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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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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So you think you want to start a painting?

Part 1

My cousin is getting married later this month and smart me thought, “I’ll make her a painting!” Nothing like a personal from-the-heart gift to celebrate that once in a lifetime union to your soul mate. It’s either that or a gravy boat. So I asked her what their favorite colors are. I got back fuchsia or a burnt red for her (that’ll work! I like red) and…black. Really?! It’s just like a boy to like BLACK. Couldn’t you be a little more creative? So here I go thinking to myself, maybe by “black” he really means “aqua” or a lovely “spring green”. Who’ll notice? No more fooling myself – I’ve got to work with red and black and NOT make it look like the apocalypse. The gravy boat’s not looking so bad now…

While writing this post I began thinking about artist’s processes. I realize that I am very methodical in how I prepare to paint. Whatever the subject matter, style, size, or medium I always start the same way. To embark on my red and black challenge I begin by organizing myself.

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GATHER MATERIALS: I pick out a canvas. I have a plethora of unfinished paintings that I look through. I know I want an elongated canvas and I find a half-finished 10 x 30 with owls on a blue background. Remember when the owl craze started? I’m a little late to that party now so no problem, I gesso over the owls with my favorite Golden brand gesso. Next I look through my black & white collage papers (ok, now the juices are flowing – maybe black’s not SO bad…), I choose a limited paint selection, a few brushes, and some mixed media accents (water-soluble crayons, gold leaf, gel & pouring mediums).

PREPARE MY WORKSPACE: Set up my easel and supplies. I position my easel to the correct height and since I’m right handed I put my palette and water bucket on my right (I see so many artists struggle with their workspaces – they’ll reach over themselves to mix paint, the easel will be too low or too high. Make it easy on yourself and really look at how you have your space set up!)

TAKE CARE OF MYSELF: I eat a quick lunch, put the animals outside, get some laundry going (for some reason I feel more productive if I have some clothes in the wash), and finally use the restroom. This sets me up for the least amount of interruptions (at least the ones that are under my control).

Preparing to paint is also a creative process. Looking through your paints and tools should be inspiring. It should make you think about where you want to go with your piece, and perhaps a new possibility that you hadn’t thought of before. Workspace is equally important. Even if you only have a corner of a studio apartment – you can transform it into an inspiring area. Turn it into a place where you want to create, not only that, a place where you can create effectively and easily. Clear away anything that does not get your juices flowing. “Only creative stuff is allowed in this 3 foot square corner of the room.” When you sit down to paint, draw, write, sing, whittle, design cat outfits, do so without any excuse to stop. An innocent trip to the restroom can easily be sidetracked and you end up cleaning the entire bathroom. So take care of yourself first!

Part 2 “The Creative Process” to follow next week!

 

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