Thursday, July 31, 2008

Seashells or Dalmations?

I am sticking to simple today. Black and white. Ink and paper. Dot-dash and squiggle. Sumi-e. Japanese ink and brush on paper. Seashells are my models. Textures. Little bits, but specific to that island. And ink. Flowing ink. I think that I can handle that today.

I have finished 2 of the 3 books on writing I set out to read this week. The next one is on punctuation. I know, I know. Try to contain your excitement. It's a little bit of a different book, not all Strunk And White. I am looking forward to reading it because I have my own ideas about punctuation. Comes from two things, maybe three, okay four.

1) Advanced Placement English
2) Saramago's graphically unforgettable book Blindness
3) Poetry
4) Ink drawings like the ones above

And since the last chapter in the first book of this week's read is devoted to pacing and progression, I don't think I am far off the mark. (Ooh, I really did NOT intend that pun, but I am leaving it in.)

Punctuation is about rhythm. It's about clarity too, but it's a whole lot about rhythm and direction. There is no tool out there that doesn't have a few rules to go with it and with rules...wait for it....come the ability to break them. Or at least to use them creatively.

Told you I was not the good child.

Look. Dot dot comma comma exclamation point. Semi colon semi colon parentheses.

Even the words have rhythms. I could use those marks for texture in a painting for goodness sake. Because punctuation didn't just appear fully formed, no more than language did. They were both born of necessity and were used way before we wrote them down. There is intention behind them. I-N-T-E-N-T-I-O-N....see slowed you down and emphasized with just a few dashes and some dots.

So I am reading the punctuation book and doing Sumi-e today. I am exploring marks in black on white. And those first ones up there in the photo look a little like a Dalmation to me. Hm. Context will make the difference...but that is a whole other discussion.

C'mon Brush. Let's go get busy. You get to dive into the ink.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What Color IS an Island Shore?

Grey. It looks like a simple grey. But wait. If you look closely, you'll see the dampness of sky blue. And some gentle brown of dry. And here and there is the color of a shore bird's cry and more, the sound of the rolling surf.

Those bits of shell have traveled far to land upon this sand. That driftwood could have come from Cuba. We'll need some hints of that. And that day, that day there was a breeze. Hm. What color is a breeze?

As Samuel Beckett said, "Nothing is more real than nothing."
Tactile exploration. Fragments reduced to silt. Space that seems unoccupied. Color where it looks like there may be none. Give me some time with this, and I'll find the heartbeat. What I choose from this small bit of shore is where you and I will meet. Me, with my response to a very specific time and place. You with what you've lived and what you see in paint. That's where the real will be.

I have an island to paint. So I am looking at it's shore.
Bits of broken shells and exotic fragments of wood captured in the sand. If I narrow my focus, limit myself, creativity expands. Today. Today, I am looking at the sand.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

2 Words

Poesis and unequivocal. Okay 3 words. Imprecision.I can unequivocally promise you that I do not use the word poesis when I am talking about my work. Am I imprecise? No. That I do not reference Plato or Homer, says a lot about how close I am to my work. I am not reaching back to a bunch of dead guys to put words in my mouth. I am usually speaking experientially. The last time I looked, art was a living breathing thing.

Oh I get it. I get it big time. And I went to school. Lots of it. We can talk amongst ourselves about philosophy, poetry and paint, but when it comes down to it, what is most important for you to know about what I do, is that I live it, breathe it, and put it down directly through the filter of me. ME. ME. ME.

That would be an unequivocal rant. Let me be more precise.

I saw an artist's statement just this week. Highly publicized. I am beyond delighted for this artist. Actually thrilled. Her father taught me how to draw nudes. Yes, he and I spent a lot of time with naked people, mostly women. There was classical music, academic excellence and a long prestigious history and tradition that we upheld. We bantered in Italian, French and American Slang. It was great fun and hard work. He smoked. I didn't. The man taught me more ways to love line than you can shake a stick at. It is his voice I hear whenever, or wherever I am drawing naked people. He even has a very lovely and decidedly posh nickname for me. I love it. I smile whenever I hear him say it. But out here, or out there, you will never hear me go by it or ever hear me describe my "poesis" when I speak or write of making art.

I am not the good child.

I tend to color outside the lines. My biggest show in his domain was in spite of, not because of his philosophies about art. BUT it was only when he came over, whispered in my ear at the opening of this particular show that I had nailed it and gave me a resounding pat on the back, that I knew indeed I had a hit. Sometimes we do our best work in opposition. And I owe him the world.

So all best, Saskia. You are fabulous. Knock 'em dead. Love you Auseklis.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Small Steps and Beginnings

Large knock your socks off paintings begin with small steps that look like not much of anything at all. Modest in materials, playful in nature, and experimental by necessity, these are beginnings. I am not after same old same old here, so I must play a bit. Recycled papers, inks, scissors and sea shells for a start. I have an island to paint and island things are specific in their small bits.

I'll look for textures, interesting lines, and anything that pops up unexpectedly. I'll make sheets of inked patterns, dots on some, lines on others. Some fine, some thick; lines staccato or luxuriant-whatever suggests itself. Some will be in pencil. I may transfer the newsprint patterns onto other papers with a little trick. I will be making my own collage papers. After that I'll go about cutting, assembling, playing with the de-constructed elements that say sea shell, island. I will glue the pieces onto those cut up Whole Foods bags. They'll each make a composition. Authentic ones.

This is the part where false starts, and what ifs rule the day. In fact they are cultivated. There will be no judging at this stage. I am just after capture. Capture of all the rawness, and the "oh that will never work". Because I know amidst it all, there will also be some gems. And I can think, "What would make it work? And wouldn't that be cool if I pulled that off? It's about expansion and growth.

Playing freely with inexpensive just whatever is on hand is invaluable. These small steps at the beginning, unfettered, are juicy, fertile, going to the well kinds of steps. These are the cartoons made in the Renaissance, the endless studies through the centuries, the maquettes made as models. This is the searching, we artists do. It is a continuous line of inquiry, small steps that are the essence of a creative breakthrough.

Think about it. If we always stayed with what we know, well, I would never have learned to walk as a child. I walk pretty fine now, but I landed on my bottom a couple of times until I got it down. So small steps are where we start. And random, playful can be a friend.

Most Important Tasks today? 2 out of 3 of mine are about exploring (and don't I love that?). I am exploring with these collages, and I am exploring with paragraphs. Number 3? Number 3 is very important. It is to restore a little order to my desk. Small steps all, but steps that go relentlessly toward my goal. Yes, we're here again; it's Organizing Monday. But you knew that.

So what are you going to be doing toward that lovely goal of yours?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Unplugged, Pencils and Poetry

Unplugged. I spent the day unplugged. It wasn't planned. Just happened that way. No power. A glitch in the grid somewhere. So here I am late in a lovely day sending you some shells. And for what it's worth one of the simple poems that came tumbling out as I pulled graphite across handmade paper. I got my fountain pen out to catch them on paper. See if anything can be made of them eventually. We'll see. But for now. They're here for you raw just like the drawings.

Some shells are not so fragile
Some shells are meant to crack
Some shells are meant to ride the waves,
Go out on the tides, come drifting back.

And some, carried in a pail, a pocket, or a palm,
Some shells are made for wonder.
And isn't that enough?

Not perfect, the drawings or the words. But they are the ones I had today, as I spent the day unplugged.

Hm. I cannot tell you how relaxed I am. Brush is still napping. Maybe it's time for bit of scotch and a nice sunset...not bad, this unplugged. Now if only we could find some naughty. It is Friday after all. Yep. It's time for a cocktail. Not a bad summer day at all. I finished that outline,too. ALL MIT's accomplished. This unplugged, NOT a bad thing. Oh, there's Brush with the ice and the tumblers. Have an excellent weekend. La Vie Dansante, eh, Brush...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Clean up On Aisle 3

A mess. Nice enough greens, but not exciting to me. Patricia Tobacco Forrester told me that greens were the toughest. We were discussing watercolor of course at the time, we of the "love to work large in them" types. Patricia is nothing if not bold and unflinching, but she walked away from oils shortly after her Guggenheim, or it may have been grad school even earlier. So no going to PTF for this corner I have painted myself into. Not a bad spot, just repetitively dull in the world of greens at present on my palette. And I have need of them on some of the paintings underway. That and taupes which so far have not met my needs... need neutral, but not quite.

There are tons of greens in tubes to choose from. No, there is not a shortage of choices.What does a pro do when in need of a jump start? Reaches out to other pros, of course. I had to go to France on this one. So thank you very, very much. Mille fois merci. I am shopping today to get those hues and try them out.

I have several paintings underway, and a long overdue small piece. So today is a clean up day. Shop for materials if needed. Put some finishing touches on a few pieces that needed to just sit for a while. And finish that outline I mentioned earlier this week. Oh, I love starting new projects and, and love when there are bursts of inspiration. Some days, some days are simply taking care of business and following through here and there.

The trick to being an artist? Showing up everyday and doing what needs to be done. Yes, so Glamourous. But, no one says you can't dance while mopping up. Yep, Brush and I love to do that. So amidst the inks and the pencils, the paint and the online procurement, there will be dancing. You can bet on that.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Haruki Murakami, Sumi-e, and the Shells

My new Murakami just arrived. Blind Willow. 24 short stories. The cover says if you haven't read Murakami, watch out, he may become addictive.

I am sure I have no idea what on earth they could be talking about. Ahem.

It started for me in Santa Fe. I had walked down Acequia Madre to Garcia Books. I was nosing around for something new to read. I wanted to sit in the coffee shop next door and enjoy another day in one of my favorite places, Santa Fe. Take some me time between painting sessions. Nose in a book in the middle of all that? Yes. I was not a tourist.

Here's the thing. I am spoiled absolutely rotten by my independent booksellers. Do you know how cool it is for someone to be able to pick out just the right book for you? It's like ordering off a menu when you have a taste for fish, but not sure whether to go with the Pompano En Papillote, the Trout Amondine, or the Grilled Salmon. A good bookseller can tell you not only something distinctive about each one to see if that matches up with your taste buds that day, he (or she) can suggest something like,"Well chef just got in some fresh sea bass, want to give that a try?" And if you have no idea at all whether it's fish you want at all, a good bookseller can take your "I just want something really good" and find several goodies for you to choose from after just a few questions.

On this day in Santa Fe, the sky was gorgeous blue, the wind gently rustled through the trees. I was slightly winded from my walk at that altitude ( And it was downhill, nothing like the way back home would be. Yikes!) I was still adjusting. I walked into the cozy shop, passed up all the glossy art books (do not let me stop there, no, keep walking, keep walking ) and was drawn to a table where covers on the new releases could be seen all at once. I had been in only once before so I was still getting used to the layout. What you don't go by the covers?

I walked slowly around the table. Ahh, this is a smart crowd. Each shop will absolutely cater to the local tastes. Saw three or four familiar covers by authors I had read. Tempting, but I was up for something new. I tried a diversionary tactic and walked over to the wall of mass market paperbacks. Maybe a new mystery would do the trick. The trouble is I read a lot. I have read a gazillion and one books. Some of them in advance of publication. So it can be a bit of problem finding a new book.

Ah, here he comes, the nice guy who had been behind the register. I gave him my "I read a lot but I am looking for something a little different this time". He went straight over to The Wind Up Bird Chronicles and said this was the coolest thing he had read lately, did I read Murakami? I went totally on instinct, said no, but wrap it up I am having it. I have thanked him ever since.

What is it about Murakami? Hard to say. He creates a world that is at once mystical, mysterious, and grounded. Small moments made magical. So how fitting that I just got 24 stories. I am playing with arrangements of shells. Small things indeed. Are there stories in the arrangements of shells? Murakami is saying to me, get out your sumi-e why don't you? Read a story and play at the edges a bit.

A walk down an ancient New Mexican street, a magical Japanese writer, some shells from a barrier island and some ink, that's what's up with me today. Yes, Brush is getting ready. He's been at his dojo all morning." Really, Brush sheesh, take off that ridiculous outfit. Huh, you got one for me? hm...hey that's kind of that?" Trying new things... not bad at all. We'll see. We'll just see what happens.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

She Sells Seashells

Neutrals. We have neutrals from the sea. I get to play with greys and sands and probably black and white. And I like it. There are only a few of these shells here with me. The ones from Chandeleur. I will play with their shapes and their forms. There'll be some nice shadows and textures. Just pencil and paper, maybe pen. Then maybe some washes. Hm, maybe some torn paper to make a statement. Who knows. I 'll just have to play. It's one of those creative challenges. Here you have just this, this, and that. Create something stunning and beautiful. Maybe make visual shell tone poems. Well, we'll see won't we?

I better get to work....yeah, come on Brush, you might get to play too. What? You want to dance? Hm. Maybe just for a minute.

" Oh Brush, like you are so street. What? Getting my derriere into shape? "
Hmph. Excuse us please, I have to go strangle a brush.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Style and The Key to A Really Fluffy Smoothie

Half and Half. Put some half and half milk or even full on heavy cream in the blender with all the rest of the goodies. It whips up nice and frothy. I am sipping one right now. Blueberries and bananas, doncha know.

Often, I am looking for the just the right key to make something work. I'll hunt and search all over. Try to track the right source down. See if there is any new information, or look for images as a guide. I like to know things and find how to's and just curious I guess. Cenobite. I am reading a new book that has the word cenobite in it. Did I stop and look that up? Oh yes. I got an image and a definition. Who uses cenobite on a daily basis? Very educated English men and women apparently. There's another, casuistry. As in police casuistry. Huh? It was late. Haven't looked it up yet. A cenobite is a monk by the way. Hm. Now I know the author thinks her readers are very intelligent.

Well, as I am apparently writing a book. Huh? Yes, I guess I am. I immediately tried to ignore the big leaping fluttering butterflies and actual tigers probably growling in my stomach, I set about looking up a few things. Like, oh, hm, how to do it. I am thinking there is a key somewhere, a how to, someone has written something on the subject. Why yes, yes they have. Like a gazillion and one people have written books on writing books. Great. Reminded me of all those people making money online telling others how to make money online.

Luckily I had ordered the new illustrated Strunk and White a few days ago which was delivered on Friday. I love Maira Kalman's work.( What? Of course I got the illustrated version.) And E.B. White isn't bad either. But I am going to hand it to Professor Strunk, who saved my sometimes punctuation and grammatically challenged butt a few times in school on the stickier issues. Here he has the key. It's in the chapter called the Elementary Principles of Composition. He says, choose a suitable design and hold to it. (#12) And then, here is the real brilliance: Make the paragraph the unit of composition (#13).

That stopped me right there. Light bulb over the head moment. Sometimes the key is very simple. Just like my key to a fluffier smoothie. Sometimes things are right in front of you and you just have to do them. Like write one really good paragraph at a time. And hm, I have been writing daily now for over a year. So maybe I do have the discipline to sit down and do it. Maybe, it IS like Hemingway said. Write one true thing, and then another. I think he's right. Now, hm, that part about editors and agents and getting paid, that is going to require some more looking. After I look up casuistry, I am on it. I am less concerned with getting something published as I am with writing something worth publishing and painting the kick ass paintings to go with it.

So I guess you know what is coming next. Yes. It is Organizing Monday. I am thinking what 3 things will get me closer to my goals. One of them involves seashells, another back to Amazon I go and the third? The third will involve a list, an outline of a show , a book, a marketing plan. The work will be hard and there will be lots of it. But I think, just those MIT's, 3 at a time and my map, maybe that will get me there... And smoothies, lots of smoothies. Is there something good you're after? Chunk it down. Make it simple. Then do it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Where The Wild Things Are

Some time ago on an uninhabited small barrier island named by Iberville for a French holiday,

My guys dropped me off.

They took a GPS reading on me and said,"Don't worry, we'll be back to pick you up before dark... probably. You've got water right?," they grinned and left.

I set down my gear, looked around, breathed in sea air deeply. I listened, mostly to shorebirds, the wind and the sound of the motor on the boat getting fainter. I smiled. Then I pulled out a sketchbook, my camera, and I went to work.

I have an island to paint. It is hard for me. It's personal. The island has been decimated. Shea was found dead in his New Orleans apartment late this spring. So accessing those times of exuberant pleasure, discovery, is fraught with emotional pain. There is sheer joy there too. Wildness and beauty untouched. Dedicated individuals on a mission. So yesterday, I got out that soft cotton rag and began to mix a little paint. Started the under painting. Dabbed at a canvas with my fingers, began to unleash the passion I have for wild places. I'll never do it justice, but I can begin to try. I have to take you to these places and tell you why it matters so, so very much. So it's a start.

Aughhh, it's Naughty Friday. Maybe we should all find an island somewhere where wild things can play.

Brush says, No guts no glory....let's give it a damn good try. Have an excellent weekend.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I Must Go Play In The Paint

Not many words today. There's paint to be mixed. Taupes, and greys and blues...some violet and deep greens perhaps. And yes. Some black, but that's straight out of the tube. And I am hauling out that rag again, prepping another piece while I work on the next layer of this one. Textures. I am after textures and glazes. So no words just scat for these right now. As my notes said in the night, "oom boppa zizzle p-cha p-cha plonk dap". I must go play in the paint, like my boots once squished in the sand and walked along the banks of puddles.

Hm. Ahh. Yes... I've got it.

Yep. Brush is having a little bit of this and a little bit of that. And yes. We're dancing.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Dreaded Artist's Statement

There were the words. The ones that bring about that inner groan. Grrr. I hate these words. Oh, I understand them and the need for them, but I still want to take them outside and kick them to the curb every time I see them. Seriously, as much as I love what I do. Well, love hate sometimes, but mostly love. There are parts of this profession that just make me want to pull my hair out. I have thrown more than a few pace the room talking to myself tantrums over this part. I know, I know, hard to believe. I am such a mild mannered, low maintenance person. It's probably very hard to imagine anything upsetting me. Ahem.

I got an invitation to enter a competition. A really cool one for contemporary artists. And the organizers are doing it right. Long lead time, intelligent user friendly compliance mechanisms, and a great venue at an optimum time. Not expensive either. These people are feeling the love for the artists. In fact, they are loving us so much they want to share our uniqueness with the world and trade it for a tidy sum of cash. In exchange for the work AND some words. Yep. That's it. The dreaded artist's statement. They kindly ask us to include words about "what motivates your creative process".

I guess it is the equivalent of the elevator speech business types are used to creating. Or a value statement about what a unique selling point is. And it is not like I don't have a stack of them on file. (All of which sound immediately dated and stupid once written. ) But here 's the thing. Most us do what we do because we cannot imagine doing anything else...except on every third Tuesday at 3am when we decide we should just get a job, any job.

But how is it possible to fully explain why we translate life into blibs and blobs of paint? Why do you choose to love your mate? Or care for your child? Why do you sing a song? Or dance? See. And it's supposed to sound like you know what you're doing. It supposed to impress a judge. Grrrrrrr, see what I mean?

Today I paint a blob of blue because it was that kind of place, and I felt this was the best choice at the time. Tomorrow, I feel that a foray into black might carry a tune. I am compelled to interpret, to amplify, to express and caress with a brush, just as my eyes have done. Yeah, that will go over great with a judge. There is no ism in my work, no avant garde change the world perspective. It is how I go through my days. Oh, I see a great deal. I get it big time. I see options and trends and know what has come before. I am so sure they would love my "good painting is like great sex" statement. That one caused John Ed Bradley to stumble over the bricks in the sidewalk on our way home from lunch. Yeah, that'll work with the judges.

That dreaded artist's statement. Why can't they just send me the check and let me do what I do? The right brain isn't enough. They want our left brain too. What, you thought art just happened? No, we actually have to jump through lots of hoops. I'll have to tell you sometime what I had to do to get "ratified" by a city. But that is for another day. Come on brush. Let's do some dancing.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Thoughts on Organizing Texture

Organizing rhythms and textures. Maybe it's my years of painting exclusively in watercolor where you plan it out in advance. Or it could be the powerful influence of jazz. It might be that I just like the sound of splashing in puddles, or tromping on the sand. But organizing rhythms in a painting has a lot to do with texture for me. It helps the painting move and breathe. And it tells you how I feel.

More notes above. Random thoughts from the afternoon. No, no nap. Yet. Just some drifting and some thoughts surfacing again. These are about a layer of a painting. Preparation for a performance.

You see I never use black on a watercolor, or so rarely it's okay to say never. I mix hues and get a richer sense of black, but it is not really a black. So it surprised me when the strong urge to oil paint not only black, but grey and white not mixed from other colors, but straight out of the tube. This passage, this rhythm would be unified by it's color. Will it glare, or will it harmonize? It's a dance of light. A scat of a moment in time. Black and white or blends of light?

I do not know just yet. Why does it matter? Because my choice creates an edge, a boundary on a map. It's that spot that leaps from nature to abstract response. I had thought this layer would be blues, greyed a bit, but blues, maybe some violet. But there's an opportunity for rich greys and perhaps a slash of black and a fleck of white. And that is decidedly a stretch for me.

We might be going downtown with this one. I may need to take it urban. Uh oh. I just got that butterfly in the gut. Definitely a leap. I hate it when my muse just keeps shoving. "Really Jan, trust me, you'll like it. " Just get some sleep and then we'll do it. Augh, easy for my inner Wynton to say. But then as I said. He's never steered me wrong.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sleepless Nights

"Nothing happens until something moves."~Albert Einstein

I don't mind admitting I haven't slept much lately. Scribbled notes in the night will bear witness. I knew this was coming all along. Next comes some pacing. And some deciphering. Are the words that begged to be let loose the key? Or am I just slightly disturbed. As Fats Waller said, "One never knows do one? "

And next more pacing. And probably some naps. Not so many words. Colors and lines are what I am after. Expressions come to me visually. That red I used this morning, I just realized is a familiar signal. I had to smile to myself. Those lines I scribbled just after, mean I am engaged.

Right brain is taking over.

A whole show, a body of work came tumbling out in the night. Triggered by a series of cues. I am tired. I am groggy. But I am smiling to myself. And talking in scat. Not the biological kind, the musical kind. Yeah, If I showed you some notes you would see, "Oom, boppa, zizzle, p-cha, p-cha, plonk... dap " No joke. That note is right beside me here. Oh, there are things written that would make more sense to you but those, those words tell me my inner Wynton is on the job. And he never steers me wrong.

So now comes directed action. Movement. But first a much needed nap. It may be Organizing Monday, and those nocturnal notes will be made operational, but my 3 Most Important Tasks have a decided Marsalis rhythm to them today. Are you listening to your muses?

Here's a little "Marsalis speak" for you.

Ya gotta find your voice...sometimes, it sounds kind of silly, it may make you toss and turn...but it will be yours.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Loving the Line

Houston we have a bit of wabi sabi going on. There won't be many words today. I am loving the imperfection, the rawness, the un-paintededness of this too much. It is more of an emotional frolic.
Sometimes in painting what you don't do is as important as what you do. And I am just letting it breathe. Touching essentials. Like caressing a dream. No, it is not finished. There is another layer to go. But in terms of completeness...yes, I am happy indeed.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Child's Play, Or My Inner Muse?

This is is one of the most satisfying passages I have painted in weeks.

I did these with a finger.

Dribbles? No problem, let them run.

And this base for tall grasses...done with a rag.

We're painting wetlands here, so it needs to be wet. It has to have some juice. Without that, it's just plants on the water. That's fine too. But I want more.

Things happen at the edges. Where one thing is itself and then it bumps up against another, things happen. Energies, rhythms, exchange. It may look peaceful on the surface. Clouds may drift by, birds may chirp, but depending on where one is on the food chain...well, things happen. I am talking about where water meets land, and sky meets earth. There are canopies and layers of life and death. There are struggles and triumphs, dangers, and joys. To me they have to be painted in. It cannot be just plants on water. The piece has to breathe and move. It has to engage.

It has to hint at the life behind it. So it has to engage me. Art is one time when me first is a very good thing. Rules and physics are all important in art, but paintings have to live. To me, it's personal, it's sensual, it is a part of me. This part, this freer part has been tucked away too long. A few weeks ago I had to go to the silks, or scream. Yes, mild mannered me. I am antsy, restless and have been caged too long.

There is so much percolating within. It just won't fit in a box tucked away. So I finger painted yesterday. My hand touched the paint, not my brain. My eyes chose the color, not my head. And my heart made it move across the sky and the clouds. Yep. It was scary. My connection to these things has to heal. Too much loss, too many deaths, too much pain. But I want my joy back, I want my wonder, I want to thrive. So no barriers yesterday. Nothing in between me and the paint and my heart.

Brush wants in on the action, he's been patient, but he wants Sure brush..

There. Ready now, brush? I'll let you play a bit too. Let's do it.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Paint, The Perfume, and Me

Blue skies.

Little Buddha.

And some marks.

They don't look like troublemakers do they? Well, they are. Enough to keep me tossing and turning in bed most of last night. Well, they and Harry and James. And a woman named Remy. Huh? What is she about now?
I am talking about a full tilt head on collision with what was and what will be. And you better believe I am spritzing Hermes, 24 Faubourg on today. In fact, I may have to go get more. I have a feeling I am going to need a lot of it.

Let me back up a bit. Hm.( This tea I'm drinking needs to be coffee.)

Okay, I am a painter. I paint. (See it needs to be coffee.) I have these paintings in the works. Nice paintings. I like them a lot. One of them, began to feel very different as I was working along on it. This has been happening a lot lately, but this one was starting to really talk back to me. See those marks in the last photo. The trouble began there. Like soft drum beats heard from a distance and gradually building until I could not ignore them. Those marks got to be like those little elves that take their ice picks to my eyeballs sometimes when my allergies flare. Oh, the marks are more benevolent, but they are also equally demanding.

They told me to try painting blue sky on a canvas with a soft cotton rag. No brush. Save the brush for fine tuning. But Jan, paint with a rag, really. You'll like it. It will smear and slide right across and you'll see clouds float and blue drift in and out. It will be like being on the Chanticleer again. Huh? That got my attention. (The Chanticleer is a sailboat, a 40 foot Pearson. It is my all time favorite boat in the world that I have ever been on, but that is a whole other story.)

What you didn't know paintings talked? Well, I got out a rag and did what they said. Guess what? Yes. It felt better than good. It felt magical. I could drift and flow even on a relatively small canvas. For me 24" x 36" is small. I prefer to work very big. I actually have a 20 foot long watercolor in the works. It has been tucked away since Santa Fe last year.

That's great and all Jan, but what about those guys you mentioned and why the Little Buddha. And who is Remy?

Sip. Sip. ( Still tea, still needing coffee, or some sleep.) Well, okay, about last night. Just like those marks have been telling me that there is no way I can paint quite the same way I was before, before everything until now, I have guys that are telling me the same about my presence on line. Come on, jump. We've got you. It'll feel really good and be beautiful in design. Let's open up your world just a wee bit more. So I jumped. Sent the email saying, "Let's do it!", early in the evening. Felt great. Excited, nervous, but it felt great.

Until 3:28 am. Yep. That's when I woke up in the dark wondering what in the world I am doing. And ideas started to pour onto paper. And Remy, well Remy isn't talking too much. I think she's a muse. But last night, she slammed the trunk shut, put the key in the ignition, and pulled away from familiar. Let's do it. The marks, the paint, the stories, let's ask the tougher questions, let's dig into what I don't know about paint, let's just get this show on the road.

I think it's about time to start spritzing on that perfume, my kick ass, get it done and love it, perfume. You see chaos and I are old friends. I like adventure, and I like to thrive. Heading toward the mystery is not an unusual thing for me. What ifs can be fun, in that frightening, exciting way. And the guys, those amazing Men With Pens, well, they want to do part of this in public...yep, definitely need the 24 Faubourg today.

And Little Buddha? He just smiles. Doesn't tell me a thing. Just keeps mentioning a path.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Fruits of Our Labor

We work.

We inherit.

Or we amass a great fortune.

Who benefits from our efforts? And how much? I am looking closely this week at return on investment. What? An artist talking about ROI's? Yes. As I mentioned yesterday, my path is strewn with obstacles, normal ones everyone has, and particular ones caused by a natural disaster. So ROI's are very important to me. Every resource, every cent, every bit of time is important to me. Some of those obstacles are boulders, some are pebbles, but they are all in need of clearing.

So just like any CEO, I marshal my resources and efforts where I hope they are most effective. Art is a long lead time business. I need excellent returns on my time and money. Simple. I will find the percentage, the number that works for me for the upcoming projects and go after it. That's what I do. And I do this away from any efforts in the studio. They stay separate and rightly so.

"Well, that's cool and all Jan, but what does it have to do with fruit?", you ask.

"Well, what kind of fruit are we after, and who gets to nibble our fruit?", I reply."

The fruits of our labors are another resource that multiplies if we let them. So where do we use them? Do we stockpile them for later or use them along the way to feed the pipeline? Depends, doesn't it?
The fruits of our labor are our return on investment. They come in many forms. Some are totally unexpected pleasures. Some are on our wish lists. Some are hard earned. Consider them all.

We're after tangibles in that ROI, but we are also after quality of life returns on our investments of self, especially in the creative fields. Some returns are not exactly quantifiable in the conventional sense. What am I after with the new site I am going to launch? What do I need and want from the new series of paintings? Am I going to write a book for dollars or for peace of mind? What fruits am I after each day as I do whatever it is that I do? How much do I need to charge for what piece of work? These are all valid questions that artists deal with just like anybody else. Plus we have those questions to answer about keeping our artistry alive and well too. We have muses to feed and they can get rather picky. One of mine apparently wants to go to Barcelona. My bank account says, not likely at this time. She's kind of pushy though, so we probably will hear from her again. But what if, I consider Barcelona + ROI ? Changes possibilities a bit doesn't it?

Art as a profession doesn't just happen. Art and money mentioned in the same sentence makes some people apoplectic. But art requires money and resources. It also requires a return whether in large portion or small. So it is something I consider regularly when outlining new projects or when considering critical mass overall. It is an actionable part of a plan. Money and art. Art and money. Kind of like saying naked, naked, naked. It is what you make it. What values you assign it.

I want my dreams. I want quality of life. Part of that return, even if stated in dollars, or percentages, is really about the benefits of those dollars and cents. How much? How much more? What will get me there? I am after a number, a percent, but I am really after so much more. We could call it survival, or triumph, or maybe it's name is Barcelona, but thriving is what I am after. Not gonna settle for less than that. So today and a little bit this week as I head back to the painting, I am after numbers so my actions get me the fruit I need and want so much. And I'll share...

Monday, July 7, 2008

Seneca, A New Bar of Soap, and Dreams of Barcelona

I will be spritzing this on later this morning.

After I use this.

These will be waiting for me.

I cleaned my workspace this weekend. Yep. It was either that or call the National Geographic to send an expedition in. It was not a pretty sight. More like an archealogical dig. Organized chaos, heading way toward claustrophobic crisis. My space is small, but I uncovered a few things I thought had gone the way of missing socks. I don't even have that much here. Yet, there are a few mysterious disappearances. I suspect gremlins. Or that "in the zone absent minded right brain" of mine. They behave very much the same at times.

"Our main business is not to see what is dimly in the distance, but to do what lies directly at hand. "

Seneca didn't say that. Nope. He may have advised Nero on many things, but on getting it done, I am not so sure. I am pretty sure Nero had staff for that.

"It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness."

That Seneca did say. Considering his life and especially his death, I'm saying he knew what he was talking about. These two quotations are both on a 3" x 5" card that I rediscovered in a folder as I was tidying up. Thomas Carlyle is good for the first little find. Underneath that quotation from Seneca the card reads, "But part of the roughness is to do all the mundane things you know you'll hire somebody else to do once you achieve your dreams." Those lines I picked up long ago because at the time my studio was a mess. I needed some way to figure out how to wear all the hats of my profession and still get everything done. I laughed when I saw those words again. They made me smile and dig in.

Studio life is demanding. Lots of different pulls. Sometimes the rewards are a little slower than we'd like. But today, my table is clean and my desk top is neat. It's time to start fresh. In a sec, I am going to peel the wrapper off that peppermint soap and place it in the soap dish in the shower. When I was a kid, getting firsts on a fresh bar of soap was a small pleasure I loved. I had a brother, and later a sister and another brother, or the aliens, as I like to call them. Secretly I am an only child. Just ask my sister. Today, the fresh soap is mine, all mine. To me it makes all things bright and fresh. Ahh, peppermint this time. I just bought it yesterday with fresh strawberries and I have mangoes in the fridge. Hm. Nice day shaping up.

I uncovered something else in all the tidying up. I uncovered a hibernating dream. Barcelona. I had forgotten that I really would like to go to Barcelona to paint and take in all the sights. I love Miro's work. I must see Picasso's Guernica as well. So my Catalan dream has surfaced. Those pencils, they could help with that. That clean desk, that shining work surface, and all the small treasures of ideas that I uncovered, can they get me there? I think it is funny that the soap I chose is pure Castile. Castilian, Catalan, Can I go? Maybe I should brush up on a little Spanish? Hm. How do you say mango, I wonder.)

My rough road, my path of creative life, is strewn with obstacles. We all have them, rocks and pebbles, boulders at times. Which one will I let stop me?I haven't found it yet. Some are just larger than others. May take a little longer. And some can be tossed aside with just a little work...3 MIT's ( Most Important Tasks) at a is Organizing Monday.

Hmm. A little Spanish beat and I 'll be ready to tackle my 3 MIT's for today.

Yep. That'll do it. Now for the peppermint before I dig back in. I can hear that music playing. Barcelona, how could I forget? Grab a dream, a task and dance along.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Goal Setting Template- Part 4

Goal Setting. Goals are great, but they remain just dreams without the doing. So far I clued you in on how describing a goal in terms of behaviors and actions really made a difference for me. I mentioned expressing those goals as something measurable, something that can be seen or quantified. Then added the component of a time line and picking only the goals we can control for anything we want to achieve.

In order to actually accomplish a goal, I must act on all these wonderful new insights and visualizations I have just spent so much up front time on. Yep. All that in depth examination, still somedays and wishes without the next parts of the template. Think all I want, dream all I might, without a plan of action, what happens? Nada. Zip. Zilch. It's just time spent dreaming. If everything is peachy keen in your world, congrats. If you have found some zen like state of non desire and it's working for you, you have my applause and my puzzlement. Things change, whether we like it or not.

I am all for going with the flow. Flow is good. I just want to be flowing in certain directions. And I want a how. Here are the last 3 steps on the 7 step template I use. They are all about getting it done.

5) Plan a program or a strategy that will get you what you want.
There is no one right way here, except for the right way for me, or for you. I have a combination of ways to get something done. I have a couple of strategies that work for me. And I am always looking around. But the one sure thing is this. It has to be a consistent part of my day, my week, or my month, and it has to be doable. Reasonable. Not some ideal that I feel miserable about if I don't do it exactly right. Are you listening? Not after perfection here, just something that works.You can be like a horse with blinders on and go after 1 thing until it is accomplished one day a week, one hour a day, or one week out of every month. What fits for you? Can you multitask? I have multiple hats I wear and multiple goals. I set up a system that insures I tag all the bases over a month's time. Some people recommend going laser like after one thing a month until it is done. In my work, I cannot drop all but one facet of what I do, so I tag bases. But I tag them with emphasis and priority. When I am in the studio, I am in the studio. When I am doing admin work or marketing I am doing just those. My specific goals are given top priority within those slots and activities.

6) Break the steps down and integrate them into your work flow.

What does that mean? It means I want an integrated system and I want the steps to take. And I don't want to think about it too much after the upfront time and mapping is done.
Seriously. I do not mind upfront valuable introspection time. Setting a compass is crucial to me to get where I want to go. Having a map. Way important. So I break the steps down into actionable tasks that get me where I am going. But after that I want to sail. I have my map, I can check it regularly, but after that it's time for sailing, and being in that moment.

I find that having one place, one central locus of control is essential to getting things done for me. I use an admin (administration) notebook, a calendar and an admin checklist. This makes it work for me. The notebook is a whole post probably, but it has my goal sheets in it. It divided into sections for the bases I must tag, the areas where I focus. It has a section for the studio. It has a section for marketing. It has others sections too, but those would vary to fit whatever your areas of focus are, if this appeals to you. The admin checklist is my map. It has on it the actual actions I need to take to accomplish my goals. These actions come straight from my multiple goal sheets. It has it's own section. It covers all my areas of focus and walks me through my priorities.It is probably a whole post too. The calendar is a must. Remember the time component? Totally essential, especially for those crucial, hard and fast deadlines (as in, deadline for submission to an exhibit, materials promised to James by, or painting must be shipped by deadlines). Calendar things. Duh. I work through those sections in my notebook each month emphasizing one each week. So those are noted on the calendar too. Hm. Anybody wanna guess what this week's priority focus happened to be?

Each month I tag each area of focus, using my admin checklist, my sections in the notebook which contain these goals sheets I make, and I use my calendar. This goes a long way in dealing with that nagging feeling that I used to get when I was in the studio wondering if I had forgotten to do something elsewhere. Or that feeling when I had my marketing, relationship building hat on and felt guilty for not being in the studio. In fact this Those feelings that stole my focus are exactly why I developed my system. I had to find a way to have a way to cover all activities consistently over time. It works for me, not perfectly, but way good. Almost as well as having an administrative assistant. Yep. My notebook.

Great. Lots of work here. But there's one huge thing missing. A big, big thing. Accountability.

7) Hold yourself accountable.
Huge. I actually write down on my template how I will be accountable on each goal sheet. Dave Allen is adament about a weekly review. I like them too. He likes Friday. So do I. Failing Friday, ( things happen) I do a more leisurely one on a part of Saturday, or for a while on Sunday. See flexibility, latitude here. Call it what you want, but at regular intervals take stock. See what's crossed of off the list. Make sure you are still on course and set up for the next week.
I also like rewards. Accomplish x get y. I haven't used them lately, but I am bringing them back for myself.
Sometimes a buddy system works. I have a water buddy. We remind each other to drink our water. Yep. It is that simple.
If you need to report in to someone. Do that. If you need to track progress. Set up a place to track it. So many pages written, so many minutes exercised. Yep. Write those down. Some people do this publicly. ( "I am not only going to play in the US Open, I am going to win it." Tiger Woods )
The point is this. Say what you are going to do and do it. Find a way to hold yourself to it.

Are we there yet? Yes. We are there. I hadn't planned to do this series in one week. I was going to spread it out over several Mondays, but inquiring minds wanted to know. So here is my unperfected, but very usable template for setting goals. If you want in depth reading, here's the book that made a difference to me. If you buy it from this link, Amazon gives me a small commission. See? Rewards. Not a bad thing. But I would recommend it even without that small reward. I customized the template he uses and pulled in some other tricks to make it work for me. You can too.

So dreams? Or goals with action? Focusing on the behaviors and actions for me is like playing like you belong there. No matter where there is. Ahem. I have some work to do on this myself. Yep. It is goal focusing, readjusting, nail it down week for me. Could you tell?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A Goal Setting Template-Part 3

Goal Setting. Wanting something isn't enough. Wanting something so much you can taste it, feel it , touch it, or smell it, still isn't enough. Really wanting it is a great motivator, but getting from here to there requires a series of actions. Wanting something isn't enough. What goes with the wanting? Action, and the next few steps on the template I use for goal setting are essential to get to the action. On Organizing Monday I let you in on a little tweak I use to set goals, defining them operationally, or in terms of behaviors and actions. On Tuesday, step two required solid measurable, quantifiable and observable expression of that goal. Today we get to some mechanics and the next few steps I use to change wishes into achievements.

Goals are only dreams unless you put some teeth into your goal setting. One week from now. This month. By September. One of those phrases makes my insides go all butterflies and roller coaster. Why? Because one of them is the timeline I set for a certain goal.

3) Set a timeline.

Unless I tell myself what I am going to do by when, that goal remains a dream. Think about that for a sec. Is there something chasing around in your head, that stands up and pokes you in the eye when you attach a time frame to it? Is there something that becomes scary real when you say, by the end of the week? Or is there something in your life that when you say this will end by September a little bit of relief or a bit of blue sky opens up? Yep, me too. Look at your newly defined goal in step 1 and 2. What is an aggressive, but reasonable time frame for it? Write that down.

It's a god awful bugaboo, deadline. If you didn't have a little bit of a gulp, a tightening in your neck, or some little elves with icepicks dance across your eyeballs just sorry, you must be dead, or totally on target with your life which is rare, but I have heard it happens. Careful that's when Karma WILL bite you in the butt

What if your goal is not up to you alone? I used having new gallery representation, getting a book published, or launching a new site, as examples yesterday. Not totally up to me there. Most goals aren't happening in a vacuum. That's why it is so important to...

4) Choose a goal you can control.

Stop. Reread that. MY part of any goal is what goes on my template. Gallery representation? Publisher? Those aren't totally up to me. Those have gatekeepers involved. My part of finding the right rep or reaching the right publisher or even launching a new site is the only part I can control.

Working through the list my art business consultant compiled for me, upgrading and updating my artist's statement, writing a kick ass cover letter, building relationships with key individuals, contacting x number of galleries over the next 4 months, these kind of things are up to me. These I can control. I can set up a rejection file and a nice letter file too. The parts I can control are many. Do not even begin if your goal is stated in something beyond your control. Rethink that right now and rephrase it. Trust me on this one.

So wanting is not enough. Feeling is not enough. Visualizing, great, I do it, but it is not enough. Goals have to be real, actionable, and in real time frames. Otherwise they are always someday wishes. What do you want to make real for yourself? Is it simple? Or complex? Start with the wanting. Put the the wanting in terms of behaviors. Make the behaviors measurable and observable. Give them a time line and make sure they are things that you control.

What comes next? Ways to get it done. The last 3 steps are all about the doing.

(If you are interested in reading more in depth, here's the book that made a difference. )

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A Goal Setting Template- Part 2

Setting goals. Yesterday I gave you the one word tweak that made a huge difference for me in how I set goals. Operationally defining goals focuses on the actions and behaviors rather than the end results. It is the difference between saying I an artist and saying I spend my time making art. A small change you think? Try it. I am a writer or I spend my time writing?

Once you start to operationally define your goal, or look at your goal in terms of actions and the behaviors they involve, the second step is to get to the nuts and bolts of the goal.

2) Express your goal in terms that are measurable, quantifiable, and observable.
Make your goal as real and tangible as you possibly can. Create that film in your head. Where are you living? What is your place of activity? Who are you spending time with? Colleagues? Friends? Loved Ones? How much money is involved? What are your work activities? How much time do you spend on certain activities?

Make this as solid as you can with strong visuals in your mind,
or write it down in a rough form and transfer it to your template as you refine it. It is very much like the first step. Here's the difference. The first step is general. There you even put your feelings into it. This second step gets even more specific in tangibles and time spent. See the words quantifiable? Measurable? Observable?

For example, in the first step I may say I want to give a show of new work, or write a book, or launch a new blog. In this step, I would break those desires into measurable terms. I want to produce 12 breakout new paintings. I want to contact 24 new dealers, or I want to spend 1 day a week developing the narration that goes with the work.

Walk your goal through this filter. Do it as tangibly as you can make it. You are creating solid actionable facets of your big goal. Write a book becomes spend x number of hours writing. It might be broken down further into spend 1 hour each morning in my thinking place producing an outline. Want to come up to speed in a new creative medium? That becomes spend x number of hours using that medium. It might include, research on technique, or tooling up too. See the difference here? Whatever your goal is, it sets up a set of behaviors and tasks that are measurable and actionable. This is a subtle, but incredibly powerful tweak in goal setting. Or it was for me.

Doing this step also helps enormously in areas where rejection, or cold calling is involved. I can break that kind of goal into I want to contact 24 new galleries, after stating in the first step I want to find a new gallery representation. If you want a publisher...see same goes. We'll deal with this idea in a later step too.

The point is that if it is measurable, it becomes more doable. No matter how big or how small your goal is, you can express it terms that measure, that have a finite quantity attached, and that you can see. This is how I see exactly what my goal IS.

The next few steps are all about the mechanics in goal setting. Mechanics? Operations?
What? You thought art just happens?