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”…
IMG_9929

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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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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If there’s a Will, there’s a Way

quick studio

You can paint anywhere no matter the space.  If there is a will, there is a way.

Recently my husband and I made a big move up north toward Sacramento and let me tell you that moving can be a bear.  During this time I’ve been working on a piece that I need to submit to the Triton Museum of Art and the deadline is fast approaching.  My studio is packed in haphazardly labeled boxes scattered around the house and I have no idea where I put my blowtorch.  After a preliminary unpack I was able to gather what I needed to complete this painting.  Let me tell you how much of a relief it was to be using a limited color palette!

Our new house has a delightful little cinderblock porch with an overhang that I was able to set up underneath.  I gathered a few tables, found my extension cords and set up an impromptu encaustic studio.  One thing I failed to mention about our new home is that it is close to a water nature preserve, two ponds and levy, so I quickly became familiar that the mosquito population quintuples around 4 pm (note to self: pick up Deet and Citronella candles at the store).

It is easy to want to just cannonball into a painting but you need to have a space set up where you can successfully paint–and by successfully I do not mean painting a beautiful painting.  What I mean is that you don’t have to go digging around for what you’re looking for to make the next brush stroke.  This can be a frustrating and time-consuming activity that is not at all creative.

I was impatient to begin working so I had my extension cords crossed everywhere, my fuses were blowing and I was beginning to feel the pressure of needing to complete this piece.  When my husband walked outside and saw how frustrated I was he said, “Why not just take a couple minutes and get yourself set up?” What a novel idea! If only I’d practice what I preach.  I did just that and rearranged my cords, drew power from another room, and cleared my head a little bit by refilling my water.  I also grabbed an additional table and organized my tools.  When I came back to my painting I was stepping into a much more “successful” creative space.  I set up a couple of my dining room chairs as an easel to raise the height of my painting and it worked out perfectly.  After these minor adjustments which only took a few minutes I was able to get much farther on my painting than if I had just kept fighting through my inconvenient slap-dash studio space.
encaustic at annies
How can I stress the importance of having an effective area to create?  If you work at your dining room table then clear it off!  Put the piles of mail somewhere else, clear away those dirty plates, and put down your painting tablecloth so you are inspired.  If you live in a studio apartment you can make a small corner of your room your workspace.  If you like working large then work it out!  Is there a spot outside where you can set up a large painting and drop off?  I’m sure you can find something if you want to paint badly enough.  I needed to complete another piece to submit to a show so I hauled my traveling encaustic studio to a friend’s house and set up outside next to her roaring air conditioner.  Not the most ideal working space but I finished the piece and that’s all that matters!

I teach classes at a variety of venues and every classroom is different.  I need to adapt to each space to make it a successful teaching and learning environment for my students and me.  When I do private lessons at someone’s home very frequently do we spend a few minutes organizing their studio space: if they are right-handed we move the majority of their supplies to the right side of their easel or worktable, we will select a limited amount of brushes to work with from the overflowing brush bin.  We will put away the miscellaneous paint colors that we will not be using and only have the color palette that we will be working from in front of us.  Simplify your space and only pull out the tools which the current project requires.  This will streamline your creativity and is as equally important as learning new techniques.

fb studioThis is the way I do it, it is not the only way.  If you have ever seen photos of Francis Bacon’s studio you might say to yourself, “How on earth did he ever get anything done?!”  Well he did!  He created a plethora of amazing, inspirational, and edgy work.  His version of a successful studio is on the opposite end of the spectrum.  On a side note Francis Bacon is one of my favorite artists of all time but I could never work in his studio.  The photo on the left was taken by Carlos Freire of Francis Bacon in his studio, 7 Reece Mews, London.  Everyone is different and everyone works in different environments.  This photo is a perfect preamble to my next point:  Having an effective studio space and having a “pretty” studio space are two different things however they are not mutually exclusive.  Let me help you prioritize: It is more important to have an effective studio space than one that looks good in Better Homes & Gardens.  Get yourself a working environment first, then you can break out the wicker baskets.  Your studio is ever changing.  You have permission to change it whenever you want to make it a more creative space for you.

I look forward to settling into our new home and fine-tuning my studio 2.0.  It’s a huge change and it gives me the opportunity to exponentially grow in my art career so I am thankful.  If I can move a 3 bedroom house, an art studio, 2 horses, a cockatoo and 2 house chickens then I have faith that I can find my blowtorch and finish this painting.  Piece of cake!

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“Life Gets in the Way”

A polite way of saying, “I don’t have time.”  Sure we all need to go to the store, vacuum the carpet, and handle life when something gets thrown in your face.  Doing what you love usually takes a backseat to “life”.  Let’s break this down…

When you think about it, what is life worth living for in the first place?  I would imagine that you would try to spend as much time as possible doing what you love.  Whether it’s being with family, growing a garden, building dollhouses, sewing cat outfits, whatever it is that gives you joy.  In my case, painting and creating art is what I love to do.  And I mean love, like from the bottom of my heart kind of love.  I just know it is why I was put on this planet.  My role on this rock hurtling through space is to create and in doing so inspire others.  Pretty simple huh?  Well if you look at it, it is.  We just complicate the crap out of our lives .  Life is about choices and this morning when I sat down to the computer thinking about how many weeks past since my last blog post I made a choice.  I commonly hear the phrase, “I don’t have time to paint.”  This usually gives way into a recitation of all the incredibly important life-threatening chores that has monopolized their time.  I’ve got to say, it’s kind of irritating to listen to.  Here, let me give you a few examples from a real-life situation:

A:  “What have you been working on lately?”
B:  *sigh* “I’ve been wanting to work on this big piece for a show that’s coming up but I haven’t had the time.  My landlord wants to move back into our house so we have to find a new place by April WITH our horses.  There’s nothing that’s affordable in this area so I’m just looking on Craigslist everyday.”
A:  “Oh man.  Tell me about this piece you’re wanting to start?”
B”:  “It’s going to be a wild self-portrait but I’ve been working a lot so I haven’t had anytime to paint or even develop the idea and it needs to be done next month.  I’m totally freaking out because I also need to buy a new car ’cause mine is dying so now I need a new car AND a place to live AND I need to finish this piece.  Oh, and I need to do my taxes.” *sigh*
A:  “When’s your next day off?”
B:  “Tomorrow but I can’t do anything because I have to clean the house ’cause it’s a mess THEN I have to go back to work the next day.”‘

Kind of draining isn’t it?  It’s hard to be in a conversation with Eeyore.  I’ll let you in on a little secret:  I’m person “B” and I am moving with my caravan of animals, looking for a new car, and figuring out this life-changing piece of art that’s due next month.  Come on, Jaya, pull up your big-girl panties and pick up a brush, who gives a crap if you haven’t vacuumed in a week?  This is life, it’s going to throw you blows in a whirlwind of chaos.  How do you deal with it?  Make a choice.  This is easier said than done…

Excuses!  Excuses!

One of the major blockages to doing what you love is bum bum BUM…chores!  If you look at it, a lot of those mini-crisis situations can be put into the chores category.  I’m not talking about driving someone to the hospital or dealing with an exploding septic tank – I’m talking about chores.  Have you ever read the book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie?”  It starts out with a child giving a mouse a cookie, then the mouse needs a glass of milk.  To drink the milk he’ll need a straw and to wipe his face he’ll need a napkin, etc etc…Should I paint or do the dishes?  If I do the dishes I’ll need to unload the dishwasher.  If I unload the dishwasher I’ll need to clean the kitchen counter.  Pretty soon you’re deriving a plan on how to re-paint the house.  Does this sound familiar?  I made a choice to write a consistent blog meant to inspire others to create and it’s not going to write itself.  Wallowing in whatever chaotic situation you’re in or getting pissed that you can’t find the Windex isn’t going to make it any easier.  This is only expended energy that could have been used to do something that is creatively productive.  The trap to watch out for is using chores (a lot of what people call “life”) as an excuse for why you’re not doing what you love.  This is a pretty scary something to look at under the microscope.  Why aren’t you doing what you love?

Choices

Vanilla or chocolate.  Sweater or jacket.  Cadmium red light or naphthol crimson.  Take out Susan or Karen.  Buy a house or rent.  This job or that job.   What if it’s wrong?  What if you can’t go back?  What will the neighbors think?  This can be frightening.  It’s so much easier to get wrapped up in that comfortable downy blanket of BS instead of taking the leap into the unknown.  Trust me, I’m pretty good at the BS.  Paint something on your day off or mow the lawn.  Even for something as simple as picking up a brush the same drama will show up.  You want to fluster someone?  Call them out.  “How’s that piece going?” See what they say.  I like to cut them off if they start to waffle, “GET ON IT!” Expect a deer-in-the-headlight expression.

I understand that there are these little paper things that come in the mail called “bills”, and I’m pretty sure you need a roof over your head, and clothes on your back, and food in your stomach.  Do what you need to do but remember why you’re on this planet.  I doubt it’s to sit in traffic thinking about how gas is on the rise and how you can lower the interest rate on your credit card.

Life is chaotic.  It’s not going to stop being chaotic.  How do you live with chaos.  What makes life worth living.  Do it.  Now if you’ll excuse me I have to check Craigslist…

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I’m a Sore Loser

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Salsa Caliente

So you paint your heart out.  Blood, sweat and tears go into your masterpiece.  You feel good, you feel creative, positive energy is oozing out of your pores.  This is awesome, this is the best piece I’ve ever painted, this is a winner; this is the golden ticket!

When you run a race, you’re going for the gold.  You’re not thinking, “That silver medal has my name on it!”  You train, you get inspired, you focus. You line up at the starting line alongside your fellow competitors and firmly plant your feet in the starting blocks.  With the finish line in sight, you visualize yourself breaking through that tape.  The gun goes off and you shoot out of the blocks like a rocket.  You submit to a show.

Time seems to stand still and the waiting game begins.  The notification date arrives and you check your inbox.  You think, “Maybe I missed the e-mail?  Maybe I wrote my e-mail down wrong (double check entry form).” When the sun sets on the notification date you really start to get creative.  “Maybe it’s going into my spam folder (double check e-mail settings).  Maybe they’re sending me a special letter instead – did I write my address down correctly (double check entry form)?  Yeah, that’s it!  A secret, special letter written especially to me about how especially special my painting is!  (double check mail box).” Then you get it,  “Thank you for submitting, unfortunately…blah blah blah.”  REALLY?!  It is at this point you still see the finish line tape, only it’s wrapped around someone else running down the track with their arms in the air.  You didn’t win, you didn’t even place – you’re one of the chumps wheezing their way trying to catch up with a cramp in their side.

Your mind begins to swim with questions and you ask yourself “Where did I go ‘wrong’?  Maybe it’s her head, maybe it DOES look like a lima bean.  Was the piece too small?  Was the piece too blue?  How dare you call my kid ‘ugly’! Maybe I should just focus on teaching, why do I even bother painting?”  So you catch your  breath and begin to do the only thing you can: mope.

Moping is a wonderful self-pitying action that draws attention to yourself because that’s what you really want, right?  So you do your best impression of a corpse lying face down, spread eagle on the bed with her head buried in a pillow.  You’ve gotten into juried competitions before – what gives?   What was their criteria?  “What do I need to do – create a vision board?!”  Note to self: buy poster board, magazines and glue sticks.  Who the hell got in anyway?  Of course your friends get accepted and you make plans to go to the opening reception.

So you go to the opening to support your friends because they crossed the finish line before you, but really you go see who the heck got in, what it took to get accepted, and of course, who won the grand prize.   You congratulate them, put on a good face, and act like it you’re not bothered what-so-ever when people ask you “Where’s your piece?”  You most definitely do NOT show people your painting on your phone and ask why the h-e-double hockey sticks am I not in the show?  By the end of the evening you’ve given yourself TMJ from saying “congratulations” every fifteen seconds.   Sound familiar?

Ok, cry baby, pull your big-girl panties up…you’re better than this!

Alright, let’s take a closer look.  I’ll break this part of the post up a little differently to emphasize these points.

1.  So you paint your heart out Good start.  You should ALWAYS paint your heart out.  There are two sides to the coin when you think of your piece as a “winning” piece.  A) You value your piece and see it as achieving greatness (more on this in future posts…) B) You’re painting for the competition instead of for painting’s sake.  Finding the balance and maintaining it between these two sides is key.

2.  You’ve gotten into juried competitions before – what gives? Ahhh…complacency.  I looked it up.
[kuh m-pley-suh n-see] A feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of some potential danger, defect, or the like; self-satisfaction or smug satisfaction with an existing situation, condition, etc.
When you believe that certain competitions are a no-brainer boy do you deserve to get smacked upside the head.  You can’t be passionate and complacent at the same time.  Which do you think the jurying panel is looking for?

3.  “Where did I go ‘wrong’? Why do I even bother painting?”  Well that’s a good question, why DO you bother painting?  Is the sole purpose of putting paint to canvas to win the blue ribbon?  “Where did I go ‘wrong’?” can be flipped to “Where can I ‘improve’?”  See the difference?

4. Moping.  Get over it and get over it fast.  The people that do not get past the moping stage will never be great artists.  Moping is an attention-getting scheme and it is not artistic at all.  Can you imagine Robert De Niro thinking to himself, “How come I wasn’t offered that part?  Don’t they know who I am?  I mean come ON!  If anyone wants me I’ll be sulking in my bedroom eating a quart of Ben & Jerry’s!”  MOVE ON, PICK UP THE BRUSH, WHAT’S THE NEXT PIECE, WHAT’S THE NEXT COMPETITON?  Even if you got the grand poobah prize you should be thinking “What’s the next step?”

5.  Vision boards.  I might jest, but an important part of personal growth is positive visualization.  Yeah, sounds a little bit new age but think of it this way:  do whatever it takes to get you pumped up to do what you are passionate about.  If this means pinning up magazine clippings, photos, famous quotes, rejection letters or a postcard of a cat dangling from a branch telling you to “Hang in there!” then DO IT.

6.  Who the heck got in anyway?!   Oh this one’s a peach!  With this attitude you’re going nowhere fast.  Resentment is a big piece of baggage that’s so heavy you need both arms to carry it.  By resenting other’s success you don’t have the open arms to welcome your own triumphs.   Support your friends and when they ask, “Where’s your piece?” just tell them it didn’t get accepted, it didn’t get invited to the party, it’s at home washing it’s hair, whatever floats your boat.  Your friends believe in you and you should believe in them.

7.   What’s next?  This is just one competition, it’s not the only competition, it’s not like you didn’t get picked to get on the space shuttle to continue the human race on some distant planet.  Use rejection as a form of self-evaluation instead of self-deprecation.  Keep submitting.  Keep improving.  Keep painting.

I really enjoyed writing this post and if you found it helpful, interesting, or even infuriating I would love to hear your comments.  Follow my blog “The Fearless Painter” for more of my art process insights.

"Possibilities About" by Holly Van Hart
“Possibilities About” by Holly Van Hart

Come check out the inspiration behind this blog post!
2 shows / 1 reception date “Salon at the Triton.  A 2D Art Competition & Exhibition”
& Holly Van Hart “Possibilities Abound
at the Triton Museum of Art
“Salon” runs from: December 6, 2014 – February 8, 2015
“Possibilities” runs from: November 23, 2014 – February 14, 2015

Reception for both: Friday, December 12, 2014, 6:00-8:00 p.m.

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Face to Face With My Comfort Zone (part 2)

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Now that I’ve got the itch to get back in the classroom I signed up for another workshop: “Making Faces with Charlie Levin”.

The months passed and boy was I excited!  As the weekend drew nearer I began researching Charlie’s work and chatted anyone’s ear off who’d listen about my upcoming adventure.  I had prepared extra boards to bring because I just knew I’d blow through them like popcorn.  The day before the workshop I began researching portrait work that I found inspiring. For my reference material I had printed out a small collection of Francis Bacon’s self-portraits as well as one of my favorite paintings by Johannes Vermeer, “Girl With a Pearl Earring”.  My proverbial bags were packed.

The next day driving to Wax Works West I had my radio on full blast, “I’M WALKIN’ ON SUNSHINE! WO-OAH!” When I arrived and smelled the delightful aroma of melted beeswax the butterflies in my stomach were flitting every which way. Man, I was pumped! After the usual meet and greet we were able to watch Charlie in action. She spoke about line work, seeing the face sculpturally in terms of facial planes, shading techniques, proportions, and how to use this information to define a specific face. After watching her translate this information into an encaustic painting I was chomping at the bit to get my hand in some wax (figuratively speaking of course). We were allowed to begin practicing the demonstrated techniques and loosen up.  The picture above was my first piece of the day where I practiced integrating each technique.  Yeah!  Point for Jaya!webBLOG-6-sketches

I also enjoyed working on thumbnail sketches.  Multiple renderings of the same face helps you become very familiar with facial features, shapes, planes, shadows, etc…I easily forget how much I enjoy just sketching (note to self: do more of that).  Initially we worked from high-contrast photos with dramatic lighting but eventually we sketched from very flat-looking, blurry photos as well.  She touched on a point that I thought was very important: draw what you’re seeing verses what you think you see.  I appreciated the challenge and was instructed to stick with the soft, blurry photos for my reference.  Charlie handed me a very alien-looking out of focus photo of a child, “Try this one out!”  I wasn’t fond of the image so I put it aside and found a soft-looking black and white image of a geisha.  This one was also blurry and flat so I decided to practice from her.

webBLOG-6-geisha-1I felt I was quite familiar with this geisha by the time we jumped into the wax.  We continued with the thumbnail theme and worked on 3″x3″ Bristol paper.  This was a challenge in of itself – I had never really sketched with wax before and I was using an Enkaustiko’s slanted bristle brush which was quickly becoming my new best friend.  Working so small forced you to not get lost in the details.  And don’t even think about fusing!  I am the fuse queen – smooth seamless wax surfaces?  Fuget about it!  Charlie’s work is super textured with dynamic brushstrokes and she doesn’t worry about fusing her pieces.  So for two days I put the torch on the back burner (pun intended) and embraced the textured brushstroke.  What I learned from the geisha was that I was working too opaquely.  I could build up layers of un-pigmented wax medium instead of just laying down WHITE.  This was an eye-opening revelation.  Take a closer look at the 3 geisha thumbnails.  (left) My first attempt (middle) Charlie’s example (right) my second attempt.  There are two sides to the coin with this type of layering.  On the one side you can build up beautifully transparent layered highlights.  On the flip side the build up creates a 3D effect.  Did I mention how I covet the flat encaustic surface?  By building up these layers I totally had to release the flat surface.  Tough to do, but hey, I came here to learn so flat surface OUT THE WINDOW!  Smooth brushstrokes OUT THE WINDOW!  Fusing OUT THE WINDOW!  Charlie came by and gave me some advice and instruction, “Why don’t you give this one a whirl?”  Out comes the blurry alien child and once again I feel my blood pressure rising.  I thought to myself, “I don’t like this picture.  I don’t like babies.  It’s not that I couldn’t paint this picture – I could paint it if I wanted to.  I just don’t want to.  I hate this picture!”  Once again I put it aside.

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“Sweet Little Bullet” detail. Gouache on panel. In my comfort zone.
webBLOG-6-bearded-man
Encaustic studies. Out of my comfort zone.

Day 2:  By this time I realized that my masterpiece study of “Girl With a Pearl Earring” wasn’t going to happen.   I was also secretly disappointed that I hadn’t painted anything “pretty”, especially because I’m darn good at painting portraits and I know my way around encaustics!  I can paint a rockin’ portrait!  I teach encaustics – I should know how to do this stuff!  What are the other students thinking when they look at my pieces?  How come this is so hard?!

Ahhh there it is…My comfort zone!

Oh internal dialog how ridiculous you are, but thank you for being there to remind me that I need to get back on track.  Let me summarize the above paragraph:  I don’t know about you but artistically speaking I hold myself to a very high standard.  I teach art so I should know what the heck I’m doing.  This means I must produce “good” pieces.  What does a good piece of art look like?  Something produced with skill.  What I had been working on was not skillful therefore it was “bad”.  My encaustic comfort zone is creating smooth surfaces with calculated brushstrokes.  When you are in your comfort zone there is no room to grow, I mean, why would you need to?  You are already good at whatever it is that you’re doing.  In your comfort zone you can paint pretty pictures ’till the cows come home.  When you are out of your comfort zone it feels uncomfortable, unnatural, and awkward because you are in unfamiliar territory.  Only then when you are faced with a challenge do you have the opportunity for personal growth, to learn new skills.  It was at the beginning of day 2 that I realized I was way out of my comfort zone.  Well about time – now I can get down to business!

My frame of mind changed instantly.  I am in Charlie’s class and I am going to learn what Charlie has to teach how Charlie’s going to teach it.  Where’s that alien baby head?  I spent the remainder of the class practicing the same techniques, only this time I didn’t care if the final product looked “good”.  I was really able to let loose.  During the rest of the day I thought about the many parallels between taking this class and my own students.  It was like a spotlight was flipped on:   practice what you preach.  A common quote of mine is “We are not here to re-create the Mona Lisa”.  At the beginning of each of my classes or workshops I make it very clear that I could care less if you paint a beautiful picture.  All that matters is that you understand the techniques.  Mastering the techniques will allow you to paint a hundred beautiful paintings on your own outside of the classroom.  This, of course, does not stop the attempt of painting something pretty.  Soon the “frame-worthy” painting attempt takes over and technique takes a backseat.  Some students come into class with an agenda (to paint a pretty picture to hang on the wall) and these students will have the toughest time.  Here I am coming into this workshop with my Vermeer print out and my multitude of extra panels.  Talk about an agenda!  me-and-charlie

Once I came face-to-face with my comfort zone I was able to recognize it and change my frame of mine, thus totally shifting my classroom experience.  Something I wasn’t expecting to gain from this workshop was a renewed appreciation for my own students.  Every class they come to I take it as my responsibility as a teacher to challenge them and in doing so provide them with room to grow.  And they keep coming back!  That says a lot about their bravery to face their own comfort zones.  By the end of the “Making Faces” workshop I felt honored that my students keep coming back to paint un-pretty pictures.  I can only hope that I am brave enough in my future learning experiences to continue to face my own comfort zone.  Only in this way will I breakthrough to new artistic heights.

Thank you Charlie Levin!

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