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Barry Lopez (source of photo)

Barry Lopez (source of photo)

Barry Lopez is one of the writers who has ‘accompanied’ me on most of my adult journey as an artist. (See my post Barry Lopez, A literature of hope ). He is a nature writer, but that short description doesn’t do him justice. He is also a poet who feels the pain of the Earth deeply. And, he is an artist who understands and exemplifies what art is for, especially in these times.

I love these artists and role models,who have sustained their passion and honed their craft over the years. They are gradually turning into our present day Elders. Hearing Gary Snyder or Barry Lopez speak unfailingly reunites me with the best in myself.

This morning I looked at an almost completed draft of my book so far and couldn’t relate to it. I’d momentarily lost my sense of True North, and wondered how I would finish it with this late-stage failing of nerve. Unable to write, I decided to do some research for a later chapter on ‘art and wounded places’, and watched several of Lopez’s talks. And one of them showed the way out of of my impasse. It gave me a new lens for looking at my work and lifted me out of the familiar contradictions I usually get caught in when stuck.

He spoke about story telling. He’d had a conversation with a traditional man,( I sense he meant someone indigenous), and asked if this man’s people made a distinction between fiction and non-fiction like we do in Western society. The man answered, ‘For us, the difference isn’t between fiction and non-fiction, but between an authentic and inauthentic story.

Lopez asked him the difference and he said, ‘An authentic story is about us.’

‘Yes?’, Lopez asked.

‘And an inauthentic story is about you’, replied the man.

Lopez had a crucial insight as a result of this conversation. He realised that the story you tell as a story teller is not worth our listening to if it is just about you. He said,’We don’t need to know about you, we need to know about us’. I think what he is saying here, is that a writer needs to delve down beyond the purely personal until he strikes something universal in human experience which will illuminate all our lives. Also, adding my own note here, if an artist is working with rage or pain, she has a responsibility to transform it before it hits the page. We all know how bad life can be, we have the mass media to tell us all about that.

It is the artist alchemist’s task to harness that personal negativity and transcend it, and to use it as raw material to craft images of hope.

Lopez says that an authentic story needs to do two things; first of all it has to help. And secondly it has to be about ‘us’.

I want everything I write to end with this note:’Here is what I saw, what do you think?’. Instead of saying, ‘Here is what I saw and this is what you should believe’. -B.Lopez

The writers, artists and musicians I’ve respected most and who have inspired me in my life so far, are growing older along with me. Like Barry Lopez, time and experience distil their youthful passion to a focused potency. I feel enormous wisdom radiating from these people. But even more than the understanding they have gained through living and practising their calling, they embody compassion.

Lopez said,’

I want more than anything to see people do well. I want to see people thrive. And the system I see in place all over the world is killing people. I feel that as a physical pain, as grief every day when I get up in the morning. What drives me is – if you’re going to tell a story, tell a story that helps. If you’re going to collaborate with directors, filmmakers, artists et , make common cause with people whose desire is to help.

Not to direct the show or tell somebody else what to think, but to behave in a helpful manner for the benefit of everybody.

(See the 3 minute clip of this talk here )

 

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Bottles and stillife, oil on canvas board

Bottles and still life, oil on canvas board

I’ve been concentrating on developing my oil painting for nearly 5 years now. Having a long career as a fine artist, graphic designer and calligrapher up until then, I already had a good foundation of drawing and composition. So I didn’t have to start from scratch, luckily. It has been mostly about learning the medium, and I’ve shared that process here fairly regularly. This is my first painting after a several months interlude of copying the work of some other artists. I learned a lot from that process, mostly about paint application and relaxing a little.

Basically I’m satisfied with this painting, it is another step along the way. What I am sure of, though, is that this isn’t my destination- ie perfecting realistic representation. I’ll talk more about that in a minute. Meanwhile, this has a nice story behind it.

Awhile back, I took a photo of a bowl of nectarines at my mother in law’s home and did a few paintings from it.

Tanny's bowl

It eventually landed downstairs near where Rende’s computer is. We moved my bottle collection out of our show window and they ended up in front of this still life. (You may recognise some of my first paintings of this collection from several years ago.)

So the bottles against the still life caught Rende’s magic eye, and he made several photos, they were so rich and juicy and deep, they nudged me out of my uninspired period- I had to paint them.

Painting something that is already beautiful is a major challenge! The question is, what can you add? The painting all the way at the top is a response to the richness of Rende’s photo, but it is also about mastering technique to capture what moved me. I liked the sharp clarity of the glass against the fuzzy background; a special challenge was muting the fruit still life behind the glass to make it look out of focus as it was in the photo.

But technique is never the end goal, it is simply a tool. My journey in paint is away from rendering to suggesting. But I don’t know how to do that, so I have to keep doing one piece at a time and let the work teach me. I don’t know if anyone can see the steps made since the first glass paintings, but I am moving closer to painting the way I feel.

Also important to me, not quite achieved in this last painting is letting go of form to the extent that the canvas surface becomes interesting in itself. The rhythm of the brush strokes, the layers of paint, the texture of thick and thinly applied colours all are more interesting to me than depicting a real object perfectly.

I want to paint that way NOW. But take it from me, this process of discovering your own vocabulary of marks can’t be rushed or forced. In ‘Art and Fear’, by Bayles and Orland, (super book by the way), I remember something about how important it is to develop pleasurable working habits, and that these somehow also help you to find your work.  I think even the set up of your palette could influence how you use colour, for example. One person might place the cadmium yellow closer and another  might place it at a far end, so it is less easy to reach- so you just end up using the colour closest to you.

I watched a video of David Hockney painting one of his landscapes from his show ‘a Bigger Picture’. All his years of daily work just flowed out of his brush like a guided dream.  He did one complete painting a day, and it looks so easy! But watching him taught me about working from back to front (sky first, then branches) in a landscape. It completely changed my thinking, so this is the set up for the next painting, same subject slightly different crop. I’ve sketched in the masses in the background and foreground, and am aiming to suggest more and work even more loosely.

Set up for second painting

Set up for second painting

 

Cover

In 2011, my book ‘Chocolate Rain’ was published by Hawker Publications, UK. It has been received well and has steadily found its way into the hands of more and more relatives, carers and professionals who work with people with dementia.

Last month I received wonderful news, my book had sold out of the first printing and is being reprinted because it had been chosen along with 24 others as part of Reading Well’s Book Prescription list for Dementia! I went to the official launch while I was in London, met a few friends there, John Killick and Richard Hawkins to name two, and was inspired to learn more about this initiative.

Reading well is a health initiative of the Reading Agency, a non profit that encourages people to read more. Their Books on Subscription project is brilliant in its simplicity. They team up with libraries, health professionals, and health organisations to make self-help books on common health problems widely available through libraries.

At the launch I was most impressed by the transdisciplinary collaboration that makes this project possible. Reading Well’s Book prescription list for Dementia is actively promoted by the Society of Chief Librarians, partly sponsored by the Arts Council England, and works closely with health organisations like the Alzheimer Association. The combined efforts of all of these bodies make general health information, in this case information about dementia, low threshold and easily available to everyone through their local public library. Particularly cool, I find, is that doctors and other professionals (therapists, social workers, etc) can prescribe these books to their patients so that they can become more empowered by becoming informed about their-, or a relative’s condition.

Last year the books were available in 95% of all the libraries in the UK.

In its first year, the scheme reached 275,000 people with accredited self-help reading, helping people to understand and manage common mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Library issues of titles on the core book list have increased by 113% and around 7,000 health professionals are using the scheme on a regular basis to recommend books.

What it means for me and the other 24 authors, is that our books will get a huge boost in getting out to where they are needed. Last year’s book saw large sales increases as well, which is only good news to anyone who relies in part on royalties for their income.

My book is an activity/support for carers book, additionally there are books on Living well with dementia, including, ‘Dementia Positive’ by John Killick, Luath Press. In the category, Support for relatives and carers,  Graham Stoke’s much lauded,’And still the music plays’, published by Hawker. And in Personal stories, ‘The little girl in the radiator: mum, Alzheimer’s and me’ by Martin Slevin, (Monday books).

‘Chocolate Rain’ is available at the many Dementia and Care congresses organised by Hawker publications in the UK. And on line from Book depository, Amazon uk, etc., and directly from Hawker publications.

 

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!)

 

‘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!

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.

January fruit bowl in oils

January 31, 2014

where I stopped

January fruit  2014

This is where I stopped, I could have done more, but liked the slightly raw quality. The photo is more contrasty than the painting, it was hard to capture-  it is actually dark and muted, not quite so harsh as it is here, especially the reds and ochres. The format is largish-
around 50 x 50cm.

It was difficult for me to not continue working and put in the pattern on the fabric. It was a good decision and is part of letting go and making one’s own choices about what to put in and what to leave out. It was good to go for the larger lines and not fuss over every detail.

Here is a peek at the fabric:

crop