Blog Archives

Q: Do you remember the first pastel painting that you ever made?

First framed pastel painting, 1988

First framed pastel painting, 1988

A:  Yes, it was a small head-and-neck portrait of a live model in a figure drawing class at The Art League School in Alexandria, VA.   I don’t know what became of it.

I also remember the first pastel painting that I ever framed because it is still hanging in my Alexandria house. It is dated 1988 (see photo) and was made in a one-week workshop with Diane Tesler at The Art League.  The workshop was specifically to teach artists how to paint from photographs and it was my first time studying with Diane.  I made the mistake of bringing, as reference material, a magazine photograph that was originally a perfume ad in the The Sunday Times Magazine. Diane tactfully explained that it was wrong to use someone else’s photograph instead of my own, but let me do it this one time. 

So many years later walking by my painting I still think of Diane.  She taught me a valuable lesson:  do not use anyone else’s photographs, ever!  

Comments are welcome!   

 

Pearls from artists* # 195

Barbara at work

Barbara at work

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

There is no list of rules.

There is one rule:  there are no rules.

Happiness comes from living as you need to, as you want to.  Happiness comes from being who you actually are instead of who you think you are supposed to be.

Being traditional is not traditional anymore.

Normalize your lives, people.

You don’t want a baby?  Don’t have one.

I don’t want to get married?  I won’t.

You want to live alone?  Enjoy it.

You want to love someone?  Love someone.

Don’t apologize.  Don’t explain.  Don’t ever feel less than.

When you feel the need to apologize or explain who you are, it means the voice in your head is telling you the wrong story.  Wipe the slate clean.  And rewrite it.

No fairy tales.

Be your own narrator.

And go for a happy ending.

One foot in front of the other.

You will make it.

Shonda Rhimes in Year of Yes:  How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person     

Comments are welcome!

 

Q: Do you have a mentor?

"Alone Together," soft pastel on sandpaper, 20" x 26"

“Alone Together,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 20″ x 26″

A:  No, but I often wish I did.  How wonderful it would be to consult someone who’s been there, a productive and successful artist who could provide advice on all the concerns, especially the problems and dangers, inherent in a professional artist’s life. 

But I have been at this for thirty years and found no such person!  I think it’s because each artist’s career is highly unique as we chart are own individual paths.  Unlike most professions, there are no firm rules or straight forward career milestones for making your way as an artist.

Besides the countless hours spent in the studio, I have always worked diligently to understand the art business.  Certainly getting work seen, exhibited, reviewed, sold, etc. is as important as making it in the first place.  It’s all part of being a professional artist. 

Early on I developed the habit of relying on my own best judgment, both in creating the work and in getting it seen and collected.  Certainly I have made plenty of mistakes.  As a result though, I know a tremendous amount about the art business.  And I enjoy sharing what I know in the hopes of steering other artists away from making similar missteps.

Comments are welcome!    

Pearls from artists* # 182

Hudson Yards, NYC

Hudson Yards, 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.

Maybe you know exactly what you dream of being.  Or maybe you’re paralyzed because you have no idea what your passion is.  The truth is, it doesn’t matter.  You don’t have to know.  You just have to keep moving forward.  You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new.  It  doesn’t have to fit your vision of the perfect job or the perfect life.  Perfect is boring, and dreams are not real.  Just… DO.   You think, “I wish I could travel” – you sell your crappy car and buy a ticket and go to Bangkok right now.  I’m serious.  You say, “I want to be a writer” – guess what? A writer is someone who writes every day.  Start writing.  Or:  You don’t have a job?  Get one.  ANY JOB.  Don’t sit at home waiting for the magical dream opportunity.  Who are you?  Prince William?  No.  Get a job.  Work.  Do until you can do something else.

Commencement address to Dartmouth College, Shonda Rhimes in Year of Yes:  How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person 

Comments are welcome! 

        

Pearls from artists* # 175

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

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

I know this is a sentimental cliché, but I do feel toward my books very much as a parent must toward his children.  As soon as someone says, “I did like your short stories, but I don’t like your novels,” or, “Of course, you only really came into your own with Anglo-Saxon Attitudes” –  then immediately I want to defend all my other books.  I feel this especially about Hemlock  and Anglo-Saxon Attitudes – one child a bit odd but exciting, the other competent but not really so interesting.  If people say they like one book and not the other, then I feel they can’t have understood the one they don’t like.

Angus Wilson in The Paris Review Interviews:  Writers at Work 1st Series, edited and with an introduction by Malcolm Cowley

Comments are welcome! 

Pearls from artists* # 131

Self-portrait at an architect's estate in Sri Lanka

Self-portrait at an architect’s estate in Sri Lanka

 

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

Sister Corita

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

Comments are welcome!

 

Pearls from artists* # 129

 

Chalcatzingo, Mexico

Chalcatzingo, Mexico

* 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 painter friend of mine once told me that he thought of sound as an usher for the here and now.  When he was a small child, Adam suffered an illness that left him profoundly deaf for several months.  His memories of that time are vivid and not, he insists, at all negative.  Indeed, they opened a world in which the images he saw could be woven together with much greater freedom and originality than he’d ever known.  The experience was powerful enough that it helped steer him toward his lifelong immersion in the visual arts.  “Sound imposes a narrative on you,” he said, “and it’s always someone else’s narrative.  My experience of silence was like being awake inside a dream I could direct.”

George Prochnik in In Pursuit of Silence:  Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise 

Comments are welcome! 

Q: Do you have any essential words that you live by?

Studio wall

Studio wall

A:  I certainly do!  When I left the active duty Navy in 1989, my co-workers threw a farewell party.  One of the parting gifts I received was a small plaque from Tina Greene, a young enlisted woman whom I had supervised.  The words on the plaque deeply resonated with me, since I was about to make a significant, risky, and scary career change.  It was the perfect gift for someone facing the uncertainty of an art career. 

Many years later Tina’s plaque is still a proud possession of mine.  It is hanging on the wall behind my easel, to be read every day as I work.  It says:

“Excellence can be attained if you…

Care more than others think is wise…

Risk more than others think is safe…

Dream more than others think is practical…

Expect more than others think is possible.”

Comments are welcome!

Q: What in your opinion marks a work of art as contemporary?

West 26th Street, NYC

West 26th Street, NYC

A:  “Contemporary art” is defined formally as art made since 1970 by living artists who are still making new work.  People often confuse the term “contemporary art” with “modern art,” but they are not the same.  “Modern art” refers to art made during the period between, roughly, the 1860’s to 1970. 

Nowadays there are so many different kinds of art – new forms are developing all the time – and almost anything can be considered contemporary art as long as someone, an artist, says it is art.  Ours is a fascinating, but bewildering, crazy, and often silly art world.  Since I am based in New York, I see a lot that makes me ask, “Is this really art?” and “Why would anyone make such a thing?” 

If there is one single element I look for in visual art it would have to be a high degree of craft.  I enjoy seeing work that is beautiful, well-crafted, and that makes me wonder how the artist made it.  With the exception of Ai Weiwei and Julie Mehretu (maybe others I can’t think of just now), I prefer art made by a single creator, as opposed to artists like Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst, who employ dozens of people to make their work.        

Comments are welcome!      

Q: Do you have any advice for a young painter or someone just starting out as an artist?

Studio

Studio

A:  As artists each of us has at least two important responsibilities:  to express things we are feeling for which there are no adequate words and to communicate to a select few people, who become our audience.  By virtue of his or her own uniqueness, every human being has something to say.  But self-expression by itself is not enough.  As I often say, at it’s core art is communication.  Without this element there is no art.  When artists fail to communicate, perhaps they haven’t mastered their medium sufficiently so are unsuccessful in the attempt, or they may be being self-indulgent and not trying.  Admittedly there is that rare and most welcome occurrence when an artistic statement – such as a personal epiphany – happens for oneself alone. 

Most importantly, always listen to what your heart tells you.  It knows and speaks the truth and becomes easier to trust as you mature.  If you get caught up in the art world, step back and take some time to regain your bearings, to get reacquainted with the voice within you that knows the truth.  Paint from there.  Do not ever let a dealer or anyone else dictate what or how you should paint. 

With perhaps the singular exception of artist-run cooperative galleries, be very suspicious of  anyone who asks for money to put your work in an exhibition.  These people are making money from desperate and confused artists, not from appreciative art collectors.   With payment already in hand there is no financial incentive whatsoever for these people to sell your paintings and they won’t. 

Always work in a beautiful and special place of your own making.  It doesn’t need to be very large, unless you require a large space in which to create, but it needs to be yours.  I’m thinking of Virginia Woolf’s “a room of one’s own” here.  A studio is your haven, a place to experiment, learn, study, and grow.  A studio should be a place you can’t wait to enter and once you are there and engaged, are reluctant to leave. 

Be prepared to work harder than you ever have, unrelentingly developing your special innate gifts, whether you are in the mood to do so or not.  Most of all remember to do it for love, because you love your medium and it’s endless possibilities, because you love working in your studio, and because you feel most joyously alive when you are creating.

Comments are welcome!