Tag: abstract art

Artist Profile: Nicholas Wilton - Building Communities of Creatives One Workshop at a Time

Being a career west coast abstract artist would not be possible without the help of talented teachers.

When I first started this journey of becoming a professional artist, I was running solely on emotion and old, ignored art supplies.  I didn’t have a goal.  I didn’t know that this would be my career.  I was merely trying to express feelings of remorse, anger and agitation that were alarmingly amplified when I decided to quit drinking.  No longer comforted by simply burying these discomforts under the weight of alcohol, I unearthed them and then needed a tool for dealing with the difficulties that bubbled up.  

I had leftover paint, paper and some brushes and so I started.  I had never done abstract painting before, but sobriety was just about all my brain could handle.  Thinking about realistic details of a still life, or…let’s be honest here…trying to do anything with any specificity at all was really difficult.  I just began to move my brush-holding hand and abstracts are what sprung from my fingertips.  And it saved me.  

Finding art again was an unexpected gift given to me by my willingness to let go of old coping mechanisms and being open to getting to know myself.  Self-awareness had never been my strong suit.  So, discovering that I am an artist was amazing and at the same time, a “well duh” moment.  I knew it all along, I just ignored it because I didn’t think it was practical road to travel.

Guidance from an established west coast abstract artist and teacher was the inspiration I didn't know I needed.

Nicholas Wilton West Coast Abstract Mixed Media Artist
Nicholas Wilton is a Sausalito, CA based abstract artist and teacher whose workshop I attended flipped me into action.  I have been painting consistently since.

 

A year into my self-administered art therapy adventure, a good friend suggested that I take an Art 2 Life workshop taught by Sausalito, CA based abstract artist, Nicholas Wilton.  After briefly checking out his website, I was immediately attracted to Nick’s art.  His use of shape, repeated pattern, movement and vibrant colors widened my eyes and motivated me to learn more.  I signed up and drove to California for 5 days of art making.  It was the best thing that I have ever done for my art, my confidence and my career. 

Nicholas Wilton Art 2 Life Workshop Westerbeke RanchDay #1 of Nicholas Wilton's Art 2 Life Workshop at Westerbeke Ranch in Sonoma. 

Nick taught his 6 art principles which included color, harmony, value and design.  Many of these had been introduced to me in my long abandoned fine arts schooling but not thought of since, and they were important reminders, but his 6th principle was the most important and influencing….Soul.  Heeding soul was not taught in art world academia and wasn’t that what I was really working on?  Cleansing, listening, being receptive and responding to my soul?  Without knowing it, Nick was reiterating what I had been learning over the past year…to thine own self be true. 

Nicholas Wilton Art 2 Life WorkshopDay #4: My works in progress at Nick's Art 2 Life Workshop.  The finished version of the one in the right corner is at the top of this blog post.

Nick also believes in the importance of having a community to lean on as well as contribute to.  Over the past couple of years, he has continued to be a huge support and inspiration to me through his art, blogs, video lessons and willingness to make time for students like me.  He recently made himself available for a 15-minute interview so that I may share some of his wisdom with you. 

If you are an artist needing direction, I highly recommend his workshops and if you can’t afford those, just sign up for his blog "The Artlife".  He often sends out videos discussing his work, process and problem solving.  Read on for our conversation about his influences, challenges and maneuvering through the business of art. 

A 15 minute interview with west coast abstract artist, Nicholas Wilton.

MG: You seem to be a master of creating patterns without making the painting have a “wallpaper” feel.  Is that something that you have to work for or does it come naturally? 

NW: People always say to make exciting design, you have to have a variety of sizes and shapes and things, and you can, for sure…but you can also [work within] a pattern.  If the pattern is repeating, that can be somewhat monotonous because when we look at one part of the picture, the same kind of feeling occurs in another part of the picture, so that’s the recipe for sort of boring somebody.

Nicholas Wilton Color-Field-1 Abstract Painting Mixed Media ArtNicholas Wilton, Color Field One, 36x40, Mixed Media on Panel, Caldwell Snyder Gallery

But if you can offer differences within that context, that can become really interesting.  So, for example, maybe the pattern repeats, but the color is different on different parts of the pattern. Then that becomes noticeable and interesting.  Or maybe the texture is different.  (Pointing to the painting above.) That painting looks like little chips of color [in rows].  That’s not a very particularly exciting pattern because the pattern isn’t really anything…just a bunch of colors…but I’m talking about colors and the conversation about color.  All of the sizes are the same and they are in a line but I’m really paying attention and offering the viewer something that’s different.  There are contrasts that happen to be in the [different] colors.  Patterns can be wallpaper like but when you change things within that, then it becomes exciting.

MG: The first artist you studied with was a stained-glass artist Ludwig Schaffrath.  How did working with glass influence how you paint now?  What was the biggest lesson that you learned from him as a new artist that you carry with you today?

NW: Well I entered into it more as a craft.  I liked making things, so I was learning how to make stained glass.  The thing about stained glass is that [you start with] incredible pieces of glass.  Some are translucent.  Some are transparent. There’s glass from Germany that’s really beautiful. What you learn pretty quickly is that maybe it’s the materials that are so amazing. 

Let’s say you pull out this amazing piece of glass that you love. It’s so beautiful just on its own. Then you cut it up and you make a flower out of it... So, I became interested in the questions of why do I keep taking this amazing material and turning it into pictures that happens to be made out of stained glass, but really weren’t very good?  When you think about a picture of a stained-glass flower, it’s kind of bric-a-brac. It can be kind of cheesy.  So, I started to look around at different artists that were doing work as good as the materials.  

Nicholas Wilton Art 2 Life Workshop Work TableAn Art 2 Life Workshop table.  The raw materials are just as important as the finished product

 

Ludwig Schaffrath was making these incredible modern day monastery windows…very contemporary and very much in alignment with the glass. I was seduced by the materials because of the caliber of the finished product.  The materials were so good that it upped my game to get better at designing and using it. What I learned from this gentleman when I was 15, is that the only thing you can really do is something personal and unique.  If you want to copy reality, that’s fine but you have to do it in a way that’s personal. He was the first one to press that idea that I still teach today and try to do in my own work.

MG: I recall you saying in a workshop that you can try to make your art look like another artists’ but it’s never going to.  It’s always going to look like you. 

NW: Yeah.  We can try on different ways of working.  I can copy an artist for a day and try to make my art look like theirs but you won’t stay there very long because it’s not very interesting because they’ve already done it.  But it is important for you to pull out and discover the reason why you were attracted to their work.  You might love Mark Rothko but you don’t want to be Mark Rothko.  You just want to understand the way he’s using color because that’s what you love.  I wouldn’t want to do a Mark Rothko painting because he already did them all.  People learn that eventually and they move on. 

Nicholas Wilton Bone-Yard Abstract Art Mixed Media PaintingNicholas Wilton, Bone Yard, 12x12, Mixed Media on Panel, Caldwell Snyder Gallery (I LOVE this one.)

MG: What is the most challenging part of being an artist at a professional level?

NW: I think there are three parts: 1. Isolation 2. Not having all of the information to do this…it takes time to have all of the information, how to paint, what to do when you get stuck, all of that technical stuff and then 3. Having the right place to do it.   I couldn’t make these paintings in a small room anymore.  I had to move to a bigger space and it was scary.  I had to pay more, I wasn’t sure I could do it… Having a practice that works…that’s something you have to learn.  They don’t teach that.  Having a good community and a solid art practice or approach and just the basic information.  That is what I teach in my online courses and workshops.  If you can give that to people, that does it…. especially the community part.

Nicholas Wilton Millwork Abstract Painting Mixed Media ArtNicholas Wilton, Millwork, 60x60, Mixed Media on Panel, Caldwell Snyder Gallery

MG:  So creating a community of artists that you see regularly and having people that you talk with often…

NW:  Yeah and even connected on a Facebook group or whatever.  I’m really interested in creating community…that’s why I’m talking to you right now. We are staying connected.  We might not have talked for a long time but we’re connected and I just believe that’s a path that allows me or anybody to do this rather unusual activity and pull it off successfully. 

MG: You teach workshops as well as painting.  Do you enjoy one more than the other? Do you feel that teaching and painting complement each other?  How? 

NW: They work in conjunction.  I don’t think I could teach if I wasn’t doing the practice.  I have my own personal practice and then I’m helping people develop theirs.  I do these Sunday blog posts and those are done completely spontaneously.  I’m painting and then I learn something new or I’m getting new perspective and I just share that with people. Certainly, the teaching is derived from the painting. And teaching clarifies my own practice.  The best I ever paint is after 7 days of teaching a workshop.  I go home and I can pretty much guarantee that I’m painting more confidently and probably a little bit differently than I was before I left.  So, it’s a win/win as far as I’m concerned.  It works for me.

Also, you can’t forget that by teaching I’m getting inspired by all of these other people.  When I see your painting and what you’re doing…you’re painting larger now…I get that juice from you.  There’s been an exchange because we’ve worked together a little and I see what you’re doing and it’s bigger and it’s “wow!” and that fires me up and my day is just a little bit better and I use that energy to go do this challenge (pointing around the studio). 

Nicholas Wilton Pin-Point Abstract Art Mixed Media PaintingNicholas Wilton, Pin Point, 12x12, Mixed Media on Panel, Caldwell Snyder Gallery

MG: You had a gift line business adventure at one time.  How did you feel when that opportunity came along and why did you ultimately decide that it wasn’t for you? 

NW: I created the opportunity in a way because I was tired of doing illustrations…you get paid for one and then do another one and another one and another one… I would make some really good art but it would just disappear so I thought “how can I make some of this art stay around?” and the idea of putting it on products, gifts specifically, like trays, boxes and tote bags, came along and I worked with some friends and we created a company. 

What happened though was that the momentum, the need, the desire to sell, that directed the company, of course…that’s the whole point…to make money.  But my direction was partly that, but to also make the best possible work I could.  And at one point, one of our biggest sellers were basically little tiny cheap reproductions of paintings that you could get at Walmart or Bed Bath and Beyond for like $5. I saw my own personal work [reproduced] but I was uncomfortable because I’m also a fine artist and I had done a lot of work to keep my work at a premium, to keep the prices high, to make it prestigious, because it is. It’s what I do.  It’s really important.  But I saw that this was cannibalizing that and I didn’t like that.  It didn’t feel good to me.  And when something doesn’t feel good to me, regardless of the money, I know from art, from my life, you don’t do continue doing that.  You do something else. There are alternatives.

Nicholas Wilton Blue-Storm Abstract Art Mixed Media PaintingNicholas Wilton, Blue Storm, 12x12, Mixed Media on Panel, Caldwell Snyder Gallery

MG: Spring is almost here.  Seeing as nature is such a big influence for you, do you notice that your paintings and pallet choices change when the seasons change? 

NW: Yeah.  I think so. My studio isn’t heated and I’m warmer now, which is half the problem.  I get so damn cold in here because these ceilings are so high so I’m bundled up in the Winter and it’s just a hard road for a few months.  Also, I think Spring is more of an opening and unfolding and Winter is a closing more.  There is an ease to it and a looseness and more color.  I think there tends to be, over the course of an artist’s career, to go from control to more and more loose and more and more exploration and an opening or broadening and I think that relates to seasons as well.

MG: What piece of advice would you give a young artist starting out and does that advice change if someone is starting out as a young artist vs. an older artist? 

NW: I just think it’s important to realize that each person, old, young, whatever, whoever, if they’re interested in doing this and if they can pay attention to what they love, and really focus on that and look within themselves, that’s really the path to making personal, authentic, sellable, desirable work that you love.  That’s the path and that’s available and they have everything they need they just may need some guidance.  Everybody’s unique and everybody can therefore make unique and personal work.  They just have to pay attention to themselves.

Learn more about Nicholas Wilton on his website.

The painting at top by me is "Original Bubble" 12x12 Acrylic, Paper and Graphite on Birch Board and was one of the pieces I created while attending Nicholas Wilton's Art 2 Life Workshop in 2014.  

Want to Make a Living as an Artist? Better Learn to Hustle!

As I dive into a professional career as a West Coast abstract artist, I am caught in the balancing act of finding time to make art and also figuring out how to get my art noticed.  

I have been in my office today thinking about my job in advertising sales.  I sucked at it.  I had to cold call all sorts of different businesses, from architect firms to gift shops, by phone and in person, in attempt to sell ad space for a New Orleans city magazine.  I didn’t like it at all.  My boss would say things like “We don’t take no for an answer!”  In my mind, I’d be thinking “but they said no…wtf am I supposed to do about it?”  I’m not a pushy person and talking about circulation and demographics just sounded like a hustle.  I didn’t like the hustle.  Now that I’m following my passion, all that has changed. 

Self-promotion is a MUST if I want to get my abstract art noticed.

I had been working on my art biz for almost 4 years when I finally decided to become a full-time artist.  I have enough business background and had done enough research to know that self-promotion was going to be necessary and I was NOT excited about it.  My past experience in sales showed me that I didn’t enjoy it and in turn, I wasn’t very good at it.  

I have never been a person who enjoyed the spot light.  Alcohol used to help with that but when I gave that up, I felt as though I was an introvert who had been pretending, my whole life, to be an extrovert.  The last thing I wanted to do is stand in front of you and tell you how awesome I am.  I realize now that the issue was that I didn't think I was worth much, and how can you self-promote if you have no confidence in what you’re selling?

Finding creative ways to market myself as a West Coast abstract artist is half of my day.  The other half, I actually make art.

As I’ve been diving deeper into what it means to be a professional artist, I find that “hustling” is about half of my day.  I have to figure out different ways to promote my art. I don’t mind talking with people about my art.  I don’t mind sending emails and making phone calls, starting dialogs on Instagram and whipping out business cards without being asked.  In my prior sales experience, my cheeks would burn red and I would get embarrassed talking about the magazine.  It all felt so phony.  But now I believe in what I’m selling and I’m finding out that’s half the battle.

I know there are people in sales who are true artists of their trade.  They can sell anything to anyone at any time.  Hats off to them.  For the rest of us, the most important ingredient to getting noticed is to, first and foremost, believe in your product.  If you’re selling yourself, you’d better like yourself ok or you’re going to have a really hard time.

When I joined Instagram, I stumbled across an artist from Miami named Ronald Sanchez who recently had a show called Word Play.  I am attracted to his use of reclaimed objects and stencil work.  I love his strong typography use and mixed media projects, but what I am really attracted to is his message.

 

My Hustle Has A Hustle Ronald Sanchez Art Miami Florida

After I saw Ronald’s above piece, it became my mantra.  I’m not kidding when I say that every person I see, I’m wondering if they could be a potential collector or influencer.  If I meet you for the first time I’m sizing you up and I can’t wait to tell you I’m an artist.  When I see that spark of interest flash in your eye you can bet that what I’m thinking is, “how can I engage you further?”  My hustle really does have a hustle.  And when I’m feeling so confident about myself that I feel I can do no wrong, I look to another one of Ronald’s pieces that speaks out to me:

 

Humble Hustle Ronald Sanchez Art Miami Florida

 

I can’t forget that staying humble is sometimes as endearing as oozing confidence and the two working together, well it seems a balance that I’ll strive for the rest of my career.  So, thanks to Ronald, for giving me my work mantra.  Because even on days like today, when my hustle feels pretty small, I just have to remember that that the squeaky wheel gets the grease and that I’m not going to reach anyone without making a little noise.  

And with that, look out because I’m off to hustle you, your Grandma and anyone else that might buy my art.  (Note the link?  That's right...I'm hustling you right now!)

The piece at top is Submerged 36x36 Paper & Acrylic on Canvas and it is for sale in my gallery.  Buy it before someone else does...

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How Fear Makes Me a Better Abstract Artist

Fear Makes Me a Better Artist, Mountain Biker, Surfer, Skier, Mom, Wife...

Half way through my bike ride I stopped, ripped off my helmet, threw it to the ground and immediately burst into tears.  I had been mountain biking regularly for about 3 years and I couldn’t understand why I was still so scared.  I kept waiting for it to let up; for the fear to subside so I could bike with confidence; so I wouldn’t tremble whenever I went around a blind turn or when there was a sheer drop-off just a few feet away.  It never got better.  The moment I got on the bike, I was scared.  That was all there was to it.  As I picked up my helmet and inspected it for cracks, I asked “why on earth am I doing this to myself?”

This is the same fear I encounter every day in my work as an abstract artist.  Fear is alive and well and looms in my studio like a dark cloud.  It follows me to the computer when I’m trying to figure out marketing and social media.  It gets blustery when I sit down to write blog posts (because I’m a visual artist, not a writer!).  It starts to drizzle when I think about the future and if my choice to make art my living is a prudent thing to do. 

After that bike ride, I made a decision to stop riding.  I would no longer try so hard to do things that scared me like that.  That evening, I ran into my buddy, Nick.  (No, not on my bike…at a concert.)  Nick is also a mountain biker.  I vented that I was tired of the fear, tired of feeling timid, and that I just didn’t understand why it wasn’t getting better.  Then Nick told me something that changed my life:  IT NEVER GOES AWAY.  He said that after years and years of riding, he still gets scared and get this…he likes it.  It’s part of why he rides.  ?????????WTF?????????  Nick encouraged me not to quit and to embrace the fear.  It was a tactic I had never thought of. 

mountain biking Applegate Lake Applegate Valley OregonMountain biking on Applegate Lake.  It took me a long  time to get used to the sheer drop-off to my right.  Photo by Chris Goodyear.

Fear and Art is Another Version of Fear and Life

When I call myself an artist, I feel scared.  When I start a new painting, I’m scared.  When I decided to quit my job, and pursue art, I was so terrified that I got acid reflux and had to quit drinking coffee (true story).  But here’s the deal: some of the things that bring me the greatest pleasures in life are things that I’m scared of.  Mountain biking, surfing, skiing, being a good mother and wife, abstract painting…  I have the same reaction to them all.  I’m scared of failing so I work harder at it.

Abstract Art Inspiration Comes with Accepting the Reality of Fear

What Nick said to me changed everything.  I got back on the bike, this time, with a reframe of fear in my mind.  “Ok Fear!  You’re here!  I’m here!  Neither of us are going anywhere so let’s try to work together, yeah?”  I started peddling and a strange thing happened.  When I knew that fear was a natural reaction, it didn’t scare me as much.  It didn’t go away, but I wasn’t paralyzed by it and it didn’t influence my motor skills.  Riding became smoother and I became a better biker.

I have written before that I used to live my life driven by fear.  It’s true.  But what I have been able to do through outdoor sports like mountain biking is to re-define my relationship with fear.  There are times when fear means “STOP NOW” and there are times when I can brush it off my shoulder. 

mountain biking dread and terror trail north umpqua oregon
Smiling on the Dread and Terror portion of the North Umpqua trail.
Photo by Chris Goodyear

The Freedom of Art: Doing My Art Anyway Even If I Am Scared

Think of it in terms of a different emotion, happiness.  When I found out that I was going to be published in an art journal, I was so happy that I bounced up and down and hugged everyone around me and shrieked in excitement.  But does that mean that every time I feel happy that I need to do an ecstatic freak out dance of happiness?  I would go so far as to say that would not be normal behavior.

I have no idea what I’ve gotten myself into.  I don’t know if I will succeed as an abstract artist but maybe all I need to do is live with that insecurity knowing that it very well may never go away.  I do know one thing, staying still is no way to move forward. There a sure-fire way of falling over on a bike in a creek crossing and that is to stop peddling.  I think I’ll put one peddle in front of the other and keep moving.  Through moments of doubt when painting, through insecurities that tell me I’m not good enough.  I’m not going to stop and stare at that because then I’ll just be stopped and one thing is for sure…I do not enjoy and have never enjoyed being still.  I got things to do and people to see and paintings to paint and hustles to hustle.  Onward!

Artwork at top is Divide and Conjure 12x12 on Birch Board

"My Hustle has a Hustle." - Artist Ronald Sanchez

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How the Tortured Artist Persona is Actually the Process in Motion (even if it makes me want to puke.)

Pain and Art

I woke up this morning feeling defeat.  My painting is not coming along easily.  I’m running out of regional interior designers to email and art consultants to contact.  I still haven’t made that first sale to a stranger that I have put so much importance on.  My day job is ending in about a week.  I have to make it to the blasted grocery store today.  My scalp is itchy and my knee hurts.  Bitch, bitch, bitch… 

Suffering is Part of the Process

This part of the process isn’t easy.  The part where I am nearly physically sick.  The part where I doubt myself.  Every time I go through the same panic; the same nausea; the same “it will never come easily again!” feeling.  I will fail!  I will fail! I will fail!  I was actually walking around my studio saying “It’s awful! It’s terrible!  The most horrible I’ve ever done! I’m doomed!” (Enter thunder clap here.)  Oh, the drama!

mixed media abstract painting
 This is where it started.  I like it at this point but it is too "wall paper" like.  Time to take chances.

I have been through this process enough to know that over this hump is a real step forward.  Past this point, the painting has a history.  History ain’t always pretty, but it sure makes things more interesting and it allows room for learning and growth.    A painting has to have a past before it can have a present.  It is a gestation; a metamorphosis.  Even if it makes me want to vomit.  I mean…I got morning sickness while pregnant, right? 

 mixed media abstract paintingWell that's kind of cool...but still, something is missing. More chance taking ensues. 

Pain Brings Depth to Art 

When people ask me if I miss New Orleans, I say that I miss the architecture and the history.  I miss the oldness of the place.  I miss the ghosts.  New Orleans has lived so many lives, both beautiful and frightening.  It has so many layers and it is these layers that create fascination and mystery.  The ghosts of my frustration bring tension to the party.  It creates a mystery to unravel.  Otherwise my paintings are just pretty things on a wall.  

mixed media abstract paintingDetail of the "Oh Lord what have I done" moment. 

I figured all of this out while going through this painting’s grueling process. Prior to this painting, I have ridden out this feeling thinking that something is wrong with me.  There is nothing wrong with me or this blasted piece.  I know that I shouldn’t look at it as a crappy painting…it’s not even done yet. Without this step, the place beyond does not exist.  That doesn’t mean that it’s any easier to witness.  I still feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach.

 mixed media abstract artSwitching directions is nerve racking but often necessary. Even though it is now muddy and I'm not sure where to go, I already feel better.

Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Suffering is justified as soon as it becomes the raw material of beauty.”  So, I begin today with a cup of coffee and some blog post writing in order to step away from the perceived piece of poop on my easel.  I know that with just the right amount of space and by allowing this God-awful feeling to have a role, a thing of beauty awaits.  It is part of my process and if I have to shed a few tears sometimes to get there, so be it.

 mixed media abstract painting artHere and at top is The Bus 48x48 Mixed Media on Canvas.  Sometimes you just have to get on and take the ride.

I’m not saying that all artists are tortured or that pain is necessary to create art, but it seems to be the case for me and that’s ok.  Anyway, the only thing that’s really wrong with me is that I think something is wrong with me.  That has always been the case and if that isn’t a tortured artist quote then I don’t know what is.

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If Opinions are Like A**holes, is Advice Actually Helpful to Artists?

I’ve been pushing this painting around as if I’m rearranging a room.  No huge, OMG changes but slowly the composition has been coming together and while I know it’s not done yet, I’ve been having fun with this one instead of feeling the dread “why isn’t this coming together?” feeling.  I’ve been thoughtful with my brush strokes while still letting my heart guide me.  It’s a balance that feels so good when it’s present.  Too much heart and the composition tends to get lost and the pallet is all over the place.  Too much thought and the painting is tight and has a feeling of being bound.  So, I’m feeling pretty good…

…Then I send the in-progress picture to my Mentor.  She likes it but says to be careful about being too tidy and that I need to be looser with my brush strokes.  I feel frustration coming over because it had felt so good when I was doing it and now I’m questioning that I actually know when I attain that important balance of heart and head and maybe I can’t really recognize it and if I can’t recognize it then maybe I’m not doing it right and if I’m not doing it right then maybe blah blah blah… and now my brain is off to the races.  I only need one little bit of doubt to creep in and everything else, all the hard work and that wonderful feeling of balance is, in my mind, shot to shit.  Not to mention I’ve already forgotten that she said she liked it.

abstract, art, expressionism, painting, contemporary, wip, work in progress, artist, mixed media
Too Tidy...?

I have a tendency to lean towards insecurity so by default I take things way too personally and generally assign too much importance to what other people think.  This, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with my Mentor.  She is a wonderful artist and a lovely friend who gives terrific advice.  She has a wealth of knowledge and experience.  She has guided me to the place where I am now.  She is invaluable and I don’t know what I would do without her.  That being said, I think that as an artist, I need to be able to draw a line between the soul of the art, and other people’s advice.

Artist, skeptisismWilamena and I are skeptical of opinions

When someone gives me advice, I tend to take it.  Especially when it comes from people that I love and/or respect.  Why wouldn’t I take it?  They know more than me.  They are further along in their careers than I am.  I should take the advice…right?  I’m thinking the answer is, not always.  And that’s the tricky part.  How do I know when I should take the advice and when I should continue on as I have been? 

 safety first, mask, sanding, good adviceMy carpenter Husband says that I should use a mask while sanding...that sounds like good advice from a reliable source.

I’m an emotional person who tends to think in extremes.  I go from smiling and being amenable to everyone’s advice to feeling resentful and vowing never to take anyone’s recommendations ever again.  (Blog on being a tortured artist forthcoming.)  I make the best decisions when I can remove my insecurity from the situation and ask the simple question “Is that right for me and my art?”  For instance, I’m looking at my piece 24 hours of cool down later and now that the comments are not so raw, yes, I can indeed see that there are areas that are too tight and tidy.  That doesn’t mean that the entire piece is bad, for Pete’s sake!  Breathe Girl!



Cross Town Traffic 24x24 Mixed Media on Canvas...and she was right...it was way too tight and tidy.

I suppose that what I need to learn is to do is to say “Thank you” and then give my emotions time to chill before making the decision to fully heed the opinions of others...or not.  There is a practicality about advice when it comes from a trusted, experienced source but there is also a point at which I know what’s best within my own process. So, I need to practice getting my Om on in order to find my own voice within this sea of people that know more than me.  And let’s face it, sometimes a painting needs a little crazy to balance out the practical. That may just be the contrast that this painting needed.

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How Gravity and Waves Aid My Creative Process

I have not been in the ocean for over 2 months, which is the longest lapse in the past 5 years or so.  I have been working on a website, setting up and keeping up with social media, learning how to create ads, reaching out to potential customers and making art.  On top of that there is family, which is always a priority, and rest (because if I don’t get enough rest, apparently I go bat shit crazy).  What has been lost? Exercise and getting to the coast. 

I’ve been trying to be better about exercise and I can gerbil at the gym with the best of them, but I need to get outside.  I’ve been thinking about my love for surfing, mountain biking and skiing and why those activities are part of my art practice; part of my formula for creativity. 

surf, surfer girl, ocean, beach, waves, cold water surfingMe surfing in Del Norte, CA.  Photo credit: Christian Dalbec

When I was in art school at Boston University, Professor Peter Hoss http://www.peterhoss.com/, my drawing teacher and the only teacher that I really connected with, made us read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Zen and the Art of Archery.  While I haven’t read either in over 20 years (I probably should as a refresher), they resonated with me so deeply that I scored the highest in the class on the written tests pertaining to these books.  It boggled my mind that I could see the message in these books so clearly and yet be so uninspired by art school. In the most abbreviated and loose interpretation, the Zen books are about getting lost in the moment.  Going to such a meditative space when engaged in an activity that you love, that all else slips away and time melts.  Even though I wasn’t happy in art school, I clearly knew what that was like and recognized that I felt it when making art.

mountain biking, biking, exercise, coast, trailMe in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.  Photo credit: Chris Goodyear

When I am on a surf board in the ocean, I do not have time to interpret the thoughts in my head.  When a wave is approaching me, my body and mind are one and I can only “do now”.  It puts me in a present state the same way that flying down a trail on a bike, or down a mountain on skis does as well. There is no time to think about my actions, I just have to trust that my body will react to what my brain observes and know that if I simply relax and roll with it, I have the best outcomes.  Engaging in these sports feeds the part of my brain that is able to let go and just be. 

skiing, ski, winter fun, snow, mount shasta, mountain

Skiing on Mount Shasta. Photo credit: Chris Goodyear

Each time I fill up that bucket of present-being, it flows into every part of my life.  My art is richer, deeper and more complex.  Balance and composition are not such a struggle.  Color choice is not overthought.  It is easier to surrender to the moment.  One thing flows to the next in a smooth and graceful stream of action and a painting appears.  

When I don’t fill up that bucket I am more resistant to that stream.  When that bucket is running on fumes, I overthink and swim against the current. I can keep it from running out entirely by practicing seated meditation each morning and getting out to hike, but my brain can still get lost in thought when doing both.  I need to be part of the speed that gravity creates or to feel the power of the waves.  Engaging with forces that I cannot control results in an overflowing abundance of present sight.  I have to focus on, and only on, what is happening NOW.  The ticker tape of thought is paused and instinct kicks in.  Brain and body work together in a brief moment of synchronicity, where there is no time to question either.

mountain, hike, mount ashland, outdoors

On top of Mount Ashland.  Photo credit: Chris Goodyear

 

That being said, I best be planning to get to the ocean soon.  Even if just for the day.  Even if the surf report is less than ideal and that blasted south wind is whipping.  I need to get out, paddle around, say hi to the sea lions and literally be immersed in nature. So down the Redwood Highway I go to the wind lashed, foggy, rugged, temperamental paradise of the Northern California Coast.  Time to inhale the marine layer and get lost in the sound of the waves.  Surf’s up y’all.

Painting at top is Quiver 28"x22" Mixed Media on Canvas - A gift for my amazing surfer dude husband. 

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When in Doubt Do! Words to Live By…As an Artist

My Mom always encouraged me to listen to my gut.  To be honest, I wasn’t very good at it at all.  Strike that…I could hear it, but I was terrible at basing my decisions on what my instincts were telling me.  I would become confused by what I thought others’ expectations were of me.  What did they want me to do?  How could I best please them?  It has taken me a long time to not only listen to my inner most self but also base my decision making on these gut reactions.

mixed media abstract painting work in progress
Step 1: Throw some paint on a panel. 

I brought a serious art practice back into my life about 3 years ago when I quit drinking.  It was during this time that I had to learn how to do basic things…like how to make decisions based on my best self.  To thine own self be true became words to live by.  Words that I had heard a million times but never truly grasped their meaning. 

This re-learning became the hardest process that I have ever gone through to date.  I realized that I was a liar.  Sounds harsh, I know, but I had lived my life ignoring what I knew what was best for me because I was scared others would disapprove, and thus I had lived my entire life coming from a dishonest place.  It was a blow.  I had always prided myself on being a good friend, a good Mom, one whom others could depend on, but how good a person could I be when underneath all of these good deeds was a horrifying resentment of nearly every person I had a relationship with.  “I made these decisions to make you happy and it’s not working out at all!!!  How dare you?!”  Or, “I did this for you!  So obviously it is your fault!”.   I was under the illusion that if I based all that I did on how it affected others, I was not only a better person, but I was selfless and giving.  It was a lie.  I was doing a disservice to myself, my family, my friends.  It was heartbreaking to realize how I had let myself down and in turn, let everyone around me down as well.

mixed media abstract painting work in progressStep 2: Try some letter stensiles and paper with a random floral pattern.

 

As I was maneuvering through the vast hallways of my brain, painting became my outlet where anything goes.  Safety was thrown out the window, and I could jump off as many proverbial cliffs as I wanted to.  I want to paint over half of what I just did…do it.  I want to peel off half the paper that I spent two days putting on…why not?  I want to change my pallet half way through because, fuck it, that’s why.  Nothing was safe.  Nothing was too precious.  Nothing needed to be saved. 

mixed media abstract painting work in progressStep 3: Add more paint in a totally different palette.

 

I LOVE this about art.  The moment that an idea enters my head, usually doubt isn’t far behind.  But what does it matter?  If my painting is for me and only me, then whose approval do I need to make these decisions?  I’ll tell you who…NO ONE.  So when I’m surfing and there’s an 8 foot wall of water coming at me and doubt creeps in saying that I am not in the right spot to take off on that wave, I listen.  But when I’m at my easel and I’ve been painstakingly creating a meticulous pattern out of paper that I have cut hundreds of pieces of so they are the same size, and all of a sudden I want to paint a huge diamond over it, why not?  I can always re-create the pattern.  In fact, if I look at a painting and I know that I can recreate it, then it is time to jump off the cliff.  Grab a different medium.  Experiment with a paint brush that is ten times larger than the one I’ve been using.  Do something to shake things up.

mixed media abstract painting work in progressStep 4: Add crazy dense pattern and some striped paper.

There’s a Luscious Jackson song where at the end they chant “Live Slow. Die Old”.  I have taken these words to heart over the past three years.  I lived hard and fast the first 36 years of my life and slowing down feels good, but I admit, I get squirrelly.  I enjoy listening to my teenage daughter’s drama at school because I miss drama.  I don’t miss drinking, but I miss the excitement.  It makes risk taking with my artwork easier because it is risk without any fallout.  I can take a screwdriver to the wood panel that I’ve been working and scratch the heck out of it. I may not like the outcome, but then again, it might be awesome. 

I believe that in my art, there are no mistakes.  Only opportunities that come from taking chances.  It keeps me fresh and alive.  It creates interest and depth.  It makes the rebellious twinkle in my eye stay bright and let’s face it, I do and have always tended to lean against the grain and that is where I am comfortable…and that is ok.  It’s who I am and TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE.  So excuse me…I have a few canvases to go and blow up. 

mixed media abstract paintingStep 5: Draw large graphite oval.  It was obvsiously missing.
 Finished painting here and at top is called Brainiac 30"x30" Mixed Media on Panel

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Why I Make Art

As I sit down to write my very first blog post, I thought I should probably start simply and to the point.  Why is it that I make art? In order to answer this question, I have to clear my head of all the complicated, swirling explanations that want to manifest, because it is really quite simple and I have a habit of over complicating things.  I make art because I have to.  I didn’t always know that it was such a huge part of me.  When I was a much younger and an active artist, I knew.  But somewhere along the road of college majors, different career paths and having a family, I forgot.  It seems silly now.  I mean, how do you forget who you are?  But I did. Now, middle-aged and quite tired of playing the career game, it is very clear.  I am an artist and thus, I make art because it is the only thing that I have ever done that I was truly comfortable doing.  It fits effortlessly.

When I was in my late teens and in the visual arts program at Boston University, art felt stifling.  It was too classical and there was not enough experimentation.  I ended up with a business degree from the BU School of Hospitality.  The culinary classes were more of a creative outlet than the art program was.  It was there that much confusion began.  I never believed that art was a career where I could make a living.  It was a hobby.  An outlet not to be taken seriously.  The funny thing is that my family, teachers and friends supported me in my art.  They all seemed to think it was a realistic path for me.  I have been plagued most of my life with negative self-talk and a lack of confidence.  Thus, when I switched majors to study accounting, marketing and food & beverage management, I was leaving the only part of me that really mattered behind.  Since then, I have been a round peg trying to shove myself into square spaces.

 

I have always been an all or nothing kind of girl:  Relationships, food, alcohol, jobs, whatever it was didn’t matter.  I was either all in or all out.  It was the same for art.  Once I left the BU art building, I think I stepped foot in it once over my next four years.  In my nearly 20-year search for my career path I worked in restaurants, for caterers, yoga studios, accounting and brokerage firms, a city magazine sales office, an internal education department at a medical school and finally, organizing other people at a non-profit where I have been for the past 8 years.  In that time, I busted out the hot glue gun and papier-mache to make Mardi Gras crowns or other costume accessories and I created elaborate meals and table settings, but that was the extent of my artistry.  During the “Big Search”, my alcohol intake continued to grow as a crutch to mask feelings of inadequacy and not fitting in.  I drank to feel confident.  It wasn’t until sobriety hit that I realized what I had been ignoring for so long:  I am an artist and I need to make art.

I was sober only a few months when abstract paintings began flowing from me.  Painting became my meditation.  I then started focusing on the activities that would aid my creativity.  Sitting meditation, a practice of which I begin every day, became habit.  Being outside, especially in the ocean surfing but also mountain biking, skiing and hiking was how I prioritized my free time.  I realize that all of these practices have this in common: they put you in the moment.  Learning how to shut off the constantly nagging (and mostly negative) internal dialog.   Because my art is an expression of the present and if I don’t actively stoke that fire, it grows dimmer. 

I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since February of 2013.  In that time, I have created a body of work that I am proud of.  I haven’t felt pride like this since my art room days of high school.  It seeps into all areas of my life.  I can better speak up for myself with confidence.  I recognize self-care as a life line for myself and all those around me that I care for.  And…I’m surfing like the Bad Ass Mama that I am.  So I ask myself, “Why do I make art”?  The simple answer is because I HAVE to.  Because without it, I am an empty shell constantly searching for answers that have been there all the time but I chose to ignore.  I make art because it lights up my face and my daughter can see that light and she tells me that she’s proud of me.  I do it because it brings happiness to me and my family.  In fact, after doing this consistently over the past 3 years, I can’t help feel a sadness that it took me so long to see what is now so obvious.  I suppose I had other things to do, and I know that all those experiences will help me down this new, yet old path.  I’m so glad that I’m back here.  I missed it so much. 

 

Painting at top is Derby Day 12"x12" Mixed Media on Birch Board.

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