big) Break

"Megan" (study)
Oil on linen - 12x9"

Have you ever considered taking a break from commercially driven work?

Have you wanted to, and come face to face with 'the voice'? You know the one..."Are you crazy? You need to make a living. You need to keep your galleries happy. You'll forget how to paint. The wheels will fall off and you'll never get things rolling again. Must keep the work coming." That voice.

I just took a 6 month sabbatical from painting for income. Actually didn't do a single painting, commercial or otherwise (other than workshop demos) from July to January. Unplanned. To a degree unexpected. And absolutely necessary. It was truly the BEST thing I've done for my art in a long time. The break from commercially motivated work is not over yet - will share more about that in a future post as I've developed some pretty strong opinions about it.

That said, the perfect opportunity to dive back into heart centered painting presented in the form of a gathering with 4 great painter friends. We arrived from different directions, traveling long distances, navigating the worst possible winter driving conditions and missed flights in order to assemble for a few days of painting live models.

We stayed in the same house and ate, drank, talked, breathed, lived art for 4 days. It was soul enriching on so many levels, and the perfect re-entry into serious painting. Both feet back into one of the most challenging kinds of painting - loved every minute of it. No judgement, no expectation, just curious looking, seeing, and reconnecting with the remarkable experience that is painting.

"Jennifer" (study)
Oil on linen - 11x14"

"Matt" (study)
Oil on linen - 12x9"

Here's what the break has made me absolutely certain of: If I am not completely captivated and engaged by a painting idea, I am no longer willing to spend time with it.

Bigger learning: Somehow in the time out I've developed the ability to notice as soon as I am getting pulled into a negative thought pattern around a painting, for any reason. (This is an extremely valuable skill that has eluded me until now, and I'm fairly certain a commitment over the last year to a mindfulness practice is largely responsible for this heightened awareness.)

I have made a choice that self-imposed negative energy around my art is no longer acceptable, and any condition that contributes to it (time constraints, other's expectations, fear, financial pressure - all of which are about attachment to outcome) is now prohibited. My intention is to allow only joyful energy into my studio space, and if I'm not doing that, then it's time to rearrange my thoughts, or change the condition.

I recently said to a good friend: "I need to find a way to get my heart back into the studio." It's becoming clearer that this is the way.

L-R: Marvelous Matt, Me, Sarah Kidner, Jean Pederson, Janice Robertson. Photo by the lovely Gaye Adams.