"Better to be a dog in times of tranquility than a human in times of chaos."
This expression originates from volume three of the short story collection by Feng Menglong, Stories to Awaken the World, circa 1627. It is considered the potential origin of the infamous 'Chinese curse': May you live in interesting times.
Whether a Chinese curse or poor translation, the fact remains that
we certainly are living in a time of chaos.
For artists these times are a target rich environment. This pandemic has relentlessly exposed the global nature of social, geopolitical, environmental and economic issues and forced us to recognize that they are interconnected.There is no looking away from or ignoring the new normal. We are going to have to figure this out together.
But at first artists struggled to cope, just like everyone else.
I spent the initial month of lock down channelling my distress into teaching myself to weave on a home made peg loom. Using fine, fingerling weight wool to create very controlled, geometric patterns I allowed myself to get lost in the focused rhythm of counting weft & warp threads.
March gave way to April, which brought sunnier days, nesting birds, a riot of flowers and the phenomenon of pandemic puppies. Everytime I took a social distancing stroll in my neighbourhood another young dog seemed to be learning to walk on a leash. Then family & friends began to bring home their own bundles of furry love.
Full disclosure....I also have a new puppy. Although he happened to arrive just as covid19 upended the world as we knew it, I'd been on a waiting list for 2 1/2 years.
Suddenly I had the most ridiculous urge to paint family and friend's puppies.
As I'm such a slow painter, each piece usually takes me about a month to complete. Gradual layers of thin glazes finally build up the textured look with the smooth surface that I desire. The same focus that drove my weaving was now redirected to applying paint to a wooden panel...but the reason I created these little guys is simply that puppies make me happy. I can't control what goes on in the world but I can manage to find a calm and pleasing place to dwell at my easel.
I don't have any inspirational or politically motivated art to share.
That's an emotional pandora's box which I leave for other artists to open & explore.
For me it's been about capturing the spark of their personality & joy I felt upon seeing these pups.
I hope that they bring their new owners many years of loving companionship.
Try as I might, the job of editing and cleaning my studio space took twice as long as I had anticipated. On the other hand it was precicely the length of time my mother had predicted, but then...she did have to contend with me as a teenager, so is well versed in just how much stuff I can squirrel away into small spaces.
In between studio cleaning, general domestic chores and obligations outside the home, 'art making' has been sporatic and varied. I continue to experiment with porcelain clay on a small scale, and find the design aspect to be a satisfying exercise in problem solving. Working around the kiln firing schedule of a friend means it happens in little waves of creativity, forcing me to hit the pause button, stop running around and focus on a single project for a few hours.
A long awaited tapestry workshop allowed me to begin to understand simple frame loom weaving. That certainly has my imagination chafting at the bit to do more, but there is a need to rein in my enthusiasm and consider timelines as we move into Spring. Art show season is around the corner and I should be to turning my attention to painting and printmaking ahead of those calls to entry. At least that is what I tell myself.
For reasons that I've never been quite able to discern, I'm much more interested in the process aspect of art than the showing of it. A few years ago an artist friend was repeatedly suggesting I submit my work to a juried show, and for ages I shrugged it off with a smile. One day, when the topic was floated again I paused, and with all the delicacy of a bull in a china shop asked 'why do people bother?'
There are probably almost as many reasons that people 'show' their work as there are to 'make' the art. While I grasp the 'theory' of entering art shows, having successfully done so a number of times, I'm still not particularly motivated to do so.
Which brings me to the note stuck to my computer, reminding me of those Spring calls to entry. Time is marching forward, the seconds stomping rhythmically in my head as those dates move ever closer. I glance at the calendar with a growing sense of guilt. The studio is clean, with projects lounging on the easel waiting for me to pick up a paint brush and finish them. The sensible thing would be to stop wondering why I'm not doing that and just get on with the work. If I finish it in time I'll submit a piece. If I don't...there is always the existential dread of the Autumn calls to entry to look forward to.
A good number of creatives work well in spaces which to the casual eye look as though an art store detonated in the middle of the room. I am not one of those individuals.
It's simple enough for an artist who specializes in acrylics or oils, to spread out and allow a certain level of messiness free rein. All materials lead back to a singular purpose. It becomes problematic if one works in numerous mediums.
I'm fairly good at keeping my items organized, but over time control of my space errodes and inevitably the piles begin to grow, and then merge into a full blown shambles. My accumulation of 'stuff' not only creeps into my work area, but like a slow motion tsunami of chaos it begins to wash away my ability to make art. Stuck between the need to create & the knowledge that to do so I must first clean-up I fall into a state of frustrated inaction; not unlike a vehicle stuck in the mud, spinning its tires.
Signs that I need to reorganize my work space:
When I place an item down on a surface in my work area and can't find it a few minutes later.
Having purchased an item that I 'need' only to discover that I now own two of them.
In a large space, working on a project I turn to place a component of it aside in order to work on another part of the project, only to realize there is NOWHERE to place it.
When I reach to open a cabinet door and the pets immediately spring up from their napping positions and hastily exit the room. They have no desire to be bonked on the head by whatever will fall from the cupboard. Can't say I blame them.
All of this points to one thing: I need to set aside time and get on with decluttering.
So that is where I find myself and chose to just get started. Having deposited the contents of one section of my studio onto and around the kitchen table, I am forcing my own hand to begin sorting and editing. It's now in the family space and must be dealt with. Instead of tackling it all at one go, I've committed to spending about an hour each day sifting through the mounds of items. It isn't as daunting a task when it's broken up into digestible sections of time.
This is not the first time I've tackled a mess of my own making. Once the ball is rolling I become energized by the process and end up working longer at it than planned each day. The more progress made (whoa is that the floor?!) the more I want to keep slogging away at the job. It's at this point I'm faced with a more difficult problem...letting things go.
Hoarding is not something that is the sole province of creatives, but we are rather hardwired to compulsively collect. Many of these items are practical, others inspiring or perhaps just make us happy as we gaze upon them. There is also the odd tendancy amongst some people to not actually 'use' the higher quality materials they own because they are expensive, and therefore using them would be a waste of money. So the materials are left waiting for a perfect project or until a skillset has reached a level that is worthy of the paper or paint. As idiotic as that sounds...it's a thing.
Life is fleeting and you certainly can't take these things with you, so you're better off to avail yourself of the precious materials. One is also under no obligation to be a slave to inanimate objects. If I'm not going to use an item, it no longer inspires me or pleases the eye... then it needs to find new home. And so the sorting goes: use, give away or trash it. Repeat.
I expect to be finished this job by the middle of the month.
Nocturne - 12" x 12" acrylics on wood panel (sold)
At some point in the past year I was busy messing about with black substrates, which led to testing different varnish finishes (matte, satin & gloss) on dark paint. The results, while straight forward enough, piqued my curiousity. What happens when you use all three types of varnish on the same black surface, side by each?
The answer is: a fascinating visual effect.
Beside the swatches of gloss, semi gloss and matte varnish on my sample of black acrylic paint, I'd also added a patch of Golden's Micaceous Iron Oxide (finely ground mica suspended in a clear polymer). Hello Texture!
It was from this experiment of black with black with black that the painting, Nocturne, was born. What interested me is how the piece changes with the light and when your viewpoint does. Looking at it straight on you see just curving lines on a dark panel. Depending upon the source of illumination you might have to get very close to see even that. Things change when you step to the right or the left, shift your head up or down....as the differences between the matte, gloss and texture reveal themselves amongst the swirls of the design. Like the phosphene patterns that we 'see' dancing when we close our eyes.
I have no way to photograph the shifting tones in order to replicate what is to me so utterly cool about this piece. It's literally artwork that demands the viewer to interact with it, repeatedly...in order to understand why it even exists.
It's a process I have no intention of repeating any time soon, if for no other reason than the act of applying different types of varnish in tiny, sharply delineated areas on a surface that is one colour courts madness and eyestrain. Keeping track of 'this' black vs 'that' black so that at no time did two of the same meet was an additional frustration ....specially when matte acrylic goes on glossy. Yeah...mistakes happened which needed to be corrected. There were many 'argh' moments.
It was slow, exacting work applying the coats of paint and varnish....but it gave me a lot of time contemplate while pouring my thoughts and feelings into the piece. It's hard to explain how an artwork can guide the artist, but Nocturne was very much the master of me.
I'm proud of the result and immensely pleased that it has found the home it was meant to.
Welcome to the Year of the Rat.
I have been negligent in the upkeep of this blog. This is unfortunate not because I have anything important to impart to the world, but rather it would have been nice to have written down my thoughts and experiences on a weekly basis since November 2018, so that I could look back and reflect upon the lessons of the past 14 months.
There was my first solo art show at Button Factory Arts in Waterloo Ontario, which both humbled me by the worked involved in such an endevour as well as the positive reception I recieved. Thank-you to all who supported me in this effort.
I found myself picking up the embroidery needle for the first time in 20 years to discover a love of reworking vintage materials into art. Explored working with porcelain for the the first time, reacquainted myself with the delights of collaging and took time to explore book binding. I learned about hanging artshows, leading workshops and generally being more personally involved in the local arts community.
For me.... 2019 was a very good year. I am setting my cap to learn and create more in 2020. Updating this website & perhaps pausing 'the making' to reflect upon the 'creating' on a regular basis is the plan. That is at the very least....my resolution.
Wish me luck.
"How long did it take you to make that?"
Regardless of the medium, people seem to have an innate curiousity about how much time is spent working on a given piece. I expect it's a genuine interest in the actual process, which is outside their experience. An artist usually has a ballpark figure of the hours (days, weeks, etc.) they clocked in creating an given work; which of course doesn't take into account the years spent practicing their craft or planning the project. All of which certainly contribute to the end result. So the answer to that question is dependant upon a lot of variables, many of which are difficult to quantify.
Artists work at an individual pace; regardless of medium or methodology. While it is certainly possible to overwork a piece, I don't feel that there is such a thing as spending too much time on art. The creator spends as much time as they need to complete the work as they see fit. Period.
Speed of creative pursuit is determined by: artistic temperment.
I am a slow painter. This doesn't mean that when I put pen or brush to a surface I move at a glacial rate. I prefer to work at a measured pace over a stretch of days or weeks, rather than racing to cross an arbitrary finish line. While working on a fairly modest scale my method can be viewed as tedious and measured. The thousands of tiny dots or lines I have chosen to draw, take time.
"I don't know how you have the patience!", is something I hear a lot.
I am as guilty of impatience as the next person; particularly when a webrowser is lagging or the line-up at the coffee shop is one too many people long. It strikes me that the most of our world seems to be stuck in fast forward mode.
Making art doesn't have to be.
For me, creating art slowly is an exercise in calm; although I hesitate to label it meditative. Even slow art has it's 'argh' moments. Generally it allows one time to reflect and contemplate the work at each stage of the process. There is value in stepping away from what you are doing and looking at it with fresh eyes later. Hitting the pause button on 'creating' allows the artist to evaluate the work done & make adjustments if required. Admittedly it has a side benefit: reducing incidents of smeared ink or paint.
Mostly I work slowly, both in medium and method; because it makes me happy.
And who wouldn't make time for happiness if they could?
It would be safe to call myself a creative individual; someone who is always being inspired by the world around them. Sometimes the inspiration leads to projects, which for lack of a better word can be referred to as 'art'.
There are those who are able to happily channel their artistic energies into narrow fields of specialization. I am not one of those people. Due to my generalist nature, I'm happiest working across mediums and following my aesthetic whims wherever they may lead.
A consequence of travelling several paths simultaneously, is that it's difficult to pigeonhole one's style of artwork or elucidate the thought process behind 'all' of the pieces. Sometimes I just make stuff because it's fun! This has only become an issue once I decided to share my creative output with the larger artistic community.
Confronted repeatedly by the term 'artist statement', meant applying myself to the task of explaining: Why I do, What I do.
If you are familiar with Edvard Munch's iconic painting; The Scream, then you have a fair visualization of my inner turmoil on this topic.
Everything I make is a result of observations and my emotional response to the former. Sometimes I'm very serious, but mostly ideas are hatched because they entertain me. I will have poured a lot of time, effort and soul into them; but am not overly precious about the end results when I've achieved what I set out to do. Explaining my motivation is where my brain simply stalls.
However, after some reflection I have come to the conclusion that artists are visual story tellers, and as such it is unfair of me to leave the observer of my artwork(s) without context. That then is the purpose of this blog. While I'd rather just get busy creating, perhaps there are those who are curious about the process behind it.
Welcome to my desk.