Sharing is Caring

bearclay

I am blogging (publishing the things I notice about making stuff) again.  No need to elaborate on the pile of excuses for why I haven’t because I’ve come to the realization that have to. I have to do this for my own sanity.  I do not have a choice not to follow the deeper impulse to write or share my work in public because my internal voice has become unignorable.   

Point is: I am back and it feels so good to do this and if no one sees it—that’s ok, because the joy really is in the doing…….. 

But—is it Really?   Is process the only point?  

If true—that the only joy is in the process of making, writing, creating and building, then why publish? Why put anything out there?  Why do I have this nagging need? I have been writing, journaling and making things consistently this whole time- I never stop making- It’s been a consistent theme throughout my entire life but since I haven’t been posting— and have been taking on less freelance because of school– I can’t shake this undeniable urge to post and share my insights and make art that other people get to see.   

It’s like I have to share and as much as I don’t want to—or, as much as my ego tells me I don’t want to– it now feels like I can’t not. 

I can’t not make things. 

And 

I can’t not share them.  

I question this realization in myself- I’m still having a hard time trusting it and I’m actually embarrassed about it—a little bit.   I like to think that I don’t need validation or approval or attention for anything I’m doing so why can’t I just create things in a vacuum? Making stuff is awesome- I do it all the time and I can’t avoid doing it- so why do I feel bad about not sharing any of the stuff I’ve made or thoughts I’ve had about making it recently?  

This brings me to an unpleasant thought lurking in the depths of my psyche about artists who shove their stuff in everyone’s faces as being obnoxious and just looking for validation.   The egotistical pride I’ve been giving myself on the fact that I don’t need that kind of approval is now revealing itself to me as just a big hoax.  Is this just a mask to hide the fear of being seen?—disliked? falsely judged?– or  

Gasp!——being seen as obnoxious or looking for validation? ……Even longer Gasp!  

I now realize I have no choice but to share my stuff.  

Because — What are ideas and art for if they’re not for other people to share in them?   

And if people think I am obnoxious or looking for validation maybe that’s just a projection of their own insecurities– just like mine was.  And, more importantly, if they do really think that—– so what?!? 

Ultimately: It does not matter.  None of this overthinky thinking really matters!!   

What matters is this: 

I can’t not make things- AND I can’t not share them.  

So, regardless of whether people like it and regardless of why you think I’m putting this out there, 

Here is a clay sculpture I just made of some of my animal guides rising out of the depths of my subconscious mind.   

Maybe that sounds flakey or kooky or airy-fairy-woo-woo and perhaps you think I’d be better off as a barefoot seed planter on an Organic avocado farm in California (no insult to organic avocado farmers intended) but- that is what it is to me. . . that is how it presented itself to me-  and If it looks like something else to you—cool.  It doesn’t change the fact that:  I felt the urge to make this so I did.   

And:  I feel the urge to share it so I am:   

bearmontage

And all this pondering about art and why make it and share it etc. reminded me of a few lines from this 90’s British trip-hop band that I used to love love love a long long time ago.  It’s called “The Music That We Hear” by Morcheeba.   

The chorus goes:  

The music that we make will heal our mistakes and lead us. 

The music that we hear is always standing near to feed us.  

I believe in that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Creativity is Food

When I haven’t been drawing or painting enough, my mind starts to trace the world around me.  I walk through the city and invisibly draw it in my head.   I can’t help but follow the edges of the shapes of things- tracing buildings and trees with my mind’s eye.    I’ll be talking to a friend and lose focus on the conversation because I’m fixating on slowly traveling down the slope of their nose with my attention.   The angular curvature of their jawline might become particularly exciting to me, much more engaging than the small talk coming out of it.  It’s weird— I know, but I literally can’t stop myself.

I noticed this often happening lately.  It happens when I haven’t had enough time at the easel.  It’s how I know.   I need to draw.

When I don’t write enough I feel it too- something is missing, but I don’t immediately know what.  It started to gnaw at me a few weeks ago.  A vague feeling of melancholy was creeping over me, but I couldn’t pin down why.  Then I sat down to write a simple follow up to a question a friend had sent me, and I wrote them a 3-page essay on what I think about our current political atmosphere.  I now had a clue.   Did they ask or need to hear all of that?!- probably not— but they got it regardless because-

I needed an excuse to organize my thoughts into words on the screen.  Ugh.  Embarrassing. 

Two days later I wrote my dad a 1200 word email when he had asked me a simple question about Thanksgiving.  Uh-oh.

I’m shoveling piles of words onto family and friends involuntarily.  I literally couldn’t stop myself— but now I knew what I was missing.

I need to write.

I have been starving for writing and drawing lately.   Now I know.

 So, I handled my craving for drawing.  I went to a traditional model drawing class downtown.  A serious one because I needed some drawing with substance and I’d been working digitally lately.

And my jones for writing? Well, I’m handling that right now.  I’m writing.

I have not written a blog post in a very long time.  I had made a pact to keep posting regularly, but then life-stuff (i.e., work/relationships/moving/project deadlines) caught up with me, and it got pushed to the back burner.  The work-life balance gets complicated, and sometimes we drop balls in the juggle, but this is not about time management or prioritizing. There are plenty of youtube videos and life-coaches of all flavors to deliver those kinds of life hacks if that’s what you need.

My point is this:  I feel like I’m starving and “making stuff” is the only sustenance possible.   I  have to do this writing—but not so that people will follow me or read it or even like it and not for money- obviously.   The reason that I have to do it because I like it.  I feel better when I have taken my thoughts and organized them on paper so that I can look at them objectively.  I feel better when I have observed the visual world and created my impression of it on the screen or canvas.   I have to do this because I am a happier person when I do.

Creative work is FOOD.  It sustains us.   Writing and art are my favorite kind.

For me, and I suspect for many others, creativity is as important as food.  It’s a necessity for me to feel fulfilled.  I have a hunger that only creative work will satisfy.

I wonder if everyone has the same desire.  I wonder about people that never make anything and if they are hungry for it too.  Maybe they feel like something is missing from their plate, but they don’t know what it is—maybe not.

Maybe the creative force shows up in weird and unexpected places in their lives, and they don’t recognize it.  Maybe it shows up in healthy ways and not-so-healthy ways.  Maybe it’s why people create mountains out of molehills—or unnecessary drama in their lives.  Do they simply need to create things and haven’t carved out the places or time to do that? Maybe people that create weird problems or an unwanted mess in their lives are doing so out of an unconscious necessity for makings things—anything.

It seems that knowing what you are creating and doing it just for the sake of the experience is an important part of a fulfilling human life.  We don’t necessarily need to share it with anyone—the doing is enough.  It’s fun to share with others and please do, but not essential.  It can serve to keep you accountable, though.   We are not designed to be cogs in a machine that are programmed to memorize instructions and carry them out without question.  We now have robots for that.  Finally. We are not designed to memorize math formulas and plug numbers into them without understanding why and how they fit into the world around us.  Google can remember the formulas for us.  Hopefully.   Comprehending how they were derived (created) and how they apply to our world is what matters because that prepares us to build new formulas.

I could be wrong, but I suspect that: All human beings need and do create things.  We have been creating all along.  It’s what we do.  We will make stuff whether we realize we are doing it or not and one way to relieve stress and frustrations in our lives is to create consciously.  

Know that you are “making something” and honor that.  Let’s recognize that we need to make time for it.

To live is to be creative.  You don’t need to have training– you can make anything.  Say you love music– make a playlist.  Fashion? Put an outfit together, style it, and post it.   Do you like talking, or giving advice?  Make a youtube video.   It can be anything– take a pottery class, bake a cake using peaches instead of apples to make it your own,  or build a model airplane with your kids– just to see. . . .

It may satisfy you in a way you never expected.

 

 

 

 

 

Copying a Copy

Last week,  I sat down to come up with a simple image for the classes I teach.  One of the perks of working for the organization is that you can submit paintings to their database that any teacher in the company can use to guide classes.  Well, that is, if they like them.

I thought long about what to make—the popular ones are usually stylized nature scenes or sunsets, maybe a still life or flowers, wine glasses, sometimes cityscapes.    I thought back to when I became serious about painting.  I taught myself by setting up still lifes in my parent’s living room.  I tried to paint what I saw the masters had done in museums.

It seemed natural to teach still life to beginners.  I secretly wanted to take actual fruit and ceramics to a class and have them paint from life so that we all didn’t have the same painting but I quickly reminded myself that this is not a traditional art class. This is a fun night out with the girls- at a restaurant- with wine! and painting!!  It is fun,  there’s no judgement- it’s about the experience- as art should be.  It’s about getting your brush wet and being creative. 

It’s hard to shake the intuitive sense I get that people have more talent than they realize and I wish I could challenge them more.  When handed a set of tools and guidance I always see the spark of learning in them.  It’s amazing to watch people create something they never thought they could.  The sense of collective empowerment and accomplishment in the room is refreshing.  So, I set out to create an original still life for them to copy with the intention of encouraging them to: “Yes! please try this at home folks- by building your own real still life!”

So I began to compose a vase and some fruit and flowers on my canvas, and I quickly got discouraged.

This needs to be really good if I actually want to teach people how to paint a copy of my own painting, I thought.  

The same insecurity showed up that I get every single time I make something.  Annoying.   How egotistical of me to have an entire room full of people paint my painting, I thought.  I pushed past the silly voice in my head and continued — but it wasn’t working—I needed help.  The frustration was dense, a good composition eluded me.  So, naturally, I turned to google for answers.   I searched “still life by masters” and started to look through endless gorgeous paintings with exquisite color and composition.  I looked through them, got some  inspiration and started to compose again.  Then the internal dialogue came back —Why would I teach people who wanted to learn painting from my own work when I could teach them from a master painting?  The really old stuff is all in the public domain—it’s fine as long as I don’t try to say I made it.

So, that’s what I did.  I blatantly copied a Van Gogh to teach from.  I wrote down the exact steps of how I built it from a blank canvas to a pretty Van Gogh-esk painting and I feel surprisingly good  about it.  I listened to the voice that stopped me from creating my own thing and I still wonder about my real motives.   I thought I might feel slightly bad about it but I don’t because my justification is so valid.  If I can help put more still lifes with Van Gogh’s colors and composition in the world and show people how they are made as they learn to paint—that can’t be a bad thing.

A tiny part of me  wonders if my justification for copying this master painting is my mind’s creative way of avoiding rejection by not putting my own original work out there.  If no one likes it, I can always remind myself that I didn’t really paint it.   They aren’t really rejecting me– they are rejecting Van Gogh.

Either that or I was just being lazy.  I’m not sure which is worse.   Now I know l have to come up with an original creation for the website just to see if it feels different. . . . . and better. . . .

 

 

You don’t suck.

Everyone thinks they suck, and it doesn’t matter.

I teach people who have never or barely painted, and I noticed something. As soon as they pick up the brush, they comment on how bad they are at it. I hear “I suck,” “I’m the worst,” and “I can’t paint,” floating throughout the room —every single time.

It’s universal. I thought about all the times I have this thought.

I tell them “don’t worry, everyone thinks they suck, it doesn’t matter.” It’s universal. I hear the same thing from professional artists all the time. They believe that they suck too sometimes, but they choose to ignore judgment and do it regardless. They are not more talented nor do they think they are better than non-creatives, they just ignore the internal and external critics. The people that make stuff do it regardless because they know the payoff of creativity.

It is worth it.  I see it in the eyes of the people I’ve just guided through a painting each week.  The payoff is the process. Witnessing people get out of their heads and away from stress as they focus on shapes and color while making something each week is my proof. The energy in the room is different. I see a light in their eyes. They don’t care anymore if they suck- they are enjoying the process. They are looking through a different lens.

Last week I happened to catch a Bob Dylan concert, and I thought about whether he ever had these thoughts. I wondered if he ever questioned his talent and I wondered how others reacted to him at the start of his career. He had such an unusual singing voice for his time; he must have gotten some criticism, but he made the music regardless. Imagine if he hadn’t. Imagine if he never created his incredible body work and we all missed out on it.  To create, you must ignore criticism, your own or anyone else’s. It is always there. It does not matter.

The payoff of creating things and putting them in the world is worth more than whatever minor ego bruising that occurs from you or someone else’s opinion of it. The feeling of making stuff alone is worth it. Every successful creative person knows that for every good piece of art, music, writing, dance, business, application software, or sauce, etc. they’ve created, they have also made piles of bad ones. They do it regardless, and you should too because it is worth it. The only way to know this is to start making stuff.

Imagine the world if everyone was creative.  It’s a muscle we all have and the more we use it, the stronger it gets.  Imagine the kind of world we would live in if everyone was creative.

 

Art is Everywhere. Art is Universal.

A moment of synchronicity came to me in a cab a few days ago.  We were parked at a red light outside of a boutique on 5th avenue and I was silently noticing the store’s window display.  Just your everyday mannequins hanging out in average preppy clothes but amongst them hung puffy cotton clouds from invisible thread.  The clouds were well done, they looked hand made.  Looking at it gave me an ethereal sense of floating.

I began to think about how often people can be on the same wavelength without realizing it having just finished a painting full of clouds myself.  I was thinking clouds too-just like the window display designer had.   I borrowed the idea to paint clouds from Michelangelo’s last judgement.  He was thinking clouds years ago.

PIeople are more connected in their thinking then they would probably like to admit. This is a good thing.  Coincidence is comforting.  Coincidence is everywhere.     

Coincidence is comforting.  Coincidence is everywhere.     

“The perspective in those clouds is way off”, my cab driver says to me out of the blue in that exact moment.   Wow, amazing.  How did he know I was looking at that?   Apparently, the cab driver was on the cloud wavelength too.  I looked deeper at the display.

“You think?”  I replied. “How so?”

“He should’ve put more detail in the front,  and smaller ones in the back— it confuses the eye”,  he said.   He had an accent that I couldn’t quite place.

“Hmmm,”  I studied the cloud window closer.  What an unusual conversation to have with this random middle aged cab driver, I thought to myself.   I probably didn’t have much in common with him culturally or otherwise.  The randomness of the moment delighted me.   

“I see what you’re saying,” I said.  I did see his point, but I didn’t think it mattered for the effect.  “I’m sure it could be better—but that part doesn’t bother me—I think it’s working,”  I said.  “I like it.”

“Yes, it is good,” he said.   “But there will always be criticism,”  he replied in a thick middle eastern accent that somehow made him sound like a wise old Sufi I had probably seen in some obscure old movie or documentary once.  Who is this guy? Weird.  He made an interesting point. 

I told him I had just finished a painting—with clouds in it.  I told him I was inspired by Michelangelo’s last judgement.  He knew the painting.  I showed him a snapshot on my phone of it.  He looked at it—he absorbed it— he could see how I had been inspired.  He didn’t say much else.  He was a critic.  There will always be one.  

I was at my destination and had to get out, and felt deeply saddened that our conversation had to end so abruptly.  I knew I could have had a really interesting discussion about art and probably many other things with this person.

That’s the thing about art, literature, music, etc.  It’s neutral.   We all can absorb it and have opinions and a conversation about it.  It’s a bridge that connects us as humans.

On the surface, it wouldn’t look like I’d have much to talk about with this cab driver but we ended up having an insightful connection.  When I look beneath face value of a person I usually find an unlikely connection.  The common thread is always there.

Creativity is your birthright

Everyone around me has kids or is about to have kids.  The ones that don’t yet seem seriously worried about it.

I’m not concerned about having kids. 

This seems odd.  Society tells me I should be concerned,  but. . . .  I’m not. . . at all.      Why?

Dreaming about motherhood has never been my style.  Figured my maternal instincts would show up some day.   They haven’t.  Why?

When I was little most girls played with dolls and fantasized about being moms but I never did. I hated dolls. I had no desire to take care of a tiny human whatsoever, it didn’t seem that interesting.  I was more content to play with lincoln logs or legos.   I could make stuff out of them, build things.  Dolls just sit there. Tiny humans just sit there, helpless and screaming.  Not for me.

Then college came and went and early adulthood and eventually all the girls started to entertain the idea of having a tiny screaming human of their own.  Even the tomboys like me were getting on the baby boat yet I still couldn’t picture it for myself.   What gives? What is it about having kids that everyone has to do it?  Would I be missing something if I didn’t?  

Ehh, I figured.   My clock will kick in one day.  

It hasn’t. It should have years ago. Why?!? What is it about me that I don’t feel this burning desire to reproduce.   I love kids—they love me—It doesn’t make sense.

I’m not against it, I just don’t think it is that big of a deal.  It wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing and I’d probably be good at it but. . . . I’m not dying to.

The human race doesn’t need to procreate for survival anymore. So why do we still do it?

lightbulb.   I realized why I am not obsessed with procreation. 

I create all the time.   I fulfill the urge to create by making stuff.   I believe we all have the internal calling to create things, yet the world we’ve been living in hasn’t always been  encouraging of this.  Having children is one of the most obvious and natural acts of creation that we have on this planet and it’s socially acceptable.  It’s expected.  The calling to create backed by society’s stamp of approval is hard to resist.  Now I get it.

Doing your own thing and making your own stuff hasn’t always been acceptable, yet we all have this desire.  We need encouragement to flex our imaginations and create all kinds of new things, not just people.   Creativity is our birthright.  

 Embrace creativity everywhere.  Let’s start strength training the muscle we all have called imagination.  It’s a natural part of being human.

Somehow, many of us seem to have forgotten about it, but I assure you it is still there.

Think back to the days when you got a dollhouse for Christmas, yet all you wanted to do was play with the cardboard box that it came in– because duh. . .it was obviously a spaceship that could take you to the candy planet. . . . or when you built a fort out of couch cushions. . . I know you did. . . 

Let’s come up with new structures, new models, and new businesses.  Let’s build a new society that encourages creativity.  Let’s build a sustainable future for our tiny screaming humans.

Let’s  build tiny barbie boats out of popsicle sticks– today!!  Barbie and Ken would love a romantic ride in the tub.   I’m serious.  You have to start somewhere.  The possibilities are endless.

 

Embracing imperfection

I set out to write last week and needed something to write about so I went to the park to draw something from life.  I used to do this regularly in school but lately I haven’t allowed myself the time.  I needed “nature” and happened to be close to central park– Ahh, yes perfect.

I parked myself in front of a tree, pulled out my sketch book  and I realized I had forgotten my pencils, charcoal, and markers etc.  Shute.  That’s ok— nothing was going to stop me- I pulled out the pens I did have– better than nothing.  I probably drew one of the worst drawings that I have done in years.   I couldn’t get the tree to show up on my paper in an interesting way– I became frustrated– I scratched and scratched away at it— it felt terrible– I needed to write this post, I have been neglecting my blog for waaaaay too long and I felt really stressed about it. And, because of that–  It needed to be perfect.

I  kept going– I’m not one to give up, but as I drew it got worse and worse.  I started to focus on copying the tree exactly and it spiraled further down a vortex of desperate drawing —  stress building.  Then I remembered something.

A few weeks ago I had gone to a lecture at the NewSchool given by google creative lab.  I thought it was going to be a lecture on their particular work processes and but it wasn’t that exactly.  It was more like an hour-long advertisement for some of their new products and creations– one of which had both amazed and depressed me.  They had come up with a machine/software that could take a photo of someone and create a perfectly loosely rendered pen and ink sketch  of that person.  It was actually really cool, but. . . it made me think of all the years I had been doing that in my sketchbook and that this skill I had developed could now be done by a machine.  And a machine could do it faster and cheaper than anything I could do– and probably better- or at least more perfectly.

What am I doing? and why am I trying to make this perfect?  I looked down at my rigid, stressed tree and took a deep breath.  The tree looked the way I felt– it looked tense.  Something dawned on me.   I started to look really deeply at the tree.  I started to try and feel what it felt like to be a tree as I drew it.  What did the light leaves twinkling in the breeze feel like?  I felt them as I drew– What did the solid trunk feel like rooted and supported by soil.  I started to feel connected and rooted as I drew the base.  I didn’t care what it looked like– I started to care what it felt like.  I was on to something.

I needed to start a new drawing with this new insight in mind– I looked around- ahh yes- the Met!! I made my way out of the park and into the greek and Roman sculpture galleries.  Ahhh yes.  I found a statue and started to feel it from the inside out as I drew. I felt the smoothness of the marble as I traced the curves and lines of the body.  I felt the tension in the fabric in the places where it gathered.  It felt good.  It didn’t turn out perfect.  I didn’t care because the process was worth it.   I didn’t care because I had learned something.

I’m making an effort to enjoy the process more than the end result now.    I try to notice how things feel and if they don’t feel good, there is probably a learning opportunity in that and I aim to look for it.

Embracing imperfection is an accomplishment and something to strive for.    Here’s my tree that taught me something more valuable than some flashy google robot.

Scan 15

 

“F” is for “FAIL”

 

Last fall I took a workshop at Art Student’s league. I was in the midst of creating a large commissioned oil painting and I thought it would be good to get some classical technical training. I was taught oil painting in high school but. . . that was high school. In college we painted in oil but it was geared toward an illustration career- i.e. everything was small-scale and fast.  Originals in illustration are usually never viewed- images are generated for reprint. I wanted to learn from a serious fine artist.   I found something at ASL called The Copyist Program where you learn the techniques of the European masters by attempting to copy one of the classical paintings at The Met. Yes, I thought, perfect. Who better to learn from than Rubens, Titian, or El Greco.   I applied.

I thought I would be copying only the style pof the artist but no. We were to copy our chosen paintings—exactly. I knew I wanted to learn classical portraiture, so I chose a self-portrait by Anthony Van Dyck. It called to me. The master painter stared out from the canvas almost mocking my attempt to reproduce it. He was handsome and confident, maybe a bit arrogant, but I figured I wouldn’t mind staring at him for the next six weeks. I’m going to try.   My teacher, who is a master painter himself said, “This will be challenging”. I like challenges. Most of the other students were very serious artists. One was a professor at my college.

This was an honor.   I was excited to learn.

Setting up a an easel and canvas with drop cloths and various chemicals in The Met galleries was intimidating.  I quickly got used to it.  Week after week I attempted to “copy” Van Dyck. The charcoal drawing and underpainting wasn’t quite as hard as I imagined.  I had done my research and I was feeling good about it.  I was doing well, my teacher seemed pleased. Then the inevitable happened. I hit my wall. This happens with every creative project I have ever attempted.  It will happen to you.

If you ever attempt to make something, prepare yourself for an inevitable moment.   Something goes very wrong. Always.

At the time, I had been bartending on weekends and oil painting four days out of the week in a space with less than ideal ventilation for many weeks.   No days off. I was burning out. By the time I got to my Friday Met painting session one particular week —I was on complete work and chemical overload.   I had forgotten half of my brushes that day.   I just couldn’t “get it” that day. I worked over and over on Van Dyke’s forehead and eyebrows- pecking at it like a tiny tentative bird. I could not see the forest for the trees. I felt hazy- a little confused. I grew desperate. I prayed to the gods of painting. I prayed to the muse– Please help me.   Up walks my teacher.

My teacher is of an older generation of painters and takes the craft very seriously. Everyone in my class was in a different gallery. He would walk around and visit us to see how we were progressing, but mostly we painted alone. He came around to me on this particular day and sat on the bench behind me with folded arms and watched as he tends to do. It is slightly unnerving but I appreciate his attention to the learning.   On this particular day though it was too much. I could feel the cold Russian stare on my back. I was drowning. I continued fiddling around on the section I’d been on for over an hour- anxiety rising. I knew I was doing badly. My confidence was gone. He expected more.

He slowly approaches the canvas. His disgust coupled with my tension created a cloud of atmosphere almost intolerable.   He looks at what I was doing, then back at me and sharply snaps. “BE BOLD!!”. His chilling accent was crippling.

“Yes sir, yes,” I nod as I dip my brush and continue to timidly scratch away at the two-inch space of canvas that I had been working on forever that day. He stood there shaking his head with folded arms. I felt seriously ashamed.

“Give me big brush!!” He barked. What? Is he going to paint on my painting? That has always been a pet peeve of mine since art school- but I knew better than to question him. I figure—I’m copying this anyway- it’s not like it’s my original art. I look for the brush I need.   Of course it’s the brush that I forgot.

“BIG BRUSH!” Oh god, I’m freaking out. “ I forgot it. “ I mumbled.

He opened his brush case in disgust, carefully pulled one of his monster size brushes out, and dipped it in flake white. Oh my god no!! He then proceeded to paint a huge thick white stroke directly over the precious part that I had been working on all morning. Oh WOW. . . .wait a minute. . . . A crowd started to gather. I watched. In one stroke he made more progress than I had made in two hours. It was incredible. I was supremely humbled. He is soooo good- really good. I thought. A pile of high school students gathered behind us watched silently. In awe- crowds do not gather when I am working. A camera clicks. The professor turned and hissed “STOP IT!!” Yikes. We all shuddered a bit.

My entire morning’s work is now gone- he just covered it completely. I thought. I noticed my ego and I tried to ignore it. Let it go Clare. I was genuinely humbled—and ready to learn. Wow- intense.

Then he looked at me and said, “You can have this brush.”

Great, I think. The consolation prize of having my painting manhandled- practically hijacked was that I get to keep the assault weapon used. I notice my childish ego again. I shake it off and reframe. Clare, a serious master painter just showed you an incredible technique and gave you his brush.   That. Is. Incredible. He handed me the brush and walked back over to his watching post on the bench behind me.

       I went back to attempting to paint a refined masterpiece, yet now with a huge fumbling brush. I felt the cold Russian eyes at my back. Painting gods, please help me. This guy is serious. I am so far out of my comfort zone, this is a good thing, I thought. I just wish I hadn’t inhaled so much turpentine yesterday.   I’m having an off day, he’s watching. I tried to shake it off. Concentrate Clare, focus. My anxiety was rising again.

After a few minutes, he stood up, walked over to me and in his thick Russian accent said, “you are sculpting his face, treat it like sculpture- carve- SCULPT!”. Phew, INTENSE. Then he walked away. Wow. I was humbled- my confidence trembling. I shook it off. I tried employing the technique he just showed me. It became easier without eyes on my back. It felt scary and different than anything I’d ever tried, but It was working. I began sculpting with paint. This is how Vandyck did it. WOW.  Well- sort of- better of course but,  I finally “got it” that day. I checked my phone. It was time to pack up. Shute. I started swishing my brushes in turpentine—still feeling confused from all the toxic inhalation- yet elated.   In my failure I managed to learn something that day. Real progress had been made.

 

ART IS FOR EVERYONE

Teaching people how to paint in bars has been calling me. There’s a new crop of companies that offer this.  I kept meeting people affiliated with these companies- the opportunity serendipitously showing up over and over again.  It felt as if the universe was calling me to do this.   I have the personality for it.  It’s extra cash. I had no good reason not to.

Yet I resisted.

What was holding me back?  Fearagain. That was obvious but  didn’t make logical sense.

I was born for this. I taught painting to kids a few years back and loved it. I am a natural teacher- I love painting. Queens is a commute though I thought. Weak excuse– I’m not afraid of trains . . . . or commutes or the outer boroughs.

So, what was I afraid of?  I contemplated.   I came to a disturbing conclusion.  I didn’t want to teach the class because of the actual “art”.  

I realized that I was my own pet peeve. Was I an ART snob?!? Gasp. This is huge. I always see joy in people creating things and I believe the more people do this the better off we all are as a community and society.  I’ve done enough volunteering to know the joy of giving to others. This is a paying gig.. I should do this.

I surround myself with art- I live in an art mecca- I absorb the masters and work of contemporary greats often.   I am inspired by fine art- I studied painting in Florence and at Art Students League. Even though my background is in illustration, I am consistently exposed to the art world through friends and acquaintances.  I am drawn to this world.

Yet, I internally criticize the “art world” for seeming self important– an elitist and exclusive society.  

In a perfect world, Making and observing art is for everyone.  It’s creation in pure form- it’s no surprise that most children naturally want to color and draw.  Why is there such lack of encouragement for making stuff and observing art in the general public?

How dare I think I am too good to teach the masses how to do it in an informal setting? How dare I use my exposure to art, education and encouragement as a means to separate myself from others?!? How dare I consider the paintings I would teach less than real paintings?!

I looked at my hypocrisy directly in the face- It made me wince. . . . and shutter. Ick.

Don’t misunderstand me about the art taught in these classes. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it.   The paintings are pretty. They are mainstream– simple renderings of simple subjects—flowers, landscapes, animals.  Think: Bob Ross- nothing deep or thought provoking.  Just lovely painted imagery meant for everyone.   There’s no social commentary, conceptual rule bending or challenges to the notion of “art”.   It’s more like motel art, greeting card art,  or art on puzzles.

It’s like the work I create as an illustrator.

WOW. It’s official. I am definitely a hypocrite. Textbook definition. EEEEW. Sigh. . . . .

Then I remembered something I have always known: CREATING IS ABOUT PROCESS AND DISCOVERY.

Who cares what the paintings look like? And who’s to say that my taste is better than anyone else’s?  People are getting their brushes wet for the first time.

I decided to do it!!

I began to prepare for my first class. My tasks involved breaking down a painting (assigned by the company) into easy to follow steps.   Then I needed to make a painting to stand next to my tip jar to encourage tipping—we could make an original or copy one that we had seen on the company’s website.  Nice– I thought- an opportunity to make something original. As I began making the “tips painting” under extreme time constraint- I made my own personal discovery.

Making cartoons brings me immense joy- it’s my natural “go to” when under stress.   I made a cartoon out of my tip jar painting.

As much as I am inspired and moved by “high brow” art in museums and galleries- I naturally love cartoons. I do it on my own without incentive– constantly.  I still read comics. They make me supremely happy—and there is nothing wrong with that– ever.

Conclusion: Do what makes you happy! Period. All judgments- yours or others do not matter.

I taught the class.  Guiding regular people- not just art students or kids- through a simplified visual creative process was even more fulfilling than I thought. Some of them hadn’t held a paintbrush since elementary school- some of them never had. Watching people enjoy the process was the best part.   This was making them happy!! And infectiously making me happy!! Period. This is all that matters.

***I encourage you to make something and see how you feel about it. Observe the process and see what you discover. And if it’s not pretty (your creation or what you discover) — that’s ok. We all have icky parts- sometimes they are hard to see.

So stand up to fear and judgment and MAKE SOMETHING!!! And take comfort in knowing that we ALL have it.

 

Beware of Biohazard

This week I met up with a friend I haven’t seen since college—we went to a “drink and draw” event in Brooklyn.  This is a page from my sketchbook.  We were yapping away the whole time- probably annoying the other “drink and draw-ers” — but we had to fill each other in on the past few years of our lives.  It had been way too long since I had seen her. Besides, it was drink and draw- and we were in Brooklyn—laid back.

It felt nice to just make something and not worry about what it looked like for a change.   I tried these pure kneaded chunks of lead that my friend brought- super cool medium to use- until I freaked out.  Picture a soft lump of creamy lead with no protective wooden pencil around it.  Now imagine twirling and smearing it around in your bare hands when you suddenly remember how the people in Flint Michigan ingested lead.   Omigosh!  Must wash hands. Right. Now.  My friend said she used gloves with the stuff before. We both stopped using it. I finished this drawing with black marker.  It was fun.

I probably suffered from toxic chemical overdose considering I had spent the entire day in a makeshift studio I’m using to paint a large scale oil painting.  The room has no ventilation. I’ve been wearing a mask but I feel extra spaced out after a days work.   It’s more than just average spaciness from accessing my right brain. When I work in that particular space three days in a row I get a killer sore throat. Not so good. Luckily, the project’s almost finished.  I won’t be working in oil in a space like that again.  Lesson learned.  That’s the thing about making stuff- it’s easy to get so caught up in the process that you forget about the toxicity of the materials you’re using.  It’s a fine line.  I balanced the beer from drink and draw, lead poisoning, and turpentine inhalation with jogging on the river, yoga class and a green smoothie—It all works out in the end.  I feel good about it.

Have fun making stuff but don’t go crazy! Cheers!

meinmask