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Saturday, December 31, 2005

What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls a butterfly. --Richard Bach

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Habit is the enemy

Habit makes some things easier, like brushing your teeth, setting the table or tying your shoes. Once you've learned to do these things, habit allows you to do them without thinking, freeing your mind to work on something else.

But to an artist, habit can be deadly, keeping you doing the same old things and staying in your comfort zone instead of challenging yourself to be more creative. Yes, habit makes things easier, but it doesn't necessarily make them better. When you get entrenched in your habits you lose the impetus to improve your work. Eventually your habits become a full-fledged block, and you find yourself getting bored with your work but afraid to move out of that comfort zone.

Why do you do this? It's mostly fear of change, of stepping into the unknown. And to complicate matters, you probably set overwhelmingly high expectations for yourself and are afraid you can't reach your own goals.

You can overcome your fear by changing one thing to start with. Not a laundry list of things--just one thing--like the size or shape of your paper or canvas or the angle you look at your subject. When you change one thing, no matter how simple it may be, everything else looks a little bit different and you find yourself making small, creative adjustments that make your work a lot more interesting than it was before. So each time you find yourself falling into a rut, ask yourself where one small change might make a difference.

Don't set yourself up for failure with rigid, high expectations when you're stuck. Your mind simply won't apply itself to a problem when it already knows (even if you aren't consciously aware of it) that you have set an impossible task for yourself. By all means set goals, but make them doable. Perhaps you think you should paint every single day, but realistically you can't do that and still work at your day job or drive those car-pools. So you do nothing. Instead, find one day or part of a day that you feel you can make a commitment to paint--even for a short time--and honor that commitment. Here's where habit can be a good thing, just to get you started.

And once you keep that promise to yourself, continue to make small changes in the way you work, to stimulate your creativity.

For more on creativity and change, see these articles on my web site:
Change One Thing

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing. --Camille Pissarro

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Center of interest or focal point

Not every painting, whether realistic or abstract, needs a focal point or primary center of interest. Some paintings are pattern pieces, based on a variety of colors and shapes. Create an eyepath that moves the viewer's eye through the painting by repetition of colors, shapes, lines, and other elements of design. As the late Ed Whitney said, invite your viewer into the picture and entertain him everywhere. Be sure you have a place here and there where the eye can rest, so all areas won't be equally stimulating. You can also create fast and slow rhythms that help move the eye. If your painting has a realistic subject at the center of interest, the same ideas apply to moving your viewer's eye through the picture to arrive at the focal point. A straight line from the corner is too abrupt. Let the viewer meander through the picture to find your subject.

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

I don't have a lot of respect for talent. Talent is genetic. It's what you do with it that counts. --Martin Ritt

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Grammy (that's me!)


The computer swallowed Grammy.
Yes, honestly its true.
She pressed 'control' and 'enter'
And disappeared from view.

It devoured her completely,
The thought just makes me squirm.
She must have caught a virus
Or been eaten by a worm.

I've searched through the recycle bin
And files of every kind;
I've even used the internet,
But nothing did I find.

In desperation, I asked Jeeves
My searches to refine.
The reply from him was negative,
Not a thing was found 'online'.

So, if inside your 'Inbox,'
My Grammy you should see,
Please 'Copy', 'Scan' and 'Paste' her
And send her back to me!
-- Author Unknown

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

There is no city in the world where they have erected a statue to a critic. --Jean Sibelius

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Critiquing your own artwork

There comes a time in the life of every artwork when you must stand back and analyze what you've done. Too often artists begin by looking for all the flaws. There's a better way to examine your work.

1. Give the piece time to grow on you. Maybe you're tired of working on it, you've had a bad day, or you're in a hurry. Put it aside and return to it later with a fresh eye.

2. Always look for the good parts first. These are your strengths, the foundation you can build on. Thinking positively makes it easier to handle the negatives.

3. Be realistic about your mistakes. What actual effect do they have on the total piece? Are you making a mountain out of a molehill? Will others notice this "mistake" if you don't point it out to them?

4. Learn from your mistakes. Study them to find effects you can use in another piece. If this one can't be saved, don't quit on it till you have learned all it has to teach you. Experiment with techniques you would hesitate to try on one that is working. At this point, what do you have to lose? As a last resort, save it for collage or just throw it away, no regrets. It's only a piece of paper or canvas.

5. Learn to handle criticism. No one--abslutely no one--agrees on how to judge art. Don't be hurt if someone criticizes your effort. That's one person's opinion. If your artwork is rejected from a show, the same thing applies. One judge's "reject" may be another's "best of show." It happens all the time.

6. Enjoy yourself. How you feel about making art is every bit as important as the product. When you value the experience of making art, the result is a thing of value.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as long as we live. --Mortimer Adler

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Getting serious about art

Today I'm talking to artists young and old, amateur and professional, who exhibit art and fine crafts at local galleries and outdoor art shows--and even those who make art and don't show their work at all.

Artists are a mixed lot, no doubt about it. I might be stretching it to call some of them artists. Don't be too quick to judge. Many are serious about their art, investing time, money and precious energy in it. Only a few have formal fine arts degrees. Such training involves exposure to many disciplines and contact with other art students that stimulates effort and competition. But many artists can't deal with the pressure of grades and a structured format. What are they to do?

Begin--anywhere. If you are serious, you'll get where you want to go; but no one will do it for you. Find classes at your local recreation or senior center, a community college or painting workshop. Enroll in a correspondence art course or (gasp) paint along with a public TV instructor. More than one successful artist has started out painting "happy little trees."

In 1970 my husband gave me a set of watercolor paints and this gift changed my life. I was discouraged when the local art college told me I couldn't enroll because only serious art students could take day classes. I had four children in school; night classes were not an option. I thought taking a YMCA class would be a poor substitute, but I was wrong. That class, solid in fundamental watercolor techniques, was a launching pad for me. I painted constantly, explored museums and galleries, read art instruction books and magazines and eventually took more than 70 workshops in painting, drawing and applied arts. I'm still learning new things every day.

I'm serious about art.

Artists like me--and possibly you--find hazards in the do-it-yourself program. Sometimes we become too single-minded about a medium or technique. We risk weak development of important skills and frequently suffer from lack of confidence. But every difficulty can be overcome--if you're serious. Anyone with normal mental and physical capabilities can master art skills. Like the characters in the Wizard of Oz, you already have inside you what you need to reach your artistic goals. You just have to believe in yourself. It takes Practice, Patience and Perseverance.

You become a serious artist when you realize that your art education never ends.

And it's never too late to create.

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Raiding the pantry

Busy, busy times! I'm finding it hard to blog every day. I've decided to raid my Yahoo! group and publish some of the essays I posted there starting in 2001.
They're on topics I like to write about and most of my blog-readers haven't seen them. I'll edit and update as needed. The first one is in my next blog post.


Sunday, December 11, 2005

Shoot for the moon. If you miss you'll still end up in the stars. --Artie Shaw

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Colored pencil musings

Colored pencil intrigues me. I can recall using colored pencils when I was a child, but I never liked them much because the colors were so weak. I didn't know there was such a thing as "artist's colored pencil," or maybe there wasn't back then. It always seemed to me it would be easy to do colored pencil drawings, but now that the pencils are better, the finished works look more like paintings--and they don't look easy. Several years ago I was exhibiting in an art fair where a colored pencil artist was working on a piece about 18" x 24". The fair lasted two-and-a-half days and wasn't well attended, so she spent nearly the entire time working on the piece. At the end of the weekend she had completed a section less than six inches square. It was beautiful, but I realized that I don't have the temperament for colored pencil--it takes too long. I read somewhere than one artist takes thirty hours, still another works for three months on a colored pencil piece. I admire that kind of persistence, but I guess that's why I'm a watercolor painter. There's no denying the beauty of colored pencil, though. Look at these pieces by Janie Gildow.

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Friday, December 09, 2005

Creativity exists in the present moment. You can't find it anywhere else. --Natalie Goldberg

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Making space for art

I love Hanna's excitement over her new art space. Everyone would love to have a state-of-the-art studio, but hardly anyone can have everything they want. Hanna's mother pointed out to her that a corner of her bedroom that had bookcase in it might make a good place for her to set up her arts and crafts studio. It worked! Now she has all her "toys" (read "tools") in one place, doesn't have to put them away, can walk in and create when she feels like it (well, maybe not when her dear husband is sleeping), and she is ecstatic. I know how she feels, having started out on the kitchen table. I had to put everything away at meal times. The next step was a corner of the master bedroom. Nice to be able to leave things out and ready to use. But eventually everything piled up and there was just a narrow path from the door to the bed, lined by matted and framed watercolors. We enclosed our porch to make a sitting room/studio for me, which was fantastic. But I still had to do my framing in the basement and eventually had to set up my computer in a bedroom so I could write my books. In 1983 I moved into my present studio, a renovated recreation room with optimal lighting, an area for painting, tables for framing and a computer and business space. Here's how it looks: my studio. While you're looking at studios, check out other artists' studios. (Not all links here are current.) It doesn't matter how fancy your studio is, just how it makes you feel to work there. It's important to have a place to call your own.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Concentration is the secret of strength. --Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Artists' Trading Cards

My friend sent me this link on artists' trading cards. You can see why artists enjoy making these art miniatures. The author, Youmana Medlej is an artist in Beirut, Lebanon, who has a wide variety of art and essays on her www.cedarseed.com, website. Browse awhile.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one. --Stella Adler

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What is art?

One of my artist friends is painting ATCs. Artist Trading Cards. Little miniature paintings that are exchanged with other artists who are also painting the small cards. Is it art? Well, in my opinion, if you think it is art, then it's art. (Pause here for screaming in denial or approbation.)No one will ever agree on what art is. Here is my top ten list:
10. It's art because the artist says it is.
9. It's art because the artist loved doing it.
8. It's art because no one can prove it isn't.
7. It's beautiful.
6. It's functional, as well as beautiful.
5. It's well designed.
4. It connects people in a spiritual way.
3. It communicates with other people in a unique way.
2. It says something that can't be said in words.
1. It expresses feelings.

What's your top ten list of what art is?

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Sunday, December 04, 2005

The greatest discovery is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes of Mind. --William James

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That time of year

All the hoo-hah about what constitutes an appropriate display of the season wears me out. I was brought up to respect the customs of others and there's no time like the present to put that teaching into action. I found an article recently by Bruce Weinstein, author of Life Principles: Feeling Good by Doing Good. He reiterates his five life principles in the article:
1. Do no harm.
2. Make things better.
3. Respect others.
4. Be fair.
5. Be loving.
Now those are words to live by, especially when our minds are on giving and making resolutions for a New Year. However, they can all be rolled up into one saying that has been around for millenia: the Golden Rule. Here's a web site that lists sayings from different religions around the world expressing the principle of treating others as you wish to be treated. The version I learned is "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."

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Saturday, December 03, 2005

There are painters who transform the sun into a yellow spot, but there are others who, thanks to their art and intelligence, transform a yellow spot into the sun. --Pablo Picasso

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Color bias

Color wheels are based on the properties of light, but pigments aren't pure like light is. Their characteristics vary in transparency, intensity, tinting strength, granulation, viscosity and staining properties. As important as these characteristics are, they aren't the key factor in color mixing. Each pigment also has a distinctive color bias that influences mixtures. Understanding color bias is essential to successful color mixing.

The dictionary says bias is a "preference or an inclination." When you call Alizarin Crimson a bluish-red, you're saying that it is a red that leans toward blue. Most pigments have such inclinations. Determine the bias in a paint color, and you can control mixtures incorporating that color. For example, to mix a good violet or purple, use a bluish-red and a reddish-blue. A yellowish-red or greenish-blue would add yellow to the mixture and dull the color, because yellow is the complement (opposite) of the color you're trying to mix. Yellow is also the third primary color, so when you want to mix bright colors, make sure there are only two primaries in the mixture.

For a more detailed explanation of color-mixing see the split-primary color-mixing system on my web site or my book, Exploring Color.

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Friday, December 02, 2005

To market, to market

Marketing art is such a big subject. I love the quote below from Pat Chapin, an artist I've known through a couple of art mailing lists for several years. Her point is so clearly stated: you have to be proactive if you want to sell your art. There are many different ways of doing this, and maybe I'll talk about them another day, but it really does begin with you and what you do to bring the customers to you. The Internet makes it appallingly obvious how many artists are out there competing for sales, but it's less obvious how many customers there are and what they're buying. Another artist I met in my early days on the Web has risen to the challenge and is doing a good job marketing and selling her oils and acrylics. She now has five videos, a couple of books, a newsletter and lots of studio and plein air paintings moving quickly out of her web site and into people's homes. She teaches workshops, gives demos, exhibits in shows and conducts her art business in a professional manner. You need a plan and "ya gotta have art" if you want to succeed.

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No matter how much we might wish for it, the world will not beat a path to your door until you have cleared the way, rolled out carpet and installed lighting. --Pat Chapin

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

My life itself became a work of art. I had found a voice. I was whole again. --Henry Miller

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The transformative power of art

Imagine being a parent of a mentally disabled son, one who can speak and move but is somewhat unable to relate to the world about him or to achieve skills normal to children his age. As a devoted parent, you would take every opportunity to find activities to interest your child, hoping to kindle a spark that might brighten his life and alleviate the pain you feel for him. This was the life of Mary Pearce, whose son Bryan was afflicted with phenylketonuria (PKU), a genetic disorder that causes chemical imbalances that may result in brain damage. Babies today are tested for PKU at birth and given special diets if they test positive for the disease, but when Bryan was born in 1929, no such tests existed. When he was a boy his mother discovered that he seemed to enjoy painting objects in watercolor and had rather a gift for it. An artist friend agreed to tutor him. Eventually, in 1953 he was accepted into Leonard Fuller's St. Ives School of Painting in Cornwall, England. Bryan blossomed as a naive painter of the landscape and seascape around St. Ives and rendered still life subjects, as well. >In time his work attracted notice and he was invited to exhibit in galleries. At first he didn't understand that these opportunities meant he could become self-supporting. Eventually he became proud that his art gave him a degree of independence. Instead of languishing in an institution, Bryan Pearce has lived a fulfilling life because of art. His work is prized by collectors all over the world. Bryan's inspiring story is told movingly in The Miracle of Bryan Pearce by C. J. Stevens.

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