A.R.T. and A.D.D.

It’s a little known fact that I have A.D.D.  Just for funzies lets throw in a little depression and O.C.D. while we’re at it.  I’m an alphabet soup of clinical terms – tasty!   Don’t worry, this isn’t anything new for me and I have a lifetime of experience learning how to live with these little brain-minions of mine.  Something that I also have is A.R.T.  The creative drive to express myself.

I’ve painted my whole life.  Drawn, sculpted, you name it.  I’ve been creating ever since I could pick up a crayon.  It was and is to this day my strength.  My drive to do better, my self-expression, my gift to the world.

So how do I balance A.R.T. with my brain?

I embrace A.D.D. when I create.  After many years I realized that part of my creative process is to be EVERYWHERE.  Let me give you a “for instance”.  Whenever I prep for a new art show I always start by re-setting my studio.  Tidy, put things back where they belong, put my body into productive motion.   I give myself a day to organize my thoughts and focus my energy.  I know that throughout this “focus day” I will get distracted.  It is inevitable.  This is A.D.D. and I accept that.  I give my A.D.D. permission to look at the shiny object.  By giving myself this day I get my wiggles out.  As I re-set my studio I take notes, make sketches, and it looks a little like this:

 1.  How many pieces to I need to paint?  How big?  Subject matter?

I’ll sketch what I imagine the gallery wall will look like or what the cluster of panels will look like hanging.  Horizontal?  Vertical?  Big?  Small?  I place all my panels together and begin to prep them.  I’ll tape off the sides with blue painters tape and lay the panels on the floor or stand them up against a wall or table or kitchen counter.  This helps me imagine what they’ll look like together and I begin to see them as a cohesive series.

2.  What color scheme?  How much paint do I need?

Long before this process began I have been mulling over colors.  I think about colors all day long.  When I’m driving in my car I think about color.  Now looking at all the panels laid out it starts to click.  I think of how much of each color I’ll need.  Hmmm….there’s only one thing I need to do first…

3.  Clean kitchen counters

Enter A.D.D. stage left!  A.D.D. is like a one-man band.  Imagine the most distracting thing possible playing an accordion, smashing cymbals and diddling a penny whistle at the same time.  It’s here and it’s not going away until I feed it.  My heart rate rises as I look for the 409.  I spend a few minutes straightening the kitchen and wiping the counters down.  Even though this is an obvious distraction I am still in my head about my paintings.  I can see the final products hanging on the gallery wall.  I also notice that there are no more clean kitchen rags…it’s ok, Jaya, chill.

4.  Pull out colors and prep paint

Prepping for an encaustic show requires a little more love.  I spend some time making whatever paint colors I’ll need so I won’t have to stop midway through the actual art process.  I begin to make some bulk batches of encaustic medium.  Now that the heat is on and I’m waiting for wax to melt I can think about more important things…dirty kitchen rags.

5.  Do laundry

If I’m going to keep cleaning the kitchen counters I need more rags so by golly I’d better get some laundry started.  I just can’t sit around waiting for wax to melt – I need to be efficient.  I’m an efficiency machine.  Like a multitasking art/housekeeping/penny whistle playing transformer.  I’m actually excited to sort through the hots and colds so I can clean some more rags.  I need rags at this point.  Lots and lots of rags.  Thank heaven the laundry is started so I can get back to business.

6.  What tools do I need?

Gather tools.  This includes scraping tools, metal tools, extra tins, torches and brushes.  I don’t want to spend any extra energy during the actual painting process looking for my gear.  I want it in arms reach.  I lay everything out in my work area and I begin to clean my brushes.

7.  O.C.D. kicks in and I meticulously clean all tools for at least 2 hours

Clean and wipe down all metal tools.  Freshen up ALL brushes (this includes brushes that have nothing to do with my project).  Reorganize tool box.  Scrape all dried wax drippings off metal worktable.  Sweep floor.  Vacuum floor.  Clean vacuum cleaner.  Laundry is done – YES!!!

8.  Clean rest of kitchen 

I control myself and filter my encaustic medium before I rage war against the stove.  This is perfect timing because my wax will be clean and in perfect little bricks by the time I’m finished.  Like a ping pong ball I zip through the house: check wax, clean stove, fold laundry, stir wax, sweep floors, put away laundry.  It’s a process.

9.  Get my game face on

My wax is all set.  My shiny hyper-clean tools are laid out.  My studio is ready to be exploded with whatever it takes to finish these X amount of pieces.  I’ve got my reference photos, sketching tools and I’m ready to rock.  I pull out my first panel and it stares right back at me from the easel.  Bring it on.

10.  Cuddle my pet chicken for another hour

Self-explanatory.

See? 10 super-easy steps to starting a new collection of work.  This is how my brain works and I’m sticking to it.  By taking this day I am mentally prepared to focus.  During the painting process everything is everywhere at all times.  I have a table to work on however art will spill onto the floor and into the hallway.  The kitchen counter becomes a drying station for wet paint.  Food?  No. Wet paint.  There’s a spot on the kitchen counter.  Must clean kitchen counters.  Where are the rags?

 

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Inspiration is No Joke

Sometimes inspiration hits when you least expect it.

I know how I operate:  I am deadline driven.  When I take on a commission I want to know when I need to deliver it by.  Of course, there is always the circumstance when I ask, “When would you like this?” and the answer is “Oh, whenever…”  Let me give you a little background behind my latest commission which I just call “The Joker”…
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I am fortunate to have an awesome patron who has commissioned a number of works throughout the years who’s quite flexible with completion timetables.  It’s pretty funny really…sometimes I’ll finish a piece in a month, or two, or maybe a bit longer…About 5 years ago I dropped off a painting to his home in San Francisco and he said, “I’d like to have a joker painting in your style.”  We originally discussed my old-school gouache on wood technique and at first I was quite animated and inspired.  However this faded and I did not feel the same drive to paint this freaking awesome character.  I’ve always wanted to do the joker, why am I suddenly uninspired?  Time passes, I’ve embraced the encaustic medium and I now see my gouache work as a thing of the past.   During that time I have also moved up north to the Sacramento area and met new people.

Speaking of new people, one of my co-workers has a face made of rubber.  One day at work inspiration hit like a lightening bolt as I was talking to him.  I can’t remember the conversation but I do recall rudely interrupting him saying “OMG I HAVE TO PAINT YOU AS THE JOKER!” And the rest was history.

After seeing my friend’s rubber face I had a crystal clear vision in my mind of what I wanted to do.  This new idea wasn’t quite what my collector and I originally discussed but I just had to do it.  I decided to go in the new direction…

This commission was 5 years in the making:  I couldn’t force the painting into a style that I no longer resonated with.  I never forgot about the Joker, he was in the back of my mind and would pop up every now and again.  Inspiration comes out of nowhere and when it does strap yourself in and go along with the ride!

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The Magic Wand

It was just like any other day, wake up, coffee, e-mails, head off to work and right after I clocked in it hit me…

“Jaya, your favorite brush has been discontinued.”

Before we insert-volcano-eruption-emoji-here lets back up a few years.

Once upon a time I bought a new brush.  It wasn’t just any brush, her name was “Umbria” and she was the most magical brush in all the land.  She was soft and firm, she had a handle with a good grip, she was pretty and most importantly she allowed me to paint faster than ever before.  She was the best brush I’ve ever used and I dubbed her “my magic wand”.  Throughout the years I bought more magic wands so my students could test them out before buying one of their own.  Immediately after trying out the brush they would bee-line to the register to snatch one up for themselves.  Soon, multiple magic wands waved in my classroom and everybody was able to paint with beautiful, feathered brushstrokes!  It was a wonderful time.  Everything was perfect and nothing could go wrong with Umbria at my side.

Until…She was gone.

(Insert-volcano-eruption-emoji-here)  What else could I do other than conduct myself with grace and dignity?  I felt that I handled the situation well by throwing a full-blown art diva tantrum.  Since I don’t swear in my blog posts I will censor myself.  “Why the *BLEEP* would they *BLEEPING* discontinue the best brush in the whole *BLEEPING* world?!  Do they even have a *BLEEPING* substitute?!  This is so *BLEEPING* stupid!”  I demanded that my poor coworkers immediately drop what they were doing and help me figure out a potential substitute.  We grabbed all vendor catalogues and began frantic-calling distributors trying to scrounge up any remaining magic wands across the United States.  It was like searching for a unicorn.

“Jaya, what about this one?”

“NO!  That one won’t work!  The bristles are too long! Don’t you understand?! NO!  This one won’t work either!  The bristles are too short!  Why are you even showing me this brush!?  Give me the catalogue!!!”

I could have given Goldilocks a run for her money: this brush is too stiff, this brush is too soft, this brush is too small.  Thankfully, my coworkers know what a spaz I am so they were all too happy to laugh at my pain and get caught up in the Jaya whirlwind.  After a few minutes of agitated page-flipping we found a new brush that could possibly hold a candle to Umbria.   The new “Sapphire” was ordered.

After a morning of what felt like herding cats, we were able to wrangle all the magic wands that our distributors had and they were on their way.  We now had a monopoly on all the best brushes in the entire world and I was reserving each and every one for my classes.  My blood pressure started to lower and I could officially begin the day.

Moral of the story:  When a manufacturer decides to discontinue something you love, cherish, and have on all of your class lists, handle the situation with grace and dignity.  Like me!

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Back in Black (and White)

Mane & Tail no. 1

I am a color nerd.  I am fascinated with color relationships and how they interact with one another.  I am a huge advocate using a limited color palette (if you’ve been in any of my classes you’ve heard me emphatically preach this concept).  I can spend hours painting swatches, color studies, deciphering pigments on the back of paint tubes – oh, I’m a hoot to be around!  “Color Nerd” is a term I learned from one of my teachers, Laura Moriarty, and it just stuck.  That being said…

Over the past few months I have been drawn to explore perhaps the most basic color palette of them all: Black & White.  There’s something to be said about the false simplicity of white and black and everything in between.  I began to truly appreciate the nuances of the mega-monochrome after studying the work of my colleagues, Wendy Aikin and Lisa Kairos, both amazing encaustic artists.  The Grey is a wonderland.  A continuum to see how far one can push and pull the extremes of light and dark.  Grey does not just become the backdrop to a painting – the subject must interact with it, Grey becomes the atmosphere.  

When starting my encaustic “Black & White” series I prepared multiple birch panels.  I limited myself to R&F encaustic colors: Ivory Black, Titanium White and Neutral White (pardon me as I wipe the drool from my mouth).  My only bling was Enkaustikos Antique Gold Pearl which I used sparingly for effect (again, relish!).  The natural color of the birchwood played an integral part to warming up the grey and drawing it towards brown.  The slight yellow cast of the beeswax also brought the Grey towards the light so to speak.  Grey is easily influenced and therefore the array of neutral tones is staggering.

The major inspiration behind this color palette was my desire to paint my horses.

Seahorse

I wanted to keep the colors extremely simple to showcase the raw power, movement and line of the horse.  I wanted the attention to be on the animal.  What I wasn’t expecting was a 50 Shades of Grey love affair to develop within these colors.  You know you’re in love when your painting is complete and you don’t want to stop.  I had to pull myself away from the panel more than once during this series.  “Oh maybe I can just…”  NO!  Put the brush down!  This was the case with perhaps my most popular painting of the series, “Seahorse”.  The warmth of the birch panel fills in the gaps between brushstrokes and reads as brown.  The only colors used in this painting were Ivory Black, Titanium White and Neutral White.

This series has taught me that Grey is subtle.  Grey is powerful.  Grey is sexy.  Let’s see where this relationship goes…

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Living the Dream (part 2)

This post is part 2 from last month’s “Wishful Thinking”.
If you’re new to The Fearless Painter you might want to check out last month’s post before reading…enjoy!

Dream big.  
Dreams form ideas.  
Write the ideas down.  
Turn it into a step-by-step plan.  
Do the steps.  

Simple huh?  Sure, it sounds good in a well-formatted blog post but putting this into action is another story altogether.  This is SIMPLE, but not necessarily EASY.

What will it take to make your dream a reality?

Another equally important question is what do we have to sacrifice to make our dreams a reality?  I consider this the tougher of the two questions because for the most part humans are creatures of habit.  Let’s begin this post with what what we can leave behind us in the dust.  I’ve mentioned roadblocks before in previous posts as well as in my lectures and workshops so let’s pinpoint a couple to start with…

What’s your roadblock?

“I DON’T HAVE THE TIME”  Okay, I get that we’re busy and we’ve got a life but this is about living the dream.  If we want to be doing something other than what we’re doing right now then we are going to have to get with the program and find the time, make the time, do whatever it takes to get us back on track.

“IT’S TOO HARD”  This is a “self-limiting” belief (thank you Caterina Rando for adding this into my vocabulary).  You’re right, change can be hard so let’s break it down:  What’s so hard about it?  Be specific.  Make a list of why it’s difficult.  When we are able to analyze the monster that we face it’s easier to formulate a plan to defeat it.

Identifying our roadblocks is the first step to overcoming them.  Do you know what your roadblock is?  

SACRIFICE

  • Spend X amount LESS HOURS on social media, watching tv, or inviting strange 3rd party Facebook friends to play Candy Big-Gulp-Farm-Colorful-Ball Crush.  If we can find the time to spend countless hours on end over-sharing talking cat videos and not enough time working towards our dream, then we’ve got our priorities mixed up.  Trust me, the time is out there.
  • RECOGNIZE WHAT’S HARD for you.  I’ll give you a hint.  If we keep making excuses about getting something done – that “something” is hard for us in some way or another.  If we believe in our excuses more than our dreams then we’ve got an issue.  Recognizing the anxiety surrounding what’s hard is a step towards mastering the difficulty.
  • Don’t R.S.V.P. to the PITY PARTY.  People who are not equally or more committed to our success than we are should not waste our valuable energy.  I don’t have time for Debbie Downers and neither should you.  You know who I’m talking about.  If certain broken-record conversations are a woe-is-me laundry list then we need to ask ourselves, “Is this person helping me reach my dreams or am I enabling them to live in their limitations?”  On the flip side:  If WE are the host of the pity party (and I’m sad to say that some might not know it) there seriously needs to be an attitude adjustment – and fast.

These are just a few examples of what we can leave in the dust behind our blazing trails.  Now let’s talk about some steps we can take to move forward!

DO

  • FIND A SYSTEM THAT WORKS.  We are all different and so one person’s ideal system might be a hot mess for another.  Let me share a simple way about how I keep myself organized to remind myself of what I aim for:

I am a visual person so I spent the time browsing around some notepads and found one that has a beautiful gold and turquoise cover with lovely-feeling paper.  If I am going to be handling this I want to enjoy how it looks and feels.  Why would I write my plan in a book that does not encourage me to pick it up?  I jot down ideas so I don’t forget them, usually leaving 1 page in between ideas.  This allows me to go back and fill in the blanks as my plan develops.  I keep it in the car most of the time because I do a ton of driving and I get a lot of ideas on the road.  I only use this notebook for art-business related ideas, plans, steps etc.  I do not use this for scratch paper.  I respect my notebook.

  • MAKE THE TIME.  Remember how I said the time is out there?  Find more time in the day to do your thing.  Two obvious options would be to either wake up earlier or go to bed later.  Which works better for you?  Can you do both?  I, weirdly enough, retire at an early hour.  Maybe its because my chickens like going to bed early and I like roosting with them, I don’t know… But I am a morning person.  I’ve been training myself to get up a little earlier each day.  So far I’ve got my alarm set to 5:30 because I know I’ll lay in bed for about 20 minutes before I actually roll out of bed.  I have friends that stay up painting  until all hours of the night, get loads of work done and then go to BED at 5:30 – we all have a schedule that jives.
  • Devote X amount of ACTION hours a week to research, improvement, whatever you need to do to proceed with your laid out steps in your plan.  Is there a lecture/class/seminar that can help answer some questions?  I’m going to nip the comment “I don’t know where to start” in the bud with a somewhat extreme example:

Let’s say I want to become the president of the United States.  That’s a pretty big dream in my opinion.  I mean, I don’t know the first thing about how to become president of the United States.  I Googled “How do I become president of the United States?” and I learned that I meet the constitution’s criteria!

I am:

  1. At least thirty-five years old.
  2. A resident of the United States for at least fourteen years.
  3. A natural-born citizen.

I’m sure that if I perused the other 473,000,000 other articles I could come up with a rudimentary plan of how to run for president.  Sweet!

Try this one on for size:  Want to go to the moon?  Type in “How do I fly to the moon?” and you’ll get some pretty comprehensive, albeit expensive ideas.

Now these are two pretty extreme examples but there is absolutely no difference between these dreams and making yours a reality.   You need a plan.

  • STAY MOTIVATED.  I have a dream studio and one way that keep the dream fresh is by posting on “My Dream Studio” Pinterest page.  This is one fun and simple way I keep my head in the game.  I’m a visual artist so it is important for me to see images of cool lighting ideas, rolling gallery walls, workbenches,  etc, so I can visualize them in my future space.  Another cool thing about my Pinterest page is that other people can be inspired to think about their dream studio!
  • TALK TO PEOPLE who know more about what you’re doing than you do.  This does not include know-it-alls or anyone who likes to throw in their two cents…  Who in your circle of friends is ON IT?  Who can you learn from?  Who can you reach out to?  If this list is pretty limited then check out your surrounding community.
  • SHARE YOUR DREAM.  This is huge.  When we put our intentions out there in the world we are manifesting a new energy, or creating a “buzz”.  I get it, sometimes we like to keep our dreams close to us so they don’t get stomped on or crushed by others who don’t believe in us.  Or we keep our dreams to ourselves because we don’t want to “jinx” them.  Maybe we want to share our dreams only when they become a reality.  Each of us will have our own personal story as to why we keep our dreams a secret.  When we speak our intentions in the face of possible doubt, suspicions, negativity or other fear-based commentary we put faith in our dreams and strength behind them.  I dare you to share your dream.

Dream big.  

Dreams form ideas.  Develop a plan and break it down into big steps, then smaller steps.  When we put intention, purpose and planning behind our dreams we are taking a huge step towards making them a reality.  But don’t stop there.  DO THE STEPS.  Without these actions we remain stagnant.  I’ve got a pretty big dream and every day I take a step towards it.  I am closer than I was a year ago, a month ago, or even yesterday.  Sometimes I feel like I might have faltered or back stepped, this happens every once in a while, but I am conscious that I am still facing forward and not losing sight of the destination in the distance.  Find joy in the journey.  Buy the notebook.  Pick up the pencil.  What’s the first step…?

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Wishful Thinking (part 1)

My dad kept asking me, “What’s your vision?”  I found that it was hard to articulate my answer in specifics.  I mean, I had an idea of what it looked like.  But that was it – an idea, a feeling, a daydream, or in other words “wishful thinking”.

Over the past few months he kept pushing me to write it down and articulate it.  I tried but it never turned out exactly how I wanted.  One day something clicked and the floodgates opened…

My California house has a bright red front door.  It is well-lit with beautiful natural light.  The house is clean because I have a weekly house cleaner.  The inside of the house is colorful with gorgeous southwest colors on the wall:  tandoori red, olive, lime, plum and mustard with splashes of turquoise everywhere.  The house is fresh and organized.  There are beautiful hardwood floors, with mediterranean mosaic and Mexican style tile work throughout.

There is a separate barn studio that has a private classroom and gallery showroom.  Again, the barn has perfect natural light with very large windows and skylights.  The office space is in the loft of the barn.  It is comfortable and extraordinarily organized.  This upstairs office space is minimal and streamlined for success.  I have a comfy love seat where a student or client can sit while me or my assistant can sign them up for classes, sell them art and ring up their credit card.

My website is cutting edge with current, amazingly breathtaking artworks.  It has a seamless online shopping cart where people can easily purchase art or register for workshops and SOMEONE ELSE MANAGES THE WHOLE THING FOR ME!

The studio/classroom space can accommodate 8 students.  The electricity never blows because the house and barn are on solar power.  By the way, we pay zero in electricity.  The studio/classroom is spacious and totally organized.  The electricity is professionally installed.  Extension cords come down from the ceiling, there is excellent cross air ventilation, the windows even have lovely shades to block the sun when it gets toasty in the summer.

Attached to the studio is an outdoor gathering area for taking breaks, dining and getting fresh air.  There are overhead pergola-style trellises that provide natural shade.  Students/clients can sit at a long reclaimed wood barn table to have their lunches.  It will be aromatically amazing outside because there will be all sorts of lovely flowers like honeysuckle, lemon verbena and jasmine.  The inside of the studio smells equally bee-autiful because of the beeswax.  When I, my students and my clients walk into my studio/classroom/gallery they feel at ease, at home, ready to create and ready to spend money.

I am an independently employed professional artist, visionary, teacher and inspiration.  I am independently wealthy I live with total financial freedom and serenity.

Everyday I work towards making my dream a reality and this blog post is another step closer.  I wanted to share my vision because when we write down our dreams and put them out into the world they go beyond “wishful thinking”.  By putting pen to paper we focus our energy and something special happens:  ever so slightly life begins to shift and our dream becomes intention.

So what happens?  I will cover some of the following steps in my next blog post “Living the Dream part 2” so stay tuned!   In the meantime I encourage you to write down your dream and at this point “wishful thinking” is ok – think big, reach for the moon, but more importantly: be specific, be articulate, and have clarity.

See you next time!

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Animal Magnetism

animal magnetism banner

 

Animals have always been a part of my life ever since I was a small child.  Growing up I had dogs, a cat, an assortment of mice, zebra finches, parakeets, cockatiels, a rat named Sneakers, and two newts if I remember correctly.  My Cockatoo, Angel, is still with me today and will surely outlive me.  My husband and I live with chickens and two very muddy horses named Logan and Rommell (yes, I know…we didn’t name him).  The animal force is strong within me.

Looking back through my artistic journey I begin to see how animals have played a larger role than I ever realized.

I have always been attracted to what animals represent.  I see the freedom of a bird in flight, the power of a horse and especially the personality of chickens.  There are mixed feelings whenever I paint from my flock.  Love, comic relief, joy, and at the same time sadness because we’ve seen so many come and go.  To me, these mixed feelings convey the duality and complexity of animals.  There is a preciousness and “untouchability” to these creatures.  It’s something we take for granted while we live our very human day to day lives: sitting in traffic, buying groceries, pumping gas…but I digress.

Willy's DaydreamChoosing the right medium is important to portray the personality of the animal and at the same time evoke the emotional response in the viewer.  It’s a 2-way street.  When I work with colorful acrylics and collage my goal is to spotlight the whimsey and ridiculous of animals.  The feeling I am going for is the nostalgic childlike response to seeing an animal up close for the first time.  Unconditional love.

Fly Me To The MoonMy progression into encaustic has led me to a more technique-driven and intuitive way of painting.  I allow the medium to help dictate movement in the subject matter while keeping a “loose rein” so to speak.  My animals today have evolved into semi-abstracts with understated, monochromatic color.  One aspect that this continuing collection portrays is the fleeting moment that we connect with.  A bird lifting off in flight, a stretch, a glance and then it’s gone.  There is an untouchability in animals and we have to let them go, but we covet the connection and search it out.

I constantly say that “art is a journey”.  The transitions between styles, inspirations, techniques, materials, etcetera will always happen.  When a breakthrough occurs it’s like a spotlight flips on.  I feel that each of my paintings I’ve created has led me to this moment in my career.  Perhaps it was the controlled chaos of encaustic that was the missing link, or the confidence to “give up” the high-intensity color, or maybe the subtle message of the animal itself.  Whatever the turning point, the spotlight is shining on the path and I am falling down the rabbit hole, freely and with anticipation of what’s to come.

me & romps 1

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Beyond Red & Green

‘Tis the season and I can’t help but notice the dynamic duo everywhere I go:  Red and Green.  When you see the two together it’s usually a garish in-your-face-buy-me-now red paired with a holly-jolly-where’s-my-credit-card-green.  These two colors are the harbingers of Christmas and begin to appear in your local Walgreens just after Halloween.  After Thanksgiving they make their full-blown sneak attack to the tune of “Last Christmas” by Wham.  The red and green of Christmas Present has less to do with a holly branch or a Douglas fir, rather it tugs on those nostalgic heart strings towards a sign that reads “Sale.”  Ok ok…I’m the first to admit that working retail for 15 years has made me jaded around the holidays.  I do confess that a small flicker of joy remains for those two colors.  Let me get down off my Christmas soapbox for a minute so we can dive into two of my year-round favorites…

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Red and green are a familiar set of complements and there are plenty of reds and greens out there to choose from.  Let me let you in on a little secret:  Quinacridone Burnt Orange and Green Gold are out of this world!  Not your obvious complementary pair but a glorious team nonetheless.  These unique, hidden gems simply dance together on the canvas.

Can colors vary between brands? Yes. Each company will have their own formulas, milling processes, where their pigments come from. Green Gold is a color that definitely varies from company to company. Personally, I use Golden brand’s Green Gold because of its extreme intensity.  I consider one of the most effective ways to understand a color is by examining the range of mutes it creates.  In the color study above you can see the beginnings of an exciting array of browns.  I tinted the colors with white to see what kind of highlights they create.

I really have to hand it to whoever came up with the name “Green Gold” because it is truly a treasure among colors. Transparent, luminous, and heavily leaning towards the yellow side of the spectrum, Green Gold is an awesome color choice when adding energy, electricity and warmth to a painting.

Fall Trees
Fall Trees

Of course, what is a color without its complement?  In the case of Green Gold, its complement would be red. Quinacridone Burnt Orange is a rusty autumnal red with the same luminescence and transparency as Green Gold. Both are modern colors and they complement each other beautifully.  If you are familiar with my teaching style you’ve heard me emphasize the importance of a “limited color palette” (more blog posts on this later!).  This Fall Trees painting practices just that with a specific emphasis on the red and green complements.  Being a loud and proud color nerd – I am happy to spend hours on end exploring the nuances of color relationships and seeing how I can apply that knowledge to my painting process.

The holidays come and go but these two colors make appearances on my palette year-round.  Perhaps it’s the background noise of “Ben Hur” or maybe its a bit of undigested candy cane speaking but I’ll leave you with this:

“Twas the night before Christmas and inside the house

I stood by my easel in a paint-covered blouse.

The canvas looked festive with colors so bright,

Happy painting to all and to all a good night!”

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The “Holy Grail”

I would like to think of myself bravely standing on top of a carved stone lion’s head.  The updraft emanating from below causes my hat to flutter.  I dust off my jacket and extend my leg into the air.  As I lean forward into the limitless abyss I think to myself, “There’s no turning back now…”

Well you know, not all of us have a cheat sheet with step-by-step instructions to the Holy Grail. Sean Connery is not bleeding to death back in the musty temple and you know what?  That leap is scary!  So I ask you, “What’s the dream? The pie in the sky?  The ultimate goal?”  I think the un-asked question that accompanies this is “What’s the hesitation?”  As an artist, you might be able to guess what my Holy Grail is.  Let me give you a snapshot of my leaf of faith…

I am a 34 year old artist.  I also work at an art store.  This year will be my 15 year anniversary.  I have also been professionally painting for a little over 10 years.  Do the math.  I know – I just know – that if I devoted 100% of my time to my craft I would be unstoppable.  Don’t get me wrong – working at the art store has been an amazing journey.  We’re a family at the store.  I’ve gained confidence and work experience.  Where else can I be surrounded by art supplies, work with my best friend, AND have health insurance?  I am also afforded time off to paint, show and teach.  Pretty cozy.

About a year ago I taught a watercolor workshop for the Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society called “Kickstart Your Creativity”.  This workshop was incredibly introspective and I posed questions to the group to help them recognize and break through creative blocks.  One exercise was called “Dream Big”.  In one or two sentences they described their ideal artistic dream.  I wanted them to be very clear about their goal so I wrote my dream on the white board as an example.

“My dream is to create art full time and in doing so – support myself financially ABOVE AND BEYOND my means and with complete confidence.”

my dreamI gave them a whole evening to mull it over, word it just right, and share with the group the following morning.  This turned out to be one of the most difficult assignments.  Why?  Why is it so hard to simply define a dream? We put so much crap in front of our dreams that we forget why we, as individuals, were put on this planet.  We also become comfortable with where we are in life and the dream remains just that – a dream.  This discussion led into what I call “Comfort Zones”.  Comfort zones are what?  Comfortable!  Why on earth would you want to leave?  The tricky thing about comfort zones is they are also a safety blanket.  My biggest comfort zone?  Working at the art store.

So here I am, standing behind the registers, with an inspirational-sayings magnet rack across from me.  Most of the magnets are pretty sappy.  They would pair well with my “Hang in There” poster of a kitten hanging from a branch.  One magnet stares back at me: “LEAP AND THE NET WILL APPEAR”.  In all capital letters no less.  Yeah, yeah I know.  I get it.  JUST DO IT.  For Pete’s sake I taught a workshop on this!  I stare back at the magnet from behind the registers, silently judging myself.  Oh good, a customer!  I wave to the next person in line, “Hi, I can help you over here.”

I know why I am on planet Earth and what my purpose is.  I wholeheartedly believe in my creative abilities.  But do I?  I can’t help but think that the large percentage of my time in front of a register means that I am not in front of my easel.  I haven’t taken the leap yet.  I have not cannonballed off the lion’s head.  So what do I do?  I bought the magnet and now it’s on my fridge, silently reminding me that I can do it.  It’s a start, but before I take that “LEAP AND THE NET WILL APPEAR” attitude you might just see me leaning over the lion’s head and shouting into the abyss “Does the net have health insurance?!”

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Who Am I to Judge?

Recently I was asked by a local art club to judge their annual group show.  I was so honored and thrilled that I read the e-mail aloud.  My husband is all too familiar with the ensuing few minutes which immediately follows good news of this sort.  I can’t speak for everybody but I usually play it cool by jumping up and down while dancing in place saying “Hey look what I can do!  Pay attention to me!”  My husband ignores me with a smirk on his face.  This gets the wiggles out of my system. Eventually my excitement transitions into a more down to earth understanding of what it means to actually judge something.  Then like clockwork it happens…the big “What if?”

What if they disagree?

For Pete’s sake, Jaya, OF COURSE there’s going to be a difference in opinion!  I’m being asked to do this for a reason.   What it boils down to is they trust my artistic judgement.  I’ve worked hard to establish that level of value throughout my career.  Heck, I’m confident whenever I do critiques in class so how silly is it that I’d be worried about this “What if’?”  I contacted one of my mentors and asked his advice.  I can summarize his response in two words:  Trust Yourself.

We’re all human.  Self-doubt happens.  What do you do about it?

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I was e-mailed a preview gallery of approximately 90 submitted artworks and began taking notes.  I spent a few minutes looking at each piece of art and I found that I started seeing patterns in my own judging criteria.  I jotted down key points and stored them in the back of my mind.  Eventually the day came where I was able to see the art in person.  This is crucial for effectively judging awards.  Seeing the artwork “face to face” allows the judge to see the subtle nuances whereas a computer screen just gives a general idea.  The pieces were positioned around the bright room, prepped for hanging.  I circled the room slowly with my clipboard, frequently getting down on my hands and knees in order to closely study a piece.   Sometimes I would position two contenders next to one another and think back to my criteria.  In the end there must be a decision and when looking at two strong pieces one must prevail, if only by a hair…


Before we continue let me give you a little behind the scenes look into my thought process…

falc 3Before one piece of art is compared to another there has to be a watershed break within the individual piece.  Ultimately, is the piece strong or weak?  Harsh, maybe.  Detached, definitely!  There are many criteria which help define this decision and each judge is a little different. In this article I am focusing on two key factors which help me to judge which way the pendulum swings: connection and technical proficiency.

How do I judge a piece as strong?

Effortless connection: It is obvious when you freely spend more time in front of a piece.  The question that arrises from a critique standpoint is why? What draws you in?  If a piece of art makes you feel something I consider it a strong piece.  Any genuine feeling – happiness, sadness, joy, anger, anything that stirs inside is a connection.  Connection is essential to strong works of art.

Technical proficiency:  I consider this a bonus.  In my opinion technical proficiency supports the piece, it does not make the piece.  Let me explain:  You are standing in front of two paintings hanging on the wall.  One piece shows extraordinary use of the medium however there is no personal connection to you, the viewer.  You look at this piece and admire how well it is painted.  The piece hanging next to it is not nearly as technically proficient, however the subject matter tells a story and your mind begins to stir.  Your imagination is activated and therefore this piece resonates with you.  When I judge, personal connection outweighs technical proficiency.  If a painting meets both of these criteria – bonus!

How do I judge a piece as weak?

Lost connection:  Again, the question is why.  WHY am I disinterested in a particular piece?  Am I looking for something that is “missing”?  If I am scraping to find a connection I will pass it by to look at the next piece.

Technically awkward:  First things first, yes – there is plenty of successful artwork out there in the world that tells a story, has a personal connection and is somewhat awkward.  The difference between those artworks and a weaker piece is this:  when I sense that the awkwardness is unintentional and stems from inexperience with the medium I find myself trying to “fix” the artwork.  I cannot fix a piece and fully connect to it at the same time.

These two criteria were among the most prevalent in my mind when looking at the room of artwork.  Of course other factors also come into play as well – maturity of color, texture, composition and movement for example.  When making a decision it is imperative to maintain a consistent judging criteria.  This is something I can fall back on when looking at multiple strong pieces.


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…I made my decision.  Moreover I felt confident behind my decision.  The day of the art show came and I was excited to say a few words in front of the group of artists.  As I began to speak, the initial “What if?” question that planted the seed of self-doubt melted away behind the faces of the smiling crowd.   I described what makes a piece stand out above the rest.  The difference between art and great art is the connection to the viewer .  Without connection, why would someone invest the time to stand in front of your creation?  The viewer is looking for connectivity and when they find it they resonate with the artwork.  Ask yourself, “What am I trying to say with my art?”  Establish this link with your audience and your painting/photograph/sculpture/sonata/poem/guitar solo becomes more than the medium, it becomes timeless.

It becomes a masterpiece.

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