Tuesday, March 14, 2017

"If we go for the easy way, we never change."




In my abstract painting workshops, I aim to teach more than technique. I'm trying to combine head and heart, structure and freedom, teaching the techniques of cold wax medium and oils through the elements of design and composition. Along with structure, I stress the importance of play, working quickly, and intuitively.




The idea is to encourage an artist to see things differently, to open them up to other possibilities, to change the way they design their paintings. It's not an easy thing for them to do. Although many students are looking to grow and learn, which is why they sign up for a workshop, or do art mentoring, many have developed ways of painting that are easy for them to do, that feel good.



I like to challenge students in my workshops. It isn't easy. I encourage students to paint with their heads for a couple of days, learning about structure and design, a shortened version of what artists were required to do in the days of Ateliers. This was the classical way of learning to paint and draw, just as a musician learns scales, and how to read music before they can play. For the remaining days of my workshop, students are invited to play, to work more intuitively, to incorporate head and heart into their work.

I hear good comments about my workshops: how they change the way people work, change the way they see, and even, change their lives. But many of these artists, then, soon after, instead of slogging it out in their studios, finding their own direction, get discouraged at the work involved and go on to another workshop where the focus is different. They work in that style for some time. And they may go on again to another workshop and yet another. Gradually, with all the confusion of different teaching styles, they often end up going back to working the way they did before any of the workshops.

It's difficult to grow and change. There has to be strong commitment behind the intention. The hard work needs to be done in the privacy of your own studio/workspace, where you struggle alone with finding your own voice.

It's also hard to commit to change when the artist posts their older work or unfinished work on Facebook where they get a few 'likes', or they sell a piece of the older work. While that can be rewarding, it also encourages stagnation and the effort required to grow and move forward dies.

"If we go for the easy way, we never change.” – Marina Abramović



Thursday, February 9, 2017

On Not Being Able to Paint






I've never  had much down time between the various series I've painted. One series of paintings generally followed another, with only short breaks between them, except for a couple of times I stopped my studio work for minor health issues. I always felt it was a simple matter of discipline and drive as well as that mysterious hook that kept pulling me back into the studio. The creative process always kept me full and enriched, no matter how much painting I did in a day, or even if the work was going nowhere.

Until now.

For the past 2 1/2 years I've been troubled with very sore knees; bone on bone said the orthopaedic surgeon who recommended total knee replacements for both knees. Wanting to avoid surgery, I pursued a number of alternative routes until I could stand the pain no longer. I've just recently emerged from knee replacement surgery, wondering why I didn't do it sooner.

During this long process, I've learned to have great compassion for people suffering from chronic pain, and also more compassion for people who can't get themselves into their studios.

In her book Morning, Noon and Night: Living the Creative Life, singer/songwriter Judy Collins said, "I am not myself when I am away from the work, in spite of appearances. Perhaps I look the same to my friends, to my husband, but I  know better. I am suffering from a malaise that tells me I will never write anything again. It is a terrible, deep, frightening feeling. I feel lazy and useless. All my accomplishments mean nothing. I can't catch the dreams, let alone the inspiring winds of creativity."

She goes on to say, "There is talent and there is the discipline to get the talent to pay out. I have to harness the talent, use the discipline and I then find that, surprise, there is a pleasure in the discipline.     Discipline is freedom disguised as a cell. It holds its own secret. The cell is its own door, and discipline is the key."

Sometimes, discipline is required, but other times, rather than berating ourselves or feeling guilty for not showing up in the studio, we have to surrender to what's happening in our lives, in our bodies. That's hard. But it happens. It happened to Lisa Boardwine, who told me her inspirational story when I interviewed her for the book I'm writing about coming to art late in life, called At Last: On Becoming an Artist in the Afternoon of Life. Lisa used to market her paintings by doing outdoor shows and festivals. At the end of one show,  she was walking through the parking lot to her car.  All of a sudden, a car that was driving through the parking lot went out of control and started speeding toward her. It slammed into a parked car, pinning Lisa against a building. Her right foot was crushed and her left shoulder broken, injuries that required several surgeries and months of physical therapy. Even though she was unable to paint for a long time, Lisa would often go into her studio just to feel the creative energy there. She sat in her wheelchair, simply holding tubes of paint in her lap. As she healed, she finally became strong enough to stand at her easel to paint. About her painting at that time, Lisa said,"It was like discovering art a second time in my life." She had to surrender to the healing process.

Currently I also have to surrender to what's happening in my body, knowing that I'll be back in my studio soon, able to create again. I've always felt like I have a creative dragon living inside of me. When I make art, the creative dragon is happily fed and content. When I'm not making art, the dragon feeds on me! Right now, it just needs a time out. Like I do.