A: In my younger days boredom was a strong motivator. I left the active duty Navy out of boredom. I couldn’t bear not being intellectually challenged (most of my jobs consisted of paper-pushing), not using my flying skills, and not developing my artistic talent. In what must be a first, by spending a lot of time and money training me for jobs I hated, the Navy turned me into a hard-working, devoted, and disciplined artist! Once I left the Navy there was no plan B. It was “full speed ahead” to become an accomplished artist.
Comments are welcome!
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A: No, I never sit while working. I enjoy the physicality of art-making and prefer to stand at my easel so I can back up to see how a painting looks from a distance. I like being on my feet all day and getting some exercise.
In order to accomplish anything, artists need to be disciplined. I work five days a week, taking Wednesdays and Sundays off, and spend seven hours or more in the studio. Daylight is necessary so I work more hours in summer, fewer in winter. I deliberately don’t have a clock on the wall – art-making is independent of timetables – but I tend to work in roughly two-hour blocks before taking a break.
Studio hours are sacrosanct and exclusively for creative work. I keep my computer and mobile devices out of the studio. Art business activities – answering email, keeping up with social media, sending jpegs, writing blog posts, doing interviews, etc. – are mostly accomplished at home in the evenings and on days off.
Comments are welcome!
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* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules
Rule 1: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.
Rule 2: General duties of a student: pull everything out of your teacher. Pull everything out of your fellow students.
Rule 3: General duties of a teacher: Pull everything out of your students.
Rule 4: Consider everything an experiment.
Rule 5: Be self-disciplined. This means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.
Rule 6: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail. There’s only make.
Rule 7: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.
Rule 8: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.
Rule 9: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.
Rule 10: “We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.” John Cage
Helpful Hints: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything – it might come in handy later.
There should be new rules next week.
Quoted in The Art Life: On Creativity and Career by Stuart Horodner
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A: That is for each person to decide, but as someone who devotes every waking moment to my work and to becoming a better artist, I cannot imagine my life without art.
I will tell you a little about what art has done for me. In my younger days boredom was a strong motivator. I left the active duty Navy out of boredom. I couldn’t bear not being intellectually challenged (most of my jobs consisted of paper-pushing), not using my flying skills (at 27 I was a licensed commercial pilot and Boeing-727 flight engineer), and not developing my artistic talents. In what surely must be a first, the Navy turned me into a hard-working and disciplined artist. And once I left the Navy there was no plan B. There was no time to waste. It was “full speed ahead.”
Art is a calling. You do not need to be told this if you are among those who are called. It’s all about “the work,” that all-consuming focus of an artist’s life. If a particular activity doesn’t seem likely to make me a better artist, I tend to avoid it. I work hard to nourish and protect my gifts. As artists we invent our own tasks, learn whatever we need in order to progress, and complete projects in our own time. It is life lived at its freest.
My art-making has led me to fascinating places: Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, France, England, Italy, Bali, Java, Sri Lanka, and more; and to in-depth studies of intriguing subjects: drawing, color, composition, art and art history, the art business, film and film history, photography, mythology, literature, music, jazz and jazz history, and archaeology, particularly that of ancient Mesoamerica (Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Aztec, Maya, etc.). And this rich mixture continually grows! For anyone wanting to spend their time on earth learning and meeting new challenges, there is no better life!
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Q: I just got home from my first painting experience… three hours and I am exhausted! Yet you, Barbara, build up as many as 30 layers of pastel, concentrate on such intricate detail, and work on a single painting for months. How do you do it?
A: The short answer is that I absolutely love making art in my studio and on the best days I barely even notice time going by!
Admittedly, it’s a hard road. Pursuing life as an artist takes a very special and rare sort of person. Talent and having innate gifts are a given, merely the starting point. We must possess a whole cluster of characteristics and be unwavering in displaying them. We are passionate, hard-working, smart, devoted, sensitive, self-starting, creative, hard-headed, resilient, curious, persistent, disciplined, stubborn, inner-directed, tireless, strong, and on and on. Into the mix add these facts. We need to be good business people. Even if we are, we are unlikely to make much money. We are not respected as a profession. People often misunderstand us: at best they ignore us, at worst they insult our work and us, saying we are lazy, crazy, and more.
The odds are stacked against any one individual having the necessary skills and stamina to withstand it all. So many artists give up, deciding it’s too tough and just not worth it, and who can blame them? This is why I believe artists who persevere over a lifetime are true heroes. It’s why I do all I can to help my peers. Ours is an extremely difficult life – it’s impossible to overstate this – and each of us finds our own intrinsic rewards in the work itself. Otherwise there is no reason to stick with it. Art is a calling and for those of us who are called, the work is paramount. We build our lives around the work until all else becomes secondary and falls away. We are in this for the duration.
In my younger days everything I tried in the way of a career eventually became boring. Now with nearly thirty years behind me as a working artist, I can still say, “I am never bored in the studio!” It’s difficult to put into words why this is true, but I know that I would not want to spend my time on this earth doing anything else. How very fortunate that I do not have to do so!
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Q: To be a professional visual artist is to have two full-time jobs because an artist must continually balance the creative and the business sides of things. How do you manage to be so productive?
A: With social media and other new ways of doing business, managing it all is getting more difficult every day. Bear in mind that I say this as someone who does not have the extra time commitment of a day job, nor do I have children or other family members to care for. I have no idea how other visual artists, who may have these responsibilities and more, keep up with all the tasks that need to be done. In The Artist’s Guide: How to Make A Living Doing What You Love, Jackie Battenfield lists a few of them (believe me, there are others):
…being an artist isn’t just about making art. You have many other responsibilities – managing a studio, looking for opportunities, identifying an audience for your work, caring for and protecting what you have created, and securing money, time, and space – in addition to whatever is happening in your personal life.
To begin with I try to maintain regular studio hours. I generally work on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and once I’m at the studio I stay there for a minimum of 7 hours. To paint I need daylight so in the spring and summer my work day tends to be longer. My pastel-on-sandpaper paintings are extremely labor-intensive. I need to put in sufficient hours in order to accomplish anything. When I was younger I used to work in my studio 6 days a week, 9 hours or more a day. I have more commitments now, and can no longer work 60+ hours a week, but I still try to stick to a schedule. And once I’m at the studio I concentrate on doing the creative work, period.
I am productive when I keep the business and creative sides physically separate., ie., no computers, iPads, etc. are allowed into the studio. Recently I tried an experiment. I brought my iPad to the studio, thinking, “Surely I am disciplined enough to use it only during my lunch break.” But no, I wasted so much time checking email, responding to messages on Facebook, etc., when I should have been focusing on solving problems with the painting that was on my easel. I learned a good lesson that day and won’t bring my iPad to the studio again.
As has long been my practice, I concentrate on business tasks when I get home in the evening and on my, so called, days off. After a day spent working in the studio, I generally spend a minimum of two to three hours more to answer email, apply for exhibitions, work on my blog, email images to people who need them, etc. At present I have part-time help with social media – the talented Barbra Drizin, of Start from Scratch Social Media – although my time commitment there is growing, too, as more details need my attention.
No one ever said it would be easy being a professional artist, but then again, I would not choose to spend my days any other way. As I often say, “Being an artist is a calling. Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT a life for wimps… or slackers.”
Comments are welcome!
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