Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Following Your Heart

Cape Freels, Newfoundland 

"I wanted movement, and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love. I felt in myself a superabundance of energy which found no outlet in our quiet life." ~Leo Tolstoy, Family Happiness

In the past week I have received a couple of emails from fellow artists who have been out of the creative loop for awhile. These individuals wrote about wanting to implement change in their lives, about wanting to change the course of their existence by pursuing their love of art. They questioned how I managed to stay on course, how I coped with the financial ups and down and what kept my spirit afloat during the inevitable ebbs that come with the job. 

These emails fill my heart with happiness. To help someone by encouraging them or inspiring change is a large part of why I am a painter. Money is necessary and sharing your vision on canvas is imperative, but supporting and helping other people constitutes a currency that far outweighs money in terms of value to the human spirit. I am so happy that these folks felt compelled to write and share their stories. I thank them for that and hope my words might help them. I do not pretend to know the answers to any of their questions, because really everything is relative to our own situation...I can only share what my own experience has yielded.

I wonder if perhaps during this time of financial uncertainty, a rapidly changing world, and an overall tentativeness, this period of reduced activity, fewer jobs and a wait-and-see outlook encourages people to return inward, re-examine what makes them happy and perhaps lights a long dormant fire within them in the form of creative pursuits. However, transitioning from a job with regular pay, possibly benefits and relative stability, to one of uncertainty, sporadic payment, but unbelievable fulfillment is surely intimidating if not downright frightening. I can understand that. So why do it? The answer is inside of each of us, and it is unique to each of us too. But it is there, screaming out or quietly waiting, that voice is within us, that courage to take the leap is there. Will we listen to it? It is patient I believe, and we will answer it when the time is right.

 Gulkana Glacier

So how do you do it? How do you follow your passion and become a full-time painter/writer/poet? Here's a little list of elements that have worked for me:

Discipline. Follow regular work hours, or, if you need more flexibility, figure out how many hours you want to work a week and then implement that timeline into your week accordingly. I cannot paint for eight hours a day unless I absolutely have to, so I stretch my paintings hours out over a six to seven day work week. It is not a bother, because I am doing what I love to do. Therefore it really doesn't feel like work, which is the beautiful part of it. 

Develop a body of work. Have a solid group of paintings that you can submit to galleries, something cohesive and strong that you can stand behind and say "this is what I do". Galleries probably want to see a minimum of twelve recent paintings, but you are wise to have up to twenty paintings prepared. Then you are able to go about submitting packages to galleries for representation. You can look at Abbozzo Gallery and Loch Gallery, my two main galleries, for an idea of what sort of artistic diversity and quality they are looking for. 

Promote yourself. Your galleries will promote you but you can also promote yourself through your own mailing list with email newsletters/updates, as well as blogging, your own website (you can look at mine as an example), printed samples, advertising in books for artists, any number of options are available to you. I must say that I believe a website is mandatory in this day and age. If someone googles you and wants to see your work, your website, along with your gallery's website should come up for people to find you.

Network . This is a relatively new one for me, and I suppose technically we could group it under Promotion but I am going to give it its own spot here on the list. As a friend of mine says, emailing is fine, but nothing beats interacting with a person one on one, making a connection, leaving an impression. Many artists balk at the idea of leaving their studios to do this, but it is healthy to do and a crucial way to get out there and meet other creatives, spread the word about your work, and build relationships that can help you down the road. Everything and everyone truly is connected, and we can all help one another and support one another by sharing wisdom, tools of the trade, critiques and general social events that bring us together. 

Learn To Save/Budget. This one is really important. Of course your situation may be very different from mine, but if I want to take one soul-enriching journey each year, and afford to live, I need to be careful with money. Having a cushion for the slower periods is so very important. Learn to budget and watch your money as carefully as you can. Sometimes it amazes me when I receive money that it has come from something that I love to do. I still have that rush of amazement from time to time. I wish money did not enter into the equation, but it is a reality, and to support yourself with things you have created out of excitement and enthusiasm is priceless. 

See this 300 year old tree on Salt Spring Island, BC? It only knows how to do one thing: grow and thrive. You should do the same. Truly there is no where to go but up.

So that list contains a few of the most important variables that go into becoming self-sufficient as an artist. There are many other ingredients that are not included, but perhaps  these might ease your transition a bit. When the world seems poised to come crashing down on you, when the full swell of panic hits you in the chest from time to time when you ponder your uncertain future, walk into that fear. You never know what will happen, but with hard work, discipline, direction, and most of all passion for what you do, uncertainty is something to rejoice in and walk towards. Follow your heart. It will not lead you astray. You won't look back or, if you do, you will be to see how far you've come.    

"One must work and dare if one really wants to live." ~Vincent Van Gogh

Here is some information on my Newfoundland Exhibition in November of 2009. I hope to see you there!

Newfoundland Portraits
November 5-22nd, 2009
Abbozzo Gallery, Oakville, Ontario
Opening Reception November 6th, 7-10pm

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Creative Evolution

The studio in Wesleyville, Newfoundland, Canada

"Conflict is the gadfly of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory. It instigates to invention. It shocks us out of sheeplike passivity, and sets us at noting and contriving."~John Dewey

Much has been happening in the studio lately. Four paintings have now sold in advance of my Newfoundland Portraits Exhibition in November of 2009! To say I am delighted is a huge understatement. I am finishing my ninth painting for the show, and commissions and other gallery work makes for a rather hectic schedule. Despite the frenetic pace it is important to keep a steady hand and head. I am susceptible to stress and so it is important to stay on task, be disciplined and just get the work done, and done with joy. I was out for a walk today and couldn't wait to get to the studio to paint. Acknowledging how much I enjoy what I do felt wonderful. Sometimes we do work that we have an obligation to do..however to paint what moves you and has no other genesis than from your desire to create something that resonates with you is priceless.

When you love what you do that energy is transferred and others can pick up on it. It is as if your mood can be felt when looking at the work. I find this phenomenon fantastic and mysterious, yet not surprising.

I have noticed recently that as I have shifted from a focus on the figure to one incorporating more landscape that my desire once again moves to wanting to examine portraiture and the human form. The Newfoundland paintings are exciting to me because they broaden the view to see more of the landscape that these people inhabit. That is the intent. That is the reason why I went there and to challenge oneself is the only way that you can evolve. I suppose it is a form of creative dissonance, wanting to delve into that which you are not focused on. Fortunately people/portraits and the figure occur in 95% of my paintings, so while there is a slight change of course with the landscape, it is not a total departure thematically speaking. I do know that when I move on to a new body of work that it will have a direct concentration back on the figure.

To challenge yourself, to take the path less trodden, to TRY new things encourages evolution as a human being and artist. When we try new techniques/subject matter/materials in our work we are growing, learning, testing the waters. We learn what we DON'T want to do by experimenting with new subjects, cropping, supports, philosophies . This is all a part of the process, and an integral one I believe. If we always painted the same thing, the same way, would we grow and learn and improve? Probably, but not as quickly or as effectively as if we periodically took broad strokes in a different direction. As someone once said "I need to leave in order to appreciate coming home". I believe this is the same principle. 

The Berry Picker, Greenspond, oil on panel, 50"x35"

Thus the knowledge that I will once again focus in more on directly painting the figure makes working on these paintings from Newfoundland even more special. They are a finite group, a set amount of visual memories and experiences placed on canvas. With each painting I am transported back to that windswept or fresh, crisp day, purple waters, the smell of the wood stove and mile after mile of unfiltered beauty.  I understand why so many people have been moved by Newfoundland. It had pretty big shoes to fill, especially coming on the heels of Alaska but it more than surpassed my expectations. Without the generosity of Abbozzo Gallery and David Blackwood, this journey would not have happened. I am so grateful to them. Here is some information about the exhibition. Please email Abbozzo or myself if you have any questions. I will be giving an artist's talk on November 14th to talk about the paintings. I will post the time of the talk when that is decided upon.

Have a wonderful day today and take good care,


Newfoundland Portraits
November 5-22, 2009
Abbozzo Gallery, Oakville, Ontario
Opening Reception November 6, 7-10pm

"Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things a different way." ~Edward de Bono

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Walking With Friends

Walking with Ed along the Stampede Trail, near Healy, Alaska

"Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light."~ Hellen Keller

Painting is usually a pretty solitary affair. You sit or stand, you examine, you apply paint, usually without one word spoken to anyone but yourself. As I have said before, this solitary aspect can be helpful or a hindrance. It allows you to focus, it invites immersion into your task, but it can also produce anxiety too. Therefore getting together with friends is especially enjoyable as it provides an emotional and social counterpoint to all of that time alone. 

This morning I was thinking about how wonderful it is to walk with friends. Whether in the middle of nowhere in Alaska or down the street by your house, it doesn't matter. What matters is who you're with and the special connection that you have with that person. We are all worlds within ourselves, little universes contained within flesh and bone, and it makes sense that we would leave impressions and change the composition of those next to us with advice, opinions and a listening ear. Our interactions are as organic and impermeable as any leaf on the ground, but hopefully not as ephemeral! 

Hiking near Kanuti Hot Springs near the Arctic Circle, Alaskan Interior

I now have seven paintings completed for my exhibition in November. I am so pleased to see my walls fill up again, to see a whole experience grow piece by piece into its own, larger construction. I will put details of the show again at the bottom of this blog entry. I think that we all have places that we have visited that are almost constantly in our mind, even in a small nook of thought, but always there. Newfoundland inhabits a special spot in my heart and I really hope that this affection is transcribed faithfully in this group of paintings. I firmly believe that when you love what you do, when there is joy in the doing of your work, that others pick up on it. It is as though you literally can instill emotion into your work, a chemical reaction as authentic as any oxidation or exothermic event. 

Mel and I at the edge of the escarpment, Mt. Nemo, Ontario

Standing on Gulkana Glacier with Trevor in the Alaskan Range

Friends lift us out of pools of rumination that we sometimes slip into. They can soothe frayed nerves and alter our ways of thinking about things. They are a shelter for us and we can provide the same in return. For as long as we have walked this earth, places where people have gathered to share thoughts and nourish friendships have existed. Whether in a sunlit piazza or under the quiet shelter of a redwood, we need to commune with one another to be fully realized individuals. Friends are our touchstones and the anchors that we need when the gales become too strong. 

Billie and I on the beach in Virginia

The other day I was talking a friend and she made the astute observation that as our network of friends increases through travel, that our world grows smaller, but in a good way. It makes sense. If we live our lives in one room (as an extreme example), the world is larger than life, overwhelming even. But if we get out there and make some tracks, double sets, with people that we meet along the way, our world shrinks so that soon you realize that we are all connected more than we realized. I take comfort in that knowledge. 

Exploring Wesleyville with Rob in Newfoundland

As the spring starts to thaw us over the next few months I want to make a concerted effort to apply continued diligence in the studio but also balance it with a healthy dose of convivial communion with cherished friends and family. I think that work will feed off of play and vice versa. There is much to be said for spending time alone. There we recharge our batteries, distill our thoughts and form our opinions, and simply rest. Friendship takes energy, to give and receive can deplete us, but in a good and necessary way. However once we have spent a certain time alone we must strike out again, with dear friends, on new paths of thought and exploration. 

"Life is partly what we make it, and partly what is made by the friends we choose". 
~Tennessee Williams

Here is some information on my solo exhibition this November. I hope to meet you there!

Newfoundland Portraits
November 5-22nd, 2009
Abbozzo Gallery, Oakville, Ontario
Opening Reception November 6th, 7-10pm

"Jim, Bennett's High Island", oil on canvas, 30"x40", 2009

"Cyril In the Sea Runner", Oil On Panel, 12"x16", 2009

If you are interested in seeing any of these paintings please contact Abbozzo Gallery. They will be happy to answer any of your questions.