Blog Archives

Q: Walk us through your “typical day”?

Barbara at work on “Schemer,” Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 26” x 20”

Barbara at work on “Schemer,” Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 26” x 20”

A:  I’ll describe a typical day at the studio.  When I first arrive in the morning, I read for 30 minutes. Reading focuses and quiets my mind and gets me ready to begin the day’s work.  While I read, I look at the pastel painting that’s on my easel to see where to begin.  Then I close the book, turn on some music, plug in the Halogen lamps I use while working, apply a barrier cream to my hands, put on a surgical mask (to avoid breathing pastel dust), pick up a pastel, and start.   

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 the pastel painting looks from a distance.  I like being on my feet all day and getting some exercise.  I work for a couple of hours, break for lunch, and then work the rest of the afternoon.

I believe artists need to be disciplined.  I work five days a week, taking Wednesdays and Sundays off, and spend seven hours or more per day in the studio.  Daylight is essential so I work more hours in summer, fewer in winter.  I like to think of art-making as independent of time tables, but I tend to work in roughly two-hour blocks before taking a break.  I typically work until 5:00 or so.

Studio hours are sacrosanct and exclusively for creative work.  I do not have WiFi at my studio and prefer to keep my computer and mobile devices elsewhere (they devour time).  Art business activities – answering email, keeping up with social media, sending jpegs, writing blog posts, doing interviews, etc. – are accomplished at home in the mornings, in the evenings, and on days off from the studio.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 425

Gladstone, NJ

Gladstone, NJ

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

And yet books were faithful companions for Vincent, an important source of sustenance during his times of melancholy:  he periodically re-read his favourites, finding new meaning in the text and illustrations each time.  Van Gogh read in at least two ways: first “breathlessly,’ and then ‘by careful exploration.’  But we could add a third and a fourth way:  thirdly as an artist, and fourthly from the perspective of the writer he perhaps knew himself to be.  To Vincent, reading books meant above all to ‘seek in them the artist who made them,’ as he wrote to his sister Willemien.  He sought to open an internal dialogue with other writers as artists, and meditated on their words, stopping to consider and reconsider a phrase to make it resonate within him  He did this in more than one language – internalizing words, ruminating, bending them to his will, and finally assigning them to a fate of his choosing, over the years.  Remarkably several Prefaces by French Naturalist novelists such as Zola, De Goncourts or Maupassant (today considered genuine manifestos) were among the pages that truly challenged and engaged his mind.  In them he found the freedom that he was seeking in painting – the ‘confirmation’ of his own ideas, inspiration and encouragement.  The work of the illustrators of his favorite books and magazines equally attracted him and had a lingering effect on him, on which he paused to reflect repeatedly, extracting inspiration indirectly.              
Mariella Guzzoni in Vincent’s Books:  Van Gogh and the Writers Who Inspired Him 

Comments are welcome!

Q: Is the relationship to your studio about a HABIT you created for working – the sequence of reading, looking, then working? (Question from Nancy Nikkal)

Barbara’s studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  Yes, I suppose you could say that reading, looking, and then working are habits that get me started on what I will be doing for the day.  If I may quote from my blog:  

https://barbararachkoscoloreddust.com/2012/09/15/q-you-seem-very-disciplined-do-you-ever-have-a-day-when-you-just-cant-get-excited-about-working/

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 394

White Sands, NM

White Sands, NM

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

Dear Person Reading This,  

A writer can fit a whole world inside a book.  Really.  You can go there.  You can learn things while you’re away.  You can bring them back to the world you normally live in.

You can look out of another person’s eyes, think their thoughts, care about what they care about.  

You can fly.  You can travel to the stars.  You can be a monster or a wizard or a god.  You can be a girl.  You can be a boy.  Books give you worlds of infinite possibility.  All you have to do is be interested enough to read that first page…

Somewhere, there is a book written just for you.  It will fit your mind like a glove fits your hand.  And it’s waiting.

Go and look for it. 

Neil Gaiman

A Velocity of Being:  Letters to a Young Reader edited by Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 392

A place to read, Alexandria, VA

A place to read, Alexandria, VA

*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

Dear Person,

Why read?

Because you only have one life but reading gives you many lives.  Because you only have one personality but when you read a book you can be inside another mind and heart.  Because experiencing elegance of language is one of the greatest pleasures of consciousness.  Reading lets you be quiet in a chaotic world and commune with amazing people who may happen to be dead now, so not too easy to connect with otherwise.  Reading startles you.  Reading upsets you.  Reading takes apart your world and expectations and rearranges them.  Imagine the last few years without the books you have loved – it would be a much flatter, sadder experience of living.  We read as a form of faith.

Naomi Wolf

A Velocity of Being:  Letters to a Young Reader edited by Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick

Comments are welcome!

Q: When did your love of indigenous artifacts begin? Where have you traveled to collect these focal points of your works and what have those experiences taught you?

Mexico City

Mexico City

A:  As a Christmas present in 1991 my future sister-in-law sent me two brightly painted wooden animal figures from Oaxaca, Mexico. One was a blue polka-dotted winged horse.  The other was a red, white, and black bear-like figure. 

I was enthralled with this gift and the timing was fortuitous because I had been searching for new subject matter to paint. I started asking artist-friends about Oaxaca and learned that it was an important art hub.  Two well-known Mexican painters, Rufino Tamayo and Francisco Toledo, had gotten their start there, as had master photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo.  There was a “Oaxacan School of Painting” (‘school’ meaning a style) and Alvarez Bravo had established a photography school there (the building/institution kind). I began reading everything I could find.  At the time I had only been to Mexico very briefly, in 1975.  

The following autumn, Bryan and I planned a two-week trip to visit Mexico. We timed it to see Day of the Dead celebrations in Oaxaca.  (During my research I had become fascinated with this festival).  We spent one week in Oaxaca followed by one week in Mexico City.  My interest in collecting Mexican folk art was off and running!

Along with busloads of other tourists, we visited several cemeteries in small Oaxacan towns for the “Day of the Dead.” The indigenous people tending their ancestors’ graves were so dignified and so gracious, even with so many mostly-American tourists tromping around on a sacred night, that I couldn’t help being taken with these beautiful people and their beliefs. 

From Oaxaca we traveled to Mexico City, where again I was entranced, but this time by the rich and ancient history.  We visited the National Museum of Anthropology, where I was introduced to the fascinating story of ancient Mesoamerican civilizations; the ancient city of Teotihuacan, which the Aztecs discovered as an abandoned city and then occupied as their own; and the Templo Mayor, the historic center of the Aztec empire, infamous as a place of human sacrifice.  I was astounded!  Why had I never learned in school about Mexico, this highly developed cradle of Western civilization in our own hemisphere, when so much time had been devoted to the cultures of Egypt, Greece, and elsewhere? When I returned home to Virginia I began reading everything I could find about ancient Mexican civilizations, including the Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Aztec, and Maya. The first trip to Mexico opened up a whole new world and was to profoundly influence my future work. I would return there many more times, most recently to study Olmec art and archeology. In subsequent years I have traveled to Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia and other countries in search of inspiration and subject matter to depict in my work.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What was the first folk art figure you brought back from Mexico?

Mask from Oaxaca

Mask from Oaxaca

A:  In Oaxaca I bought a large carved wooden dragon mask with a Conquistador’s face carved and painted on its back.  My intent was to depict the dragon in a subsequent “Domestic Threats” painting (the series I was working on at the time).  The dragon still hangs in my living room in Alexandria, VA.

This first trip in 1992 was a revelation and marked the start of my on-going love of Mexico:  its people, landscapes, ancient cultures, archaeology, history, art, cuisine, etc. There would be many subsequent trips to Mexico to learn as much as I can about this endlessly interesting cradle of civilization.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 304

"Palaver,"soft pastel on sandpaper, 26" x 20"

“Palaver,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26″ x 20″

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

… my job as a fiction writer is to write fiction, not to review it.  Art isn’t explanation.  Art is what an artist does, not what an artist explains.  (Or so it seems to me,  which is why I have  a problem with the kind of modern museum art that involves reading what the artist says about a work in order to find out why one should look at it or “how to experience” it).     

Ursula K. Le Guin in No Time to Spare:  Thinking About What Matters

Comments are welcome!

Q: What has been your scariest experience as an artist?

"Between," soft pastel on sandpaper, 20" x 26"

“Between,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 20″ x 26″

A:  It was the approximately six months in 2007 when I finished the “Domestic Threats” series and was blocked, certain that a strong body of work was behind me, yet not knowing what in the world to do next!  For a professional artist who had been working non-stop for 21 years, this was a profoundly painful, confusing, and disorienting time.  I remember continuing to force myself to go to the studio and for lack of anything much to do there, spending long hours reading and thinking about art.

Eventually after all of this reflection, I had an epiphany.  “Between,” with drastically simplified imagery, was the first in a new series called, “Black Paintings.”  I like to think this series includes work that is considerably richer and more profound than the previous “Domestic Threats.”


Co
mments are welcome! 

Pearls from artists* # 276

The West Village

The West Village

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

 A long time later, after I  became a novelist, I realized that the ambiguities of the human mind are what give fiction and perhaps all art its power.  A good novel gets under our skin, provokes us and haunts us long after the first reading, because we never fully understand the characters.  We sweep through the narrative over and over again, searching for meaning.  Good characters must retain a certain mystery and unfathomable depth, even for the author.  Once we see to the bottom of their hearts, the novel is dead for us.

Eventually, I learned to appreciate both certainty and uncertainty.  Both are necessary in the world.  Both are part of being human.  

Alan Lightman in A Sense of the Mysterious:  Science and the Human Spirit

Comments are welcome!

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