It has been cold lately. One of our colder winters people say considering we are on the east coast of South Africa where winter never means frost and such. One of my favorite breakfasts on these chilly mornings is oatmeal porridge - With honey and cinnamon and a bit of milk the way my wife makes it - even my kids like it! As good as those oats smell though you can only eat it one way. That is one small spoon at a time from the top. Dive right in with big spoonfuls like a famished farmhand and you are going to get burned. Every time.
Thing is though after a while the oatmeal cools and you can carry on and chances of burning diminish. So obviously I thought:" Hang on this is like trying to build an art career." Stay with me - I can explain. My former day job meant days at a desk working papers, phone calls, research, consulting and administration. I compare this to a winter's morning, just not the pretty kind, but the dry biting cold and bleached look that makes you think that spring is taking its jolly time getting here. The prospect of spending mornings preparing to paint and then attacking the canvas with bright colours is like the fragrant bowl of oatmeal - comforting and restorative.
Here's the rub though. Many artists dive right into the business of art and get burned. With their hopes up and the joy of painting fueling their spirits they put their work out there and experience the unexpected pain of rejection. It can come in many ways and hurts for longer than an oatmeal burn.
The artist is then at a crossroads. Pack up the easel and brushes and put them in a corner. Kid yourself that you will get back to painting this weekend but conveniently find other tasks to do. After a while painting is no longer a part of your future. There will always be rationalisations to back this up whether from well-meaning people or anecdotes about other artists getting burned.
But you are not one to pack it in so fast. At the back of your mind you know that your day job is a soul-sucking existence. You know that when you get to the final curtain call there is no rewind button like on your satellite TV. This is your one shot at life and you are going to be true to your calling. Your God given nature needs to create. It is the one thing that feels right and true.
The beauty of this decision to follow your creative path is that once made all the naysaying suddenly looks weak and toothless. How did you let other's words hurt you so much? The fact is that truth is always more powerful than lies. Lies get exposed even when you are lying to yourself.
You get on with it then, but this time you take a more considered approach. You read the books, practice, learn from others who have walked the path of their calling and create with increased assuredness.
Your confidence grows and your art responds. You rebuild and then try again. This time you have some success. It only takes a moment to fuel your calling. You will know it even if others are blind to it. This is for you alone. Savour it and move forward one moment at a time.
Will there be more painful moments? Maybe - rejection certainly, but will rejection hurt you? Unlikely because you have seen the enemy and defeated him once before. You know what to do.
First published 1923. Available as paperback from Kalahari.net for R198.00
Is there an antidote for the cynical world we live in? How many times do you second guess yourself, your art and your choice to paint?
As an artist I can relate to the need for calm and self-affirmation. It will be OK. Keep on creating. In this reflective moment I find the writings of Robert Henri in The Art Spirit a comforting reminder that artists have asked these questions for a long time. It is a reminder that art is timeless. The Art Spirit is indeed a record of the human spirit triumphant.
The Art Spirit records Henri's anecdotes, philosophy and practical art knowledge. Robert Henri (1865-1929) was a famous French artist and teacher who setteld in America. In his time he came into contact with many famous masters and passed on his knowledge by teaching to many others who in turn went on to become masters.
"There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom. If one could but recall his vision by some sort of sign. It was in this hope that the arts were invented. Sign-posts on the way to what may be. Sign-posts toward greater knowledge."
This is not a book of glib soundbites. It is not a quick read filled with platitudes that can be glossed over. This is a book that must be read slowly and absorbed. Give yourself time to think about what Henri is saying. Read a page of two every day if you like to gain some calm and reflection over what art really means to you.
Despite the depth of ideas and sincerity in the writer I was moved by the similarity of concerns that artists experienced over a hundred years ago. Many issues are no different today. His advice is just as relevant today and a reminder that we share much in common with those who went before and thrived in struggle. Consider this quote:
"Just remember that the object of painting pictures is not simply to get them in exhibitions. It is all very fine to have your pictures hung, but you are painting for yourself, not for the jury. I had many years of rejections."
Would I recommend this book to an artist? Yes - read it and go back to it when you are in need of solace and calm. This too shall pass and there is much joy to be found when the human spirit triumphs over the banality of life. Art is merely the evidence of this journey.
Busyness - the state of being or appearing to be actively engaged in an activity.
I have been busy lately, but there is that uneasy feeling of not being able to show much for it. To be honest I need to take some of my own medicine and get back to work on time every day. The hard truth is that it is very easy to spend too much time keeping up with the distractions that crop up.
Heaven help if these distractions become habits. It is time to focus!
Identify the culprits.These timebandits include:
This list can easily wipe out two hours of your day.
Last night I sat through two hours of the John Carter dvd! I will never get that time back and it annoys me no end.
Research in front of the computer often turns into surfing for stuff we do not need. Oh, hang on – the red light on my crackberry is blinking – just a second – new e-mails – I will check them quickly …. what, Lunch already!
The beauty of art is that it is analogue. We need to remember this. Creating can be kept simple if we keep our focus. Get to the easel and draw or paint. Creativity is a state of focus. A zen state that is within our grasp. The sad thing is that distractions become habits, which rob us of this state of focus. The good news is that positive habits can be adopted. It is a decision.
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”
- Lao Tzu
This wonderful quote is a wake up moment for me. I am a landscape artist first and foremost so I must appreciate the timeless rhythms of nature. The grace and beauty of nature doing what it has done since the creation. I can choose to respect nature by turning away from distractions.
I realise that this need to focus goes hand in hand with simplification. Simplify is a mantra that needs repeating when painting, but also needs to be part of the artist’s lifestyle. We must decide that we want a simpler life. It requires effort at first then becomes a habit. Give it a month. We each know our vices – our timebandits. Saying “Do the work” is not enough. We need a conscious decision to make a simpler approach to life possible. Small steps – for example: e-mail program is not opened until midday or perhaps switched off at 9am until 4pm. You decide, but be bold.
I was inspired to dig deeper by Leo Babauta’s book Focus. He writes about finding simplicity in the age of distraction. Leo has generously made his book available for free download and you can download a copy here in pdf form.
Please visit the author’s site zenhabits.net for more insight into the simpler life.
I am interested to hear about your experience with coping with distraction. It always helps to know how other creative people are overcoming busyness to focus on creating.
Blue Star (J Miro)
What do these art auctions have to do with art? About as much as the price of gold being relevant to geology. I doubt that the returns on Gold ETF’s comes up in Geologist magazines where readers find all things to do with raw metals fascinating. Of course not. Gold investors also could not be bothered about the science of the metal. It is all about return on investment.
I have no problem with investing. It is a good idea, buts let’s not get art and investing mixed up. It does not help artists, who are trying to make a respectable living, to somehow have their incomes compared to a long dead master’s painting that sold for millions. It also does not help that anecdotes of starving artists is used to prove that artists will live hand-to-mouth during their lifetimes.
Why then do stories like those about uber-auctions occupy so many pages in art magazines? Perhaps it has something to do with large auction houses having double page advertising in these magazines? Just a thought.
Support the living:
It is regularly pointed out by the “experts” that it is only the deceased artist’s paintings that fetch high prices – supply and demand and so forth. I would add ego and a bit of market manipulation as driving forces too.
As an artist all I can say is that the living artists of the world need your support.
Buy art for its beauty or the emotions that it stirs within you. Share something original with a living artist and you will always have a unique relationship. Display the art prominently for your pleasue and for those whom you love. That is sharing of energy. That is what art is all about.
I was still at law school. It was in the evening and I was probably procrastinating about some assignment while listening to the radio (old tech cause this was in the late 80’s). I remember the next cleary though. An interview with an artist came on and grabbed my attention like a fistfull of T-shirt.
The artist was talking about his art and then the interviewer asked the artist why he decided to stop practicing law and go into professional art. Everything stood still at that moment and I thought this cannot be. An attorney changing career to professional artist was an idea that blew my young mind.
A bit of background – I had studied art at school, taken the lessons and lets just say that I doodled a few trees worth of paper in my early days. When career choices came up I went to the art-related career evenings, but they all emphasised industrial arts, which did not fire me up. I was also not into fashion design. Fine art as a career? Oh no! that was not on the career counsellor’s list! So I chose law obviously. Fast forward a few years and here is someone who did the whole law career and then gave it up. Brilliant – he had to be crazy. But there he was talking about the joy he was now having following his dream.
Who was he? To this day I cannot be sure. I think my mind was just processing the idea and I did not recall much else. If I had to guess I would suggest that it was Dale Elliott (that great South African artist who was an attorney once). This seems likely and I have certainly been inspired by Dale Elliott’s story.
Looking back is always instructive as patterns begin to emerge. There were so many small yet important markers along the way. Is it a coincidence that I purchased one of Dale’s prints as a young attorney and then many years later visited his studio and there was the same print framed prominently in front of me? Not to mention how so many other events fell into place leading to where I am today effectively living the same idea I heard over twenty years ago. Was it “attraction” or karma or just the natural development of things.
I am not a fatalist, but I do believe that what we decide upon is not always a rational conscious state of mind. It is our true selves that makes the decision and we find ourselves on a certain path. Whatever it is I am grateful.
Not a tube green in sight!
I have a bunch of tube greens gathering dust in my studio. I think they have solidified and I should throw them out. A bit of a waste really, but after a time I just stopped using them in favour of mixing my own greens. So should you if you like painting landscapes.
I have added a new article to my studio page setting out how I go about this "artist's alchemy". Have a go yourself and let me have your tips or share your discoveries when mixing colours. read more...
A professional does the work and sells the painting. That is the artist’s calling and he must answer loud and clear. It sounds like a nice enough job – get up, think about a project or maybe get out for some reference work. Then start in the studio and push on through the day. A steady stream of painting sales keeps the wolf from the door (OK I may have embellished this last bit a little).
If all does go according to plan and the muse is in full force I will be really pleased with a couple of paintings a month that have taken me to a new level. Admittedly it is progress by degrees, but progress nevertheless. Is it tempting to keep a painting back? Do I want to hang onto a painting that has won my heart perhaps with the promise that I will put it out there sometime in the future? The answer is yes, but I still put it up for sale.
Once I made the decision to go pro a different thought pattern emerged. I chatted to Daniel Novela recently in Grahamstown about this. He admitted that it was hard to part with a few special paintings, but he still had them on display for sale. Once a painting is complete there is an energy that has been released and must be passed on. The process then begins anew. Failing to do this will hold an artist back. I have heard some artists hold onto a painting for resale in years to come like some kind of pension. No thanks – this feels wrong and self-defeating.
What artist does not get pleasure in sharing the collector’s excitement ? It is all good. Paint it with an open heart and let go.
What the frack is going on!
This is the question right now regarding government's position on granting licenses to permit fracking in the Karoo. Politics is a subject I tend to avoid, but I do believe in environmental issues. Especially this environment. I have a particular love for the karoo. I have also produced many paintings of karoo scenes. It is a stunning area in South Africa's heartland, part of this country's heritage and ecologically sensitive. So I would like to encourage all those who care about this area to get informed and try to help the good folks who have made it their mission to save the karoo from irreparable damage. You can visit www.treasurethekaroo.co.za for more info. It is likely that they will have to take formal action soon to halt the process so as much assistance as possible would be appreciated.
I am also donating the net proceeds from my painting, Karoo Windmill, to the Treasure the Karoo Action Group. I have marked the painting and I hope that I will be able to announce the sale and donation on this blog soon.
I spent a year marketing my art together with other artists through an art gallery. My experience through that period was invaluable. I had the pleasure of meeting different artists and collectors. I experienced the highs and lows of the art trade.
I have respect for hard working gallery owners. It is not an easy business. A good gallery owner will appreciate the artists who are true to their profession and will also treat customers with the respect they deserve. After a year it was time for me to devote my energy to creating both at the easel and through writing about art. Now I have the pleasure of meeting many good people through my online gallery (you may be next!).
Here are some of the highs and lows and a few lessons learnt during this time at a gallery:
Artist's Journal Workshop: Creating Your Life in Words and Pictures.
by Cathy Johnson
North Light Books. Available as an e-book from Amazon for approx. R98.00
Tired of the studio? Forget the TV and try journaling. No I have not taken up scrapbooking, but I do carry a sketchbook journal with me. Drawing is still the easiest way to keep my creative juices flowing without the pressure of oil painting. One of my recommended reads is the Artist's Journal Workshop by Cathy Johnson. The emphasis is on art and observing your environment. Most importantly we need to find beauty when it can be easily overlooked. Your cup of coffee, for example, can become a still life sketch. Take it further by adding watercolour and recording the process in a note. Not only is this fun, but it trains the eye and keeps the artist appreciative of life's little wonders. There's that gratefulness thing again!
This is an extraordinary book lavishly illustrated and filled with useful content. The author also gives examples of other journals kept by various artists to inspire you further. Johnson gives a clear explanation of why she journals, how it benefits her as an artist and how you can start the process yourself. The author also shows you how to keep up the process so that you do not lose interest. I personally find that sketching and illustrating provides me with ideas for paintings. It is also something that I can share with my family around the kitchen table! Give it a go yourself.
This is no lightweight book. It is extensive and well worth the investment and a resource that you can go back to when you need a little inspiration.