I was so busy yesterday that I didn’t get to the studio again. I had already skipped a couple of days as there were just so many errands piling up, so many people to call back, and to make matters worse I had also run out of dog food. I noticed that my missed days were indeed piling up pretty much at the same rate as the To Dos on my list. Of course you never actually get ahead. I know I know this.
But in all this manoeuvring, all this struggling to free up time to bring art making into my day I noticed something. When you don’t make art for a while it almost gets easier to not do it at all. Missed days turn into weeks and then you realize you’ve kind of lost your groove on all of it anyway and well, you stop. I think this happens to a lot of artists. It happens to me.
Sometimes, this can be a good thing. Sometimes it is ok to have a break in your art making. It certainly gives you time to do more things, to find and see more things that inspire you.
But so much of the time, at least for me, I see that I just exchange the time I would be making art for time spent doing rather mundane things. I can’t even remember what time I traded yesterday for my studio time. I think I finally returned running shoes that were too small. I spent the better part of an hour trying to figure out how to upgrade my iPhone’s operating system and I think I also squeezed in getting Maizy her dog food on the way home.
These kinds of things always take longer than you think they will and tend to eat up your day.
I have realized there is just one thing that can put an end to this kind of distraction. There is only one thing that seems to work.
And it is this:
You just have to stop and do a little tiny bit of art. For yourself. It can be just 20 minutes but for some reason once you do, it has a way of reordering your priorities. You remember that this art thing is not a To Do, like getting kibble, but rather a break from those tasks. In fact it is not a task. It is the opposite of task.
It is an awakening where you plunge into the cool, clear waters of yourself. Putting marks down with paint or pencil or however you make art simply feeds your soul. It replenishes and reminds us we have choices – infinite choices – about what we want to make. Certainly in terms of art but also, in no small way, about our life too. Art making stokes the fire within all of us. It shifts our thinking into possibilities; curiosity of what could be ahead and begins to instill hope, again, within us.
Art making is simply an act of Faith. And when we do it, even in the smallest increments of time, we receive restoration. Restoration of who we are.
Outside of the endless to do lists and the busyness of our lives, Art making is part of the deeper answer that we often are too busy to ask.
It is the Yes.
Our art is just waiting, ever so patiently, for our return. We just must begin, in any small way we can. Again.
Hey here is a little information on an angle I use to tell if my art is finished or not. Works every time. Maybe it could work for you too.
If you have comments or questions let me know…
There are some great reasons to teach especially if you are creative. Here are the top 3 reasons why you might give teaching a try.
It helps you.
That’s right. After every workshop I teach I can always look forward to coming back to the studio and being super clear about what I am doing. Spending time articulating to students over and over again how to improve their art, rubs off on you. When you go back to your own art, things just seem easier. By saying what needs to be done so much, when it comes time for you to finally make your art it just flows.
It helps them.
It always is a great day when you hear from someone who, months after taking a class of yours, has become fired up again about their art. Sometimes I have even had people switch their careers once they find out that art making is an option for them. I have seriously converted 3 lawyers and I am now working on my fourth! Inspiring people is a totally worthwhile thing to try to do. It simply feels great. For you and them.
You are ready.
If you were like me who thought I had to be so advanced, so totally together to teach, then listen carefully. You don’t. All you need to be is just a little further down the road than the people you are helping. There are tons of artists that are further along than you but I bet there are way more behind you. And those are the people who would love to be shown some easier ways around things that you have already overcome. Sometimes we forget just how far we have come. You are eligible.
I find that teaching is the perfect complement to working in a studio alone. Teaching a group is the opposite of working quietly alone and when you put those two together in your life it just works beautifully…
So give it a try. Start small. Take one thing, one part of art making you really love and offer a class. Think of one thing you now know that made all the difference in the world to you…this could be the thing you could teach others.
You might be surprised how gratifying it is to teach. It certainly has been for me.
What is that one thing that you recently learned that has really helped you? Could you teach this?
After working on a painting for about 3 hours, I find that the marks don’t come as easily, and it becomes more and more difficult to know where to go next. Fortunately I’ve discovered a little trick for getting around this issue. Watch the video to learn what it is.
How do you deal with creative roadblock?
One of the hardest things in my life I have ever done was become an artist. Like so many people, I had serious doubts. I saw my life hadn’t been one of any particular struggle. I believed great art had to come out of monumental struggle. A place of deep anguish.
Nothing particularly traumatic ever occurred in my life. Finally, I just decided that even though my life wasn’t filled with huge amounts of pain, there was plenty- it was filled with that I wanted to express. I chose painting and actually writing to do this. I am still figuring it out.
Over time I was able to slowly build up the self-confidence to put my art out in the world. And of course your art is actually you. This is why it is so scary.
Our biggest fear is that we will be criticized. Someone we don’t know or even worse, someone we actually care about, will tell us what we are making is not adequate. It doesn’t measure up and as a result of our efforts we somehow are less.
When this occurs it can rupture the relatively thin filament of self-confidence we as artists have so slowly and tenderly built up within ourselves.
Usually those people who put you down are not artists and therefore their words, at least for me, are not so much of a concern. Those who have even a tiny inkling how fraught the creative process is with insecurity and self-doubt rarely feel the need to make the situation worse for someone.
But when it happens, and it will, don’t let it. Don’t give it too much attention. Somewhere I heard the saying “Don’t let it rent space in your brain” which I love.
Hear it, consider it, look for a morsel of learning if there, and then step away.
Let it go and move only towards the people and things that bring you alive.
And never, never look back.
Being objective in how you view your art is crucial… Here’s a great, simple tool I use that helps me get there.
Art awakens us. It can be the meeting place where things come together that are exquisitely different from one another. I remember seeing Christo and Jean Claude’s Running Fence as a boy; that thin calligraphic line of white fabric that ran across the windswept, winter landscape of West Marin. It was mesmerizing. Partly so because of the thinness, the paleness of the fence, was in juxtaposition to the openness, the largeness of that wild place.
There always seems to be at least two things in juxtaposition in a work of art. When they are seen, they awaken us… It might be a dull color next to a bright one, a massive mark next to a tiny one or even a small bronze sculpture discovered in an expansive golden field. Opposites experienced together make us feel a little more alive.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about the opposite of control. Spontaneity. Although being in control or being spontaneous originates more in the artist’s psyche, they do end up dramatically having an effect upon the art. When an artist demonstrates relinquishing control, especially when there is also evidence in the art already to the contrary, it can be mesmerizing. We as the viewer feel particularly moved.
I think this is because in some indirect way we can all relate. Offering up both sides of ourselves –the controlling part as well as an attempt at losing this control, being spontaneous, flying by the seat of our pants, is particularly generous, risky on the part of the artist.
She/he is really showing up. And we as the viewer can sense it.
When I experience this effort in a piece of art I instantly feel connected with that artist just a little bit more. They are attempting to show everything, warts and all. They are all in. And in a small way it makes me also.
The juxtaposition of two ways of being, controlling and spontaneous are simply delicious to behold together.
It awakens us.
For me there is this particular kind of poetry in this juxtaposition… that amongst everything we try to control, everything we hold so close in our art and our life that sometimes a kind of beauty can be found by doing just the opposite.
And that is to simply just let things go.
How does control / spontaneity show up in you?
We all procrastinate.
Some days it feels harder to find the time to make your art.
I know this is the case for me.
Here is a little way I have found to overcome this problem.
It just might help you too.
Let me know if this rings true – or not true at all – for your practice.
In gratitude, Nicholas
There is this really cool shop in Portland that I accidentally wandered into last week. At first blush it just looks like a metal junk shop but peering in the window as I went past, I realized that this just wasn’t any old junk shop. This shop was only selling old metal letters, the kind that you always see on top of buildings. Think of the letters that make up the words Wells Fargo Bank, Ace Cleaning, Popeye’s, or Safeway, etc. When buildings get torn down so do these old signs. Now imagine of all those individual letters all separated, gathered from various junkyards and randomly arranged upon a wall.
This is what this store looked like. The first time I passed it was closed and but it was so intriguing I just had to go back a second time. And this time it was open. Turns out the owner – a heavy set, super friendly guy in a faded orange baseball cap – used to just sell anything old and interesting. Originally he had only 5 letters. He hung them on the wall. They didn’t get much attention till one day a customer connected him with a guy in New Mexico who had a gazillion of these old sign letters. He drove down there and returned with a pick up truck full of them.
After hanging about a hundred on the wall and moving a lot of the other metal junk stuff to he back of the shop, people could clearly see this alphabet wall. The owner does not consider himself an artist, nor is he particularly interested in typography. He just hung them all up randomly on the wall. What happened next surprised him.
People would come in, stand in front of the wall and visually try to make sense of all these fragments of letters. People would read into them what they wanted. Accidentally he spelled “PIG” and he ended up selling about 5 sets of these. People would find their initials. The wall was just kind of suggesting all kinds of associations for anyone who took the time to look. Everyone would ask him what he meant to say, but for him it was just absolutely random. He just hung them up without any thought at all.
Despite this, people would still just find their own meaning in what they saw or would re-arrange them into their own words. And then much to his surprise people would buy them. He sells about 50 letters a week.
This all kind of reminded me about how when we make our own art we often wonder whether people will in fact get or understand the meaning we intend. I know this is true for me. We put so much thought into what we make that it seems important everyone, or at least most everyone, gets it. But now I am not so sure this is so important anymore.
I know it matters to me to stay focused on the thinking behind my art, especially as I am making it. But maybe it doesn’t matter that much, if after it leaves my studio, people understand it in the particular way I meant. If they connect with it in any way seems to be a far more likely outcome.
When I let go – even just a little – about worrying whether the world will understand exactly what I am making, I do feel slightly concerned. This feeling, however, is soon followed by a sense of liberation. It feels similar to when, finally, in your studio you get to that point where you can actually say to yourself that you really don’t really care what anyone thinks about what you are making right now. I am doing this for me because it just feels right. When this occurs, suddenly your art making becomes recharged, the possibilities are once again infinite, and your once smallish studio suddenly becomes significantly bigger.
In the end maybe the value you receive from your Art is given to you when you make it. Maybe as the artists, we don’t have to worry so much about how everyone else will receive theirs. We are all so totally different from one another. People will find meaning and value in your work in their own particular way. To me, this feels perfectly ok.
Right before I left the shop I couldn’t resist asking him if there was one word above all others that people would create and then buy from his wall. He said actually there were two. “Eat” and “Love.”
Maybe we are not so different from one another after all.
The store is called St. Salvage located at 3576 SE Division St Portland, OR 97202. There is no website.
In gratitude, Nicholas
Happy New Year everyone! I wanted to start 2017 off by talking a little bit about how I sign my work.
Do you sign your work, and if so, how?