Archives for category: creative process

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.

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.

memories-of-a-southern-girlhood2I’m back to work.  I’m at a place right now where I need to paint what I want to paint…  There are times when I just need to do exactly what inspires me while ignoring outward concerns.  Lately, most of my inspiration is coming from female compadres.  Specifically, I’ve been thinking alot about three sisters (me and my sisters and the 3 Bloom girls).  Our culture tends to value romantic relationships over others, which makes sense since the romanitc is the center out of which families arise.  But the relationshps that form the periphery of romantic relationships, specifically childhood friendships that last well into adulthood, are just as important.  Why do we create such a rigid hierarchy with male-female relationships at the top?  Internally I’m beginning to sense a construct that is more “weblike,” a shape that includes the people in my extended family and friendships that are quite obviously necessary to my spiritual wellbeing.  I suppose this web has always been there, but I can see that I’ve bent my awareness to fit a shape that is contrary to this web.  The “nuclear” of my nuclear family is not comprised of an isolated atom…especially now that my family life is changing shape so dramatically.  A friend keeps reminding me to keep my heart open to all that the universe has to offer, and as I do that I find that my life is incredibly full and that I’ve been blessed with so much.  And I don’t say that in a way that excludes my previous life, but in a way that includes it while opening my life and home to a wider, larger family that has always been there.

Not only that, but I’m grateful to still have my sense of humor.  What’s funnier than putting on those big girl panties and singing along (badly, I might add) while the stars come out and you have the kind of friends who let you sing as loud as you want and give you hell for being the Nancy that you are?

And the mushrooms are not a drug reference, but I kept seeing them again and again, so I put them in there.  I’ll let you know if I figure out what they’re about.

midsummer night's dream Here is “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.  I took this one into New Horizon’s a few days ago and it’s one of the 3 or so paintings that will be in the video clip that AlaskaOne is producing. And he’s going to work in some of Zoe and Finn’s artwork as well.  And I believe that  photos of my mother, my grandmother, and one of my mother’s paintings (of Grandaddy Friedrich) will be used in the montage as well.  My family is going to LOVE it.

Michael Letzring showed me some of the equipment they use to produce and, let me tell you, it was gadget heaven down there.  Huge double monitors, lightning fast processors, and enough buttons and dials to feel like a jet pilot.  It was geek heaven, Photoshop on steroids!!  Just the filters alone that were available in his software were enough to make me giddy.  He ran one called “Mary” over my face and it made me look like I just stepped out of a Renaissance painting, all chiariscuroed and soft.  Someone should invent a holographic projector that you can wear as a necklace and just project that filter 24/7 onto my face.  Who needs plastic surgery?  I should have been an inventor…

But I think I’ll just stick to painting, thank you very much.  That’s invention enough for me.  I’m still studying Klimt, obviously.  Trying to figure out how his compositions work.  I’m amazed at how well he creates dynamic compositions from rather static fields of shape.  Color appears to be the trick.  Color and the presence of larger shapes that are void of the smaller, repetitive shapes that make up most of the composition.  The man was a genius.  His Beethoven Freize (this photo is one it’s side–the whole thing is 34 meters long) is absolutely enormous and I can’t imagine the sheer number of hours he must have spent with a paintbrush over the course of his life.  They say that 10,000 hours is the magic number that separates the genius from the dilettante.  I don’t know how many hours I have to go before I’m even half the artist Klimt was, but I look forward to every single one.

preliminary sketch To the right is the preliminary sketch for a portrait I’m working on of my daughter.  I’m satisfied with the results of the sketch.  I spent quite a few hours getting it right.  After I got the whole figure down onto canvas (the first hour or so) it looked like this:  first draft

The right eye was way off and the shape of her face was too round.  along with a number of other issues.  What comes next is going over the charcoal in a thin wash of burnt umber and then I’ll lay down the first layers of color.  However, from experience I know that everything and anything can go wrong from this point on.  The charcoal on canvas is the easy part since you can erase to your heart’s content.  Paint is another matter though.

Here is the photo I’m working from:

original photoSuch a pretty girl!  I hope I can do her justice…

Later that same day….  I’ve put the first layer of paint on and am feeling good about it.  I think I’ll stop here for the day.portrait in oil


I’m not sure if time equals progress. I did this one almost 15 years ago. I remember painting it in my dad’s garage in Kenai shortly after I moved to AK. I sometimes wonder if I’m learning anything new.

I sold the Klimt piece. Big bucks. It’s good to know that raising my prices wasn’t that foolish of an idea.

timmy-petroglyph This is one from the summer show.  I’m still mostly doodling in the studio and haven’t managed to get anything serious together yet.  Process is still a mystery to me.  Some artists seem to have an open channel to thier creativity.  I have no way of knowing whether I’m doing something wrong or whether it’s a matter of not being able to be in the studio every single day.  I’ve had some great periods of productivity, but they appear to have ground to a halt when life gets in the way.  Or my “real” job.  Or the pressure of making art that will sell.  Or other things.

Who knows.  I look at the prolific output of dead white artists and wonder what it was about them personally or thier lives that allowed for such vast quantities of work.  I could blame it on the certain slant of light in 310, or the lack of it.  Maybe there is no blame to be had.  Maybe it’s just gestation.  Maybe I’m just waiting because that’s all I can do.

And, how convenient, someone on metafilter just posted a link to “Daily Routines.”  Just as I’d suspected, most successful artists and writers work EVERY DAY.  Having a maniacal, obsessive work habit isn’t beyond my capacities, only beyond my desire to wreak havoc on my family life.  I already get up at 4:45 most mornings so that I can have studio time AND pick my kids up from school AND teach two college English classes.  Oh well.  I try.

Maybe I should just take the advice of a certain woman I know: “Boo hoo.  Go put your big girl panties on.”

Next week I’ll be done with classes and I’ll have all 5 days to work.  Now, where did I put those big girl panties?…

1.  Read a superb short story by Jonathan Lethem, “The King of Sentences” in 2008 Best American Short Stories.  Lethem is a King of Sentences himself, and I think the story is partially about the tyranny created by success…you make a few pieces of good art and then all of a sudden newer, less evolved experiments are subjected to the humiliation of comparison.  Experience and novelty go head to head and only the naive idealism of youth can save one from annihilation.

2.  Drawings and paintings grind to a halt once again.  Methinks it is the result a dissolved network…but Jill is coming soon and we will talk shop and I will work again.

3.  White animals continue to cross my path while driving–portentious, omenous, auspicious.  Two stark white ptarmigan flew in front of my car, so close I had to slam on my brakes.  The odd thing was that they were sitting in the middle of a busy (for Fairbanks anyways) highway.  (edit: They were in the wrong place and were lucky they got out of the way before I squashed them with my Jetta.  How’s that for interpretation?)


Ok. So this is hilarious.  This comes from a new favorite blog, Craftastrophe (because handmade isn’t always pretty).  The title of the post is “Our Father Who Art in Heaven, What Up, Yo” and the post says “Because even thugs and homies have to repent their sins.”  See the little thug in the little point of the heart?  The rosarie hanging around his feet has a little plastic gun dangling from it.

bird bull

Still working small and quick and theiving from Picasso.  This one is from a 1941 pencil sketch.  I don’t know what I’m going to do with all of these.  If I’m going to sell them, I’ll have to matte and frame them which will be expensive.  I know there are artists who do “painting a day” exercises and then sell the results for el cheapo.  Maybe…

I say “Our Father” to my kids every night.  My favorite part of that prayer is “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.  I think I take solace in the the simple idea of the divine existing inside of, or even in close proximity to, this reality.  I sometimes have trouble believing in the idea, but the fact that the idea exists is nice.  My mother won’t let this comment slide without bringing up Swedenborg, and, indeed, that idea is at the heart of his theology.  My pal Joe Campbell liked to quote the gospel of Thomas on this one too, “the Kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth, but men do not see it.”  I’m not sure why today’s entry is generating this stuff.  Maybe it’s just in the air in my studio.  It could be the fumes from the spray varnish.

For some reason, I keep returning to an interview I heard with the poet Patricia Smith recently on To The Best of Our Knowledge.  She spoke briefly about the idea that most people aren’t aware that they have a “second throat”.  I looked around for a quote and bumped into this:

Some time ago, poetry ceased to be something that I do
for fun and became the way I process my life. I would write
even if I had no books, if there were no audiences. I’d write
and read my poems to myself. When the world closes in,
poetry helps me find a safe place to breathe and be. I don’t
know if I could live without it. It’s my second throat, the
way I’m rooted in the world. This is who I am.

I’m going to hang onto that phrase, “second throat.”  It’s an odd phrase but very apt at describing the muscles I’m trying to excercise when I’m in my studio.  And painting and writing are not just what I do, but are, like Patricia says, the ways I’m rooted in the world.  I fear a world where I’m not connected by these things.  The divine is most present for me when I’m speaking with my second throat.  That first photo in this post is there to remind me that a sense of humor is woven very tightly into my throat, tied up in my roots.  What up, yo?