A few weeks ago, I was visiting Mitchell Giddings Fine Arts in Brattleboro, Vermont where Petie Mitchell introduced me to a woman who is determined to bring a lot more fine art and excellent craft into our area of southeast Vermont. Her name is Kay Curtis and she has created a new Artist Coop called Harmony Collective. It’s at 49 Eliot Street in Brattleboro. There are 25 artist right now with a goal of 31 in the near future. So what got me here? Simply my decision to say yes and get in the game rather than stand back and create more art alone on a hill in Vermont.
Like many small towns in our country, Brattleboro is experiencing an obvious increase in homeless people and people requesting money in our small downtown. It has steered lots of people away from spending time on and around our Main Street. I can’t solve that problem, it’s complex. But I can contribute my time and talent to help keep Brattleboro the vital arts community it has been. Numbers count. More people visiting our downtown to shop, to dine, to see a movie or a play, to see art, to be with one another – it all serves to keep our culture alive and growing. We all know, if you ain’t growing, you’re…
I know two methods certain to boost your energy while
painting. The first is to paint with a group of other painters. Nobody wants to
set up all their gear and then be seen as a loafer… distracted and waiting
around for inspiration that isn’t going to come.
The second is to actually be excited about what you’re
painting. Sometimes it’s easy. A scene may inspire you so much that you can’t
paint it fast enough. Other times it’s difficult to ignite the flame and keep
it burning through to the finish. Getting physical is an effective antidote to
mental fatigue. Often, I will work large or set arbitrary deadlines for
completing the next stage of my painting.
It’s amazing what a deadline can do. Stress
motivates. It really does. Action is self-sustaining. When you are physically
working, your craft, your process becomes its own reward. Before you know it,
you’ve turned that blank canvas into something. Don’t jump into self-evaluation
too quickly. Be content that for another hour or another day, you were in the
game! That’s where it all happens. The swings, the misses, the hits, and the
home runs… they all add up. And isn’t creating and working what it’s all about?
Do you want to create more art but don’t have the time?
The first steps are easy and a must for creating MORE art
than you currently do.
Stop watching TV.
Stop staring at your phone… no matter what has
Get out of bed an hour earlier every day.
Limit yourself to one alcoholic drink per day…
if even that.
These four points alone will allow most people the time and
focus they need to create more art every day. That’s seven days a week, not
five, not two. It’s seven.
Do connect with those people important to you almost every
day. We need connection. An isolated artist bores the rest of us. Do exercise,
eat well, meditate, and take care of your physical and mental health. Breath
life into your relationships, your health, and your experiences so you actually
have something to say with your art, and you can say it strongly.
Do practice talking about and writing about your art like a teacher would. Just start, even if it’s the basics of materials and subjects. You will learn what is important and you will improve your art even when your materials are not in your hands.
Now it’s time to work! Stop planning. Stop waiting. Put the phone down. Inspiration is for amateurs. Professional sit down and do their work… everyday.
Vermont landscapes… mountains, farms, villages, and trees. Most of my landscapes have been a combination of at least three of these four elements. Three weeks ago, I challenged myself to paint only a group of random trees in the woods. Nothing else. My last blog featured the resulting “Locusts and White Pines”. It involved a real struggle. In the process, I worked through some tough (for me) situations and created a good, strong piece. So this past weekend, I tried again. I challenged myself to simply go out in the yard and paint a stone wall. It involved a real struggle. In the process, I worked through some tough (for me again) situations and created a good, strong piece.
I might be on to something. Pushing out of my comfort zone when I don’t really have to is not easy. I was urged on by my friend Joe. He’s been pestering me to become much more than a technician. “Become an Artist for crying out loud!” I’m on my way Joe. I’m on my way.
I can surely say I got lost in the woods creating this piece. I really didn’t know where I was going(with my art). At first glance I saw a wall of trees with the sunlight reflecting off the bark. The low angle of the sun allowed it’s light to penetrate well past the edge of the woods. The scene seemed to scream out for attention while whispering a dare, “Just try to capture what I have on display at this moment. Hurry, I’ll only hold this sunlight for a few minutes this late in the day.” I love the beauty of early spring. Nature lays herself bare. She’s mostly hard edges and unfiltered sunlight. Just right for a guy with a bottle of ink and a dish of water. A friend recently told me that great art is the artist co-creating with his materials, not creating in a sterile environment. Said another way, “Allow your materials to do what they do. Give your medium permission to whisper or scream and know it won’t always go as planned.” Be open to little accidents becoming little wins. Your painting may be filled with little unplanned wins. They arrive on the wings of spontaneity fueled by enthusiasm and constant work. “Locusts and White Pines” was the result of very little planning. In fact it was a big risk. I have not painted a scene like this before. It could have gone bad in a big way. It didn’t. I sure had doubts when I was lost(artistically). I’m happy I let my materials help me find my way. Thanks to you India Ink and my wide assortment of grubby brushes, squeegees, and steel wool. It was kinda fun in the end.
Last week I spent two days at a plein air oil painting workshop with David Lussier. I have long admired David’s landscapes. His color palette is beautiful and his brushwork among the finest and most confident I have seen. I was pleasantly surprised that there were only five artists in his class. Perhaps David was hoping for more but five was just fine with me. More attention from the teacher. There is something about the shared energy of a group of painters, together but independently all trying to accomplish the same thing. Support is authentic. Shared joy washes over the group. The work is king, no shortcuts, no excuses. Time flies and soon you have an original that never existed before. I loved it! So next time you have the opportunity to create art alongside other artists, please dive in. It’s difficult fun that can at times feel like too much work… until the work is through and it ended way too soon.
Does this sound familiar? You’re a creative person and you
love to build. You may have a medium of choice (oil paint) but you find
yourself tinkering with other mediums (watercolor, ink, clay, wood, charcoal,
stone). At the same time, professional art sellers tell you to focus on one
thing if you want to be successful. And they don’t just mean one medium. They
want one type of subject, one audience, one way. If you want to sell more art,
this may be good advice.
However, from the viewpoint of a creative, growing artist, we need to be always pushing ourselves and working on our craft in new ways. How boring is it to paint the same thing year after year? I love to draw. It makes no difference if I’m using pencils, charcoal, conte’ crayons, or ink. When I work with oil paint, half the enjoyment is the initial drawing with dirty turpentine and burnt sienna. In a workshop with Charlie Hunter, he had us drawing with paper towels and Q-tips.
Here’s something to consider: every two years take a
workshop with either an artist, a medium, or a subject matter that you have
little experience with. I’ve done it and I’ve been pleasantly surprised often.
This makes us work in new ways and at a rate much faster than trying something
new on our own. Work! That’s what’s important. It’s the process that helps us to grow. Visions and dreams are just visions
and dreams until you do the work. Go get your hands dirty making something. If
it rubs off elsewhere in your work, great! If it doesn’t, wash up and move on.
You’ll see the dirt under your nails and know you dug in and tried something
About half way through Bruce’s 2018 Broadway show, he tells his audience about getting 1 + 1 to equal 3. It’s art, not science. I can tell early on if this is going to be a 1+1=2 painting or a 1+1=3 painting. It takes sustained energy and enthusiasm to make 1+1=3. It doesn’t happen every day. Don’t artists live for the 1+1=3 days? That’s when the magic happens. That’s when we produce our best work. We’re in the zone. Work flows, love is present, time stands still. I long for this zone toward the end of a painting in the hope that I can somehow tie it all together and breathe new found energy into the piece. But truth be told, it’s the beginning that most needs the magic of 1+1=3. Then I have something really worth working on. Something that really adds up.
Pink Floyd has a song with the lyrics about living a life of “quiet desperation (is the English way)”. Sometimes life as an isolated artist makes you feel like the central character in that song. Thankfully, I have my art group. Three years ago I was voted into this band of talented contemporary artists centered here in Newfane and South Newfane, Vermont. We are the Rock River Artists. Our focus has always been our annual studio tour which is the third weekend of July. It’s a big weekend to prepare for. People visit the space I work in. I share my inspiration and perspiration. And I sell a few pieces to folks who love original art.
Three days ago, our group got together for a meeting and then toured the studio of fellow member Deidre Scherer. Sure, we spent time planning our July weekend, the necessary PR, the needed high res images, the money needed, and who will do what as the studio weekend approaches. But once this was done, the important stuff happens. We all visited Deidre’s studio where she showed off what’s next in her art life. It was a wonderful time. Her talent is first rate, her studio is wonderful, and her current work is as surprising as it is recognizable. It is on first glance totally new. At the same time, it looks like where she’s been aiming for some time.
This is why I joined the Rock River Artists. It’s for the community. It’s for the dialog. It’s even for the (constructive) critiques. So please pay us all a visit if you are in our area on July 20-21 this summer. We’d love to share our not so quiet desperation with you.
I paint in hundreds of greys… you may even see some black and white in my work. When you observe life as a painter does, you see more. You just do. A zebra is much more than just black and white. There are many light greys and almost white whites. There are many dark greys and almost black blacks. The highlights, shadows, and textures are all needed to really tell the story of a particular zebra. It’s the same with snow. I could never paint a convincing winter landscape without lots of greys. Zebras in many greys
In my work, the darkest darks often have a little something extra deep inside. Flat black is boring. Bright white has little to say. It’s everything in between that keeps our interest. Have you ever noticed that people who see the world in terms of black and white think they have the answers? And they love to tell you their concrete opinions too? It’s always this way or that way. Rarely is their view in shades of grey. Conversations with them are boring. You have to listen to a stream of opinions on their view of our world.
The many shades of Snow in Vermont.
Most artists see a whole lot more. Paintings, like life, should have texture. Paintings, like our personality, have layers. In art school, we always wanted to draw and paint weathered, old faces rather than fresh, young models. I am not very interested in just adoring art. Tell me a story! Does your art say much about the passion you put into your work? If it does, great! If it doesn’t, start over. Work faster. Work more. Make lots and lots of messy marks. Get physical. Be daring. Don’t aim for perfection. Don’t be boring. Be awesome!