Monday, February 11, 2019

Do you like this?

"Meandering Muse", 9x12" mixed media on paper. Available. 

I've been considering abandoning this blog. Not just migrating to my proper website, like I did a couple years ago, but not posting altogether.

There are a few reasons for this. My readership numbers are way down. There was a time I'd get a few hundred views per post, and usually a few comments. Not a lot, if you consider what some bloggers get, but I felt like I had a dedicated audience that came back every week to see what I had to say. These days it seems like if I get 30 views its a really good week. It's not that I don't think those 30 people are valuable (of course I do), but some weeks I feel like i'm stretched pretty thin, and spending an hour or two writing about art doesn't seem to be a great use of my time.

I'm spending more and more time on social media. It's not like I have to... if I just went on, posted and logged off I could shave it down to a few minutes a day. But I do enjoy the interaction. I get comments there, I see the same names liking and commenting on my posts, and I feel more like I'm building connections than I do here. And when those people come out to a show, they don't hesitate to introduce themselves because we've already been interacting. It's really pretty fun. But it does take time.

Then there's the pressure I put on myself to have a new painting to post every single week. That's actually why I started... I knew in order to get anywhere I had to have a decent sized inventory, but I was having motivational problems. I know I work well under a deadline... it's part of what makes me good at my day job. So I figured having a goal of one painting per week would make it more likely that I would get my ass in the studio and work. It worked. But now I find that I am ALWAYS working. If I'm not at work, I'm working at home. I'm painting, or editing my videos, updating my website, working on my marketing.... I have very little downtime. I went to an event a couple weeks ago and had a hard time carrying on a conversation with normal people (by "normal" I mean people not involved in the art or packaging worlds). I know I don't do a lot of social stuff, but I didn't realize I was that out of practice.

The one point in favour of me keeping this going is that it is a record of my progress. I've been posting pretty much once a week since 2012. That's a pretty thorough record. I've got photos of the shows I've done, a record of each painting and what was happening at the time it was created, trips and life events distilled down to the essentials. It's kinda fun going back and reading these posts. And I can see how far I've come, both in skill and creativity.

I'm not sure yet what conclusion I will come to. I do know that writing my weekly post is a habit now that I may continue, just because. I guess I'll just play it by ear for a bit, and see how things go. If you have an opinion on the subject, drop a comment here and let me know.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Beyond Winter

"Beyond Winter", 10x10" mixed media on wood panel. #51 in my 100 Square Project.
I've got a bunch of panels prepped for a Facebook live painting session. It will be in a couple weeks. Stay tuned.

Canada has been in the deep freeze. This past week has been colder than I remember ever being... I think we hit some kind of record low one day with the windchill a nasty minus forty something. It was worse in other areas. My brother-in-law is in Labrador. A balmy -50° out there. Yikes. On the positive side, the sun has been shining. It's been blindingly bright out there. That was something we all needed after months and months of grey.

A couple days I just couldn't warm up. I'd sit at my desk at work wearing a sweater with a t-shirt underneath, and a blanket shawl wrapped around me. The woman who sits one desk over had on gloves and a hat. Inside. Even in my own home it felt like the furnace was working overtime.


I'm lucky enough to have a gas fireplace in my studio. When I turn it on the whole floor warms up. I spent a lot of time down there this past week. I filmed most of it, and have been posting the videos to my social media channels. (If I had realized video got such a great reaction, I would have done it ages ago.)

 This video is the final session I filmed... I was working on the painting I've posted at the top of the post. I did work on it a bit more... mainly to fix up any compositional problems. I removed the dark clump on the left side and changed the spacing between the trees. I think it works now.

The initial motivation for this painting was to get a few colours I rarely use to play nicely together. But this cold has me dreaming of spring, and finding the beautiful greens and lavenders while mixing my paints made me think of meadows of blooming wild flowers. The form really came about all on it's own. If you've watched the snippits I've posted online, you can see how I turn the panel until I see something that wants to be brought forward. This is how all my paintings come together.

Intuitive painting has made somewhat of a comeback in recent years. When I was in school we had to plan everything. We had to have an idea to start with (usually where I blocked... my ideas never really seemed good enough to put in the effort to make it real), then do a series of thumbnails, block out the composition, then refine everything until it worked. I learned a lot about composition and whatever, surely necessary things to a visual artist, but my paintings were always a bit of a disappointment. It wasn't until I learned to let go of expectation that I could really enjoy the process and create something truly unique.

I really don't know why intuitive painting gets such a bad rap from educational institutions. Some of the greats did it. Joan Mitchell comes to mind. The trick is to not give up on the painting too soon. Keep going, keep changing things, until you reach a place where it speaks to you. It's not always easy, and you can go through a lot of paint, but the results will be truly your own.

And for a little while maybe we can forget about how cold it is.

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Value of Art

"In the Stillness", 9x12" mixed media on paper. Available on my website.  

I did all the art-related paperwork for my taxes this week. 2018 was my best year ever, and I still made less than your average student, working part-time in a minimum wage job. And people ask why I still work full-time. Sheesh.

To me, art and culture is something that is inherently valuable. I can't imagine a world without it. Can you? Picture going through your life without music. Or with only utilitarian clothes, all the same. Imagine a world without any kind of man-made visual stimulation at all... no paintings, no photography, no illustrations.

Fun, right?

So why is it that as a society, we don't value the work that artists do?

Wonder why the cost of concert tickets has gotten so high? It's because musicians can't make a living with recorded music any more. People don't buy it. They stream on YouTube, where most of the artists get nothing, or Spotify, where they get a fraction of a cent per play. Performing live is the only way they make any money, and they need money to live (and I live with a musician, this is not me making assumptions, this is a reality). Lots of smaller venues that "feature" live music don't actually pay the musicians anymore either... the bands need to set someone up by the door to charge admission (if that's permitted... otherwise they play for "exposure"), and it helps if they have merchandise to sell. When you're splitting that few hundred bucks between the 5 band members, it doesn't go very far.

Visual art isn't any better... big companies raking in millions in profits per year steal designs from artists that dare to post their work online. They don't think anything of it. If it's online, it must be free for anyone to use, right? But try doing that with a design owned by someone with enough money to sue you (think Disney). It wouldn't go well.

A thing that has emerged in the visual art world is the pay-to-play model. In the traditional art world, you found an art gallery that liked your work, they had a client list, held events, handled the sales, and took a commission. Usually, its around 50%.. does that surprise you? I know many people who where shocked when i told them the average commission for a gallery was half of what the purchaser pays. I get it and don't begrudge them their commission... they are paying rent, hydro, wages for their staff, advertising, etc. It's a business. In this new model, the artist coughs up a "hanging fee"; sometimes its a nominal $30-$50 per piece, sometimes it's considerably more. Some venues charge a commission on top of that, should the piece sell. Many venues offer the ability to have a "solo show", which amounts to renting the gallery for a certain time period. In a city like Toronto it can be quite expensive. I get it... the rents are insanely high so in order to stay open the gallery has to have some guaranteed income. It's a model that has developed out of need. But for the artists that are trying to do this for a living, it can put the entire gallery thing out of reach.

I often wonder how visual artists that make work that may be difficult to sell (like installation or film) manage to make a living. I know there are grants available, but I also am aware that often artists that don't have a saleable product have a hard time "qualifying" as a professional artist to Revenue Canada. I read an article this week that explains how the different branches of government actually work against each other, making the situation for artists even worse. I was angry by the time I got to the end. It makes no sense, and I now understand now that not valuing the arts is built right into the system we live within.

What's the solution for this? I have no idea. But I think it starts with transparency, and letting people in on the industry's secrets.  Only when the system of funding is fixed can the arts really thrive in Canada. At the moment, it seems to be totally out of whack. 

I understand that if I want to live off my art, I have to think like an entrepreneur, think of it like a business, and that means doing the work that sells, and abandoning the stuff that doesn't. Since art is such a personal thing, that can be a difficult decision to make. I use painting as a kind of stress/anxiety management tool, and I know I would continue to paint even if I never sold another piece. I would just have to reevaluate how long I kept something around and I would paint over things a lot more regularly. at the moment I'm managing to sell enough to cover my expenses and give myself a bit to try some new things, and that will have to do for now.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Walking Into the Light

"Walk Into the Light", 18x24" mixed media on canvas. Available. 
Canadian Winter. One of those things you just have to learn to deal with, should you choose to live in Canada. It doesn't get light until 8 or 8:30, it's starting to get dark by 4:00 (depending on where you live and what month it is). And when it is "light", it isn't really... its dim and dreary. The only time you get that wonderful, bright winter sun is when it's minus-hell-has-frozen-over cold.

We had two wonderfully sunny days this week. Only one of them was -15°C. I miss the sun. No matter how many winters I live through, I can't seem to really adjust to it. 

I go through this stretch of time every year, from early January until late February, where I feel like crap and can't seem to motivate myself to do much of anything. It's actually a thing... It's called Season Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), and apparently effects a pretty decent sized chunk of the population. I have a sun lamp that I use in my studio when I'm working  and that helps a bit, but it's one of those things that you have to use every day to see a difference. I have not been painting every day... somehow I've got a billion other things to do and can't seem to plan my time very well. Just the same I've gotten a few pieces finished that I had hanging around, so I'm marking them up as "the first of 2019". It helps me feel like I'm actually accomplishing something instead of just going around in circles. 

When I was working on this piece, which has been in progress since late summer, I was trying to capture the feeling of being in a dark forest and walking into the blinding sunshine. I kept putting it away and then going back to it, changing the entire thing every time. It's way darker than I had thought it would be when I started. I had visions of this lovely, cool blue-green only around the edges, but it didn't work. I kept closing it in until I had the feeling I wanted, but then it was so dark that I had to go back in and add some metallic and lighter tones to brighten it up.

The greens also disappeared when it started getting really cold outside. It was the week between Christmas and New Years when I picked it up again and covered the whole thing in a blue glaze. You can see some bits of green poking through here and there if you look really closely, but now it's mostly blue and purple. It's colder, feels more like winter, but I do get the feeling of moving from dark into light. Which is in line with the whole days getting longer and brighter thing that I'm SO looking forward to.

I'm surfing around online and dreaming of warmer weather... found this article about a town in Italy selling homes for 1 euro with a condition that you have to renovate the place. How nice would it be to start a little community for us Canadian artists desperate to escape the dreariness? Of course I don't have the money to actually do it, but it's wonderful to dream.....


Monday, January 14, 2019

Why Original Art Makes Your Life Better

"Summer Breeze", 24x24 mixed media on canvas. Available.

A few months ago, we decided to paint the entire main floor of our house. It was a tan colour, and we wanted to lighten it up with one of the popular light neutrals. We chose a very light warm grey... but when you come in, it just looks white.

Before we started, I packed up all the art and stored it away in various spots... every spare inch of space we had now had art stashed there. My studio was crazy full... but it didn't matter since I wasn't going to do any work until this was done anyway.

After everything was done i was really busy, so we left it for a bit before we hung all the art back up on the walls. Wow. What a difference. It turned our nice looking house into a home with personality. It expressed who we are.

You can't walk into our home and not know we are people that appreciate music, or that we like colour… you can probably even tell more subtle things about us by what hangs in what room. I like to change things up regularly... and I have more than enough work to be able to do that. And as pieces go out to shows and/or sell, things get rearranged. I usually have one of my larger musician paintings hanging over the piano, but recently I put up an abstract landscape. I love the way the iridescent paint glows when the morning sun hits it, so it is likely staying there until my next show. And it serves the purpose of keeping me relaxed when I sit down to try to play, and can't seem to hit any of the right keys.

I've seen lots of articles floating around the internet on why original art is important. While I agree with the sentiment, I think that a print of a piece you really connect with can be an acceptable substitute. Having something on the wall that really expresses your personality will make your space feel more your own.

Being a 50+ woman living in a big city, I want a couple things from the art I hang on my walls. For the most part, I want an image that is calming and creates a feeling of peacefulness in my home. My life is hectic... work is busy, there's the traffic, there's always people around, quiet is elusive... when I'm home I want the opposite of that. I want art I can look at for a good, long time and still see something new in it, every time. Art that gives me a feeling of spontaneity and joy and calm. And because I can paint, that's the kind of art I try to make. It took me a long time to learn how, but I think I'm there now. It was worth the effort it took.

Art can be a great conversation starter. I love to connect with the people who buy my paintings, and learn a bit about their lives. And likewise, they seem to be curious about mine. I've made a few really good friends that started with a conversation about art. When I am invited into someone's home I always note the art on the walls, and ask questions about it. Each piece usually has a story, and those stories are wonderful to share. Just hearing the excitement in a friend's voice as they tell me the story about the painting they bought on that trip a few years back, and how they managed to find themselves in that particular gallery or studio... well, it's always a high point.

I know people who follow the latest decor trends and are constantly redecorating their homes. I don't think art should follow trends or that you should choose your art based on your decor. If you choose works that you connect with, pieces that make you feel something, it will inspire you to find a way to make it work. Fortunately, with neutral everything being the thing these days, pretty much anything goes, art wise. Make your choices based on how you connect to it, and you can't go wrong.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Make Creativity Part of your Daily Life

"Spatial Music", 9x12" mixed media on paper. Available.
First painting of 2019.

Humans are creative beings. Once our daily needs for food and shelter are taken care of, we move on to other things that enrich our lives. Things that feed our souls. Being creative can do that.

Creativity takes on all sorts of different forms. I like to paint. My mom quilts. My son makes music. My husband endlessly comes up with projects to do around our house, be it building a shed to figuring out a better way to store our snow tires.

I know these days everyone is always so busy. But are we, really? My internet was out for a few days last week... I quickly realized how much time I spent surfing, on social media, sucked into binge watching a series on Netflix. While I always feel so busy, I figure I could free up at least another hour a day if I really wanted to. Possibly more. Of course, I don't have little kids anymore. That makes things more challenging, but it can be done if you're really committed.

I follow a lot of visual artists on social media. I hear about these groups and challenges that provide a good starting point for anyone looking to try their hand at being creative. I have even joined a couple groups... they give me a bit of inspiration when I'm looking for a new project. One group has monthly challenges and the members are really supportive of each other. The hosts also put out a podcast specifically aimed at those trying to build a creative habit. There are also lots of online classes available for every conceivable medium and skill level. A class provides a structure that works for a lot of people, with assignments giving them a specific project and deadline.

For me, being creative.... actually ACTING on the creative impulse... is what makes me more creative. Each painting builds on the one before it, taking a little bit of what I learned and using it as a springboard for the next thing. The only time I really hit that "I don't know what to do" roadblock is when I stop working for an extended period of time. A week break is ok, a month is not. It's like I get creative lethargy and can't motivate myself to get back to it. It took me a while to figure this out about myself, but I bet I am not alone here. Once you build a creative habit into your life, it's pretty much self-perpetuating.

I told y'all I was taking a break for the holidays... and while I did take a break from my blog, social media and marketing my work, I didn't actually take much time off from creating. I reworked an old piece that I thought could be better, finished up some half done stuff, did some drawing in my sketchbook, played with my camera and figured out how to use some new software. I got back to the "play" stage that reminds me why I started painting in the first place. It was rejuvenating.

I could have spent my time off watching movies on Netflix. Well, actually I couldn't, because my internet was out, but you know what I mean. It's way too easy to passively sit there and let the hours slip by. But if you really want to watch that new series everyone is talking about, at least do it with a sketchbook and pencil in hand. You just never know what you can do until you try.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Laments of the Easily Distracted

"In The Deep Mid-Winter", 18x18" mixed media on wood panel. That cool grey is actually silver... so of course, this looks better IRL. The metallic gives it a glimmer when the sun hits it. I'm counting this as one of my 100 Squares, because it's square, and I really wanted to hit the 50 mark by the end of the year. By going larger, I got distracted....

Sometimes I feel like i have the attention span of a gnat. I totally admit it... show me something shiny and I will immediately forget about what I'm doing. It's getting worse as I get older. Sometimes I will start 3 or 4 different projects over the course of a day, and not actually get anything finished. It's quite annoying.

Another problem I have is that I get bored easily. I think that's why I have embraced abstract art the way I have. My figurative work was interesting for a time, but then it became almost formulaic for me, and ceased to be a challenge. And once I'm bored of something, that's it, I can't do it anymore.

Abstract work is different. Every painting presents a new challenge. I think my process suits this aspect of my personality... I start by making random marks, and then I have to make that into something that works visually. The more I do the faster things go.... it's almost like playing chess; I'm improving, but I can't yet see a few moves ahead and figure out in advance if something is going to work or not.

Sometimes things go very slowly. I will do something I have never done before, like try a new medium (I've mixed moulding paste in with my paint on this one to hold my brush marks) or something I'm not sure will work (like this piece, where I stuck peeled off bits of dried paint onto my board before I started). Then have to figure out how to make it work. A future experiment is to give a panel and some mark making tools to my nephew's 3 year old daughter, and then work with what happens there. That should be fun.

The advantage of working small is that even though these experiments can take longer than usual, nothing really takes all that long with you're working on a 10x10" panel. 2018 has been all about the small. But I do think it's time for me to move into the world of larger pieces, so while I still have half my 100 Square Project to finish (this is #50 guys! I hit the half way point!!), I will be starting to work a bit bigger. I've got some 20x20 panels, some 24x30s, and a few 30x40". I've also been toying with the idea of doing another large diptych... even though I'm not sure where I'll put it when I'm done. There are not too many walls in my wee house that can manage a 40x60" painting.

I have some other plans for 2019. Right now I'm working on a schedule of sorts, so my followers can catch what they're interested in. In the world of magazines (where I worked at the beginning of my career) it is an "editorial calendar". I figure this will make it easier for me to create regular, predictable content instead of the haphazard way I've been doing it for the past few years. It'd be good for me not to be sitting down on a Sunday night wondering what I'm going to write about on Mondays blog post. This happens with alarming regularity.

I'll also be migrating my new art releases over to my proper website... because that's really where they should be if I'm going to be serious about selling these things. I'm trying to think like a business owner instead of a flaky creative, being distracted by every shiny new thing that comes along. I've managed to find a focus for my work, and now I need to focus everything else. I'll be adjusting as I go along and see what resonates with my followers... so please, if there is something you'd like to see, let me know and I will do my best to accommodate.

I'm taking a couple weeks off the blog to catch up on other stuff. Maybe even do some social outings and get in touch with friends I haven't seen in a while. I know I need to do some Christmas baking, since I've been asked if the usual cookies are going to make an appearance this year (I totally slacked off last year, and only made one batch of each. Not enough for sharing. My work friends were disappointed).

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season, with time enough to do the things you really want to do, not just the obligatory stuff. I'll see you back here the first Monday in 2019.

Peace and Light,
Marianne