Stormy Weather

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” Louisa May Alcott (from The Painter’s Keys).Screen shot 2013-10-09 at 10.14.24 AM

Artists can be hit hard in times of austerity but is it necessarily all bad?  Can tough times be also, times of heightened creativity?   Artists can look upon tough times as an opportunity to do new and exciting things.  Break new ground.  Do something not done before.  Find new tools to navigate the storm.

Seeking creative ways to sell art is one method of fighting the waves.  The author of states, “rather than seeing tough times as obstacles to their career success, see them as opportunities to tap into your creative strengths and reserves.”  How an artist does that is as unique as the artist him/herself. Possible methods include dropping prices, changing selling venue, seeking new non-traditional methods of selling and horror of horrors, changing artistic style.  It depends on what works for you and where your market is.  Experiment and get creative.

The BBC News Magazine asks the question, “Do hard times equal good art?”  The writer gives argument to both sides of the question.  Many well known artists have lived hard lives with tough times.  Others lived in the lap of luxury.  Some artists, myself included, create better under pressure.  Again, the answer, most likely, lies within the individual artist.  With examples of both types throughout history, does it really matter?  Good times or bad, the point is to carry on.

Some artists deal with the storms of tough times by turning them into their work.  Looking at the incredible energy of Joseph M. W. Turner’s ships in stormy waters, it appears the painter knows a thing or two about storms.  Though Turner achieved success with his painting, his personal life was not without turbulence mainly during his childhood, (read more here).  Perhaps his storm painting was, at least partially a metaphor for his own personal storms.

To get through stormy weather, it seems the best action is to seek navigational tools by digging ever deeper into creativity.  And after the storm, smooth sailing ahead!

Panic Aversion

“The object isn’t to make art, but to be in that wonderful state that makes art inevitable.”-Robert Henri (from Skinnyartist)Screen shot 2013-10-08 at 10.50.59 AM

The search for inspiration can be a never- ending battle.   Nothing is working.  The feeling can range from confusion to panic.  What if you never get your inspiration back?  Where do you turn?  Listening to what other artists say from their own experiences is frequently helpful.

Artist Issac Julien is quoted in The Guardian as saying “It is important for inspiration to go elsewhere.”  He further goes on to suggest getting out of the city, going to places of tranquility.   Being out in nature and away from the bombardment of the over stimulation of the city gives the brain a chance to think without the constant backdrop of the cacophony of traffic, people, hustle and bustle.  In the peace and quiet of being out in nature, it is easier to hear what your brain is telling you.

For people who already live and work outside cities, the opposite action may be of benefit.  Go into a city.  Listen to the sights and sounds.  Watch the people.  Absorb the energy of the constantly moving atmosphere of city life.  Artist, Susan Phillipsz from the same Guardian article, states “always have something to write with.”  Taking notes or sketching what you see may bring on renewed energy.

And if these ideas don’t work, Artpromotivate has an article “20 Creative Ideas for Art Inspiration.”   I have written quite a bit about this subject lately because it happens to me and I have a tendency to go off in too many directions at once to try to get that inspiration back.  I go into an inspiration panic instead of following the wisdom of other artists who have also been there.  At times I have followed both directions suggested by these two artists, going into the city and going into nature.  Nature seems to work better for me but I have occasionally found the city helpful as well.  The point is to stop the panic and seek a change in scenery.

The Stillness of Action

“All true artists , whether they know it or not, create from a place of no mind,  of inner stillness.”  Eckhart Tolle (from shot 2013-10-07 at 9.35.17 AM

What is stillness?  Is it a physical place or an inner place?  Do we need to go to a place of stillness to paint?   Stillness for every artist is likely different.  What do other artists say and do regarding stillness?

Canadian artist Agata Lawrynczyk states she paints early in the morning and late in the day to find the peace and quiet she is looking for to depict in her paintings.  She also states the subjects for her paintings are stillness.  Her paintings are of water and mountains, boats and sky.  Her blog, Agata’s Art Corner describes her process.  Lawrynczk is actively seeking to paint stillness.  Others may follow her habits even when not depicting “stillness.”

Because one is not seeking to depict “stillness” does not mean it is not inwardly sought while painting.  Looking at Wilhem De Kooning, I confess to an inability to see anything remotely resembling “stillness” in the artists work. Once while standing in a room filled with De Kooning paintings at the Corcoran Museum in Washington, D.C., I could swear I felt sizzling electricity.  In a brief biographical sketch about De Kooning, The Guggenheim Museum states the artist moved to East Hampton, New York seeking greater peace and isolation to create.  It appears De Kooning sought a place of stillness even though you would never guess from his work!

In a blog called With Real Toads, Margaret Bednar, visits two art museums to view paintings she sees as depicting, “Stillness” in the subject matter.  Using these chosen artworks, she asks the writers of the blog to describe stillness in words or poems.  The same directive for painting could also apply. Thinking about descriptive words for stillness may be a good method for getting to a place of “stillness” in the art making process, regardless of subject.

Ellen Lauren is speaking to theatre actors when she wrote an article for titled, “In Search of Stillness.”  She believes actors require training to achieve stillness. It is likely the same applies whether the subject to be captured is of “stillness” or the artist is seeking the inner place of inspiration.  When stillness is achieved, creativity flows. Or so it would seem.

Waiting for Lightening

You can’t wait for inspiration. Sometimes you have to go after it with a club.” ~ Jack London (from shot 2013-10-06 at 11.39.42 AM

Do you have those days where you are just unable to get started?  The motivation just isn’t there.  Or maybe you stand in front of a blank canvas and can’t pick up the brush.  You want to work but lack the push.  Ahh, yes, happens to us all!  What can you do when those times come?

The number one key is to do something, anything.  As the blog Dubspot states, “The main thing is to turn up!”  Make the effort to get to your workspace and not give in to the doldrums.  And make it a regular thing as if you are punching a time clock.  Dubspot states Mark Twain was once asked if he had to wait for inspiration to come before writing.  “Yes, I do,” he replied, ‘but inspiration always comes at 9 am sharp, every weekday!”

Seattle artist, Alicia Tormey, states much the same thing when in her blog, she writes the most important thing for an artist to do is show up in the studio.  Tormey says to go to the studio even it is only to organize the brushes.  Again, the point is to make the effort even if you don’t feel like it.

Things seem to shift when you focus the energy on the work.  Eventually, it moves and inspiration flows.  Sometimes the best things happen when you feel the least like creating.  That happened for me recently when I had to make the effort for a project with a timeline.  I just didn’t feel like it.  I ended up talking on the phone while painting and letting it flow without thinking about what I was doing.  A shift in the painting occurred!  Maybe I should talk on the phone while working more often instead of waiting for inspiration to strike.

For more on finding inspiration visit The Empty Easel

Dry Eyes

“There fore art means: you have to believe, to have faith, that is, cultivate vision.” (Josef Albers) from The Painter’s KeysScreen shot 2013-10-05 at 11.12.15 AM

Artistic vision likely does not have a cookie-cutter formula that can be written in a textbook and taught by lecture in a classroom. Artistic vision is as unique as the artist making the artwork. If each vision is unique, are there any guidelines an artist can follow? We all get off track at times, so how do we get back?

Author Thomas Cotterill in his blog states: “No matter what the artist thinks about vision, it is vital that they remain true to their own ideas.” When those inevitable times come when an artist feels the vision is lost it is imperative to examine what exactly the lost vision was. What were the points that drew the artist to the original vision? What were the emotions, the colors, the shapes, and the tastes of the vision? In that dry vision deprived place, returning to the beginning may be the best first step. Once taken, the first step can lead to what the original second step was, and third.

For some vision may have been a choice they consciously made as they began to paint. Others may have had a gradually evolving vision over time. In either case, returning to the starting point allows an artist the opportunity to remember the excitement of how the vision first felt and perhaps reignite that spark. There was a reason you chose that particular vision. Refresh, recall, and relight that fire.

For more on what other artists say about artistic vision, artist Barbara Rachko has complied a series of quotes on her blog here.

Colorful Fridays-Accidental Blue

There are connoisseurs of blue just as there are connoisseurs of wine.” Colette (from The Painter’s Keys)Swamp44withmark

Gainsborough’s “The Blue Boy” relied on a newly discovered blue.  Picasso could not have managed his “Blue Period,” without this very unique blue paint.  Many artists look for ways to save money on supplies without compromising quality.  Such was the case with eighteenth century Berlin artist, Diesbach when he stumbled upon the ingredients for making a new blue paint later called Prussian Blue.

Blue was expensive for artists in the early seventeen hundreds.  Painters used very little blue in their works, reserving it for the most reverent religious depictions.  Diesbach was actually working on a mix for reds when his local chemist sold him iron sulfate and contaminated potash.  Oil made from animals was the contaminant. It was this potash that set up the chemical reaction that became Prussian blue.  It gained in popularity throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Winsor Newton began selling Prussian Blue in 1878.   The name derives from its use as the color of the uniforms of the Prussian Army in the early eighteenth century on.

Chemistry World gives a detailed description of the actual chemical reaction that creates Prussian Blue.  Since I barely muddled through college chemistry, I won’t attempt to describe the process and suggest following the link to Chemistry World for a fascinating account.  Their essay also outlines the use of Prussian Blue on patients with certain radioactive poisoning or thallium contamination.  Good to know if you are ever in that situation!

Prussian Blue’s name was changed by Crayola to Midnight Blue in the 1950’s because it was felt few would understand the name.  Prussian Blue continues to be a popular paint to many painters, myself included, though some complain that its light fastness might be lacking.  I exercise care when using Prussian Blue because of its ability to quickly overtake other colors. For some fun reading on Prussian Blue try Joshua Cohen’s “Thirty-six shades of Prussian Blue” (though not to be confused with a book of a similar title concerning grays!).  And if you would like to imitate those eighteenth century artists and make your own Prussian Blue, here is a YouTube demonstration by Dr. Mark Foreman:


Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.” Andy Warhol 
 (from Artpromotivate)Screen shot 2013-10-03 at 11.58.29 AM


Do artists want an “anything goes” Art World where anyone can call anything art and put it up for display?  Does that forward the cause of Art?  While at dinner with several friends this topic came up.   One friend is astounded by an art piece she viewed at an art museum in Toronto titled, “The Black Bathroom.”  My friends all thought it hilariously funny that someone would call this art.  It seems possible that a certain elitist attitude has opened the Art World up to ridicule by this “anything goes” mentality.

Alicia Eler of Hyper Allergic, linked from Arts Journal visual arts section, has a wonderful article titled “At ArtPrize, What the F*** is art?”  She spent time at the Grand Rapids, Michigan annual art fest known as ArtPrize and makes the observation that at this art show anybody can display anything and nothing is turned away.  The major difference here is the judging.  Anyone can judge.  Visitors who do not normally patronize elitist art galleries can get in on the judging.  These every day people judges are not in on the “cryptic language,” as Eler calls it, of the art elite.  The judging will be released this week end and we will see what “the people” have judged as art.

From the descriptions of some of the art in ArtPrize, I can hear the comments of viewers not privy to the “cryptic language,” but does this further the cause of art or leave it up to more ridicule?  From the local to the national, art exhibitions have taken on the “anything goes” attitude and ridicule is becoming more vocal.  Another friend recently described a local large outdoor sculpture as “that Gumby thing.”  For me, I prefer the artist’s work that is less ambiguous.  If I am focused on trying to figure out the meaning of an artwork, I have lost the beauty of the brushstroke, the form, the use of color, or any of the indications of the skill of the artist and to me, that’s what art is all about.  But maybe that’s just me!

Picturing a Paradigm Shift

In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.

Alfred StieglitzScreen shot 2013-10-02 at 11.46.34 AM

The UK’s Daily Mail (here) has an article on Kodak and the first camera for use by the general public.  Photography changed from the posed portraits of the times to capturing moments in the everyday lives of people.  So much else of the art world evolved with Kodak’s camera.

Painting dramatically changed at the time early photography was growing according to an article by BigThink’s Bob Duggan in a well -documented post of the early influence of photography on painting.  Duggan outlines how the late nineteenth century painters began to rely on photography more and more in their painting.  Fleeting moments could be more readily captured by photography and translated to canvas.  However, painters at the time were reluctant to admit their reliance on photography.  Today, that is not the case.

Alfred Stieglitz was outspoken in promoting photography as art.  He exhibited both at his famous New York art galleries.  It was a radical idea at the time. Today, both photography and painting stand side by side in the art world.   The amazing beauty achieved by photographers is fascinating to me.   My camera and I wander around capturing bits of inspiration for painting.  These are the moments I can truly appreciate the skill and artistic ability of photographers.  I am usually able to capture what I need for painting but always wonder how photographers capture so much more.

That first Kodak camera for mass consumer use sparked a new and wonderful movement in the art world.   The argument will continue about how photography and painting interact though most will likely agree the first Kodak Moment coincided with the paradigm shift that became the many diverse twentieth century art movements.

Sketching Knowledge

Look into Nature, then you will understand it better.”  Albert Einstein, (from A.S.L. & Associates)Screen shot 2013-10-01 at 10.26.32 AM

A growing body of research is suggesting students may learn science more effectively by using their imaginations through various forms of art expression.  Doodling, drawing, collage, and sketchbooking are all methods students can use as vehicles for creative learning.  Art may in fact be a more successful form of knowledge retention than traditional note taking.   Art forces the student to actually look at the subject and draw on imagination.

Live Science has an article on using artistic expression for science learning and quotes Australian researcher Russell Tytler of Deakin University in Waurn Pond, Australia as saying, “ We can have students exercising their creativity and imagination in order to learn the canonical knowledge of science.  There is no need for it to be ‘transmitted’ to students as dead knowledge.”  Students learn concepts by art projects.

Art would likely hold student attention longer, as well.  What’s more fun: taking notes from a boring lecture or creating art projects?  Doodling notes instead of writing them captures more focused attention.  The student must use eyes, ears and imagination to utilize art making for learning, a triple focus.  Seems like a no-brainer to me.

It will be interesting to see if more schools take up art as a form of learning.  However, schools are cutting art rather than increasing its use in curriculum.  How much evidence will it take to change that process?  Time will tell.

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