Art Show Follow Up: Making Faith a Habit & Other Things I Learned

As you might remember, last Thursday, I participated as a featured artist at “REVEAL”, RAW Boston’s summer showcase for artists, designers, photographers, stylists, and musicians. I’m happy to report that it went well and that it was worth all the effort I put in to my preparations for it. And now…it’s over, which means I can get back to MAKING stuff! (I’m very excited about that). But since the show experience warrants some reflection, please bear with me as I devote just one more post to talking a bit (okay, maybe a lot) about it.

my booth

my booth

racks of prints for sale

racks of prints for sale

So…the showcase was a great time! I felt good about the work I showed and how I represented myself. I had the pleasure of talking to other artists and exchanging valuable insights. (I have to say, it felt particularly good to be able to pass on some helpful tips to people who are going through things that I have gone through myself! Turns out I’ve learned a few things over the years!) The whole experience – from the weeks spent in preparation to the final take-down – was full of personal growth and learning.

Here are some of the things I learned:

  1. Anxiety and fear are inevitable, but I can make room for them without losing sight of the larger picture. Okay, I know it wasn’t the Emmys or anything, but even so, I was very nervous about the event. I felt angsty from the very beginning, when I found out that I would be participating. My nervousness peaked the day before the show, when I had to repeatedly tell myself that “I know I feel like I’m going to die right now, but it is just anxiety, and I don’t have to freak out about it.” During the weeks before the show, this anxiety popped up a lot, but instead of fighting against it (and feeling bad about it, wishing it would go away, and generally feeling like a pathetic speck of a person) I decided to accept it as another part of the game. Whenever I felt stress pressing down, I reminded myself that there were infinite ways that the show could play out, and since I have no ability to know or control the future, I would just do what I thought was best, have faith, and keep my mind open to the possibility that good things might come out of it. And surprisingly, the day OF the event, I felt fine! For one thing, I had the comfort of knowing that I was well prepared. But also, my mind was in a good place after spending so many weeks practicing faith, openness, and positivity.
  2. People are shy. We are all insecure about something. It’s a funny dynamic — the insecure artist and the insecure viewer, side by side, feeling awkward. I think people are afraid to talk to artists about their work because they don’t want to “say the wrong thing” or sound like they “don’t know anything about art”. But I’m not going to judge you for “not getting it” or for never taking some dumb art history class. And I don’t make art with the expectation that you’ll see it the way I see it. I want to hear what it is that you see! — how does it make you feel? What stories does it conjure up, what does it remind you of? I LOVE it when people tell me what my work means to them. It fuels the drive to keep making stuff. It satisfies the “longing-for-connection” aspect of being creative. And it reveals amazing things about the diversity of human experience.
  3. And artists are shy, too. Instinctually, I don’t want to bother people. I don’t want to impose myself on them while they look at my work, or dare to assume that they find it engaging in any way. But I suspect that, more often than not, people appreciate hearing the artist tell the story behind their work, even when the story isn’t linear or…much of a “story” at all. (i.e. “I did this before getting dressed to go to my friend’s wedding…I needed to do something creative and it just sort of came to me. I started drawing a whale, because whales need to be drawn, and then of course I realized it should be wearing a sweater.”) I like to see the humanness of other people’s artwork. It helps me feel connected to the work and to the artist. Showing viewers that the work is a process — that it’s a living thing — opens doors for communication. Then the artwork isn’t just a final “product”, but instead acts as a jumping off point for a richer connection. Art is made with time, energy, brains, and countless unexpected external influences. It’s a very human expression of divergent thinking and the way we make associations in our minds. When people understand that, it makes art less “intimidating”, less inaccessible. It’s all just another opportunity for connection!
  4. People really like dogs. My illustrated dog prints are always a big hit, and they are the most frequently bought items in my Etsy store. People always comment on them. But surprisingly (and I’m okay with this!), no one bought any dog prints at this show. Dogs are a personal thing, I guess. Everyone wanted it to be THEIR dog.
  5. My experiences have taught me lessons that are worth passing on to other artists! For example: Finding a good way to make prints of their artwork seems to be a VERY common struggle for artists. Which company should you use? How can you ensure that the print quality is excellent? How much are you willing to PAY to have prints made? I make all my prints myself. I am so happy with my Canon Pixma printer – it is getting old now, but it does a MARVELOUS job making high quality prints that I’ve been able to sell all over the place. Sure it took a lot of trouble-shooting (and a lot of frustration!) to get the print quality just right, and I had to test a lot of different papers before I found one I liked, but I eventually established a system for making prints that I am proud of. Now, I have no problem telling people that it is worth it to invest in a printer and good paper and to take the time to learn to make prints in-house.
  6. The human digestive system is very…emotional. I had no appetite the whole day of the show, and had to force myself to eat regular meals so I wouldn’t pass out at the event. For dinner before the show, I made sure to eat the blandest of sandwiches (a tough thing, because I love me some SPICE), but I STILL got indigestion! My mom saved the night with the emergency Rolaids she found in her purse (she’s my hero). And then, of course, as soon as I got home and put on my PJ’s, I found that I was starving! It was the sweet, sweet release of tension leaving my body, and so…I celebrated with ice cream and chips 🙂
  7. I’m not the only person who needs to retreat and recharge. The day was long – set up started at 1 and the event wasn’t until 7 PM. I certainly wasn’t the only artist there who needed to take 5 minutes to sit in the car and regroup before the show.
  8. That one should not be in such haste to pack up and beat the traffic at the end of the show that one leaves important things behind. Bye-bye extension cords. Bye-bye print racks. (On the other hand, if that’s the hardest lesson I had to learn that night – not to leave stuff behind — then all-in-all, I’d say it went quite well!)
  9. And finally, I was reminded of this very humbling and mind-blowing truth: I am tremendously blessed to be in the situation that I am in. I’ve had the support of my family, my husband, and my closest friends for my entire life. No one (other than the occasional stranger) has ever tried to convince me not to pursue art. When I have my doubts, my parents and my husband are the ones who tell me to have faith and keep going. They’ve always given me the space, time, and freedom to create. They’ve been patient and understanding. They’ve helped me with projects, shows, buying materials, and growing a business. They’ve prodded me to challenge and stretch myself and to take the next step when it’s been time to do so. They’ve spread the word to others, and they’ve helped open doors. They’ve been so generous – I’ve never had to live off of government cheese or go it alone. Without them, I wouldn’t be doing this. It takes a village, as they say.

To my husband, and to my parents: I’m sorry that all I can ever do is say thank you, and that no matter how many times I say it, it will never be enough. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And with that, I bid you, good day. Thanks to everyone who came out to the show. It meant a lot to see you there and have your support!

Oh, and Happy September, yo.

"Hey Shorty" sunflower illustration

a sunflower sketch for September

 

 

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Throw Doubt Away: You ARE an Artist.

crab apple blossoms (sketching during breakfast)

crab apple blossoms (sketching during breakfast)

I spend too much time feeling like I’m not a real artist because I don’t churn out amazing work every day. Often, the end of the week comes and I feel distraught over how seemingly little progress I’ve made on my paintings. There are days that I don’t get to paint much at all — where I have to try to take satisfaction in a doodle during breakfast because the rest of the day will be filled with the not-so-thrilling busywork of framing, matting, scanning, and e-mailing.

I begin most days wondering “is today the day that it’s all going to click? If I run fast enough, will I finally fit everything in?” I chase the crushing ideal of a daily routine that is perfectly balanced and productive — where I effortlessly manage my time so that the painting, marketing, networking, practicing, learning, writing, documenting, planning, and accounting all get done…with time to spare for life’s other demands like exercise, eating, relationships, sleep and leisure.

It’s a fantasy that sets me up for disappointment, and it robs me of the joy that comes from what I DO get to work on each day.

Why is it that I can have several paintings that I’m working on, a solo show that I’m getting ready for, and my work hanging in the homes of strangers, and STILL feel like I’m not an artist? If a friend told me this, I’d call her out for talking nonsense.

The only way I’m ever going to feel like an artist is if I decide to call myself one, and choose to own it despite my niggling self-doubt.

So I’m choosing that now. Next time someone asks me what I do, I’ll tell them the same thing I’ve been saying for years: “I’m an artist”. But instead of looking at the floor and brushing it off as if I’m only half- serious, I’ll be sure to stand tall, look them in the eye, and say it with pride.

Because you know what? I AM proud. And I’m not going to downplay how happy I am that I get to do this work.

(A special thanks to Lisa Congdon whose fantastic blog post inspired me to “own it”).

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“Fantastical Beasts of Myth and Legend.” Plus, 7 Helpful Things for Artists and Humans.

So…this happened:

Fantastical Beasts of Myth and Legend

Seeking to revitalize my brain — which was feeling “cottony” after several days spent preparing pieces for upcoming shows, putting together a new website (which will be done, eventually…), and working on my latest acrylic painting — I took a paintbrush and dabbed a few blobs of watercolor on a page.

I intended to turn those blobs into cats. (Shocking, I know).

But of course, my plan was foiled. That yellow blob up in the top right corner insisted on becoming a stegosaurus, so the cat idea went out the window. Then that red thing became a unicorn butt. Before I knew it, a dim-witted dragon joined the fun, followed by an oh-so-cheery kraken of the sea . And then — holy moly! — there was Donald Trump.

Mer-Trump, to be exact.

Thereby demonstrating that creativity, like politics, is never a straightforward process.

In other news! Here are 7 things that I found helpful this week:

  1. This podcast Episode from Danielle Krysa over at the Jealous Curator, in which she interviews artist Aris Moore. Particularly helpful was Aris’s reminder that drawing is a worthy art form (painting isn’t the only “fine art”!), her observation that “To have people respond to what you’re doing is such a gift”, and her discussion with Danielle about how vulnerable we make ourselves when we share our artwork. “It’s such a sensitive thing to do, to put your work out there. Everything you make, it’s like the first time you’ve made it. You’ve never made it before. So you’re putting out something new, and something that you’re not sure of, ” says Aris, to which Kristina adds “You’re exposing your heart to the world and hoping that they do the best with it.” It’s so nice to know that other artists feel this way, too, and to feel strengthened by their resolve to SHARE THEIR WORK anyway.
  2. This article, from Carrie Lewis at the Empty Easel, titled “Advice for Artists Thinking About Giving Up”, in which she reminds us that it’s normal to feel like quitting sometimes, and that the feeling will pass. In the meantime, don’t make any rash decisions. Just because art never becomes “easy” doesn’t mean you should give it up. “Almost every one of the hundreds of paintings and drawings I’ve finished over the years has reached a crisis at some point. Either I messed something up, needed to make major changes halfway through, or simply got tired of it. Whatever the cause, the result was always the same: I wanted to quit! Of course, I didn’t…”
  3. These two artists I fell in love with on Saatchi this week: Lia Porto and Julie Hendriks
  4. Melissa Camara-Wilkins‘s recent blog post “Why You Aren’t Writing”, about overcoming the obstacles that keep you from writing/creating. “You’re worried that someone else is already doing the thing you want to do,” she says. “This is a real thing. Someone else already wrote it or did it or said it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t…no one else can write it from your perspective. You know who you are, and you know what makes you different. That’s what we’re listening for. Write from the place that makes you, you. Write with your own voice, from your own experience, and help us see ourselves in your words. If you have something to say, it matters.” (obviously, this applies to the visual arts, too).
  5. Elizabeth Gilbert‘s quote (from Big Magic – READ THIS BOOK!) about taking action instead of waiting around for “inspiration” to strike: “…any motion whatsoever beats inertia, because Inspiration will always be drawn to motion.” 
  6. It’s rhubarb season! Strawberry rhubarb compote, anyone?
  7. Warm weather (finally!) and being able to have the windows open. Happy bird songs make the BEST background sound for painting.

 

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10 Sources of Artistic Inspiration from your Everyday Life

I see the world through the artist’s lens. There are potential art projects in basically everything I behold. This can be exhausting (so many projects racing through my head, and I can’t keep up with them!), but generally, it’s a tremendously exciting way to view life. One of the goals of my blog is to help others develop their talent for seeing the world as a visual treasure trove that can inspire their own art.

In pursuit of this goal, I’ve created a list of 10 things that can help you get inspired to make something when you’re feeling stuck or out of ideas:

1.   Human (and Animal) Forms.

Miko

Stop looking at people without actually seeing them. In your head, you have this idea of how people look. When you see someone walking down the street, you note what they’re doing in less than a second, and then your mind plays a little cartoon for you of what “person walking” means.  I’m not criticizing—we all simplify what is going on around us, otherwise sensory overload would ensue and our brains would explode!

But you can choose to pay attention to how people actually look, and if you do, you’ll discover a wealth of visual resources for your art.  Pause and OBSERVE how surprising and intriguing the contours of people’s bodies are as they move, or as your point of perspective changes.  There are a wonderful variety of shapes the human body can take as it moves and interacts with its environment.

Do you actually SEE “James reading” over there? Look at him, hunched at the table, face close to the page (yes, I suppose this is objectification – but objectification WITHOUT judgement – it’s all glorious shape and contour!). If you drew only the contour of his form, you’d have an interesting result, and it would NOT be like the “headbone’s connected to the neck bone” nonsense you learned in elementary school drawing.

Zuchinni_Flowers

2.    Textures.

Textures are awesome because of how they make patterns out of highlight and shadow. The range of tones within textured objects is a renderer’s dream. The blue sponge by the sink? Thanks to the holes that give it its characteristic texture, it’s not only blue, but also cerulean, navy, gray, and a ton more colors, if you care to observe them. Wrinkles in fabric provide a feast of stark lights and darks for the eyes to gorge on. Warts on gourds manipulate color and space to such an addictive extent that we all buy them every year, despite the fact that they’re practically useless.

Why not celebrate, by means of art, the textures that catch your eye? You might make someone notice something beautiful that they didn’t appreciate before.

 

3.    Intriguing juxtapositions of different shapes, textures, and colors (or unexpected pairings of objects).

It’s useful to keep an eye out for juxtaposing opposites.  Look for colors that are opposites, like an orange tree reaching into a blue sky, but also opposing concepts, like an industrial, hard-edged concrete wall with a weed growing out of a tiny crack within it. This is a poignant juxtaposition of manmade lines and organic forms. Allow yourself to marvel at the spikes of the cactus that is growing next to the smooth-leafed jade plant. What about that dull colored, fuzzy kitten that is curled up against the smooth, blindingly orange pumpkin? Seemingly random combinations of things are often dense with thought-provoking textures, patterns, and colors that interact to inspire great artwork.

Camels_sketch

4.   Repetitions, collections, and infinite regressions.

It’s fun to imagine how you would simplify the repeating shape of things—like leaves on a maple tree, for instance—into a 2D pattern, or how you would capture the endlessly receding view of telephone poles in a visually enticing black and white drawing. Similar objects/shapes in abundance can make great artwork!  Notice the repeating shelves full of repeating cans at the supermarket. That’s worth drawing right there. But what if the cans were tiny little sofas instead? Now you have two projects worth drawing!

I just paused to take out the recycling, and on the short walk from my door to the end of the driveway, I noticed several different accumulations of repeating objects that I now want to draw: the sea of mums, bunched together with no gaps in between; the black walnuts that collect on top of the sewer grate after falling off the trees and rolling down the street; and the acorns that line the curb like a queue of folks waiting to buy the latest version of the iPhone.

Visually similar objects accumulate in all sorts of interesting environments, and paying attention to such groupings can be a fun game.

5.   Shadows.

If you’re on the same planet as I am, there are probably a multitude of shadows being cast all around you at this very moment.  Notice how the shadows of different things are different colors, depending on the color of the surface on which the shadow falls.  Shadows on snow are one of my favorites – they can be so richly blue and purple depending on the time of day.

When your surroundings seem bland, noticing shadows can be one of the best artistic jumping off points.  In addition to their unexpected colors, you can find a great wealth of inspiration in the shapes they take, variance of hard and soft edges, and their different sizes depending on their distance to the light.

Look at a parking lot surrounded by trees, buildings, and lampposts.  The parking lot is your canvas.  Now imagine the areas of shadow are the positive space, and the areas where light hits are the negative space.  Imagine an artwork composed of the details of the shadow world, where the space hit by light is rendered without detail, perhaps even left blank.  There might be some interesting shapes and colors that interplay there!

Right now, the shadows from the rails on my balcony are at such a stark diagonal angle from the vertical rungs themselves that it makes me want to draw some fabulously dense, detailed black line art.

6.   Contrast of color, light, shape, ideas.

Contrast_Scribble

This is similar to juxtapositions (see # 3) but different in that contrasts can lie within the same object and are polar – they are the juxtaposition of A and its seeming opposite Z.

There’s a black cat sleeping in the dark corner, with its paw dreamily extended into the light cast on the floor by the afternoon sun.  Mentally exaggerate that contrast of shadow and highlight to the point where the cat paw is coming out of a blackish, animal-esque blob that almost melts into the background. Voila! The result is delicious.

Contrast makes things dynamic.  Contrast is what makes us notice things (the old “you wouldn’t appreciate what happiness felt like if you didn’t feel sadness too” idea).  MAKE viewers notice things by using contrast to emphasize shapes you like, colors you like, and so on.  And make YOURSELF notice things by looking for contrasts.

7.   Things you see when you look down.

Chances are that you’re at your computer right now. Look down.  Are there curled up electric cables under your desk?  Any rumply socks? Both are very interesting. Both are worth exploring artistically.

Or how about this: See how humorously proportioned your lower body looks when you look down at it?  Sit in a chair, look down, and imagine that you didn’t understand the laws of perspective.  Your feet appear to be coming out of your shins!  What an excellent way that you could draw yourself!  Can you make a drawing that calls other people’s attention to how we take our depth perception for granted when making sense of objects in space?

8.    Things you pass by every single day, repeatedly, but don’t really look at.

C’mon, the light switch deserves its chance in the spotlight, too! People LOVE it when you show them the beauty in something they usually view as trite.

9.    Reflections in water, metal, glass.

Observing the way shiny things distort what they are reflecting can be an excellent way to get ideas about how to render reality in new and different ways. The crowded and humid sports bar looks a lot different when viewed in the reflection of your beer bottle. Maybe that is just the way you should draw it, in order to capture the way it feels to be there. Subjective experience looks different than objective experience, and noticing how reflections look can help you brainstorm ways to capture the subjective on paper.

Subjective renderings aside, reflections are just plain visually intriguing, and that is enough to make them worthwhile subjects of your art. The way my hand looks when it’s reflected in the metal of the can opener would make for a drawing worth staring at.

If you work more abstractly, you can use reflected images to your advantage by mentally removing them from their original contexts and using visual elements of them as balancing shapes and patterns within a piece of art.

10. Artwork that is all around you.

Get inspired by the art of your every day life, from the logos on packaging, to signs hanging on buildings.  Art lies everywhere: on printed fabric, bookcovers, magazine advertisements, credit cards…trust me, it’s EVERYWHERE.

 

I realize that this can be interpreted as a list of things that inspire ME, but with 10 things covered, I hope there’s something that can help YOU get inspired! I’d be thrilled to hear about your own ideas for how to get inspired. And please let me know if you try any of the things I suggested above!

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