Show Your Work book coverIt’s been awhile since I posted here. I have been writing- the intended outcome is a book, but I can’t quite get the words, ‘I’m writing a book’, out of my mouth at the moment. It sounds too pretentious and it scares me a bit.

A lot.
Considering how many times I’ve started and stopped work on this project in the past decade or so.

I will finish the manuscript this time, because I promised a friend I would. But whether it will be anything worth sharing at the end, I don’t know. Anyway, it is keeping me occupied, a recent task being going through every one of the almost 400 posts on this blog, printing the relevant ones out and categorising them. More on all that another time.

Anyway, back to the topic of this post which is a book review.

Anyone who has been reading my posts over the past 7 years will know my anti-marketing stance when it comes to art, so surprise surprise, I am about to sing the praises of a book that could be seen as a book on promoting your art, but which is SO not an art marketing book.

I was cruising Amazon and this title was on the recommendations for me. I immediately liked the format and cover and took a ‘look inside’. I was sold from page one. This was an author who understood my reluctance to make self promotion the ultimate goal for my life on Earth, and who has written a kind, heart-filled guide on how to not hoard your creativity, how to not give up, how to keep your integrity while getting your work out there, how to not turn into ‘human spam’ (loved that), and have a great and fulfilling time doing it.

This book is so lovely in every aspect. It has a smooth cover, silky to the touch, the small square format appeals, it simply exudes friendliness and encouragement. There are loads of keri smith style handwritten pages and illustrations by the author, Austin Kleon (who wrote ‘How to steal like an artist’ which I didn’t read because I already know how and am already an artist).

Almost all the people I look up to and try to steal from today, regardless of their profession, have built sharing into their routine.  These people aren’t schmoozing at cocktail parties, they’re too busy for that. (paraphrased):They are working in their studios, getting good at what they do, and sharing their process.

‘By generously sharing their ideas and their knowledge, they often gain an audience that they can then leverage when they need it- for fellowship, feedback or patronage. (personally, I’ve never had any luck with the last one, SZ).

I wanted to create a kind of beginner’s manual for this way of operating, so here’s what I came up with, a book for people who hate the very idea of self promotion. An alternative, if you will to self promotion…Imagine if your next boss didn’t have to read your resume because he already reads your blog. Imagine being a student and getting your first gig based on a school project you posted on line… Imagine turning a side project or hobby into your profession because you had a following that could support you.

Or imagine something simpler and just as satisfying: spending the majority of your time, energy,and attention practising a craft, learning a trade, or running a business, while also allowing for the possibility that your work might attract a group of people who share your interest….

This little book is full of original, funny, insightful, wise advice that can help anyone gather the courage and get organised to share their work more. And who knows where that could lead!  Whether you are a writer, crafter, artist, or hobbyist in anything at all, give yourself a present and go buy it.( And, no, I’m not being paid to say this!)

 

Robert is gone. I thought I’d post the letter I, and thousands of other artists received, since it so beautifully conveys the generosity with which Robert graced the world. I never knew him personally, but his being in the world made a big difference to my life. This letter is from his daughter, Sara:
May 30, 2014
 
Dear Sarah,
On Tuesday morning, at 10:20am, Dad passed away. He was at home, surrounded by his family. My brother Dave’s Airedale, Stanley, lay on the floor nearby. This day was also my, and my twin brother James’s, birthday.
A few evenings earlier, Dad and I were sitting up together, discussing a favourite piece of music. “Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana has the ability to take you from placidity to power in one sonic breath. It is music of dignity and strength, with primitive, energetic passages, evoking absolute beauty from the simplest of phrases. It brings up something that has everything to do with significance — squeezing joy and motif that you just can’t drop — it stays with you.”
I tapped along on his laptop as he riffed a stream of consciousness, his sense of wonder twinkling, then sparkling, his voice growing ever softer, his hand squeezing mine when we paused. “The thing about art is that life is in no danger of being meaningless,” he whispered. I remembered, again, the wonder of nearing the summit plateau at Lake McArthur, rounding a corner to the West Coast Trail’s packed, silvery strand and, moment by moment, the unveiling of the magic hour on the Bois d’Amour in Pont Aven, Brittany. A few more steps, a couple of breaths to our destination: a silent sharing in the marvel.
I thanked him for the millionth time. We all thanked him as he slipped away. “Thank-you, Daddy, thank-you.”
And what about your twice-weekly letters? This ardent epistolary friendship, this living commitment, a connection and conviction to the imagination and creative heartbeat, and to lifemanship? Dad wrote to you last October, after receiving his diagnosis, and since then we’ve solidified our intention. He wrote:
“From the get-go we have been aware of the value of these twice-weekly letters to artists and others. Sara has helped me with many of them. We’ve shared our artistic journey together and have often talked about this day. One of the ideas we’re tossing around is that she start off by writing once a week. The other letter would be a favourite previous one of mine. If we ran all my previous letters once a week, they would last for 27 years! Finding ourselves at new chapters in our adventure, we sincerely hope we can continue to be of service to you.”
And so, I’ll write to you. And you’ll get Dad’s letters, too. It will be my honour to do so, and will continue to be with the deepest gratitude to you, his friend in art.
Sincerely,
Sara
PS: “Over the days of this journey, a kind of energetic serenity has set in. Something happens with the mixture of space and time. I feel a sense of story. Others have told me you can feel it in your brush, and I do now. A family of mergansers swims close by — the young are almost ready to fly south. Perhaps you have felt it too — it has something to do with purity.” (Robert Genn, on the Mackenzie River, 2000)
Esoterica: Dad’s dream has been to reach artists of all stripes — individuals with a common joy, journeying in this life-enhancing, inexplicable affair of the heart. He wrote, “We have no other motivation than to give creative people an opportunity to share ideas and possibly broaden their capabilities — to get more joy and understanding from their own unique processes.” With this dream in mind, please forward this letter, or letter of your choice, to someone you think might find it of value. If one, or many, chooses to subscribe, we will exponentially widen — as a diverse and generous community of worldwide artists. “To float like a cloud you have to go to the trouble of becoming one.” (Robert Genn)
“Art is something else. Art is fluid, transmutable, open-ended, never complete, and never perfect. Art is an event.” (Robert Genn)

“We live our short spans in the vortex of a miracle, and while we may not be the center of that vortex, it is magic to be anywhere in there.” (Robert Genn)

“Love me truly!
Remember my constancy.
With all my heart
and all my mind
I am with you
even when far away.” (Anonymous text, Carmina Burana)

Subscribe, for free, to the Robert & Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letter.

‘Gifting’ has several different meanings these days, the way I’m using it is simply the making and giving of gifts. People have been especially appreciating my packages lately, calling them, ‘a typical Sarah’ gift. I receive so much pleasure in making and presenting them that I thought I’d spread the wealth.

The last gifts I made were small thank yous for the volunteers who aided our traffic action group, Line 30. They helped make the children’s day we organized a huge success. Rende had taken beautiful photos of all the activities and I organized them into a tiny book in InDesign. I printed them and cut them out, then Karin and Els came over to help fold and glue. I can show the process sometime, for now I want to focus on how a simple strip of paper with photos was made into a lovely object to give and receive.

My main tip on making even simple gifts special is to have lots of decorative material at hand. Start collecting stickers, washi tapes, papers, gift tags. I’ll list my sources below. I notice that having all these things within hand’s reach in a plastic basket makes it easy to wrap just about anything in no time at all. Here is a collection of some of the things I always have in my studio.

 

So basically, you can put your little gift into a transparent or translucent envelope, letter the tag,  seal the envelope and attach the tag with a piece of washi tape. I use the stickers for address labels when posting gifts, or occasionally to decorate the envelopes or an enclosed card.

Gift tags  This Etsy shop sells a huge selection of tags at reasonable prices

Glitter stickers   Papaya art is a scrumptious site to browse, I love their stuff.

Washi tape- I buy locally, most craft and hobby stores have it.

Waxed envelopes- office supply shops stock them in different sizes

A future post, Gifting strangers- Spontaneous gift giving on the street, in buses, and public toilets!

Tulips and fruit

Tulips and fruit, oil on canvas,  40 x 50cm  (16’x 20″)

This one was a challenge with the various subjects and the rivers of cloth, but I am basically happy with the result. I’ve been working on two in this series simultaneously and this is the second one. The first one is much larger and at the moment is getting a bit too stiff and caught up in details. That’s the challenge when working with patterned cloths- how to indicate the richness of colour and texture as well as the movement of the folds without becoming stuck in rendering just the surfaces.

I liked the boldness with which the cloth in the foreground is painted.  I took some tips from my 37 minute paintings (an exercise from Robert Genn’s workshops) and just got on with painting what I saw in a general way without going back much to smooth and model. I am learning through doing that the trick lies in suggesting, not drawing with the brush as if it were a pencil. Personally I am not at all attracted to super realism, I love seeing the breathing in the painting.

I am happiest about the luminosity of the whites on the right hand part of the painting, and the general glow. My work is getting much closer now to what I sense it wants to be, which is saying that the technique is finally catching up with everything else. I am starting to feel a more natural rhythm to the brushstrokes and am understanding which brushes to use when. Also I am discovering the infinite colours that can be mixed  for shadows. For example, for warm shadows, raw sienna and permanent rose with just a touch of turquoise to cool down the orange. And to warm it up again for ares catching a bit more light, some cadmium red light.(See the shadows on the cloth near the vases).

I mentioned when I posted the underpainting that I wanted the darks to lead into the painting. This was kept in mind.

 

genuine (no tricks, promise) 4 leafed clover found on last walk

genuine (no tricks, promise) 4 leafed clover found on last walk

I just want to mention that I have 2 other WordPress sites.

Tendingtime is my transition blog- the story of my personal reflections and experiences as I navigate a period between life phases, professional identities, and lifepurpose. At first I chose to locate it away from artcalling because it really wasn’t about profiling as a working professional, but rather a more vulnerable venue for musings when moving away from a particular professional identity.

I also still meet prospective customers who want to see what I do, and was not quite ready to publicly reveal my profound sense of alienation from previous design, illustration and calligraphy commissions and deadline work on this blog.
Anyway, I paint regularly, teach and write, and am involved in some activism locally, so it isn’t as if I no longer work.

Now I am more certain of the kind of work that beckons me, I am less concerned about coming across as less credible to the aforementioned type of customer. I sense that my future work will take the form of collaborations with other artists and creatives in a similar phase to my own, and that once and for all any kind of professional posturing won’t be demanded of me.

So maybe I will in time, move tendingtime over here. It is an increasingly important part of my life and reflects honestly where I am on the subject of alternative paths for the arts. This last subject is why I started artcalling 7 years ago.

My other wordpress site, Artwell,  contradicts nearly everything I just wrote, and is a showcase for my work. As well as being a gallery for my current oil paintings, I see it as a document of past achievements which I am proud to share. There is calligraphy, harpsichord decoration, oil pastel drawings, etc.

I wish Tendingtime had more of a readership. Having been spoiled on this blog with over 200 followers last time I checked, I’d forgotten how long it takes to build up a readership without being on Facebook or Twitter. What excites me though, is that that blog is connecting me to others with a similar philosophy and experience. Those are such rich connections and I am grateful for them. Rather one of those than 100 of the ‘I follow you will you follow me?’ kind.

So please go over to Tendingtime if you are interested. I am also using that blog to document walking ‘The Pieterpad’, my 480 km journey (in phases) from the northern to the southern tips of Holland.

 

Recently I’ve read a book which took me on a beautifully written journey, which seemed destined to end in healing and redemption. I was particularly interested in this book because it promised to take its place among the ‘new’ literature we so desperately need now- one that provides an alternative vision of the world -one full of hope,  where we are part of nature, where we are connected to one another, and our lives do have purpose and meaning.

The story:  3 unrelated people form their own relationship with a strip of green, a little park in an English town which borders on a neighbourhood in decline. Each person is, in a particular way, lost. A Polish man and a lonely boy find each other. They form a tentative friendship, and one starts to hope that the child will eventually find some stability outside of his home and the total neglect of his mother. The 3rd character is an elderly widow living on the edge of this park. She occasionally does some guerilla gardening there.

Each of these characters is on a journey to some kind of reconciliation or hope, and the nature in the park is a catalyst for the healing they start to find.

Then, a crisis in the last pages sees the man and the boy who have formed a totally innocent friendship, wrenched apart by a police raid.  The man’s beloved dog, with whom the boy was also bonding,  is dragged away by the neck and will probably be put down because she has Pit Bull blood. We leave him holding a duffel bag, waiting for a bus to take him away from the tender beginnings of home and community he had patiently started to build up. The old woman we last see alone in the hospital hooked up to wires and infusions.  And the boy is torn out of his familiar territory and sent to another part of the country to his father, whom we have been told is a violent man.

Every author has the freedom to choose how to end their story, granted. But I question the integrity of such an ending. ‘Shit happens’, yes, I am bombarded by this detritus of the ‘old story’ every minute through the media. But that is not what I am looking for when I reach for a book. Artists, writers, story tellers, have the chance to create a new story- one of hope. One which illuminates ways to connect, to find meaning in life, rise above circumstances, to treasure the small things, to bond with places and people, to thrive rather than just survive. I believe we have a responsibility to the material we put out there. Barry Lopez, words this beautifully:

If I were asked what  I want to accomplish as a writer, I would say it is to contribute to a literature of hope…I want to help create a body of stories in which men and women can discover trustworthy patterns.

Every story is an act of trust between a writer and a reader; each story in the end is social. Whatever a writer sets down can help or harm the community of which he or she is a part.

Each of the little green shoots of healing were ground out at the end of this book, like so many cigarette stubs. I trustingly embarked on a journey with the writer and her characters and felt betrayed by what happened to them at the end. This kind of writing feeds the ‘old’ story of a hostile universe, a meaningless world without grace or miracles or healing.

Not that every story must have a happy ending, but when you deliberately annihilate hope, there has to be a good reason for it. As I see it, these decisions did not serve the story or any purpose at all. It is simply trendy to have a dark ending. It is a device.

And therefore meaningless.

 

 

The book is ‘Clay’ by Melissa Harrison. If you don’t mind the ending, I”d still recommend it for the gorgeous writing.

Tulip time

April 18, 2014

third stage of acrylic underpainting

halfway through the third stage of acrylic underpainting, showing the neutral background and grey values

At the moment I’m working on two paintings at the same time. I have another one of the same subject as above at a further stage of development, but I just started this one today and wanted to record this part of the process in case it is of any help to other painters.

The subject is deliciously complex, with two patterned fabrics intertwining on a background cloth, with 3 vases of tulips. In the above picture, there are actually 3 stages of underpainting shown.

  1. First is a neutral light blue coat, (ultramarine and white with a good amount of heavy gel mixed in). I chose this colour carefully having learned from my work in oil pastels that the background colour can make certain colours glow and kill others dead. See in the example below, how the pinks and oranges come to life on the blue paper. In the painting I’m working on, there are some hot greens and vibrating turquoises that I want to keep alive, as well as the oranges and pinks of the tulips, so the neutral greyish blue undercoat will allow that.Tulip and lily fantasy
  2. The folds of cloth with the pattern following them is so complex that I needed to establish values and contours before I started in with the oil colours. So I mixed some cobalt blue and burnt sienna into a dark grey and sketched in shadows and folds.
  3. After that, I mixed some bright colours with gel to form transparent glazes (so I didn’t cover up all my previous work getting the contours!!), and painted in fun colours, keeping complements in mind. Oranges layered over that acid green will make the tulips dance off the canvas. And the purply pinks will glow here and there through the green leaves, giving them depth.

    Acrylic layer ready for the first coat of oils

    Acrylic layer ready for the first coat of oils

I enjoy painting the oils over a supportive layer of acrylic colour, unexpected things happen, happy accidents of one colour against another, or letting the background colour show as a contour to give a subtle painterly effect. From previous paintings, I’ve learned to put the darkest colours where my lightest values are going to come. So that dark browny purple behind the middle tulip vase is actually waiting to receive a beautiful honeyed orange light. The blue cloth on the left will, in the end, be hot pink, gold and blue. It takes patience to work this way, but doing it like this is also a way to familiarise myself with the subject before I start applying the oil paint, so that stage proceeds with more confidence.

I will be following the dark values on this painting, something I haven’t done before, usually I let the lightest point lead the eye into and around the composition. But it happens that in this one, the darkest areas lead into the painting in a nice curving path that the eye can follow easely (pun intended, sorry). :-)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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