Every painting is a journey.

One of the most common questions I am asked as an artist is how long it takes to complete a painting. This question does not surprise me. The process of making art is foreign to many. And abstract art, despite existing in the cultural lexicon since at least the late 19th century, remains mysterious in its meaning or worth, leading to the dreaded declaration, "My kid could do that."

It's true. Kids make great art. But, I'm going to show you how I make art.

I don't know how a work starts. Something strikes me- a word, a color, an image from nature, a shape I feel like making, a composition that has been flashing behind my eyes as I drift to sleep- that incites a need to create. I head to the studio. I prep the canvas or paper, lay it out on table or easel. I mix up my color, dip my brush, and I start. Immediately I react to what I just did, adding new color, a charcoal or graphite mark, or a shape, repeating the process until I built up to a composition that feels like it has balance.

The process can take minutes, hours, days, weeks, years. I never really know. Sometimes I sit with a piece for months, photograph it, market it, and then a few months later, paint over it.

This is a painting I began months ago. I painted it at the same time as two other pieces, and had some extra paint to use up from those paintings, so I quickly did began this one. Then it sat in my studio until two days ago, when I finally decided that it wasn't finished.

I initially liked how fresh it felt, and the lightness of the marks. I love simple paintings. But this one didn't last as a design. It needed more. Here is the story of where it went from there.

 

At first, I added some drawn charcoal lines and shapes, and started painting in more colors: turquoise, green, navy blue, gray. I turned the piece upside down to take a look at how the design drew the eye through it, and how "balanced" it seemed (did the parts on one section relate to parts on another section). Did the parts relate to the whole? Did some stick out, or become distracting? I decided to keep going.

I actually forgot to photograph the step in between these two steps, but no matter: it was terrible. WAY too much pink. I had nicknamed the painting "Miami." Yikes. Here's where I went from there, subduing the warm colors, and building up the surface more.

More blues, more grays, more greens, more layers. I turned the piece around again, and covered up quite a bit of the underpainting with cool colors. Shapes begin to connect through the middle, creating relationships in the composition, moving the eye around the piece like guideposts or bridges, from one section to the next.

I felt like the piece was at a stopping point, or almost. I just needed one more thing...

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More blue.

Where will it go from here? I'm not sure. I'm sitting with it for awhile longer...

What do you think?

Southern Exposure

 The fabulous painter Britt Bass at Gather Workshop in Atlanta

The fabulous painter Britt Bass at Gather Workshop in Atlanta

The past year has been one of serious ups and downs, personally and professionally. The life of an artist is never easy, as people LOVE to tell me, but there are times when one needs guidance. As I searched for artists I could connect with online and in real life, I discovered a workshop for creative professionals called Gather. It seemed like such a special program that I signed up for it as soon as possible, and my husband and I planned an entire vacation around a trip to Atlanta and the Southeast for the workshop.

Gather is an intensive two-day experience that aims to inspire, educate and connect creative professionals of all levels and backgrounds. It is the brainchild of branding and design master Mattie Tiegreen of Green Tie Studio and photographer Kaitie Bryant in Atlanta. But it is so much more than branding, design, social media management and business practices. It is connection with other creators, people working with their hands and minds to create lovely images and objects. It is learning about how to transform your passion into a business- and how to set boundaries and manage it so you still have a life. It is encouragement to keep trying new things, exploring new ideas, and taking risks to become a better artist.

When I arrived in Atlanta for the workshop, I had been feeling pretty down about myself as an artist. I wasn't sure that what I was doing was the right "type" of art for success (whatever that means). As one of only a few working artists I know in California, I was feeling isolated and alone. When I left the workshop, I had new friends and connections; I had gained wisdom to help build my art business; and I had renewed inspiration to keep making abstract paintings and sending them out into the world.

On top of all that, I just had a lot of fun.

And Atlanta is a wonderful city to visit. We loved visiting the High Museum of Art and the Aquarium, and spending time at Gregg Irby Gallery as well! There is amazing food there too- we had our welcome dinner at Sun in My Belly. It was YUM.

After Gather ended, we (meaning my husband, four year old daughter, and father) road tripped to South Carolina for a week at the beach. We rented a place on Seabrook Island, and swam and ate ourselves silly, with a couple of days for sight-seeing in Charleston as well.

Charleston is fantastic. It is filled with history, beauty, and if you look in the right neighborhood, killer contemporary art. We visited the oldest Reform Jewish synagogue in North America, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, wandered around the gallery district, and ventured to midtown to see Redux Contemporary Art Space and Studios, The George Gallery, and Mitchell Hill Gallery and Interior Design. The food at Lowcountry Bistro and Virginia's was excellent as well.

I really enjoyed visiting the Southeastern United States. I hope I get to return soon. It was a trip that renewed me and inspired me as an artist, and fed me, body and soul.

The Artist You Are

There are times when the artist that you are and the artist that you want to be cannot be reconciled. This is a fight between desire and reality. You fight and fight to be a certain type of artist, but nothing works- it doesn't fit. You want to make bigger work, smaller work, more colorful work, less colorful work, paintings, sculpture, prints, or just installation. Conceptual work, or formal work. You think, "I'll just do this type of art, or use this type of approach, and the world will get me." So, there you are, trying and trying and trying, getting nowhere. No one is responding- not even you.

With Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours of genius-hood getting farther and farther away, you consider giving up.

The question you are really trying to answer is who YOU are as an artist. Not your famous professor, best friend from art school, or that guy who randomly picked up a paintbrush one day and now sells paintings for $20,000 a pop. Not the girlfriend who paints in her spare time while her baby sleeps, or the friends whose art involves tagging the neighborhood.

No, the question is: who are YOU as an artist?

Not who do you WANT to be— but who are you right now as an artist? In this space, this place, with this work? And can you value yourself and what you do? Can you grant it legitimacy? Can you be enough?

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For today.

Harbinger300 I will not weigh in on gun control, or the need for better screening and treatment for mental illness. I will not tell you to "hug your kids a little tighter" (even if you do) or to write your congressman. Urgings are not my intention. I may or may not agree with any of them, but right now, that is not at all what I want to say. I want to tell you this:

I created this piece, Harbinger, in Spring 2010. At the time I was living in Mountain View, CA, trying to figure out my next move in life. Stuck in a depression so profound, so deep, it seemed there was no end to it, I ventured out of my gray, Silicon Valley apartment onto the streets along office parks and strip malls. I was never more surprised than to find magnolias, in bloom, pink and full, in front of a cold, glass building.

The magnolia flower is known as the harbinger of Spring. Spring is the metaphor of new life, growth, possibility. In other words, out of the gray, cold winter of our lives and this world, find hope anywhere you can– so that darkness and coldness and brutality does not engulf you.