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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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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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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Inspiration From the Ashes

yellow texture

 Life is a bed of roses!

You know what?  The last time I checked, not all of us live and breathe in a Disney movie.  Sometimes things can look pretty bleak.  It is unfortunate how easy it is to slip into a vicious circle of hopelessness and despair.  We’ve all been there at one point or another and hey, we might slip again in the future.  Perhaps this question sounds familiar: “Why me?” The real question to ask is “What now?”

To give you a little insight on why I chose to write “Inspiration From the Ashes” I thought I’d share something personal.  The past couple months have been a little rocky to say the least.  We recently learned that our pet chicken, Hops, has intentional cancer and we have been in a very sad place.  After a week at the vet we brought her home wondering how many days left we would have with her.  The first night home was sleepless.  We woke up in mini-panics whenever she’d fluff her feathers and we’d stare intently at this poor little bird who would stare back as if to say, “What the heck is wrong with you two?!”  The next day I did what I usually do:  have breakfast with Angel (my umbrella cockatoo), return some e-mails, then check on Hops every 15 seconds to make sure she was doing ok.  It was a nice day so I threw a couple of blankets on the porch and brought Hops outside so she could get some sunshine.  I decided to flip on the electricity and melt some wax.  Hey, I might as well do some art if I’m keeping my chicken company…

3 encausticWhile Hops settled in I looked at my messy, waxy workspace and smelled that wonderful aroma of beeswax in the air.  I learned a pretty cool technique a couple years ago from my R&F Advanced Teaching Workshop instructor, Laura Moriarty.   It’s not my first go-to technique but I thought it would be fun to just practice something outside my wheelhouse.  This particular process is all about texture through repetition of brushstrokes.  With each stroke the wax will catch on the micro ridges that are created.  Eventually a very organic-looking texture pattern builds into a unique (yet somewhat delicate) work of art.  I began carving or incising patterns into the first layer of wax to “train” my brushstroke texture.  A spiral here, a square there, a long “S” shape curving down a panel.  I started experimenting with colors next, “Hops, which one should I use?  Pthalo blue?  OK!”  Beautiful blues transformed into purples, deep oranges into sunburst yellows.  Before I knew it I was hooked.

Time flew by and soon I had created a small collection of mini encaustic “succulents”.  The whole process was very meditative and I used this simple technique to take my mind off my sadness – and it worked!  I would show my small creations to Hops and she’d cluck saying, “Is this something I can eat?”  I came back to the wax the following day, and Hops was content to roost on her blanket next to me.  Soon Hops and I were both in a much better frame of mind.  She was more comfortable at home, eating, dozing, and doing the little things that chickens do.  I was more relaxed and happy to see her feeling better.

The day came when I had to go back to work and I was allowed to bring my chicken-in-a-basket along with me – thanks boss!  I set up a small area for her in the back of the store and my buddies at work got to meet my little friend.  My co-worker’s mom, Kathy, was down the street so she swung by to take some photos and see what the commotion was about.  I told her Hop’s story and how she was at work so I can give her medicine and keep an eye on her.  As it so happens, Kathy is a preschool teacher.  She was so inspired by Hop’s story that she turned it into a lesson for her students.  The lesson was on kindness to animals.  “When your tummy hurts your mom and dad take care of you and make you feel better right?  We need to do that for our animals too!”all hops

I don’t really know why I’m always  surprised whenever I see the magic chickens are capable of.  A lot of times I will hear, “But it’s a chicken!” My usual response is: “Well of course she’s a chicken!  Did you know that chickens purr?”  It all goes downhill from there, quite often with a barrage of iPhone photos.  Perhaps life would be less stressful if we kept our distance from things that make us sad.  You have to wonder if going down that road might make life a little smaller.   Without Hops there would be less art in the world and one fewer lesson on Kindness to Animals.  My animals are extraordinary and what we’re going through with Hops is painful.  It must be a conscious choice to acknowledge the pain but not dwell in it.  This is an hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute effort and maybe we’ll slip once in a while.  We’re not perfect beings – we’re human beings.  What would humanity be without Love?

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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.
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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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Class Act

In every class there is a dynamic. You see, I am usually the loud funny one. This is my natural group role – I am funny, hence people will like me and I will fit in. I am loud so people will pay attention to me and I can dominate the conversation. I am a good student so the teacher will like me, ergo, I win. These are roles we learn during childhood and we play them to some extent during our whole lives. Well this time I decided to leave the stereotypical Jaya at home, shut up, and absorb everything like a sponge…

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A garden view of Wax Works West

At the beginning of this year I had the opportunity to take an advanced encaustic course through R&F Paints. This week-long workshop helped me to focus my teaching style and direction. It also gave me something else that I wasn’t expecting: the itch to take another class! I never really thought about it before but I had become used to being the instructor in front of the class, and of course being “ON” for x amount of hours. If I had the desire to learn a new technique or try a new product I would do it on my own (that’s how I got into encaustic in the first place, scanning the pages of Joanne Mattera’s “The Art of Encaustic Painting” in the bookstore changed my life). I’ve got a decent mini-library in my studio and if I was missing the proper book or tools I didn’t have a problem investing in something new. The way I see it is that I am developing my skills which rounds me out as a teacher. The thought of actually TAKING a class hadn’t really crossed my mind. However, this encaustic course flipped on the floodlight.

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Art is where you create, create where there’s art

The class was held at  Wax Works West, a magical state-of-the-art encaustic facility. I had been wanting to take a class there for months and it was even more inspiring than I had dreamed. Everywhere you turned there was art, art, and more art. I couldn’t take pictures fast enough. Walking into the workspace opened my eyes to what was possible in an encaustic studio, I mean, the bar was SET. I was introduced to my instructor, Laura Moriarty, and I found a workstation where I could set myself up. While organizing my tools I quietly looked around at the other students, some knew each other, some were quietly looking around just like me. We were summoned to “gather round” so I grabbed my notebook and the butterflies in my stomach. Now here’s the interesting part. I walked into the workshop expecting to learn a few new techniques and make some awesome sample boards. Well I got something way more valuable than that. Not only was the class extremely informative but being able to objectively take in the class dynamics was amazing. Watching my instructor, Laura Moriarty, INSTRUCT was helpful beyond measure. You see, I am used to how I teach, how I answer questions, how I troubleshoot, and how I demonstrate. Observing someone else in this role was better than cable.

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Downstairs gallery at Wax Works West

I kept my nose down and ears open during the week.    I didn’t chat much with the other students which is unusual for me because I am the social butterfly.  I ate lunch quickly so I could jump back into the classroom to perfect another sample board.  Finding an environment that fuels your creativity to the point of boiling over is an adrenaline rush.  Working in the Wax Works West facility solidified my goal to be an awesome teacher as well as a masterful encaustic artist.

After the last day of class I spoke to Laura asking her advise on how I could get my foot in the door. I’m so glad that she took a few minutes to give me some suggestions. The weeks passed, lesson plans were fine tuned, and emails with the ladies of  Wax Works West were exchanged. In a meeting with owners Wendy Aikin and Judy Stabile my dream came true: I was officially invited to teach the workshop I had developed called “Wax with Whimsy”. I think the only thing keeping me from floating away into the Corralitos sunset was my giant encaustic notebook I carry around with me. They suggested that I audit one of their encaustic basics classes to get the feel of how their workshops ran. Once again, I was on cloud nine. It took all my strength not to jump into the ring and begin offering encaustic pearls of wisdom – I had to keep silently reminding myself that I was there to observe. Being able to watch Wendy and Judy in action was beneficial because I was able to resonate with their teaching style. I could visualize myself teaching and see the areas where I can improve. I learned so much just by watching their interactions with the students. That’s it, I was hooked: I promised myself that I would sign up for as many classes that I could afford in order to learn how to be a better teacher. So that day I registered for “Making Faces” with Charlie Levin

Tune in for my next post: “Face to Face with my Comfort Zone”!

 

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