Tuesday, September 30, 2014

More on Rejection

"Epilogue"
Oil on Panel
12x16"
2014

Chances are, if you’re trying to make it as an artist, you’re well acquainted with rejection. 

You've entered your favorite painting into a juried show and gotten an emphatic NO… That gallery that would be the perfect fit just isn't interested in taking on more artists… The museum show you’re dying to break into just doesn't think your work is quite there yet…

It’s the worst, isn't it?

Sure, there might be a couple of superstars out there who have made it big without suffering rejection, but if there are, I haven’t met them. Chances are, most of your favorite painters have been rejected more than you think. After all:

“The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried” 
                                                         – Stephen McCranie

I wanted to talk about a couple of different topics related to rejection here, just because I find they come up a lot in conversation with my students and friends.

The Positive Side of Rejection

We live in this age of social media where we’re constantly bombarded by people’s announcements of their show acceptances, new galleries, even sales. I love seeing people’s success on display – it’s inspiring – but it doesn't show the whole story. For every acceptance that an artist is posting on Facebook, they probably have quite a few rejections as well. But rejection doesn't sell, so no one’s talking about it. No one wants to talk about it. 

I do, because I think it’s part of the whole picture.

A while back, I posted a picture of my many juried show rejections in an attempt to be transparent and encouraging. I get emails every once in a while from people who think I’m crazy to put my rejections out there in public in front of everyone, and suggest I take that post down. Personally, I think that’s bunk – I have a strong resume, I work with great galleries, my paintings are selling well. I work hard to build my brand and increase the value of my work, but I see no need to pretend I've never been rejected.

Without rejection, I wouldn't be the painter I am today. It’s what spurs me on to improve. It’s the honest feedback I need that tells me every once in a while that I’m still not where I want to be.

When you get rejected, USE IT.

Don’t get bitter, don’t get mad, don’t give up on entering shows. Spend a day wallowing in your dejectedness, then focus your energy on transforming that feeling into something positive. Use all of that energy you might use being bitter, and instead go hit the studio and analyze your paintings. Think hard. Figure out what you need to improve. If you can’t figure it out, ask someone you respect to give you a critique. Then, go to work. Paint until you've figured it out. It might take a while, and it might be frustrating, but paint until your paintings are better.

This is one of the most important skills you can have as an artist. Take that negative input, and use it as a catalyst to make better paintings. It will make you a better painter, I promise.

Embrace rejection for the gift it can be.

The Numbers Game

I was invited to be on the jury for a couple of national shows this year, and jumped at the opportunity. I wanted to see what jurying looks like from the other side, and quite frankly – it was eye-opening. I will never feel quite so sensitive about being rejected from a big show again, and for that I’m extremely grateful for the experience. I wanted to share some behind the scenes info to give you an idea of what you’re up  against when you enter a big show, in hopes that it might help you process the outcome a little bit differently in the future.

First, when you enter a big national show, there are usually thousands of entries, and only a small percentage get accepted. I know you know that already, but I want to put it into perspective for you with some real numbers, from a real show.

The first show I juried this year had 2,200 entries. In the first round, the jurors basically said “yes” or “no” to each painting. The 500 paintings with the most “yes” votes made it onto round two of jurying. In round two, the jurors scored each painting on a scale, and their scores were then averaged to determine the top 200 paintings for the show.

When I ranked the top 500 for round two, I was amazed at the quality of the work submitted. When I looked at my final scoring summary, I had given over 350 paintings scores that I considered high enough to say, “this painting absolutely deserves to be in the show!” Only 200 of those got in. If you do the math, over 40% of the paintings I considered good enough for the show didn't make the cut. When I saw the final show, I was bummed that some of my favorite paintings had not made it (the jury’s results are averaged).

What does that mean to you?

Well, you might enter your best painting, and it might indeed be good enough to be in the show, but it might not make the cut anyway. There just isn't enough space for all of the good paintings to make it. The higher the caliber of the show, the more this is true.

The takeaway? Work to make your paintings so good that they can’t be rejected. Not just good, but GREAT.

Out of those 500, I gave about 25 the highest possible score. To me, those paintings were an absolute, no questions asked, emphatic YES! They were modern masterpieces.

It’s the same thing with galleries. Yeah, you get rejected when your work isn’t strong enough. But sometimes you’re the person who gets rejected because they already have too many landscape painters, or they have another person who uses thick paint, or they simply don’t have space for another painter.

Approach it the same way – make your paintings so good that they can’t be rejected. Not just good, but GREAT. I don’t know a gallery out there that wouldn’t jump at the chance to carry someone that they consider to be a master. They’ll make room, if you’re all that. So get to work, and try to BE all that.

Don’t focus on that other artist they carry who isn't as good as you, or that person who got into the show with their best painting even though the rest of their work is awful. Focus on YOU. Focus on your WORK. And get better.

The Moral of the Story?

We all get rejected, I promise. It’s what we do with it, that determines where we go.

Go forth, be positive, and USE IT.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

My #1 Book Recommendation

A lot of artists give book recommendations at the bottom of their supply lists when they give workshops. Carlson's landscape book, Payne's composition, that sort of thing. I thought about doing the same when I started teaching workshops this year, but I left them off, figuring I'd just be recommending all of the same books as everyone else.

The one book I never tire of recommending to artists has nothing to do with painting at all, and more to do with the act of stepping up to the easel.

We all know people who love art, but never paint.

Why?

Because they have a day job. Family gets in the way. They don't have a studio, or their studio sucks. It's hard to paint well when life is stressful. They have an unsupportive spouse. They're fighting health problems. Etc etc.

These are all completely valid excuses. I get it. I really do.

But here's the deal - if you want to be an artist, you have to MAKE ART. And the best way to make good art, is to make lots of it. I have a friend who tells his workshop students, "Keep your brushes wet!" A good reminder that you should be painting all the time. ALL THE TIME.

All the knowledge in the world about how to paint isn't going to help you if you never actually paint. And believe it or not, the actual act of getting yourself to the easel is often the hardest part. And surprisingly, this is the part that a lot of people skip over when they teach people how to paint.

So, here's the deal. => The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. <= Read it.


"Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.  

Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic? Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? Have you ever bailed out on a call to embark upon a spiritual practice, dedicate yourself to a humanitarian calling, commit your life to the service of others? Have you ever wanted to be a mother, a doctor, an advocate for the weak and helpless; to run for office, crusade for the planet, campaign for world peace, or to preserve the environment? Late at night have you experienced the vision of the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? Are you a writer who doesn't write, a painter who doesn't paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what resistance is." 

                                                   - Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

If you know that art is your true calling but can't seem to make yourself paint more than every once in a while, do yourself a favor and buy this book. The first two sections of the book deal with what Pressfield terms "Resistance" - that invisible power that seems to constantly keep you from stepping up to the easel - and how to squelch it and make art.

"There's a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don't, and the secret is this: It's not the writing part that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance." 
                                                                   - Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
I've got kids, and a crazy schedule, and sometimes life just gets in the way. And sometimes when I find that my painting time is slipping, I'll flip through the pages of this book just to remind myself to get back at it. My copy is a little bit worn.


So, read this book, and keep your brushes wet. MAKE ART, so you can learn to make good art.

Happy painting!


Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday Faves - 6/27/14

Favorite Painting:

"Beach of the Seine Near Giverny (Mist)" - Claude Monet, 1897


So, this is the first painting I ever saw that gave me goosebumps.

It's not a famous Monet, maybe not his best painting, but I love it for the emotion. I remember wandering around the Chicago Art Institute in college and stumbling on this painting, and just standing there with goosebumps, taking it all in. It was maybe the first time I realized just how moving two dimensional art can be. There's something about a great piece that can stir your soul.

I wrote this blog post a few months ago about what the big goal is with my work, and it spurred an interesting conversation on Facebook about works of art that had really impacted people - the type of work you see once in a blue moon that gives you goosebumps, or brings tears to your eyes.

So, I want to know, what was the first work of art you ever saw that had that effect on you? When was the first time you remember standing in a museum or a gallery or wherever else, with the hair on the back of your neck standing up because you saw a piece that was just so good that it hit you in the gut? Post in the comments on Facebook or here - I want to know!

Favorite Quote:

"Believe me, success isn't some ancient secret that you find bottled up in some black market for a really high price. It’s out there. It’s formulaic. It’s a hefty dose of patience with a bucketload of just doing the work combined with self-confidence. You can do the work and wait – but if you step up to the line without thinking you can do it – you've just waited and wasted a lot of time. But if you step up to the line with a confident mind and trusting legs – chances are you’ll surprise yourself." 
- Elizabeth Waterstraat

This quote comes from a triathlon blog I used to read - the whole post is a good read if you have the time. I've had it filed away in my favorites for a while. 

Whether you're talking about sports or art or even just work, it's so true. Patience + Work + Confidence. You have to have all three of those things to make it. I come across great artists who lack confidence in their work, I come across artists who have a boatload of talent but don't do the work, and I know quite a few who get impatient with the seemingly glacial pace of their growing career. I am all of those three sometimes.

Favorite Music:

I'm posting this one more for the video than the song. Watch this - if it doesn't make you want to go hang out in Wyoming for a while, I don't know what will. Some seriously beautiful footage of the Tetons and Yellowstone, with a good soundtrack! (Can someone remind me again WHY I'm not going to paint the Tetons this July????? Regretting that decision a bit right now...)




Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday Faves - 6/13/14

One of these days I will get around to posting some real blog posts again, but it's summer and I'm slammed with work, and it seems like it might be a while. In the meantime, here are some of my favorites!

Favorite Painting:

"Sentinel Bluffs" - 36x43" - George Carlson - 2013


I know I've been featuring historical paintings up until this point, but this one is the one that jumped out at me today, so contemporary it is! Besides, Carlson will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the great artists of this generation, so it's like watching history happen, right?

I should confess that I pretty much love everything George Carlson paints. For those of you who read this blog who aren't artists and not familiar, Carlson is an extremely successful sculptor. The fact that he can switch so seamlessly from sculpting to painting masterpieces like this is amazing to me.

This painting, which is fairly large, is powerful. It's the perfect example of how you can keep the color and detail minimal in a painting, and still make an extremely powerful statement. The composition and values here work together to create a sense of drama that pulls you in. And the unexpected and varied use of color in the shadows adds interest that holds you. I haven't had the pleasure of seeing this painting in person, but I can almost guarantee that if I did I would be able to stare at it forever, finding subtleties that aren't visible in a photo.

Favorite Quote:

Love this quote about imperfection. I needed to remember this last week.


The entire reason that I keep this blog going is because I hope that in some way, keeping it real about the process of being an artist will help someone, somewhere, who is just starting out and feeling frustrated. I meet the occasional person who thinks I'm a little nuts for putting the tough stuff out there - like it's bad marketing to post a photo of my rejections or admit that I'm feeling uninspired - but it's really important to me to be honest, so I keep at it.

I had one of my blog posts re-published on FineArtViews last week, and it just happened to be a post where I was being real about some struggles I had in the studio. So all the sudden I was baring my soul to thousands of people, rather than the few hundred I might get here, and I thought, "Self, was this a good idea??"

I get a lot of emails when posts go live on FAV, and in the case of this one, I got a ton of kind, encouraging emails - people writing me to say, "Me too!! I'm so glad I'm not the only one who feels this way sometimes!" But there are always a couple of negative ones when you put yourself out there, and I got a couple of nasties from this blog post. And I'm admittedly thin-skinned so I stewed over those two negative emails, and told myself that I was done putting myself out there, and done with being real on the blog. Or at the very least, I was done publishing my posts on a very public blog that thousands of people read. And as I was stewing and feeling sort of bad, I saw this quote and immediately felt better. Because that's what it's about for me. Keeping it real so people who are starting out know what it's like to live this life.

Favorite Music:

I love this band. Sorry that there's not a cool video to go with this song, but it's a favorite of mine, so I'm sharing it anyhow. So give it a listen, and if you like it, go buy their EP - the whole thing is awesome and it's only $4, so you can't go wrong!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Friday Faves - 5/30/14

Favorite Words:

I was sad this morning when I read that Robert Genn had succumbed to cancer. The art world has definitely lost a wise and giving soul. I've been reading Genn's newsletters for years - so much food for thought there. This quote comes from this morning's newsletter. It's simple, but so true:


There's so much about art the gives my life meaning. Yeah, it's my job, my livelihood, my passion. But the arts in general give life a fullness that it wouldn't have without them.

Favorite Painting:

"Water Mill" - Frits Thaulow, 1892


This guy could paint water like no other. This painting is great because that's all it's about - WATER. And he does it so well. The values he uses in the water in this and his other paintings are just spot on, and so the surface just glistens. Add in some beautiful color and a great design, and you have a painting that I could probably stare at for hours.

Favorite Music:

I just posted this video on Facebook a few weeks ago, so I know this is a bit lazy of me, but I'm putting it here so I can find it someday in the future.

I love the Paper Kites - they're a little bit mellow, good for the studio on a snowy day. This is a great song, and this video is absolutely beautiful. I mean, let's be honest - mountain bikes + good music + awesome scenery = bliss! So, if you haven't seen it yet, watch it. Then go check out their other tunes ("Bloom", "Tenenbaum", "St. Clarity", "Young" - so many good ones I can't pick a favorite!).


Have a great weekend!!

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Friday Faves - 5/9/14

Okay, so I had this brilliant idea to blog about my favorites every Friday, and then I was out of town two weeks in a row and forgot about it! Complete FAIL.

So, here they are for this week.

Favorite Words:

I've posted this quote somewhere on this blog before, I'm sure, but that was years ago so you get it again. Wise words from an amazing woman, Maya Angelou:


Favorite Painting:

"Arques–la–Bataille" - John Henry Twachtman, 1885


This is one of my favorite paintings of all time. I could stare at it for hours. It's so simple, but still so powerful. Simple shapes, solid values, and beautiful draftsmanship in the foreground. Proof that a painting doesn't have to be busy to say a lot.

Favorite Music:

I don't know about you, but nothing inspires me more than watching another person master their art. Nothing gets me more excited to paint than seeing an amazing painting, or hearing some really great live music, or watching a beautiful dance.

This particular song has been around for a while, and this album is always on rotation in my studio, but when I finally got to hear (see?) this song live last summer I got goosebumps. John Butler is an amazing guitar player. I wish I could paint as well as he can play. And I wish this video was half as cool as hearing this in person. (Feel free to skip the first minute of rambling talk - the music is worth it, promise!)



Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday Faves!

One of the things I love most about social media is being able to find and share inspiring stuff with my art friends - quotes, paintings, music, etc... But I have this tendency to share things on Facebook, and then months go by, and when I try to find that quote or image or video that I posted a while back, it's virtually impossible to find in my feed. And that's kind of a bummer, because I like to revisit that sort of thing - get re-inspired, if you will. SOOOO, I had this idea to do a post of favorites here on the blog every Friday, so I can find all that inspiring stuff later on, all in one place. Every week, I'll include some inspiring words, and maybe a favorite painting, and if I happen to see an awesome video or hear some great music, I'll throw that in too.

So here goes. My Friday Favorites - first edition. Enjoy!

Favorite Words:

Last week, Robert Genn's newsletter for artists included 8 Rules for Painting, based loosely on Neil Gaiman's 8 Rules for Writing. I liked the painterly take on things, but nothing can take the place of Gaiman's original 8 rules. Even if you aren't a writer, these apply to your art.

(If you can't read this, click on it for a larger version - I uploaded this as a larger image so you can download it if you want)


My husband would tell you that I've pretty much mastered #7. Hehe... The rest are truth with a capital T.

Favorite Painting:

"Winter's Loveliness" - Edward Harrison Compton, 1904


I discovered the work Edward Harrison Compton, as well as that of his father (Edward Theodore Compton), through Facebook a few months ago, and I'm in love with the work of both of them. They were both mountaineers, and they could paint mountains like no other. And snow. This one is beautiful, not only for the tight values and color, but for the emotional component as well. Sigh...

Favorite Video:

I know, I shared this a few months ago so it's old news, but I love it so I'm going to share it here too. The voiceover for this video is just so inspiring. It's not about whether you live out of a van or in a big house, or have a job in an office or not, but rather about making sure you're doing the things you love - the things that make you feel alive.


35 from ARC'TERYX on Vimeo.

Some of my favorite words, from the video (you can read the whole thing here):

"I try to collect moments. I step back and watch the movie that is my life for just a second, because it’s easy to miss the good stuff, the magic, when it happens. But I try not to. I try really hard to realize it when it’s amazing, and even when it’s not."

"We all have dreams, but they don’t mean much if we don’t act on them, if we put them in a drawer we label “Someday,” for when we think we’ll have more time. I try to get out there, to go to amazing places, to have incredible conversations with incredible people. I think it all adds up somewhere. And when it does, you’re not doing something. You’re being something. And what I want to be is happy, and excited, and inspired."

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Intuition

"Winter's Hush"
Oil on Panel
18x18"
2014

I've been in a bit of an art funk lately.

Have you ever had times like this, where you just aren't feeling super excited about your work? Producing a lot, but just not feeling the love for anything that you’re churning out? I seem to visit this place a few times a year, and while I can usually give myself a pep talk to remind myself that I’m probably learning something, it’s still frustrating to put in the hours and not see immediate results.

I’ve devoted a lot of space on this blog to being disciplined, setting goals, building up brush mileage, and just putting in the time to get where you want to be. The left-brained engineer in me wants to think elbow grease is the solution to just about everything. But the artist in me knows that I don’t have it quite right, and so I have a confession to make – I’ve had it wrong.

Art isn’t all about putting in the time, or being disciplined. It can’t be. Sometimes, it’s more about tapping into your intuition. It’s finding that point where technique doesn’t matter so much as looking deeper into your soul, and trying to translate that gut feeling you have about your subject onto the canvas. It’s passion.

Sometimes, the more hours you put in, the more frustrated you get. And when that happens, you need to give yourself some space - breathe in, breathe out, and really feel what you’re trying to do.

I’ve had a crazy month, with deadlines and travel and general life chaos. The weeks that I’ve been home, I’ve been painting like mad. Most nights, I put the kids to bed and hit the studio to squeeze in a few more hours of painting. I’m tired, but I’ve gotten a lot done. I've knocked out some larger studio pieces, done a lot of marketing work, checked stuff off the to-do list. 

I've been nothing if not productive. But I haven’t been excited about any of my work.

Normally, even if a painting isn’t my best, there will be something about it to get me excited – I’ll be into the brushwork in a certain section, or something I’m trying to do with color, or changing it up with design. But lately, I’ve been feeling lackluster about everything. I step up to the easel with a checklist in mind. “Block in 30x40, paint sky, paint water, touch up trees.” When the studio turns into a production line, this happens – inspiration runs and hides.

So, I finally realized this a few days ago. As I scraped the painting I worked on all weekend, it hit me like a ton of bricks - I’ve been doing, not FEELING.

I know that sounds like an artsy-fartsy thing to say, but it’s critical. To me, it’s often what separates an amazing piece of art from one that is simply well-executed. The work we drool over in museums and books? That’s inspired stuff. Look at a painting by Sorolla, or Payne, or Sargent, or Levitan, and you’ll see the work of a man whose work transcended technique. You’ll see a work of art that has soul. Yeah, those guys knew how to paint, but they also knew how to get you right in the gut with the emotion of a scene. When all is said and done, that’s what makes a master. That’s the stuff that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck when you look at an amazing piece of art.

Discipline is essential, but in the end we learn good technique and put in the hours so that when inspiration hits, we have the skill to translate that feeling into a painting that sings.

So, how do you get there when the studio looks like an assembly line? I’m still working that out for myself, and I think it will be a life-long project for me, but it starts with making some space to reflect.

When I realized what I was doing the other day, I stopped what I was doing, looked around at the chaos, and realized my painting marathon was doing me no favors. I cleaned up my studio, I went for a walk in the woods, I did some yoga. I sat quietly for a bit and thought about what I want to do with my painting - not in a technical sense, but in an emotional sense. What do I feel about the landscape that I want to say with my paintings? How would I like them to affect other people? Then I reminded myself to get out of my head, and to paint intuitively. I slowly started something new. I spent a lot of time reminding myself to chill out, to breathe in, to feel. Will it be a masterpiece? Probably not. But I’m already more excited about what I’m doing than I was a few days ago, and that’s where I need to be to do my best work.
“You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. The rational mind doesn't nourish you. You assume that it gives you the truth, because the rational mind is the golden calf that this culture worships, but this is not true. Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.” 

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Art and Motherhood – The Ugly Truth (and Why it Doesn’t Matter)

My first solo show - look at the cheeks on that girl!
A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post about juggling life as an artist with motherhood. To this day, it remains one of the most viewed posts on this blog, and I’m still getting emails and messages from female artists who want advice on how to handle it all. I think I still believe everything I had to say on the subject back then, but I've been thinking about it a bit more lately, and wanted to share a few more ideas (a few ideas, which, incidentally, have resulted in the longest blog post ever – oops!).

Everyone out there has probably taken enough workshops or classes to know that it seems like 90% of art students are female. Why then are the top tiers of the art world so male-dominated? The 2013 Prix de West show boasted 101 of the top Western artists in the United States – only 10 of them were women. Oil Painters of America has 47 master signature members listed in the current directory, of which only 6 are women. This is not atypical. It seems that the higher you go, the lower the percentage of female participants (I'm not complaining, just observing - I look at these numbers and see opportunity, for the record).

Why? I think a lot of it has to do with a few complicated issues that surround motherhood. Many of the women I’ve spoken to who are top tier painters in the Western US either don’t have children, or set painting aside while they had children and started again when they were older. I can’t even count the number of women I know who gave up painting when their kids were young.

I realize this happens in the corporate world too, but it seems more pronounced in art. There’s something about art that makes it seem like a hobby to those around us, and lacking a real office and paycheck and benefits, many women let their art take the back seat to the demands of motherhood and family.

Me? No way! I love my job more than I can tell you, and I intend to stick it out. I think about this stuff a lot, because I think being aware of the issues that face females in the arts is the first step in making sure I can overcome them. That said, I’m going to share a few of the ugly truths I've found about juggling art and motherhood, and try to address how we can handle some of them. In the next few weeks, I plan to follow up with a super positive post about why being an artist is the best job in the world if you’re a mom.

So, here goes, the ugly truth:

UGLY TRUTH #1 - Some people won't take you seriously

It’s taken me a long time to admit that this is true, but experience has shown me that it is indeed – there are people in the art world who will discount your ability because you are a mom.

When I worked in engineering, it was not uncommon for me to sit in a meeting and be the only female in a room of 30 men. The profession was wildly male-dominated, but in the end, I NEVER felt like anyone discounted my ability because I was a woman. Why? Because engineering is mostly objective. It’s numbers and solutions, and if you do the job right, you do the job right. I came into art expecting the same and finding myself disappointed, because in the end, it’s subjective. It’s a different animal.

I have worked with gallery owners and show coordinators who didn't think I could perform because I have young children. I have worked with people who flat out told me that they didn't think I could paint enough because I have kids. It was really tough to hear at first, and in my initial shock, I tried my best to prove them wrong.

My response now is the opposite and I urge you to do the same – I will NOT allow myself to work with anyone who thinks I can’t perform because of my children.

My favorite person to paint with.
Here’s the deal – I have two children but I’m very prolific. I paint just as much as most of my male friends who are painters. I’m committed, and I'm confident in my ability to produce. I work with five galleries who KNOW I’m committed, and know I will give them what they need. They are supportive and wonderful, and I enjoy working with each and every one of them.

I learned the hard way that trying to prove yourself to someone who has an incorrect assumption is a waste of time. The negativity is a major energy suck, and you don’t need that when you step up to the easel. So, the takeaway? Recognize when someone is not taking you seriously, and move on. The art world is also full of wonderful people who WILL take you seriously, and that’s where you want your energy to go. Work with those people!

UGLY TRUTH #2 - Plans? What plans!? Ha!

When you have kids, be prepared for your best-laid plans to fly out the window. They’re going to get sick or injured the day before that big deadline, and you’re going to tear your hair out about the fact that you can’t seem to keep a reliable studio schedule. It happens – be prepared for it.

Here’s an example of how NOT to do things (learn from my mistakes!)… I usually try to set aside a couple of my best paintings to enter in the OPA national show every January, since I know better than to think I’m going to paint a masterpiece when I have a deadline looming. This year, I made the mistake of agreeing to sell my two favorite paintings a couple of weeks ago. Checks were basically in the mail and I figured, “well, might as well sell them, I have two weeks to come up with a couple of new ones – I can do that easy!” Then my 4 year old got the crud and I spent five days taking care of a sick kid and husband and feeling ill myself, and suddenly, I had nothing to enter and was once again trying to fight the losing battle of painting a masterpiece up against a deadline (while exhausted, nonetheless).

Trying desperately to paint with a sick kid in the studio.
So, recognize that your schedule will not always behave the way you think it will, and prepare for that. If you have a show entry due, make sure you have those paintings set aside weeks in advance. If you need to supply paintings for a gallery, make sure you give yourself more time than you think you’ll need to produce. And when in doubt, always paint more than you think you need to. Every once in a while someone will come down into my studio and exclaim that I have a lot of painting inventory, and ask if I’m going to take some time off. The answer is always NO, because it never fails – the minute I get that inventory built up, a gallery will need new work, or I’ll get invited to a show, or someone will want to see a grouping of paintings. I know better than to think I’m in control of the hours I spend in the studio, so I always err on the side of overproducing, and somehow things always end up just right.

UGLY TRUTH #3 - You will feel inadequate

This is more emotional than anything, but the reality is this – when you’re trying to juggle an art career (maybe ANY career) and motherhood, you will have moments when you feel hopelessly inadequate. I try my best to prioritize my life such that I feel like I’m giving my all to my kids and my art, but every once in a while I have a major meltdown about my failure to do both. I feel like I’d be a better mom if I wasn't working so hard. I feel like I’d be a better artist if I weren't constantly taking care of my two little ones.

That’s not necessarily reality – the fact that I do something I love makes me a better mom, and the fact that I have two hilarious fun-loving kids in my life makes my art better. But sometimes in those dark middle-of-the-night moments, I feel like I’m failing at everything.

Sometimes, I look around at my art friends tearing it up on the show circuit and think to myself, “if only I had that much time to travel!” Sometimes, I look around my not-so-clean house and think to myself, “if only I could have a couple of days to catch up on cleaning up around here!” And sometimes, I have to say no to the zillionth volunteer opportunity at my daughter’s school, and I think to myself, “oh my gosh she’s going to grow up and wonder why I wasn't the mom who was always helping out at school!”

But everyone can think of “if onlys” if they try hard enough, and giving into these thoughts is giving into negativity. The minute I find myself thinking an “if only” type of thought, I acknowledge that it exists and it sucks and then I choose to move on. Usually, this means taking action. Instead of moping around, I get painting, or I do some business work, or I write a blog post, or I clean the kitchen, or I play with my kids. I get moving, and I usually get positive. And when the little stuff doesn't work, I get outside and leave it behind on a mountain bike ride or run. It never helps to focus on what if.

And know that you can’t do it all, and that you will have to allow certain areas to slide. I would love to have a spotless house and a home-cooked meal three times a day – it’s not going to happen if I want to spend the right amount of time on my kids and my art. Right now, I should probably be taking down the Christmas tree (in February!!) instead of writing this blog post. That’s reality and that’s okay, as long as I’m focusing on the things that matter most.

The little guy, showing me how it's done.
In my doubtful moments I have to remind myself, logically, that there’s a reason I’m doing this. I’m choosing to be an artist for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is my conviction that being a good mom to my daughter includes modeling how to chase what you love. I remind myself that while I may not be at the school every day, I DO spend time every day laughing with my kids, and talking to them, and appreciating them for who they are right now, and those moments are worth more than anything to me.

UGLY TRUTH #4 - You will not be able to do it alone

I don’t care how good you are - if you want to make it as an artist and be a mom, you’re going to have to get some help along the way. I used to think that since I work “part-time” and my job is fairly flexible, it was reasonable to assume that I would be mostly responsible for childcare and keeping our household running. It’s taken me a long time to realize that I can’t do it all. This is NOT a part-time job, and I can’t handle it all without some help. I’d say that this year more than any other year, I finally learned that if this was going to work, I was going to need to ask for more help from my husband, and from others, and that I had to be okay with accepting that help.

I owe every minute I get to paint to a supportive husband, awesome helpful family members and friends, and the fact that my kids both go to a school where I know they’re learning and thriving every minute that they’re out of my sight.

I get four days a week to paint for 5-6 hours while my kids are at school, but art is a full-time job – do the math, and you know I’m going to be behind. Sometimes my husband steps in and hangs with the kids for an afternoon while I catch up. Sometimes my in-laws spend the day with Owen and I sneak into my studio. Every once in a while I meet up to plein air paint with friends, and depend on a supportive friend to get my kids from school to swim lessons since I won’t be home in time. I attend most openings by recruiting my mom to babysit. I managed a painting trip to Telluride this winter thanks to my sister, who took on my two energetic kids for an entire weekend. I love these people and owe them so much. I know my kids thrive in their presence, which allows me to do my job without worrying – and that whole not worrying thing is HUGE when you’re a mom.

Chances are, you won’t get much painting done when your kids are in the house (if you do, can you tell me your secret??). Find people you trust, and places you’re confident your kids will thrive, so that you can find the space to do your job without worry. And if you have a partner, make sure you’re really allowing them to be a partner – don’t try to handle everything on your own. (If you want to read more on that subject, pick up the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg - it's an excellent read.)

I love these guys!
So, there you have it, some of the truth as I see it, and some suggestions on how to handle things. My intent here wasn't to be a downer, but to be honest and forthcoming about my experiences, with hope that it might encourage someone who might be struggling through a similar issue. For what it’s worth, I think most of these issues are universal, and my advice probably applies to ANY artist, male or female, kids or no kids. If you have any of your own suggestions, or advice, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

The good news is that it’s a great life - I wake up thankful every day. Sometimes it’s chaos, but it’s beautiful chaos, and I wouldn't trade any of it for the world.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Perfect Practice

"Ten Below"
Oil on Panel
16x20"
2014

No one will deny that brush mileage is one of the best ways to get better at painting. You can know everything there is to know about painting, but if you don’t paint all that often, you won’t know how to put paint on the canvas effectively enough to communicate your ideas. If you've heard of the 10,000 hours rule, you know this is probably the case for getting good at anything – simply put, most experts have put in the time.

But time isn't the whole story - most experts also know how to practice effectively, how to push themselves to the next level. If you practice the same thing over and over, you won’t get better no matter how many hours you put in.

So, what makes us improve? For me, it’s the idea of perfect practice, working thoughtfully on targeted areas. In the book “The Talent Code,” Daniel Coyle describes this kind of practice like this:

“Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways – operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes – makes you smarter. Or to put it a slightly different way, experiences where you’re forced to slow down, make errors, and correct them – as you would if you were walking up an ice-covered hill, slipping and stumbling as you go – end up making you swift and graceful without your realizing it…. The trick is to choose a goal just beyond your present abilities; to target the struggle. Thrashing blindly doesn't help. Reaching does.” 
- Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code

Practicing this way can be a slow, tedious process. You make mistakes, you think deeply about things that aren't working, and you try to apply different ways to correct those mistakes. It doesn't always happen overnight, but after a while, the things that were challenges become second nature. You get better.

For me, this means that I no longer set quantity goals for painting. Sure, painting 100 paintings a year is a good goal that will get me in the studio on a regular basis, but does it matter if I’m painting the same thing over and over? Now, I focus on stretching my abilities in a number of different ways. Here are some ideas:

Paint Something Outside of Your Wheelhouse

I’m all for painting your passion. I love being outside, so I paint landscapes. It’s different for everyone, but I guarantee you’ll paint your best when you paint what you love. That said, it’s easy to get complacent when you always paint what makes you comfortable, so it’s good to step outside of your comfort zone and paint something completely different every once in a while. For me, this means adding some architecture or wildlife to a painting every once in a while, or doing some figure painting in the studio to work on my drawing. For a figure painter, this might mean heading out to do some plein air. Either way, you’re developing skills that you don’t have, and it’s making you stronger.

Focus on Your Weaknesses

In order to improve, you need to think critically, identify some of your weaknesses, and then work on those things. I painted the painting above when I felt I was getting a bit too tight with my studio work – I set out a panel and told myself I was going to work on thick paint and softer edges, and ignore everything else.  The goal wasn't a masterpiece or show painting, but rather a skill set. Working on those soft edges is like playing scales on a piano – I’m working those little muscles that I need in order to commit that skill to memory. If you have a tough time with clouds, go paint cloud studies. If you struggle with drawing, get a sketchbook and a pencil and get to work.

Change It Up

Are you comfortable painting small studies on location but clam up when it comes to painting something big? Or do you love the comfort of your studio and lose focus the second you get outside? If you run out of one color on your palette does it send you into a panic, or can you go with it? It’s easy to get comfortable with painting certain sizes, or in a certain location, or with a certain set of materials. But if you want to grow as an artist, you need to work on the edge of your ability sometimes. Work a little bit bigger outdoors. Do something in a different format. Use some different colors and see what happens. If you can handle a few changes, you’ll be more versatile as an artist, and your paintings will improve.

Get Uncomfortable

I’m all for plein air painting in the summer when the weather is perfect and the light is stunning, but I’m not gonna lie - I don’t get as excited about getting out there the rest of the year! Last year, I decided to just paint, no matter what, and learned a valuable lesson. I painted on cloudy days with flat light, and I learned a lot about greys. I painted in the snow, and learned a lot about brevity. I hauled my painting stuff up a lot of trails in a backpack, and learned that sometimes you just have to paint what’s in front of you when you get there. And when I got back into my studio after all of that, I had a whole bunch of new skills, and a new found appreciation for the coziness of my nice warm studio. Sometimes, it’s good to be uncomfortable. Say yes, even when you don’t want to.

What are some of the best ways that you implement “perfect practice” into your art?