Monday, March 11, 2019

Going Home

"Going Home", 24x24" mixed media on canvas. Available.
I finally photographed a piece where the interference paint shows up. I guess I have to wait for just the right light. 

My husband is in the midst of planning his annual fishing trip with his brother. They're from Newfoundland and he will often tie the trip in with a visit to his parents. They usually go somewhere "near home"... they've been to Labrador, various spots in NF, and Northern Quebec, which is kind of a half-way point between us in Ontario, his brother in Labrador, and his parents in NF.

Many Newfoundlanders refer to their place of birth as "home", and when they go visit they are "going home", even if that is not where they have lived for 30/40/50 years. They leave because they have to... there are no opportunities, no jobs, no way to live. They create a community with friends and family wherever they are, and go back to visit, but that place in their heart they feel as home never changes.

I'm not like that. Of course I've never lived outside of Ontario for any length of time, so I suppose I may if I did. I've moved around a bit... my parents moved from Quebec to Ontario when I was quite young, during a time of political instability. Many of my aunts and uncles also left, being anglophones in a francophone world. We settled in Mississauga, where I live now. I lived in Waterloo for a few years during school, Toronto a few years after, and spent a year out near London where I moved for a job. But that's pretty much it. I've never lived further away from my parents than I can drive. 

The place my husband comes from changes in small increments. It's not a large place, and there isn't a lot of industry, so the changes that do happen are noticeable from visit to visit. If you lived there, I imagine it wouldn't be terribly disruptive when something new gets built or changed. 

Here is a different thing altogether. I'm basically on the west border of Toronto and Mississauga. Toronto is a big, booming city with something changing all the time. Mississauga seems hell bent on making sure there is housing on every available spot, infrastructure be damned. For example, Lakeshore Road is a major thoroughfare, one of 3 ways to get over the Credit River in the south end of the city. Over the past few years there have been a few large condo developments in the adjacent areas, and no changes to the roads. Traffic is an absolute nightmare. I used to love to go through the areas along Lakeshore, now I avoid it like the plague. 

The home of my childhood no longer exists. I know, because I'm still here. I remember the horse farm that was up by the highway, which I don't think has been there for 20 years. It's one of those shopping super-center things now. I remember learning to drive on gravel roads, and going to the drive-in which felt like it was out in the country (it's still there, but now it's a major road with subdivisions all around it). The "city-center" was once a mall out in the middle of nowhere. When they declared it "downtown" we all laughed. Now it's all high-rises and traffic. Not the place I remember as home. 

So home has to be wherever I am. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

Why do we turn a hobby into a side hustle?

"Remembering Saint-Siméon", 10x10" mixed media on wood panel. 

I read an interesting article this week, about the trend of monetizing hobbies. It was an interesting read, and got me thinking about why I have been trying for years to get a business going from my painting.

It wasn't at all about money.  I've had a full time job since I was 20 years old, doing something I enjoyed and was good at. I got paid well enough to be comfortable, so it's not like I needed extra for things like food (for someone entering the work force today it would be an entirely different story. Even those working in the same field as me don't get paid enough to cover rent in Toronto, let alone eat).

As the years rolled along though, I found that money wasn't the same as job satisfaction, and as I got more experience doing what I was doing, I hit a point where I got bored. The challenge was gone.

Boredom is a tough one for me... I love to learn and have never been good at being content with the status quo. When the company I worked for wouldn't let me move to a different area to learn something new, I thought about going elsewhere, but it is the biggest player in the game with the most complex work there was to be done. Changing jobs didn't seem like the way to go. Instead I threw myself into my "hobby", and decided to put in the hours it took to get good at it.

I've always loved painting. I have a degree in fine art and I've made stuff off and on since I was in high school. I never seriously considered it a career... I didn't have any money during school, so I lived on a shoe string, and though I wouldn't say it was awful, it wasn't exactly how I would choose to live. Poverty isn't fun. And as I didn't know any artist that actually made a living from their art (except those that taught), I didn't think it was a realistic possibility.

Hard to know when you're good enough at something to be considered "good", isn't it? At first, my goal was just to paint something I liked. Then I thought I'd be good enough when I could consistently paint something I liked. Then when I could get into an outdoor show. Then a juried show. Then win some sort of award. I've accomplished all these things, but I still feel like I have a lot to learn. My work could be better. But still, when someone loves one of my pieces enough to part with their hard earned money... that gives me a kind of satisfaction I don't get from getting into a show. I feel like I've made a connection with someone. Selling my paintings became a kind of validation for me.

These days I paint like someone obsessed. I think about the painting I'm working on when I'm at work, or driving, or in the shower, or out on a walk. I see the world as a painter, looking for the colour in the shadows on the snow, or framing what I'm looking at as a compositional problem to solve. I note colour combinations that speak to me, I look for interesting textures. I've always got 3 or more pieces on the go. And my house is becoming cluttered. I've got paintings stuffed in closets and under beds, but I still keep making more. I can't stop. I've started painting over some of my less successful, older pieces, but I've still got too many.

I enjoy doing the art fairs. I'd probably enjoy it more if I sold more, because the packing stuff up to move is my least favourite part. I like going to galleries and chatting with people about the work. I love getting feedback about my own work. I love seeing photos of my paintings in my collector's homes. I feel joy when one of my friends, who have been following my work for years, call to say they want one particular piece because it speaks to them. It makes me feel like I'm bringing joy into someone else's life, and that makes me happy.

So while I wouldn't recommend everyone turn their hobby into a side gig, but I do see value in pursuing what you love, and becoming the best you can at it. Do what you want and don't worry about if it will sell. Lots of great work is not very marketable, but that doesn't make it any less valuable. Have a day job if you have to, but don't give up the thing that makes your heart sing. There is value in You being You.

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.