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Q: Can you speak about a book (or books) that deeply influenced you as an artist?

Barbara's well-worn copy of "Camille Pissarro:  Letters to His Son Lucien"

Barbara’s well-worn copy of “Camille Pissarro: Letters to His Son Lucien”

A:  One such book that stands out is “Camille Pissaro:  Letters to His Son Lucien.”  The book is comprised of weekly letters from a father conveying wisdom about his craft, art, and life, over roughly twenty years, to a beloved son, who is just beginning his artistic journey.  I discovered this gem about thirty years ago when I was just starting to find my way as an artist, too.  Pissarro’s words are beautiful, poignant, and deeply felt.   He has much to say to artists because, sadly, we still contend with the same problems, such as how to remain authentic and earn a living, how to deal with galleries and collectors, how to stay focused on the work, etc.  I often enjoy rereading favorite passages simply because it makes me feel less alone as an artist.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 185

Beginning of a 20" x 26" pastel painting

Beginning of a 20″ x 26″ pastel painting

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

All of us fail to match our dream of perfection.  So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible.  In my opinion, if I could write all my work again, I am convinced that I would do it better, which is the healthiest condition for an artist.  That’s why he keeps on working, trying again; he believes each time that this time he will do it, bring it off.  Of course he won’t, which is why this condition is healthy.  Once he did it, once he matched the work to the image, the dream, nothing would remain but to cut his throat, jump off the other side of that pinnacle of perfection into suicide.  I’m a failed poet.  Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding after poetry.  And failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.

William Faulkner in Writers at Work:  The Paris Review Interviews First Series

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Pearls from artists* 178

Barbara's studio with recent works in progress

Barbara’s studio with recent works in progress

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

Most individuals have never had enough time, and they’ve never had enough resources, and they’ve never had enough support or patronage or reward… and yet they still persist in creating.  They persist because they care.  They persist because they are called to be makers, by any means necessary.

…The essential ingredients for creativity remain exactly the same for everybody:  courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust – and those elements are universally accessible.  Which does not mean that creative living is always easy; it merely means that creative living is always possible.  

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear  

Comments are welcome! 

 

Q: When you left the Navy you worked on commission as a portrait artist. Why don’t you accept commissions now?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  As I have often said, I left the active duty Navy in 1989, but stayed in the Reserves. The Reserves provided a small part-time income and the only requirement was that I work one weekend a month and two weeks each year.  Plus, I could retire after 13 more years and receive a pension.  (In 2003 I retired from the Navy Reserve as a Commander).  The rest of the time I was free to pursue my studio practice. 

For a short time I made a living making commissioned photo-realist portraits in soft pastel on sandpaper.  However, after a year I became very restless.  I remember thinking, “I did not leave a boring job just to make boring art!”  I lost interest in doing commissions because what I wanted to accomplish personally as an artist did not coincide with what portrait clients wanted.  I finished my final portrait commission in 1990 and never looked back. 

To this day I remain reluctant to accept a commission of any kind.  So I am completely free to paint whatever I want, which is the only way to evolve as a serious, deeply committed artist.      

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 64

High Line, New York, NY

High Line, New York, NY

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

As soon as an artist has located the vital center of his activities, nothing will be more important than for him to remain within this center and never move further away from it (which is, of course, also the center of his nature, of his world) than the interior walls of his quietly and steadily expanding achievement.  His place is not, never, not even for a moment, next to the beholder and critic (at least no longer in an environment where all that is visible becomes ambiguous and preliminary, an auxiliary construction and temporary scaffolding for something else).  And one basically needs to be an acrobat to leap back safely and unharmed from this point of view into one’s inner center (the distances are too great and all the spots too destabilized to risk such an entirely inquisitive feat).  Most artists today use up their strength in this back-and-forth, and in addition to wasting their energy they get terribly confused and lose a part of their essential innocence to the sin of having taken their work from the outside by surprise, to have tasted it, to have joined others in enjoying it!     

Ulrich Baer, editor, The Wisdom of Rilke

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 54

Pier 40, NYC

Pier 40, NYC

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

In the cemetery all the vultures began to circle, and the sky filled with birds.  It was then that I began my series of birds – many of my bird photos came from that moment.  All this is to say that in life everything is connected:  your pain and your imagination, which perhaps can help you forget reality.  It’s a way of showing how you connect what you live with what you dream, and what you dream with what you do, and this is what remains on paper…

Graciela Iturbide in Eyes to Fly With

Comments are welcome! 

Q: You have sometimes spoken about your early work as a portrait artist. When and why did you start making portraits? Do you still do them?

"Bryan," soft pastel on sandpaper, 22" x 28", 1988

“Bryan,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 22″ x 28″, 1988

A:  In 1989 I was a Naval officer working at the Pentagon and I hated my job as a computer analyst.  Although it was terrifying to leave the security of a paycheck for the uncertainty of an artist’s existence, I made the leap.  In retrospect it was one of the best decisions of my life.  When I resigned from active duty (I remained in the Navy Reserve, which provided a part-time job and a small income; in 2003 I retired as a Navy Commander), I needed a way to make a living.  

Prior to this career change, I worked hard to develop my portrait skills.  I volunteered to run a life drawing class at The Art League School in Alexandria, VA, where I made hundreds of figure drawings using charcoal and pastel.  I spent a semester commuting between Washington, DC and New York to study artistic anatomy at the New York Academy of Art.  I spent another semester studying gross anatomy with medical students at Georgetown University Medical School.  So I was well prepared to devote myself to making portraits.

For a time I made a living making commissioned photo-realist portraits in soft pastel on sandpaper.  However, after about two years I became bored.  I remember thinking, “I did not leave a boring job just to make boring art!”  Furthermore, I had no interest in doing commissions because what I wanted to accomplish as an artist did not coincide with what portrait clients wanted.   I completed my final portrait commission in 1990 and never looked back.  To this day I remain loathe to do a commission of any kind.  

Comments are welcome!   

Pearls from artists* # 29

"He Just Stood There Grinning," soft pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

“He Just Stood There Grinning,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″

* 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 all the spaces of our past moments of solitude, the spaces in which we have suffered from our solitude, enjoyed, desired, and compromised solitude, remain indelible within us, and precisely because the human being wants them to remain so.  He knows instinctively that this space identified with his solitude is creative; that even when it is forever expunged with the present, when, henceforth, it is alien to all the promises of the future, even when we no longer have a garret, when the attic is lost and gone, there remains the fact that we once loved a garret, once lived in an attic.  We return to them in our night dreams.  These retreats have the value of a shell.  And when we reach the very end, the labyrinths of sleep, when we attain to the regions of deep slumber, we may perhaps experience a type of repose that is pre-human; pre-human, in this case, approaching the immemorial.  But in the daydream itself, the recollection of moments of confined, simple, shut-in space are experiences of heartwarming space, of a space that does not seek to become extended, but would like above all to be possessed.  In the past, the attic may have seemed too small, it may have seemed cold in winter and hot in summer.  Now, however, in memory recaptured through daydreams, it is hard to say through what syncretism the attic is at once small and large, warm and cool, always comforting.     

Gaston Bachelard in The Poetics of Space

Comments are welcome!

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