Today I had intended to write about inspiration – those artists whose work inspires, educates and inflames me. But, as is so often the case, the best laid plans can go astray. As I wandered the aisles of the art store this morning intent on spending my gift certificate (spoils from placing third in this year’s Irving National Wildlife Art Show) I took in all the tools of the trade, those amazing but silent raw materials that allow artists to do what they do – create something out of nothing.
Rows and rows of paint tubes in every color of the rainbow. Stacks upon stacks of paper in every possible texture, size and shade. Displays of brushes poke their heads up vying for attention, all begging to be touched. Pastels, charcoal, pens, ink, canvas. All of it sitting mute on the shelf, waiting for someone to dig into them and make something. I want to buy ALL of it.
So what is essential to me in my studio? Understand, my current studio is not ideal. My husband and I share a studio space, and both of us have a LOT of stuff, so it’s a little cramped. It’s kind of dusty (despite my best efforts), the light is nice but uneven, and … did I mention it was cramped? But I have my half of the room and he has him, and we’ve each made the space ours and come here to do serious work.
The whole studio is dominated by a full wall of bookshelves. All the shelves are overfull, so there are also books stacked sideways on top and lined up on the sides, sometimes two and three rows deep. All our friends are here: Rembrandt, Sargent, Caravaggio, Audobon, Hogarth, Parrish, Wyeth, Rousseau, and Magritte. There are shelves devoted to the wizards of Disney traditional (and CG) animation, Byzantine iconography, art nouveau, art instruction, art theory, art history, figure drawing and animal anatomy. There are favorite books whose pages are smudged with paint or dusty with charcoal, and the books wear those marks like a badge of honor. Inspiration lives on those shelves, and I cannot count the number of times that being able to reach over and grab a book has saved the day… and the piece.
My drawing/ painting desk is an old architectural drafting table. The thing is massive, creaky and ancient. It tilts back and forth and slides up and down, and the surface is a much written upon self-healing matt. I’ve got all kinds of stuff scribbled on here, quotes from artists or authors, bits of songs or phrases that tickle my ear, admonitions and motivation. Since the matt is rubber, the words eventually fade away, and I can either rewrite them or add something new, providing a continuously changing inspiration board. At the moment, “The Wind of Heaven” is tacked to the board with snap clamps (another essential for me), along with a plastic glove from oil painting and a picture of my little sister.
Directly above my desk is more inspiration. The cork bulletin board is almost totally covered in tear sheets, photos, show dates, reminders, and a few odds and ends that I rather like. It’s a huge mess, but whenever I try to clean it off all the empty space makes me uneasy, so back go the photos. Some of these are future paintings, some of them are cool photos, and some of them are photos that would make wonderful paintings (or etchings), if only I could figure out how to do them. They live above my desk as a kind of permanent “tickle board”, and every once in awhile, I can pull a photo off and work a painting from it.
My oils live in a fishing tackle box, a holdover from college days. Watercolors and gouache have their own boxes, since they don’t play together very well, and my desk drawers hold a plethora of pens, inks, framing supplies, office stuff, oil pastels (I now have an entire drawer dedicated to my Sennelier oil pastels, and I am psyched!), painting mediums, and rags. All of my brushes live on my desk, loosely sorted by size and medium. My watercolor brushes are kept together in one of my water jars- an antique mason jar that has only gotten prettier with age, paint and use. I have two good lights and a comfy chair. The big Epson and my filing cabinets full of carefully sorted reference photos live on the other side of the room.
The only other thing that is absolutely integral to my studio is the dread machine I am typing on. Not only for the computer-y goodness, but because it holds quite a bit of my music collection, and it has a neat “shuffle” button. I can’t work in silence. (My husband, by contrast, works ONLY in silence, which explains why the two of us can’t work at the same time.) I listen to a wide variety of music when I’m working (or any time, really), anything from classical to Dixieland Jazz to Eminem. Right now I’m rocking out to Clare Fader and Janis Joplin, and in awhile I’ll pick up a brush and turn on Florence and the Machine and Muse. (Of course now it just shuffled to Mozart’s Requiem. Of course.)
Today’s art store haul included a bunch of yummy oil paints (and I even brought a list to prevent impulse buys!) and two wonderful new long handled brushes, both with excellent snap and a really nice feel in the hand. I can’t wait to dig into my palette later and try them out. I’ve got a few paintings to finish (and they’re so close to being done!) and it will be a great way to get to know these brushes and for them to get to know me. I think we’re going to be friends.
“Only the Lonely” done- 12 minutes before the”official” deadline. It has gone off into the wide netherworld of cyberspace in little electronic swirls and whispers, and will hopefully coalesce in the designated email inbox as a fully realized, fully articulated sweeping ode to a magnificent equine in shades of burnished grey, evocative of isolation, fragmented beauty, windswept barren plains, the essential duality of light and dark, day and night, good and evil. Or maybe it will just look like a picture of a horse.
My bestest best friend in the whole wide world complemented me on my names today. “You always have the most clever, intelligent names…” which is high praise, coming from her. And it is true, I spend a great deal of time thinking about what I’m going to call a picture. If I can’t come up with the perfect name for it – before a single line has been drawn – it doesn’t happen. There have been a few exceptions to this rule, and almost all of them are half finished train wrecks of ink and paint. They lack that last little bit, the “je ne sais quoi” if you will, and I have to think it’s because of the name.
A name gives purpose, direction, attitude. My degree is in fine art, but my field of study for 4 years was Illustration, or “the visual representation of a thought, emotion, idea” etc. The naming of a piece, therefore, captures the mindset I want to be in while working on it, dreaming about it, scribbling it out. Hopefully, sometimes some of that makes its way into the actual art as well, but that might just be wishful thinking. And it’s fun, too. “Office Romance” presents not only the real life love affair of husband and wife cattle ranchers, but also presents what for many of us would be an ideal working environment – on the back of a horse with your sweetheart, breathing in fresh air and sunshine, roaming across the open country. “Red” is not only done almost entirely in a red color palette, but also reflects the common barn name of many chestnut racehorses, including Man o’ War and Secretariat. “Lope” shows a cantering, or “loping” horse, but was done as a fundraiser for LOPE (Lone Star Outreach to Place Ex Racehorses @ www.lopetx.org). And I must mention here that “Only the Lonely” was actually suggested as a name for another piece by my mother, but I immediately grafted it onto the then unformed drawing which was simply hanging out there waiting for the perfect name. So, thanks Mom!
Okay, okay. I admit it. I’ve been enjoying my two weeks off. Amid economic uncertainty and under much personal angst, I took my leave from my employer of four years. The time was right, ripe… perhaps overripe, with a distinct air of moldy about it. Meh. Had a couple of interviews, put out a resume or two, and kind of lazed around the house for the past two weeks.
Good news on a few fronts. I have kept my record of being offered every job I’ve applied for (two at the moment) AND it’s given me a chance to get back into the studio and actually do some art. Big shows are coming up- AAEA in particular- and that is hot on the heels of Muse I being accepted to the HITS Art on the Hudson extravaganza up in New York. It’s a big deal. The painting will be gallery hopping for a few months and then will be sold (hopefully) the same weekend as the new million dollar Grand Prix. Lots of exposure, lots of horse people, and hopefully lots of fun… if I get to go, and I hope to.
Back to the art. People who know me know that my studio is full of half finished pieces, and my head is full of even more that haven’t made it on to paper or canvas yet. I work on something, put it away, bring it back out, work on it some more, and then decide if it’s worth continuing or if it literally and figuratively belongs on the scrap pile. Some paintings don’t work out. They just don’t. And some of them come together brilliantly after a few months or even years. And don’t ask me how or why- I have no idea. One day I dig the thing out, look at it and think, “Ah! It wants…. purple! right there.” And, voila! done painting.
One of the nice things about commissions is that they usually have a set deadline- they HAVE to get done by X day or I don’t get paid and lose a customer. Same thing with shows. I tend to work to a show deadline, sometimes with several pieces at once, all vying for a spot on the entry form. Rarely these days do I do a piece just for fun. But that’s what I’ve been doing lately. No real pressure, no master plans, just ideas I’ve been kicking around in my head and want to get on paper. I’m trying to simplify- my art, my life, my everything. AE London (an artist who I admire greatly) talks about, “… the magic of deliberate mark making… the line itself can speak volumes.” And she’s right. Line, shape, form. The hardest thing in the world is to do a piece of art simply. The urge to overwork is overpowering. I have been accused of being “seduced by media” in the past, and so I’ve been very careful what I’ve been putting on the paper lately. Yesterday it was conte crayon. The day before, conte, charcoal and coffee. The day before that? Colored pencil. These may not be show pieces, and they may never be shown publicly or put in a portfolio or turned into prints. But they have been fun, and I’ve enjoyed the process of creating art, maybe more than I have in years.
Well, my self imposed three month hiatus has officially come to an end… with the flourish of a paintbrush. Despite (or perhaps IN spite of) staying out of the studio for the past few months, I’ve managed to land three new portraiture clients, sell some giclees, get accepted to a few shows (including the AAEA Fall Open Exhibition- first acceptance- YEAH!!!) and distribute the remainder of my latest set of postcards- a fact I discovered when I finished compiling my latest mailing list, hit the print button and then happily trotted off to the box where the postcards live… only to discover there were only a handul left. So… in desperation I went through my portfolio looking for a new postcard piece, but nothing really jumped out at me… can you guess where this is going????