* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
When you’re working on something, you always wonder, “Can I get away with this? Is it working?” It’s the space between that I’ve been interested in for a long time. I think that when I started to make, say, a triptych that came from an observation of a little Picasso drawing, the spaces in between became as important as the three actual pieces. It’s especially true of the Wallpaper piece. But most of the changes in my own work really evolve from one piece to the next: from looking at my own work, the works of others, and things in my studio. It happens when you see something that you didn’t see previously, like those scraps of clay that became the wall pieces. It’s similar to the space that I’ve explored for years and years between artist and craftsperson, which is both interesting and challenging, and I don’t think that one thing is inferior to the other. Each has a different goal, a different function. Its my responsibility how nd where my work is viewed in different contexts.
In Conversation: Betty Woodman with Phong Bui, The Brooklyn Rail, April 2016
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Serendipitously, I read two memoirs in close proximity, Julia Child’s account of her life in France and how she learned to be a first-rate cook, and Renee Fleming’s story of becoming a world-class opera diva. While there were many differences between the women and the skills they set out to master, I was struck in both books by how extraordinarily hard each one worked in private for years and years before going public, certainly before becoming famous, and how each managed shame. Both women loved what they did and thus brought to bear a similar, and I suspect key, willingness to stay with their efforts through eons of study, practice, and improvement. Both had the ability to hear criticism and to make corrections repeatedly without becoming terminally discouraged; to bear the anxiety of their efforts; neither was too proud to learn and keep learning. This willingness to be taught and corrected, without feeling ashamed, sometimes over and over again, is a huge asset when you are seeking to do something very well. And one way shame impedes people is by making them take criticism too personally – as about them rather than about what they’re trying to learn.
Janna Malamud Smith in An Absorbing Errand: How Artists and Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery
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A: In the late 1980s when I was studying at the Art League in Alexandria, VA, I took a three-day pastel workshop with Albert Handel, an artist known for his southwest landscapes in pastel and oil paint. I had just begun working with soft pastel (I’d completed my first class with Diane Tesler) and was still experimenting with paper. Handel suggested I try Ersta fine sandpaper. I did and nearly three decades later, I’ve never used anything else.
The paper (UArt makes it now) is acid-free and accepts dry media, especially pastel and charcoal. It allows me to build up layer upon layer of pigment, blend, etc. without having to use a fixative. The tooth of the paper almost never gets filled up so it continues to hold pastel. If the tooth does fill up, which sometimes happens with problem areas that are difficult to resolve, I take a bristle paintbrush, dust off the unwanted pigment, and start again. My entire technique – slowly applying soft pastel, blending and creating new colors directly on the paper (occupational hazard: rubbed-raw fingers, especially at the beginning of a painting as I mentioned in last Saturday’s blog post), making countless corrections and adjustments, looking for the best and/or most vivid colors, etc. – evolved in conjunction with this paper.
I used to say that if Ersta ever went out of business and stopped making sandpaper, my artist days would be over. Thankfully, when that DID happen, UArt began making a very similar paper. I buy it from ASW (Art Supply Warehouse) in two sizes – 22″ x 28″ sheets and 56″ wide by 10 yard long rolls. The newer version of the rolled paper is actually better than the old, because when I unroll it it lays flat immediately. With Ersta I laid the paper out on the floor for weeks before the curl would give way and it was flat enough to work on.
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