Monday, June 3, 2019

Dealing with discouragement

"See the Light". #53 of my 100 Square Project. 10x10" mixed media on wood panel. Available. 

I had a high school art teacher who laughed at me when I told him I wanted to go on to a university fine art program. Apparently, I had no talent. Yeah, whatever... if there's one phrase that describes me, it's stubborn as hell. Nobody was going to tell me what I could and couldn't do. Screw that.

Art school was another thing altogether (pretty sure I've written about this before, but I can't find the post). This was discouragement on a whole other level.

The first year was awesome... I was focused on building a portfolio that would get me into the 2nd year, so I approached each project with an enthusiasm I didn't know I had. Drawing was great, painting was cool, even art history was enlightening (except for the section on medieval architecture.  I totally blew that. I still can't remember the difference between buttresses. And I still don't care).

One thing about the program I was in... the whole focus seemed to be more on how to think about art than on the actual execution. I didn't have many of the skills my classmates had, since I didn't go to an art-focused high school. I didn't know painting techniques. I knew squat about sculpture. Printmaking basically required me having the instructor beside me the entire time, telling me what to do. I wasn't really what one would call a self-motivated learner.... I realize now I could have gone to the library and gotten out books on technique, taken outside workshops, sought out extra help and help from classmates (this being the days before the internet and YouTube). But I didn't think of it.  I kinda figured it should be part of the program and it'd happen eventually. I guess I eventually figured it out, but it was slow and painful.

I worked hard. I tried to understand all the stuff covered in the classes. I diligently did all the assignments and attempted to learn something form them and not just get frustrated. I was in the studio late into the evenings, every weekend, I hauled stuff home to work on when I didn't think i could take another weekend inside the concrete walls. My grades were reasonable enough, but my critiques? OMG... brutal.

There was one guy in particular that would always find a hundred things wrong with everything i did. It wasn't "finished" enough. It was too slick. My paint was too thin. My paint was too thick. My colour choices didn't work together. I didn't actually fulfill the assignment requirements, or it was too much within the assignment requirements.  I grew to really hate that guy. I grew to really hate critiques. Add to that my brain didn't quite work the way everyone else's seemed to... I didn't like doing thumbnails and often strayed really far from my original sketch. I liked to work things out as I go, which, according to the 80s way of doing things, was totally wrong. I had to hand in a sketchbook, which I liked to doodle and take notes in rather than doing finished drawings (wrong). And my work got rejected from every single juried show I submitted to.

Was it any wonder I pretty much stopped creating as soon as I graduated?

My first series after a very long hiatus was
all figures, weaving in and out of fragmented
backgrounds. I've thought about revisiting this... 
I didn't get back to doing anything until 5 or 6 years later. I had gone through a couple graphics jobs, learned a ton about the computer, had tried and given up on creating album art for some local bands (I love music, but the musicians I worked with were a bunch of flakes who were stoned most of the time. Not my scene). I just needed to do something, so I bought some newsprint and charcoal and found a life drawing drop in. It wasn't much but it was enough to fill the need, and I kept doing it for years.

My first real series was based on the reams of figure drawings from these drop in sessions. These pieces got me into my first outdoor art shows, and I got a few pieces into a group show at a local gallery. I submitted to a load of juried shows and I still got rejected from most of them. But I actually sold a few. Those first sales... a couple to coworkers, and a few to complete strangers... made SUCH a difference to how I felt about my work. It was encouragement to keep going.

Those first few art fairs were interesting. I had no idea that people actually haggled with artists at these things. Or that everyone was willing to share an opinion, even if it was not complimentary nor asked for. I had people ask me odd questions. Why did I choose to paint this and not some other thing? Why did I use so much blue? Why did I never use pink? Why did I choose that kind of frame? Why did I not frame this other one? Or they would offer opinions on my art career... I would sell more if I painted something else or did it differently was usually what it boiled down to. So discouraging. Add to that the non-stop pan flute (ok that was one show, but 3 days worth of Simon and Garfunkel covers on a pan flute? OMG, I was ready to kill myself), the kids knocking stuff over or getting ice cream all over my display, having to wait to go to the bathroom until someone I knew came by and could watch my booth, the difficulty setting up and tearing down, my aching feet, the heat, the rain, the gale force winds... outdoor shows soon lost their glamour. Ugh.

One of my music series paintings. This one sold right away.
The music series I did in 2014-2015... that series got me a bit of recognition, especially in my home city. Keep in mind I went to University in the late 80s... that's a long stretch without really getting anywhere except filling my house with my own art. My kid was just starting high school and I suddenly had time on my hands. That year I said yes to every opportunity that presented itself... and as a result my work was everywhere (and I was exhausted). I still submitted to juried shows.... and I still got rejected. But I was starting to figure things out. The entirety of these shows hinged on the opinion of a few people, and they are not just judging the work. They are putting together a show. The pieces have to work together, they are trying to create some kind of flow, and more often than not, they have a huge pile of good work that they have to go through and find the 30 or so pieces that will work. Not a job I envy.

Once I had this figured out I was able to stop taking things personally. Letting go of other people's  judgement enabled me to just go about doing the work I wanted to do, and showing it when I could. I don't really submit to juried shows anymore (art fairs are different... those are often also juried and those are the best kind to submit to).  When I finally got into one of the more prestigious shows that had been eluding me for years, it was a meh moment. Didn't have any impact on my career whatsoever. So at $50 a pop for the entry fee, was there any point in continuing? Sure I got to meet a lot of other local artists (they were the only ones that seemed to go to the openings), but I was managing that anyway. So I stopped entering. And I'm fine with that.

Today I understand that I paint for ME. I love it. I love the way time slips away and I am totally in the moment. I am calmer and more relaxed. I have more patience. My work connects me to people in ways I never realized it would. My life has an artist has been long, somewhat frustrating, and filled with starts and stops. But it's who I am, and I can't change it.

If you're interested in seeing more of my recent work, check out my website. mariannemorrisart.com.




Monday, May 20, 2019

Facing your Fears



I am afraid of heights.

Maybe not any more than most people... I look down and feel nauseous, my knees a little weak. It's definitely fear I'm feeling, though maybe not quite having thoughts of plunging to a painful, messy death. I'm not that bad. Any more.

The view from the bridge.
In my youth I missed out on a couple cool experiences because being up really high up was quite literally paralyzing. First (and only) time I went up the glass elevator in the CN Tower I was glued to the back wall, hyperventilating, and had to be pulled off when we reached the top. It was terrifying. I didn't think a fear like that was anything I could get over, and yet I did. Every time I was faced with a height that scared me, I took a deep breath and went anyway, focusing on what was directly in front of me instead of that potential disaster. Little by little the fear dissipated, and the next time I could go a little bit higher.

When I first saw the pictures of the bridge going over the Coaticook gorge my first thought was sure, no problem. I can do that. When we drove past it on the way into the park, I was having second thoughts. Holy shit that was high up (according to the website, it's 50m). When I paid my park admission I still wasn't sure I could do it. When we got to the bridge I hesitated again... wtf was I doing? A few deep breaths... and out I stepped. When I got to the middle I stopped... the view was breathtaking. The rocky gorge, the rushing water, the trees growing out of the rock. It was so worth it.

I've done a lot of things over the years that have scared the crap out of me. I've gotten through them all, and most have proven to be a great experience. I took classes in France. I've travelled to many places on my own. I bought a house (believe it or not, signing the mortgage papers caused me a huge amount of anxiety). I changed jobs after almost 20 years at the same company. I flew across the country to take a week long art workshop on my own. All were challenging, but ultimately good for me. I try to keep this in mind when faced with something new and a little scary. New experiences make life more interesting, and I've always had a low boredom threshold.

I found a few of these along the path.
When we were in Quebec for my uncle's funeral, we spent some time exploring the area and checking out the little towns around the Eastern townships. What a beautiful spot. When my husband first threw out the idea that maybe we could move there after we retire, my first thought was of course not... how could I manage in french? I can order a coffee, but I can't carry on a conversation. How could I continue my art business? What about my network of art people? How would I manage? But after thinking about it.... why couldn't we? It's in the same country, with means there is no immigration crap to deal with. I can learn french. Much of my art business is done online. Video chat can keep me in touch with my friends. I can make new friends. And Montreal has a vibrant art community. It could be a lot of fun, and really good for me.

While this is not a thing that is definitely in my future, I have not ruled it out. It's actually kinda fun to think about... I have visions of plein air painting at a lake with a mountain view. Sharing wine and cheese with a bunch of Quebec artists, planning an event. Spending time with family I haven't seem more than once a year in my entire life. It could be good.

I know one thing... I can't let fear stop me.

The beautiful Cherry River... part of a protected wetland.


Monday, May 6, 2019

A Long Winter

"The Long Winter" 20x20" mixed media on wood panel. Available. 

It's been raining for what feels like weeks. The temperatures are a bit warmer, but the endless rain and dreary days make those occasional sunny days feel a vacation. I am on my way to Quebec... the Eastern Townships... and from what I see online, I half-expect to spend some of my vacation time filling sandbags.

So many areas are flooding. It's bad in Quebec, but it's happening even here in Ontario. It's been a bad year for it... even the water levels in lake Ontario seem particularly high. It didn't really seem like there was more snow than usual, or even that there's been more rain this spring. All seemed pretty much par for the course. Even though it feels like this winter has been endless, it really hasn't. January wasn't really even cold until the last week, we didn't get much snow here until February. It was gone by early April. Same as usual. So what's going on?

I hope I can get out and experience a few things we had to pass on last time we were on vacation in Quebec. We have a family event to attend on one day, but the rest of the time we will be able to do what we please. It is such a lovely area, even just walking about and taking some photos will be inspiring. I just really hope the rain lets up. I'm tired of the grey.

I've managed to get my house back in order after Arts on the Credit. What a great show this year. The quality of the work seems to improve every year. Unfortunately, attendance seemed to be a bit light... I suspect it has to do with all the construction in the area, and that the front entrance to the hotel is hidden behind construction fencing. Not exactly inviting. The people that did navigate their way through seemed to enjoy it. I had some really lovely conversations with people I hope to see again. It was exhausting, but I hope I am able to do it again next year. With all juried shows it's hit and miss... sometimes you get in, sometimes you don't. I'll just have to wait and see.

I don't have much else planned at this point. I'm going to do the art tour in Port Credit (September), and will likely have my open studio again in November. I plan to do more shows in 2020, but for this year I'm just going to go to shows as a spectator and see what seems like it might work for me. I'd like to expand a bit outside of Mississauga. Know of anything that might work for me? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Monday, April 22, 2019

Comparison is the Thief of Joy


"Quiet Solitude", 30x40" mixed media on wood panel. Available. 


With the news of the fire at Notre Dame this week, i’ve been thinking about time that I spent in Paris while I was in University. I’ll get back to that in another post, because it was really pretty incredible. But what I want to focus on this week, is what happened when I started feeling nostalgic and looking up the people from my past.

I have a Bachelors of Fine Art. I went to school with some incredibly creative people, but because this was in the time pre-social media, I have lost track of most of them. A few that I forged a bond with I have since re-connected with, and there were even a couple I never lost track of. Most of these people were those I lived with or worked with, and only a couple from my actual classes. 

While I was chatting online with a friend I had made during my classes in France, other names started making an appearance…. And because it is now something easily done, I looked them up.

One of the guys who was in that same group is now quite an accomplished artist. He has work in the National gallery. He has had some very impressive exhibitions. He has a list of grants longer than I cared to read. He makes work that I don’t necessarily understand… at least from what I could see online…. But then he was always a bit beyond the rest of us, even at the tender age of 20. He was a nice guy… I’m happy he has been able to do what he loves and be recognized for it. 

Another former classmate went from fine art into fashion, and now has his own design studio in Hong Kong. He specializes in wedding dresses and his website is very impressive. From the massive amounts of information available about him online, I can only conclude that he has done extremely well for himself. Again, good for him. 

Another of my recent paintings. I'll have this with
me at Arts on the Credit next weekend
It would seem I am one of the underachievers of the group. 

I had never really thought of myself this way before. Here I am in my 50s, still slogging away, working a day job to pay the bills and fitting in painting when I can. I have to admit, it brought me down for a couple days.

I’ve done fine in my life. I’ve had a decent lifestyle… I am not poor by any stretch. I have a good job, I own a house in one of the most expensive cities in the country and I am not in debt. I’ve managed to sock away some money for retirement and pay for my son’s education. My husband and I are firmly in the middle class. We can go on vacation from time to time without worrying about money. I have absolutely nothing to complain about, and on an average day, I’m pretty content.

Why was this bugging me so much?

Success has a different definition for everyone. When I was in my 30s I really thought about what would make me happy and how I could go about achieving it. I’ve always known myself well enough to know that living in poverty while I struggled to get my art recognized would not work for me. I would have so much anxiety about money that I wouldn’t be able to focus on the work. Kinda made it inevitable that I would have to have a day job. I thought a "career" would be enough for me, but it wasn’t. I needed something else. Getting back into creating filled that void. 

I’m not the kind of person that needs awards and accolades to define my success. I don’t even bother to apply for juried shows anymore, because when I get accepted, it doesn’t seem to mean anything to me. I apply for art fairs because it’s an opportunity to sell, and I find sales much more satisfying than awards. In fact, when I have won an award, my first thought was if the piece was so good, why didn’t it sell?

I’ve written before about why I like to sell. It’s not about the money… never has been. It’s about connection. So while I will pop open the wine when I sell a large piece, selling a small painting is just as important. When it’s purchased by someone I like and respect it means even more. If I was able to quit the day job and just focus on painting, I would be happy as a clam.

And I’d probably still feel a pang of envy when someone I know achieves something notable. Is it wired in our DNA? Is it just one of the many drawbacks of being constantly connected at all times? Is the blame laid firmly at the feet of social media, or is it human nature?

I’m sure seeing the perfectly curated versions of other people’s lives does nothing to help us feel content in the here and now. But the thing is, we can’t see how they struggled. I can only imagine how many rejection letters my old classmate received while on his way to that long list of accolades. How many times did he feel like giving up? How many times did he have to convince himself the struggle would be worth it? For that matter, how long did he live with his parents after university in order to pursue his dream? That was something I was not willing to do… I loved my parents and all, but I needed to be out on my own and live my own life. Not everyone sees this as a necessity.

We are all different, with different dreams, goals and affections. I urge you to examine your own life, and decide for yourself what success looks like. Constantly comparing yourself to people you see online will get you nowhere, and only make you miserable. I’m back to my usual self now, being grateful for what I have and looking at the future. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being “ordinary”, and I do ordinary quite well, thank you very much. 

x

Monday, April 8, 2019

Waste Not, Want Not


"Winter Song", 9x12" mixed media on paper.

I paint a lot.

Seems like I’m even more prolific lately, since I’ve decided to stop wasting the sheets of paper I use to lift paint on my wood panels. I’ve been taking these paint covered sheets, and making more art with them. They are my experiments. I feel absolutely no pressure to make them good, since they would have been tossed anyway. I just work away at them until I feel like they’re done, then they go into the pile.

"Winter Song", framed and on display.
The first time I put these out to sell was at my open studio a couple years ago. I priced them according to my usual pricing formula… but then I figured since they all had to be framed before they could be hung I would put them on sale. Make them a bit more affordable.I had quite a few new, young collectors show up that year. They all took home paintings done on watercolour paper. Go figure.

I’m going to be taking my pile of current works on paper to Arts on the Credit in April. Will they sell? I have no idea. I have this vague notion (with absolutely no proof that this is true) that most people want something they can take home and hang up immediately. That’s why I paint on inch and a half deep panels with the sides nicely finished. I like the sleek, contemporary look, and it goes with the style of decor that is in right now. But I have to admit, I like the look of a simply framed piece of art. A white matte, a black or white frame, either on it’s own or in a grouping. They look so elegant… if it wasn’t so expensive for me to frame the 50 or so paintings on paper I have in my pile right now, I’d do them all and have my booth filled with them. But I think most people can visualize how they would look framed… and appreciate that I don’t have to factor the cost of framing into the price. 

April has rolled around again, and the 100 Day Project is making the rounds on social media. I did this project last year… kind of half-assed, I admit, but I was busy and just didn’t have time to create every day. I do think it’s a great project though. I was going to take a pass this year, knowing it would be the same kind of spotty participation (especially with an art fair happening within the first 30 days). How can I possibly carve out the time for something this massive?

"Brush Fire", framed and on display.
So I started seeing the posts going up last Monday… oh they are soooooo wonderful. I love seeing the progress on all my friend’s projects. It makes me want to participate. Makes me want to go paint and try new things. I guess I can do something. It’s not like I don’t already do something 5 of 7 days of the week… some days I’m in my studio for hours working on some little thing or other. Oh what the hell…. I just talked myself into it. I’ll start tagging my daily Instagram posts and see how it adds up. The one thing I love about doing a large project is seeing how things change over time. I’m only half way through my 100 squares, and I’ve seen an enormous change. It’s pretty amazing actually. Now I just have to decide what I want to do…

Anyway…. Back to the paper. When this art show is over I’m going to be posting these pieces up on my website. I’ve been busily photographing, sleeving and pricing… they will be ready to go up as soon as I see what I’ve got left in my inventory. I’ve already started by posting a few of my more recent ones. Since paper is light I’m including shipping in the price to make them a bit more attractive. Now I guess I just wait and see….

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

What kind of vehicle best fits the needs of an artist?


The Winter's Spring", 12x24" mixed media on wood panel.
I will have this with me at Arts on the Credit in April.
See my website for details.
I drive an old truck. It’s been a good truck… but it’s 16 years old and has over 25,000 km on it, and honestly, it’s turning into a bit of a money pit. Every time it goes in for service there’s something new wrong with it, costing us another pile of cash. Such is the way of an old vehicle. 

Before I started driving the truck, I drove a Saturn sedan. I loved my Saturn. Decent gas milage for the time, and a surprising amount of cargo space. I was driving my Saturn when I bought my the display gear I use for shows. Before I bought it I got out my measuring tape and made sure everything would fit in my car without issue. It was a comfortable fit. No problems. 

When my car died I took over driving my husband’s truck. He didn’t need it for work… we live close enough he started riding his bike back and forth. We even invested in one of those fat tire winter bikes so we could share the vehicle. The display racks didn’t fit in the truck bed, but we could open the back cab window and slide them through. Not an ideal solution, but it worked, and I only did a couple shows a year that required me to use them, so we managed. (We also own a small Mazda hatchback that my son drives. I can fit a lot of paintings into that car, but my display gear doesn’t fit. So I really didn’t have many options).

We have now decided it’s time to get a new (to us) vehicle. We did some research on the SUV category, narrowed down the choices to 6, and started shopping.

I’m not going to get into how I was completely invisible to the mostly male sales force at the dealerships. They just assumed the decision would be made by my husband. It wasn’t until I got out the tape measure and started crawling around in the back that they figured maybe I should be part of the conversation. The first company to figure out that women have some buying power these days and starts treating them like they exist will make a fortune. Just saying. 

Anywhoooo….

I thought I would share my thoughts on fitting display gear into a compact SUV, because when I was searching online for info, there was nothing available. Most websites don’t list dimensions of the cargo bed, it’s listed by volume. How do you know if your gear will fit? I know some people who go the trailer route, and someone who puts a lot of the big stuff on a roof rack. That’s an option… but I want to be able to get everything packed and unpacked on my own, as Mr. M isn’t always around to help.

So… I have display grid walls that are 6 feet tall and 2 feet wide. They make them taller, and shorter, but given the size of the average canopy used in a outdoor art fair, it seemed to make sense when I bought them. Given they could fit in my average sized car, it didn’t occur to me I would ever have an issue. But cars have gotten smaller, and even SUVs are not as big as they used to be. While that might be awesome when trying to park the thing (have parking spots gotten smaller too? It feels like it…), it’s a pain trying to fit in large gear.

Of the 6 models we checked out, we have narrowed it down to 3. I loved driving the Honda CRX, but because of the way the back seats split, there is no way I could fit the racks in. The narrower of the two sides is on the passenger side… only about 18” wide. I'd have to put both sides down, and then if I'm lucky enough to have help, where would they sit? The front seat had to be as far forward as it would go, not leaving any space for someone with... you know... legs. The Hyundai Santa Fe and the Ford Edge felt more like driving a truck than the others we tested, so while they felt ok and were spacious, we struck them both off the list. I’m not a huge fan of driving a truck. I’m not that tall, and it makes me feel like I’m steering a tank.

My top pick: pretty sure it’s the Hyundai Tucson. Nice to drive… it feels like driving a car, not a big vehicle. Gets great milage, the reliability rating is the highest in its class, and I could both back into a tight spot and parallel park easily. The back seats have the wider section of the split on the passenger side, so I can put the front seat all the way up, and the racks easily fit. Bonus, I can fit in a passenger at the same time. 

The Mazda CX5 is also really nice to drive. The gas milage is a bit better than the Tucson, but the reliability rating is not as high. The base model has the backseat split the same as the Honda, so we thought this would eliminate it from our choices, even though I liked it a lot. We discovered that the next level trim package has a centre console in the back seat that gives more flexibility. Given that we were looking for a used car, if we can find one that has that option it will still be a possibility. 

Lastly, the Toyota RAV4 is my final option. My husband didn’t like it as much, as it is a bit bigger than the other two, but there is enough cargo space that I can fit the racks in with still enough room to sit in the front passenger seat. Parking is still easy… the backup camera seems to be a standard feature now, thank goodness. I backed into a very tight spot I wouldn’t have even attempted without the camera. I didn’t try parallel parking it… that would be necessary if we were to buy it, as a lot of downtown galleries use street parking for loading and unloading. As much as I hate doing it, I have to sometimes. 

I considered selling my current display gear and replacing it with 5 foot high racks… this would give us more flexibility and allow us to get whatever we wanted. It’s still an option, but I’d rather not go through the hassle of doing that if I don’t have to. And given what I’ve seen at the art fairs I’ve done, the 6 footers are pretty standard. 

I hope this helps out anyone looking for information. I think putting dimensions on the vehicle websites would make things so much easier… surely it’s not just artists that have specific needs for transport. But I don’t imagine asking for it would change anything… a couple dealers couldn’t even dig up a tape measure when I asked. And they had no clue what the dimensions were. All I can suggest is that if you are going shopping for a car, don’t forget your tape measure. It’ll save you a lot of hassle later on. 

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.