No big deal

Being “high-quality” is the best… supposedly. You know the good old “quality over quantity” adage. But man that word “quality” throws me off my game some days. I can sit down at a painting (or drawing) and think “I’m not going to stop until this baby is perfect.” But then, it’s never quite “good enough” to stop.

When I’m disciplined enough to call it quits on a piece more quickly, I find that my skills improve faster. I also enjoy the process more because it’s less drawn out and agonizing. I recently stuck a bright pink post-it next to my easel that reads “FAIL MORE. FAIL FASTER.” In fact the QUANTITY of art created will beat an attempt at QUALITY (or more accurately “perfection”) any day.

My skills are constantly changing and after every piece I think how much better I want my work to be. The best painters never sit back and think “Ah yes, I have arrived. I have won at art!” Which means I need to be able say, “Hey, this is where I’m at, and that’s good enough for now” and then set the brush down.

Expecting paintings to fail doesn’t mean I stop thinking critically- it’s not a sad or pessimistic experience. It means I work my butt off (for a reasonable amount of time) take a few risks, try to learn a lesson or two, and then move on.

One of my favorite artists, Carolyn Anderson wrote this list of “everything you need to know about painting.” I particularly love numbers five through eight:

5. When Your Painting Doesn’t Work – Identify the problem and find a solution.

6. When Your Painting Still Doesn’t Work – Take a break. Drink coffee. Read No. 5.

7. It Still Doesn’t Work – Never beat a dead horse.

8. How To Know If Your Painting Is Finished – You have a run out of time or have nothing else to say.

It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. Painting is incredible- but it’s not everything. It’s just a thing. A thing I like too much to take too seriously. I want to make a painting and move on like it’s no big deal.

 

IMG_20160421_131907

And in the spirit of “failure” here’s a piece that I did in a workshop with Sean Cheetham recently. It took my three days to paint this portrait. It’s not a successful or finished piece- but hey, I learned some things in the process.

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Kicking it up a notch

Things are settling into place now. Unpacking and setting up the new home is essentially done. It’s been 5 moves in the past 3 years, and I must say I’m loving the warm fuzzy feeling of a year-long lease.

The studio space is set up. I’ve unpacked all my supplies and flipped through old paintings (some worse than I remember, some better). I’ve cut back my day job hours to the bare minimum, and I’ve signed up for a weekend workshop with Sean Cheetham at BACAA (Bay Area Classical Artist Atelier) in April. I feel like a total ass-kicking artist ready to take things to the next level.

Mostly.

The rest of my brain swings wildly between “THIS IS TOO MUCH. I CAN’T DO IT. I’ll just stick with the day job, thankyouverymuch.” and “AAHHHHH!!!” (*AAHHHHH roughly translates to: extreme fits of excitement akin to the ravings of a three year old on a sugar high). Both make it very difficult for me to get shit done.

So I’ve chosen a fun experimental painting to work on for the next day or so (pictures to come). And I take little breaks to calm my crazy-self down before getting back to business. Because my crazy self isn’t a great painter, let me tell ya.

In other news, if you’re in the bay area make sure to stop by the 56th Annual Lodi Community Spring Art Show at the Woodbridge Winery April 15-17 where several of my paintings will be on display. Including these two:

 

I love painting. It’s the worst.

Yeah, so I love painting. It’s the best. Sorta.

When I’m painting for a long stretch of time (you’re supposed to frequently take a step back from a painting… but I get lazy, so this may be part of the problem) and I walk away from a painting I am always shocked to see it again. Sometimes it’s a good shock, like: “Oh wow, I’m awesome.” But usually it’s more of a: “Wait… WHAT. I’ve been working on this for x hours and it’s not good at all. I’m a failure!”

And sometimes I switch back and forth between believing I’m awesome and believing I’m  failure quite rapidly. It’s truly a dizzying experience.

However, a few things seem to calm me down:

  1. I remember that I’m still learning.
  2. I remember that I’m still learning. AAANND that my learning time (& budget) has been fairly restricted this past year, so I may be learning slower than I have in years past. And that’s ok. Because generally, I’m still headed up the mountain.
  3. A good cup of coffee.
  4. Posting a painting on social media and having friends and family say nice things about it (even though they aren’t artists, it feels good. And that helps a lot.)

 

Another Workshop

I recently had the great joy of attending a 5-day portrait painting workshop in Encinitas, with the amazing artist, Meadow Gist. I love portraiture, and I have had several classes with Meadow in the past, so I knew it was gonna be good. Some teachers really resonate with me when they explain things (and others sound like they’re speaking a foreign language). Meadow is one of those teachers who speaks a language I understand, and I feel like my growth during this workshop was largely due to her skill as a teacher. Here are two of my more successful pieces from the workshop.

Portrait1(GistWorkshop2014)

Portrait2(GistWorkshop2014)

The Workshop Experience

Well, I did it. I survived a workshop with one of the best contemporary realist painters alive.

I walked into the workshop about 30 minutes early and the seats were already mostly filled and Morgan was already speaking about his process. There was a momentary panic and tightening in my chest as I thought “Oh no. I worked so hard to be early, but I must have gotten the time wrong!” I even fumbled my phone out of my pocket to make sure I hadn’t misread the time on the website… no, I was definitely early. I relaxed for a second before the second wave of panic hit “I should have known to be an hour early! These artists are obviously more dedicated than me…”

After my long drive I walked to the bathroom (though I was tempted to hold it to make sure I didn’t miss another precious second of this early lecture). As I was getting ready to head back in, I stopped and thought, “This is crazy.” I was already making this workshop a bad experience by regretting that I should have been twice as early. I could make this day about how I’m “not good enough” to be at the workshop or I could decide to just enjoy the heck out of the experience and do my best moment by moment. Fortunately I chose the latter.

With my new determination to have fun, I reentered the room and looked for a seat. I took a seat next to Morgan Wesitling’s daughter, an awesome young artists herself, and had a great time chatting with her about art while Morgan did a several hour demo. Then we all broke for lunch. I had forgotten to pack a lunch, so I ate cookies and drank coffee that were available in the studio. I was powered by pure enthusiasm, sugar and caffeine for the rest of the workshop!

The most important lesson I got from Morgan’s morning demo was this: simplify your values. There should never be more than two values in the shadows, and no more than three values in the light. That’s a total of only FIVE VALUES for your whole painting. He also constantly said “ALWAYS make your half-tones lighter than you think.”

So when it was our turn to work from the model, I surely knew exactly what to do. Just kidding.

I drew my basic lay-in fine, no problems there. But when I was ready to start putting in my values I was moving a little too fast and things were getting a muddy and unclear. Morgan passed behind me and I froze. I knew he was watching… “Be careful” he said, “keep your values separated.” Shoot, I knew this, the nervousness was just creeping back in.

I paused and looked around at what stage everyone else was at. I had a feeling Morgan’s daughter would be one of the best in the workshop so I had intentionally set up my easel so I could see how she worked. She was moving quite slowly and deliberately on one small area and hadn’t yet moved out of the shadow. “Ok, slow down and be more thoughtful” I reminded myself as I wiped my muddily painted area and began again.

By the time Morgan came around to work on each of our paintings I had something fairly coherent (though unfinished) for him to work on. “Good” he said, “I wasn’t sure how yours was going to turn out when I saw your painting earlier, but you really came back from that.” His two big corrections to my painting was edge use (he took his finger and swiped right through about 70% of my hard and firm edges) and the division and thickness of lights. He pointed out that the nose was the closest thing to the light and needed a thicker and lighter color to bring it forward. Just like that, he took my painting to a higher level and then moved on to the next student.

I had been nervous about that moment, of having Morgan Weistling work on my painting, for several weeks and that was it?– He didn’t yell at me or proclaim that I was a hopeless case and that I better leave straightaway. Of course, he’s a very nice person and would never do that, but it is amazing the stories I can tell myself when I feel unworthy.

I’m truly grateful that Morgan took the time to teach this workshop. I learned a couple of really important new tools, and had a ridiculously good time.

Here’s my painting at the end of the day:

Morgan Weistling After

Beginner’s Mind

Wow. I am facing some serious “not good enough” stuff this week! It seemed to crop up after getting a spot in the (much coveted) Morgan Weistling painting workshop in Pasadena. At first I was just on the waiting list… which felt safe. But suddenly I get the email: “We’ve got a spot for you!”. And then… panic set in. And this is what it sounds like in my brain:

“Oh no. The website said this workshop isn’t appropriate for beginners… am I a beginner? My drawing skills still need serious work. But… I’ve been working on art for the last 5 years– I must not be a ‘beginner’ anymore!… Puh-leeze, you’re so lazy, you basically did nothing to improve your art in that time.”

And the voice goes on……. and on….. and on………….

The thing is, I want to be an artist because I love to make art. And (call me crazy) my self imposed emotional beatings makes the whole process a hole heck of a lot less fun.

I recently watched this video about that uncomfortable place just outside of comfortable where all the learning happens. But the scared part of my brain says “beginner” like it’s a bad thing. Because I want to be there, in that uncertain place where I am eagerly trying and failing with such gusto that I’m always moving forward.

So essentially, I am still a “beginner.” But always want to be a beginner, even if I become the cat’s pajamas, I want to think like a beginner. Always risking, stepping into the unknown, moving forward. I always want to be the worst artist in a classroom so that I have huge leaps to grow before moving to the next level.

Here’s some Morgan Weistling work to blow your socks off:

from: morganweistling.com

from: morganweisling.com

Masters’ Study Series

Master Study

Here’s the beginning of a series of six small (oil) portrait master’s studies. (Left: John Singer Sargent, Right: Malcom Liepke). Masters’ studies are an amazing way to analyze how an artist works. By attempting to recreate great works you add to your toolbox of problem solving in paint.

(I’m going to go back and finish the Sargeant on the left… there’s going to be a second head in there. So really, this is 7 portraits!)