Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Things I have learned so far

Number one: I suck at keeping a blog, apparently. 6 months without writing? Oh dear lord.

Well, the title of this post isn't because I'm a know it all. In fact, I know less and less, which I'm excited about.
But I just got over some major events this month, and I think like any normal person, I'm spending some time reflecting on what has happened.

So a few things from recently having done a large quantity of paintings in a short(ish) amount of time, having a solo show, having one of the things I fear the most personally happen, and moving studios (again):

1. You don't have to wait for inspiration to be creative.  In fact, it doesn't happen when you have sh*t to do. I can't tell you how often I get people telling me how "oh! It must be SO wonderful to just be creative all day and PAINT, and just absorb and be free! Oh how I wish I could do that! ". Like I'm shopping all day or sitting by the pool on my tanned ass. First off, I haven't felt "free" since I really learned how to paint.
I. Have. A. Job.

 I show up when I don't want to, I do it when I hate my boss (I have multiple bosses: my own painting, myself, a gallery, a deadline, a client, an article, and so on..), I feel guilty about getting on Facebook while I'm at the studio, then loathe myself for half the day, I get sleepy after I eat, I crave alcohol on a bad day. I have days where I want to quit and tell everybody to go screw themselves. I don't have fun every day. And I'm certainly not INSPIRED every day! And in a way, I'm thankful for that. Being truly inspired requires a lot of emotional input, and I'm an insomniac, so I just wouldn't be able to handle it too well. But I do find a way to try to fall in love with what I do every day. In that way, painting, like anything else creative, is a lot like a relationship. Some days it takes a lot more work. I'm grateful most days for it, but some days, well, I just forget to be grateful.

2. Write stuff down. I may think I will remember those 7 digits to hack into my neighbors wifi, but tomorrow I won't. I won't remember some major epiphany I had today about painting skin tones in a month, more than likely. I will resort to my default when I come into the studio and haven't slept well. I will forget everything. I will even forget major life events. I will absolutely forget how I was feeling, what that important night smelled like, the names of people I met, what my deepest fears were. I won't remember who I hurt, what I said, what breakthrough I had. I won't remember that person that said something that stopped me in my tracks. I won't remember to update my blog more often (doh!). I will forget. I will forget all those things I worked so hard for, the things I felt so deeply. Especially when I am really feeling it. Then I will really forget.
I can't tell you (I forgot..) how many times I looked through notes when I was making this big body of work just to keep me on track with my own ideas. If you are in the process of formulating some bigger concepts, this is especially important, I think. I even have a piece of paper on my easel that says "Things that work",  and lists things like premixing big puddles of paint so I don't paint like a watercolorist in oils.

3. Stay an hour more than is comfortable. If you are working in a career you love and want, that is. At the desk writing, at a computer designing, reading, painting, drawing. Stay just one hour more than your natural inclination. I found over this past 6 months that that hour really, really made me grow. It's like the last half mile on the treadmill… you build your endurance right then.

4. It's normal to feel hopeless. As long as that feeling doesn't last for months and months, it's pretty normal I think, especially if  you are in a creative field, to feel overwhelmed, hopeless and just plain exhausted. It's not personal, really. I felt hopeless at least one day a week while I was getting ready for my solo show. "This is so stupid", "this isn't going to sell" "I make meaningless work" "I'll never finish on time" were floating around in my head consistently. I'm not sure if this ever goes away. They may get quieter with time.

5. You attract what you put out. Tried and true, as far as I'm concerned. In business, in relationships, in friends, in work. If you value honesty and try to be honest, you will attract that into your life. If you don't you won't.

6. If you are a painter, always have a tube of black acrylic paint handy. Scratches on frames, last minute signing of paintings that are shipping in 15 minutes, covering up edges of canvases, whatever. I use this ALL THE TIME. And  I only use it during really time sensitive emergencies, I've noticed, so having it around is a must for me.

7. Watch Fail videos when you feel overwhelmed. There is nothing like laughing at other people's stupidity when your day got too serious and too important. Thank you, John McLeod for this wonderful life lesson.

8. It's a good idea to say thank you. Over and over. People don't seem get jaded to this, and I agree.

9. Talk to your peers. Regularly. I don't know what I would have done these past few years without my peers for guidance. You can skip all the bullsh*t when talking to your peers about things that matter. Sometimes it has to be a peer, because the subtleties of creative work can fly over, say, your accountant friend's head. It's nothing to do with the accountant. It's just she probably can't help you out with how to take varnish off of a linen panel or maneuvering through a gallery contract versus a consultant contract. Or how hard it is to conceptualize and paint an emotion.

10. Drink water and go outside. Like a normal damn person! Don't get all vamped out and think drinking coffee alone can make you do good work. It can't.  It can, however, give you ulcers and shaky hands, and possibly hypoglycemia, which are, in effect NOT HELPFUL. I kept wanting to skip meals and paint when I got inspired. But the truth is, the days I did that, I slept poorly, felt crappy, and lost the entire next day. So an entire day lost, or 30 minutes to eat in the park? Most Americans are severely Vitamin D deficient. I am. Sit in the sun. Drink water, Eat. I needed to remind myself to do this way more than I like to admit.

See… don't you feel better? Thankfully, nothing we do is that important, in the end.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


A little while back, I had a wonderful collector write to me. He has been an avid supporter of my work, but also a very enthusiastic champion of my growth as an artist.
I know, I'm lucky.
He wrote to me, and after seeing the turnout of the sales for my last show, expressed some interest/concern. Basically, he wrote that many artists seem pretty able to handle disappointment  when it came to their art. It is, in a way, what fuels many of us and makes us stronger. Success, on the other hand, is something that many artists simply cannot handle.
I'm not saying I'm super-successful, not by a long shot. And I don't think he was implying that either. But over the past year, sales of my work have come easier, something I am incredibly grateful for.

Still, what he wrote got me thinking. Why would this be? Why would success be harder on creative people than disappointment?

Well, I'm not therapist (although I love to act like one, unfortunately), but I think I may be going through a very, very small example of this.

Simply put, to be successful, you must be open. And being open means you will change. And changing means you will be uncomfortable and probably leave a lot of the things that made you successful the first time around.

I showed with two other women last november. For some reason, I really threw myself into this work.  I really tried to fearlessly explore and not identify myself too much as "this kind of painter" . I tried to paint things I would want to look at.
And so, most of my work sold. And I celebrated this! It has been a long, uphill battle, and will continue to be, and we have to celebrate those kind of moments, right?!
The day after the opening, the gallery asked me to do a solo show in July. I have never done a solo. Of course I was thrilled, and still am. I'm grateful beyond words at having my career take this shift in pace.

That said, things have taken an interesting turn.

I'm on a schedule of about one painting a week right now, which is a lot of work. I don't think I'm really too scared to work in this way though.
What I have found, is that I have been trying to copy myself. All that openness and fearless exploration from before has turned into me going to my own website to see how I "used" to paint.


That's pretty backwards if you think about it, but probably pretty normal. We try to replicate the things that took us to good places in our lives, right? But that is anti-change in a lot of respects. I'm not claiming that we have to reinvent ourselves every time some event comes around. Far from it. But I do know that I have a tendency to want to hold on to something very specific and very limited to give me some sort of grasp on a situation. This one has to do with success, in some way. I want more success. I got success doing abc… so let me copy that abc... verbatim!

I think this can carry over to lots of other parts of life. A relationship that may have given you butterflies when it started may not do the same thing years later. If you try to make sure you will get this urge, you may be forcing something that has already evolved.

I guess I like and fear that word, "Evolve". It has this warm, fuzzy sort of greatness to it in concept, but in reality it is terrifying. And one can feel pretty lost on exactly HOW to evolve.
I reached out to some female painting friends of mine recently with this dilemma. I got so much wonderful feedback, but what really stuck out in my head is from a woman named Alia El-Bermani. She wrote to me that maybe what I was doing wasn't so much that I was having to find what  my exact voice was, but rather I was finding what I DIDN'T want to say, and how I didn't want it to sound, which is evolution as well...

One good thing about being really unsure about this work I do is that I remember THAT was part of the recipe in creating open paintings.
I can say so far that although I am grateful for any amount of success I have been experiencing, I think in some ways it is harder not to hold on tighter to outcomes.
So I guess that collector has a point.

Another thing Alia sent me was a video of a quote of Ira Glass. Enjoy! This made me cry:)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Brains, gamers and enlightenment

I wish I had a set of right brains. And just right brains. No lefties allowed.

You are probably asking yourself what on earth I'm talking about.

Well, after my New Years' ritual of writing what I am grateful for (whom, mostly), and what I would like to focus on for the year (gratitude), I decided to think of some of the best times in my life. There are lots, just as you probably have as well. My tenth birthday when my parents gave me a tiny ring with a pearl, and took me to an amusement park all day outside of Montreal. Listening to "Les Nubiennes" while waiting for my flight in Boston when I was moving to Italy. The first time I saw a guy I really had a crush on in college Art History. And then there is a MASSIVE experience that happened to me in 2007...

I was driving back from a trip to Birmingham with my friend Erica. It was early April, and all the greens were perfect outside. Not burnt to a crisp like in July, but  cool, wet greens. The buds on the trees were peeking out, but far from fully displayed.  This trip was quite normal... dropped off some paintings to a gallery, turned around, had nice drive with best friend. No big deal.
But the next morning I woke up, and everything was very, very different.

I saw.

I really saw for the first time in my life, I think. I could see all the leaves on the trees. I could hear footsteps on the sidewalk under my apartment window. I could hear my sister walking barefooted on the carpet in our living room. I felt so, so happy. That is the only word for it. Happy and present.
I stepped outside, and could feel the breeze. I could smell the city and the mountains in it. I could hear tires and talking and trees. I got to my studio and started painting, amazed by everything. Had I mistakingly taken some sort of drug?? I could HEAR my paintbrush on my canvas. Like a tiny symphony at my fingertips. I didn't question any of it. I just relaxed and enjoyed... everything. Food tasted so wonderful. My heart was fully present for my friends. I could hear their stories, for real. I could be there for them without trying to fix them. I could feel my lungs, my body, my eyes. I even went to a local arts festival to see art for the first time, I think. No judgments. I just remembered being awed by what everyone was doing... that they had taken ALL that time to MAKE something. wow. What a gift.
This stayed with me for TWO WHOLE WEEKS. After a week, I couldn't imagine the world in any other way. I didn't need to listen to music in the car, I didn't need to read anything. I didn't have to force myself to get inspiration.... it was there, full-throttle in my face. I felt BIG. I felt very, very open, like there was no difference between me and the air everyone was breathing.

No, I did not take drugs!!!

Then, all of a sudden, I got terribly sick. Like pneumonia sick. I NEVER get sick in my lungs, but I did then. And then, all at once, that beautiful awareness went away. All of a sudden the chatter was back...the inner monologue that never shuts up. I couldn't HEAR the grass anymore. The only time the monologue stopped was when I put music on so loud that my monologue just became the lyrics of someone else's monologue.

So what the hell was that? I'm not making it up, it was real. When I read about people dying, it is similar, just as when I read about enlightenment, it is similar. And ever since that happened, I wish it would come back. More than anything. That was the most beautiful thing I have ever encountered, and it fully changed my beliefs all at once.

So, This New Years', I asked if there was any way to get closer to this encounter again.
Low and behold, I stumble onto this video. A lot of you may have seen it, but I had not.

Jill Bolte Taylor

What an amazing thing she describes! And how cool that a neuroscientist has a stroke and can actually watch her brain in the process. I almost cried when I watched this (I love that she is a neuroscientist at Harvard and sounds like a big hippie). That is a lot like what I saw. But not quite as extreme as she described it, and I still had my other functions intact, just a lot quieter. But that's it. That's how it felt.

So I guess in all of this, it makes me think of art as well. If the left side of our brain wants to classify, arrange, order, correct, make linear, and explain everything, then is there art that roots more from that place? And what about the other side? People often think artists are free of this "left brain thinking", and are free as the wind to experiment. And we are. But most don't. Not really. Art making is like banking or any other profession. When done consistently, we want to explain, organize, and make neat little piles out of all the information. We just LOVE rules in art. We love to have everything work properly, tidy, and orderly. Even if orderly means a messy studio at 3am. That is what we do. We paint in a messy studio at 3am. Do NOT mess with this.
But what about art made from the right side of us? This is tricky. The right side is open, curious, naive, feeling, disorderly, awe-struck with everything, childlike.  Let's take it a step further. Do you ever notice when you experience something TRULY new, how it feels? Not many things are new to us in our society. But when they are, we are really LEARNING. We see our world more OPEN. We are more curious all of a sudden. We feel exhilarated. We see others differently, often. We are less separated. And what is weird is that there are opportunities all the time to do this.

Going outside of my comfort zone has been on my mind with all of this lately. This relates directly with the right brain, as I can see it. But there are things that I say are outside of my comfort zone, but really are not. I'm planning a trip to SouthEast Asia. Wow. SOOO out of my comfort! A new culture, new religion, new adventures. And this is true. But in a way, I'm REALLY comfortable with foreign things. I don't know WHAT they are, but I'm very agreeable to have them around and try them. I think it is civilized. I think it is cultured to travel. And I'm correct. But that's not outside of my comfort zone in any way. Culture, especially education and foreign culture, are things I have come to revere and cherish. So that's not REALLY pushing myself, in a lot of respects, though it's still a good thing.
But last week something did push me.

 I met my first gamer.

Yes, like a Dungeons and Dragons gamer. And I liked him. And I was so, so uncomfortable. Role-playing?? Characters that go on for years and have make-believe battles with each other?? Folks, for those of you who are as clueless to this world as I am, it doesn't involve video games or board games. It is like theater acting on crack mixed with ultimate nerdhood.
So here this guy is, telling me very honestly and kindly, about what he likes to play. And there I was, trying my best to keep my judgments out of my head. "Do you have a job, young man?" was what I wanted to say. Yikes! How very conservative of me.
This is the funny part. If I had met this man in Cambodia, say, and he was a local telling me about this wonderful theater-acting game they play, I would have jumped on the occasion to play with him. But because I live in Tennessee ( and come from the oh-so-cultured New York city) and have this big ol' left brain critiquing what this guy was telling me, I could barely hear what he was saying over my own judgments.
What a chance missed! If I had been more present with this situation, I would have seen that this was a new place for me. I know nothing about that world. I have never played one of these "games". They have always been too uncool for me. But I don't even know what they are!! And this happens ALL THE TIME. I walk away from new things due to my own fears of them. So in a way, our right brain is also the place where fear comes from.
And as grateful as I am to have this part of my body, and feel fear to keep me alive, it is not the part of my brain that I want to paint by. Nor have relationships from.
Maybe I like art that breaks my own story lines. Something to think about .. no pun intended.

Gamers are my new heroes, by the way.