This is a photo of my studio. It is a place of refuge for me.  And sometimes it’s my livelihood.  I know a handful of other artists who love art with the same passion and commitment as myself.  All of us have other means of financial support other than our art.  We have to.  It’s expensive to be an artist.  There is studio rent, paint, canvases, brushes, professional photography of our work, material costs for prints, shipping materials, website overhead, and finally, the brutal 50/50 split with galleries.  If I ask for $1,200 for a painting, I will only see $600 of that and I typically have to wait for 2 months for a gallery to deliver a check.  The canvas, paint, photography, and wiring and framing hardware cost approximately $200.  That leaves me with $400 at the end of it.  My studio rent is $350 per month.  And let me just say that in Fairbanks, there aren’t that many people who are willing to spend $1,200 on a painting.  Especially when they can buy a “print” (it’s really just a poster, people!) for $250 or so.

So what’s an artist to do?  Hustle. Beg. Bargain. Cajole. And hope that someone likes your work enough to buy or commission a work.

Why It’s Philanthropy:  Philanthropy is the effort or inclination to increase the well-being of humankind, as by charitable aid or donations.  I in no way think that art can replace a meal, or a home, or assistance to battered women.  There are millions and millions of suffering human beings on this planet, and I say we should ALWAYS lend a hand to those in need.

However (I say this in a small quiet voice) perhaps art feeds our starving souls? Perhaps it reminds us (all of us) that even though we suffer, there is still something beautiful, joyful even, about the triumph of the human spirit.  I know that so much of what our culture deems “fine art” can be disturbing, alienating, and downright irritating.  But there are many of us who paint or draw or carve out of an authentic place.  A place that isn’t shocking or edgy, it isn’t revolutionary or avant garde, and it won’t piss off a church and it doesn’t make a political statement.  Speaking for myself here, I want only to remind myself, and in turn others, that when we create, when we add color and form to the void, we do something that is inherently and unerringly human.  We put it on the walls of our home or on the desktops of our computers, or we sent it to friends in the mail…and we do it because for a very small moment in our day, that pronoun, the “it” of art, reminds us that we are beautiful.  And the human experience, although painful and dark, is survivable.  It matters.  Something matters.  You matter.

When we think of philanthropy, most of us think of the non-profit organization, the tax-deductible status.  What I want people to consider here is the idea that perhaps when we buy a piece of art, we buy a kind of insurance for ourselves.  We insure that the artist will work for one more hour, or one more day.  That the artist will add one more beautiful thing to the world.  Most of you probably have no idea just how much you matter to an artist.  In 2004 I lost my studio and nearly my soul because I couldn’t sell that ONE painting.  I had a dry spell, and if someone had bought even a single painting, I would have been able to keep going.

So here are some things for the art buying public to remember:

1.  Every time you buy art (especially originals) you keep an artist working a little longer.  And that artist is making the world a more tolerable place to live (this is only true if you actually like looking at the artwork of said artist).

2.  Artists ALWAYS need work.  We need commissions and sales and shows.  We need money.  But we’re not buying crack with it and we’re not buying Lear Jets.  We’re buying paint and paying our rent so that we can keep panting.

3. The painting is too expensive? Offer what you can afford.  I might ask $4500 for a painting, but if I’m having a rough month, $1000 sounds GREAT.   Hell, some days $500 sounds like a fair deal.

4.  Buy right out of the artist’s studio.  When you buy out of a gallery, the artist only sees 50% of whatever you paid.  Galleries need support too, but if we’re talking philanthropy…go straight to the artist’s studio.  Trust me, a good artist (and one who wants to keep working) will welcome you and she will give you a glass of wine and tell you how much she likes your shoes.

So get out there and buy some art.  It’s good for humanity.  It’s good for your soul.  And come on, a painting will last you a lifetime, and your support could be the very thing that allows an artist to work long enough to matter in the art world, which means your painting will be worth big bucks someday.

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Momentum is important. This is one I started yesterday just to get some momentum back.  It seemed to be working.  We’ll see what happens this afternoon.

I’m thinking of repainting my studio this weekend in an attempt to open it up as a small gallery/studio space.  With no gallery downtown, maybe I can pull in some foot traffic from the tourists.  Of course, I need to find some folks willing to put their work in with mine.  Once I do that I can host my own First Fridays as well.  Along with opening my studio, I’ve been trying to figure out other avenues of sales.  Getting back into the Alaska House gallery may be an option, but I despise splitting my profits 50/50.  Galleries don’t do enough to warrant that.  I could teach classes? Dubious.  Advertise in magazines? Put my stuff up on Etsy?  These things all take time and energy…energy I’d rather be putting into actually painting.

I keep trying.

One burning question…question of the year:

How does an artist go from being a part time artist to being a full time artist?

How does one even answer that question?  What kinds of data do I need?  Here are some potential survey questions:

1.  How many hours per week do you spend engaged in the creative process?

2.  How many hours do you spend on administrative and marketing activities?

3.  What is your primary source of income? Actual paintings? Prints? Other? (some percentages would be nice)

4. What is your outgoing versus incoming cash flow look like?

5.  How many shows do you do per year?

6.  What was the precipitating factor that allowed you to make the transition from part time artist to full time artist?

I’m sitting here in my office, trying desperately to prepare to teach class, and my heart just isn’t in it.  I want to be in my studio.  In the light.  With my hands and my clothes covered in paint.  I need a mentor.  A SUCCESSFUL mentor.  Someone who has managed to do what I want to do.  Not an artist who is supported by his or her family, and not one whose spouse provides the support.  Can I do this? Is it possible?

Am I really just at the point where I need to take the leap?  And what ever happened to that saying that “when the student is ready, the teacher appears?”  Where the hell is my teacher?

My life has finally settled down…relatively speaking, and my studio is SCREAMING at me to get in there.  I haven’t painted in over a month.  This is ridiculous.  Tragic.  How can an artist become successful and self-supporting if she isn’t in her studio EVERY SINGLE DAY?  I know what I want.  It’s a simple thing…to be a self-supporting artist.  That’s it.  No more or less complicated than that.  I’ve been contemplating not working my usual summer job and giving it a go in the studio.  Full time.  All summer.  I hate to say it, but I’m terribly afraid of the potential financial disaster that could possibly ensue.  Of course, it isn’t a given that it will end that way, only a fear.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…I just want to paint.  All day.  In my studio.  I don’t want any part time jobs or teaching gigs to get in the way.  I want that which sustains me spiritually to sustain me financially.  Is that so wrong?

Writing an artist’s statement is very difficult.  I’ve been a studio artist for over 6 years now and I’m only just now beginning to understand what I’m doing.  I am not the kind of artist who knows what’s what and then paints about it.  I paint to find out what’s what.  And I don’t usually understand the what until long after I’m done.  Now that I have a rather extensive body of work (over 200 documented paintings) I’m finally beginning to hear my own voice and beginning to understand what my hands are trying to tell me.  Here is my latest version of an artist’s statement, to be submitted to the Rasmuson Foundation in less than a week:

Artist Statement

Although I identify myself only as a painter, and not by any demographic quality, I recently came across an essay that has helped me articulate my process and voice as an artist.  In 1977 Miriam Schapiro and Melissa Meyer wrote an essay, “Waste Not Want Not,” where they defined art created by women as “femmage;” an artistic mode of expression that is inherent to women and one that has specific, identifiable qualities.  As an artist who is a woman and as an artist interested in indigenous art forms, I found femmage to be a very awkward, political word and yet eerily descriptive of the methods I use in my work and the value I ascribe to my life as a painter.

A work is considered femmage if it is a work by a woman, and the theme has a woman-life context,

I am always creating within the framework of my life as a woman.  Many of the themes in my work (the family in Oracle Owls, sexual and cultural subjugation in “Besa de Maya,” peril and ritual in The Fool) are deeply rooted in my experience as a mother.

if the activities of saving and collecting are important ingredients, if scraps are essential to the process and recycled in the work, and if it contains photographs or other printed matter,

Most of my current work contains commercial scrapbooking papers and personal ephemera.  I often use patterns and design elements that recall the work of Gustav Klimt as well as the tradition of quilt making.  My process is about collecting—collecting motifs from many artistic traditions, combining the scraps of my manifold heritage, saving my life in Alaska from disappearing into forgetfulness.

if there is drawing and/or handwriting sewn into the work, if it contains silhouetted images which are fixed to other material, if abstract forms create a pattern, and it has elements of covert imagery,

Writing an essential part of my process and is often part of the works themselves.  I seek to use text not as an explanatory mode, but as an integral part of the composition.  Occasionally, text becomes pattern and covert imagery is essential in many of my pieces, especially if there are themes of secrecy or alienation afoot.  What is hidden, or partially hidden, is as important to me as what’s visible.

if it celebrates a private or public event, if a diarist’s point of view is reflected in the work, if recognizable images appear in narrative sequence, and it addresses itself to an audience of intimates.

All of my art is celebratory in some manner.  Color is the element I regularly use to express my love of the creative life.  Vibrant color reflects my Southern heritage, my appreciation for the folk arts, and the capacity for wonder.  My latest works all have a strong narrative element, which is related to my interest in indigenous modes of art and is fundamental to humanity.  Without storytelling—stories we tell ourselves, the ones we give our children, stories shared by a community—we lose our way and forget who we are.  There is a story behind and within every one of my paintings.  Sometimes they are intensely personal, yet my goal as an artist is to make even the most intimate of my stories known to the viewer, to make my story accessible so that something has been shared…communicated.

and if the work has a functional as well as an aesthetic life.

The function of my art is to allow people to live with beauty.  Its aesthetic life, like the lives of my children, is something I have high hopes for, but is ultimately not in my control.  Good art breathes on its own.

Two Pears in a Porcelain Bowl

Two Pears in a Porcelain Bowl

Learning to Tell Time

Learning to Tell Time

I disappeared for a while…  it happens.  Tragic, I know.  Those close to me know the personal circumstances that would lead to such and absence.  As for the rest of you, suffice it to say that I’ve needed some much needed personal space and something that resembles privacy.  Unfortunately, I have been as absent from my studio as I have been from writing.  Whatever emotional and spiritual well I draw from has been tapped for too long.  I wonder sometimes if that has been a mistake–to leave the studio, to leave my creative process for such a long stretch of time.  But there was nothing to be done about it.  I’m hoping that just being here and writing this will return me to my hands and their work.  What little creative work I’ve done has been for the Permafrost Journal at UAF and the Chapbook they publish every year.

I’m plenty fascinated by graphic design.  These little projects have been fun, and honestly, I wouldn’t mind doing this kind of thing a little more regularly (and for money).  They’re collaborative pieces ultimately and it’s always nice to have boundaries and limitations with which to work.  Constraints are a nice thing really… too often I get overwhelmed with the sheer number of choices I have in terms of media and subject matter.  It’s almost paralyzing in a way.  The above covers are the Midnight Sun Chapbooks put out by UAF.  The three below are the covers for Permafrost from the last three years.  The last being the yet to be released 2009 cover.

Permafrost Cover 2006, Painting by Dave Mollett

Permafrost Cover 2006, Painting by Dave Mollett

Permafrost 2008, Photograph by Larry McNeill

Permafrost 2008, Photograph by Larry McNeill

Permafrost 2009, Print by Lisa Gray

Permafrost 2009, Print by Lisa Gray

Now, lets all hope for something that resembles a miracle…let’s hope that my next post comes soon and that there are paintings (of mine) in it.

zoe-3My friend, the writer and artist, Kevin Eib remarked that since he knows Zoe well enough, he recognizes this expression.  He called it “Mom, this is sooooo boring”.  Those of you who know Zoe probably know that look.  Poor kid.  I empathize with the state that begets the expression.  Boredom is a fine enemy; powerful, debilitating, uninspiring.  I can think of now worse.  We discussed this idea, more specifically the French feeling of ennui, which is a special kind of existential boredom.  We were discussing Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil, where boredom comes up as the “abortive birth” of the relationship between mankind and the devil.  I have grown to be quite fond of Baudelaire–once a person gets past the shock and revulsion of his images, once a reader sees past the vehicle and gets at the trope, there is a shining mystical heart to his work that I love dearly.  His poem “Carcass” is one of my favorites.  I was so excited to find that many of my students could see what lay beneath his disturbing imagery…the fleeting dissolution of self into a larger whole alongside the terror of a more permanent dissolution (death).  If I can get even 1 student to buy into the idea that literature and poetry are fundamentally important to our existence, then I’ve (obviously) done my job.  An important part of our discussion revolved around why Baudelaire found Boredom to be such a devilish problem… one or two students managed to identify the central problem: the (false) belief that one is powerless, an ambivalence that allows, even fosters, the growth of evil.  Truly, what worse feeling is there than to think that what one does doesn’t matter at all.  That all action ends in irrelavance.  Pretty hard to swallow if you ask me.

Goethe had some things to say about action:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back– Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.

Lovely, no?

As far as the portrait goes, I still see some problems with the left eye, specifically the orbital indentation alongside the bridge of the nose needs more shading, and something is still off in the forehead (what?).  Also,I’m trying to  understand hair (shape, reflections, shading, curvature) but clearly still have much to learn.  The black and white medium (charcoal) is much easier to deal with…

Oh.  Here’s something interesting.  It turns out that the woman on whom the red-coated figure is based actually has a “thing” for mushrooms.  Funny, because I just couldn’t figure out why I kept seeing them.  It just didn’t make any obvious sense to me… I have no real connection to the little fungi, but Miss Bloom does.   Weird.  I suppose I must have known that somehow deep deep deep in my brain.  I’m glad I trusted my intuition and added them.  Seriously, no less than 4 times I “saw” the mushrooms before I finally said “fine” and added them even though it made no sense to me.  Cool.