Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Art Question: Do I Have To Make Art Tonight, Mom?

I would like to make some art tonight,... or is it that I feel I need to make art tonight. I have a deadline tonight for submitting work to a fundraiser, I need to complete a flower-painting-of-the-month in the next five days, I have a backhall that is under construction, a kitchen full of tomatoes that need to be canned, statements for an upcoming show that need to be layed-out and printed, a couple of videos to download, five new pages to create on my new website (I hope to unveil in a month), a new book cover to design and a few new projects that I want to be working on.

I just spent an hour and a half downloading pictures from Mallard Island and uploading some of them to a Facebook page. Some of the pictures are here in this entry.

I stopped by The Grand Hand Gallery today to check in on the current exhibit with my work. I worked 8.5 hours today at my day job and am now creating this blog entry.

The choices are so many and the energy is so low. A beer and a good friend seem to be the most appropriate and wished for activity.

Although I am very tired, over-burdened and wondering how to squeeze in any kind of creative activity, what keeps going through my mind is Claire and the idea that this planet, earth, is almost dead. Not dead to it's self, but dead to people. The environment we have created has become toxic to us and many other living things. Claire believes it is already beyond the point of no return. She doesn't believe the planet will die. She believes that we will die. We are killing ourselves through our greed and fears. Isn't it kinda absurd that some of our earliest writings recognize this weakness in ourselves and yet we haven't learned anything in 10,000 years? We have prophecized our own doom, we have laid out how we would bring it about, and yet, 4,000 generations later, we are no longer on the doorstep but have confidently and arrogantly walked through the doorway and into the end. It saddens me greatly. We are the sons of Cain.

Anyone for some ping-pong?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Art Question: What Are the Benefits of a Weeklong Art Retreat?

I just returned from a weeklong trip to Mallard Island on Rainy Lake in Minnesota. Rainy Lake is on the Minnesota/Canada border near International Falls.

I was a co-caretaker of the island for the week while a group that calls themselves the St. Croix Writers Group held a workshop. The writer's group was very generous in allowing Beth, the other caretaker, and myself to participate in their evening gatherings and made us one of the group.

Why go on a weeklong art retreat? How does one benefit from this?

The people at Mallard Island this last week were a varied lot. Some were novice writers, some published, one soon to be published (very exciting), a magazine article writer, a photographer, a quilter and a few more things I am sure I am not aware of. Three or four of the participants buried themselves in their writing and we were lucky to see them at breakfast or lunch. Others took the opportunity to get away from their writing to play, interact with like minded people and enjoy the beauty of the islands.

No matter what activity the participants pursued or how engaged they were with their art, they all ended the week with such happiness and satisfaction. They all want to come back again next year. I, myself, although I had plenty of time, only drew for two hours, painted for about five hours and wrote for about six. An outsider might have considered my week a waste of time. They might have witnessed other participants spending too much time cooking, or fishing, or reading one of the many thousands of books on the island. Generally, we think of retreats as an opportunity to delve into our own creativity - an opportunity to be productive.

Some people come ready to produce. They have a project that needs their attention and they are ready to rock. They would rather do nothing else, despite the beautiful sunshine and cold blue water calling them. Others want to create, but something is in their way. I have noticed at Mallard, and at other workshops that I have led or participated in, how many people first turn to grief at a retreat. At workshops like this, I often ask people "what is beautiful in your life?" This leads to all kinds of conversations, but very often the grief we have not been able to process arises very quickly. Our lives are too hectic, too full of distractions to fully heal ourselves from our hurts and losses. When we take the time to have nothing on the schedule for a whole week, it is grief that most wants to be dealt with so we can get on to our happy and creative selves. If we are isolated and alone, the rising grief can become depression. When we are surrounded by beauty and people who care, we talk and we get a little goofy and we draw close to others. Like a metamorphosing dragonfly that squeezes the juices out of its body before it is ready for its first flight, I think we need to squeeze a drop or two of unfettered celebration and happiness with others before our grief is over. It is beautiful to see a person open up their spirit, to see sunshine after a long period of rain and clouds, to see a genuine deeply felt smile that hasn't been there for many months, maybe years.

There are many benefits to a weeklong art retreat. There is the opportunity of extended periods of time to immerse ourselves in our creativity and there is the opportunity to remove those barriers that are getting in the way of our creativity. And there is the wonderful opportunity of making new friends and spending time in a beautiful setting.

Many thanks to Beth Waterhouse and the Ernst C. Oberholtzer Foundation for allowing me to partake and add to the life at Mallard Island.

What's beautiful in your life?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Art Question: I'm Dissatisfied. What's Next?

This is the painting I have been working on while not painting chickens. I am trying to work two different techniques together into one canvas and I AM NOT HAPPY with what is happening.

What is Happening?I originally darkened the background behind the tree (Oliver) so that the light leaves would have some contrast and some "pop!" But as I started painting the leaves in front of the darker background, I was becoming dissatisfied with what was happening. I feel like the leaves somehow aren't detailed enough and the new trunks are just horrendous; they have no touch, no sense of "trunkness", no sense of real space about them. They are sitting on the surface of the canvas and laying a big old turd. I stopped painting them in the middle of painting the one on the right.

Perhaps even more important, I don't feel like painting more realistically right now, and I don't think the painting wants me to. The chicken was good. That painting called for some realism. The object itself also had some nice abstract elements. This landscape - bahhhh!

So What Do I Do About It?After a pound of chocolate and a half bottle of chianti...
I move to a different part of the painting. After Oliver had completely frustrated me, I then began painting on the left hand side of the painting. This area is more abstract and I had figured out previously I wanted to darken the background color I was using. So I started painting this area with a purple. I started to like what I was seeing. The darker purple is flattening the space and making the drawing aspects stand out more, which is what I want in this area. I also like the purple color next to the orangey-brown of the lines. But then I ran out of the white paint I need to make my purple - CURSES! Why is this world against me!
So, next time I am in the studio, after I bike to the art store to get some white, I will continue working on the purple background. Once the rest of the painting is working, it will tell me the next step with Oliver.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Art Question: How Do I Care for Brushes When Painting Outdoors?

Daine W. recently asked me how to care for brushes when painting oil paints outdoors? Do you have to bring along a portable brush washer, or is there another way to deal with this?

There are a few things to do to care for brushes when painting outdoors.

First, always make sure that your brushes are not standing on their heads whenever you are in transit or when you are painting. That means NOT LEAVING YOUR BRUSHES IN YOUR JAR OF TURPS! Other than letting paint dry on your brush, this is the quickest way of ruining your brushes. If you don't have room on your easel for laying down your brushes, then you can lay them on the ground or even stick them handle first in the ground.

Second, if it is sunny outside your paint will dry faster, even on your brushes. If you have a brush with paint on it and have decided to use a different brush for awhile, rinse the paint-filled brush in your turps before you set it aside. Paint can get a quick "skin" on it in the sun. This can cause problems when you go to use it again.

Thirdly, I never fully clean my brushes while in the field. There is enough to carry to worry about bringing enough turps and other items to clean in the field. When I am done painting, I will make sure I have rinsed my brushes as best I can with the turps I have on hand. I will wipe them with a rag. If I am just a short way from home (a half-hour or so), I will put the rinsed and wiped brushes in my paint box and take them home to clean them.

If it will take longer to get home, I will clean and rinse like above and then dip the brushes one more time in the turps so they are fully wet. I will then stick them in a plastic baggie with a zip top. I will close the zip top and try to get as much air as possible out of the baggie. If my brushes are wet with turps and there is no air, any paint on them can't dry out.