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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Dreaded Art Block

Most artists experience these, and we dread them.  An art block can occur in one of a couple of forms.  At times the well simply dries up and we find ourselves with a complete lack of creativity or ideas. At other times (this is the one I have most often), the ideas are there but no matter how hard we try, what we produce never measures up to what we had envisioned.  I think this incarnation is the most frustrating of all.

When I hit the brick wall that is the second sort, I've learned to have patience - because ultimately
'Laird of Lochaber" Red stag in Glencoe, on
three turkey feathers. Lochaber District tartan
painted on the quills.
there is an advantage to it.  It is an evolution - you are experiencing growth in your particular art form and skill. It's a tough slog, but when you finally emerge on the other side of that block, you will find that something has changed.  You might not approach your art in quite the same way as before. You notice that you don't see quite the same way as before - you see and notice things you probably did not before - and in this, you will find your approach has changed, as well as your execution. Your technique has grown.  I have not experienced a block yet where I did not experience some level of growth.

While creative growth is great and we look forward to improving, what typically brings about a creative block?
Stagnation. When we produce, we often get into a routine.  What we produce becomes routine.  Maybe a particular style has become what is expected of us, and we eventually find ourselves bored. We might not recognize that at first, only that we are not as fired up to create as we once were.
Busyness. Raising my hand here - guilty!  We pile so much on to our schedule, we feel pressed to keep moving or else we'll fall behind.  Too much of this will promptly lead to burnout. You will run out of steam, as well as inspiration! Make time for personal time.
Health. No one can perform well after a period of poor diet or insufficient rest.  Likewise with lack of exercise.  Illness, stress, and bad things happening in your personal life also contribute as causes for a creative block.

So how on earth do you work through a block?  Once you've recognized and addressed the cause that put you there, break away from the work. Shake it up a bit, go do something different. Visit places that inspire you, go see the works of someone who inspires you and whom you admire.  Galleries, museums, and exhibitions are great for this.  Get out into nature and simply experience all that is around you, and let your senses take over. Does music inspire you?  Seek that.  Try a new style, a new medium, a new art form.

This Spring I had the mother of all creative blocks. It set in like a ton on my shoulders and no matter what I did I could not get past it. There was no guessing at the cause, the cause was grief. I had lost my brother very suddenly, very unexpectedly.  There was no getting past this very extreme matter until I addressed the grief I was suffering and said what I felt was a proper good bye to my brother. I will not go into detail in this post, but will probably make that its own blog article in the future on grief and healing and how I went about it. I will say that my approach was huge, but so was the relief and the healing that occurred. When I did what I needed to do and recovered from the pain of loss, I couldn't wait to get back to my brushes and paints. The inspiration was as great as the block that preceded it. And yes, I do believe the work that came from it saw an increase in quality.
"Power and Grace" - humpback whales on turkey feather

Your turn - what are some of the things that have given you a bad case of creative block?  What are some of the ways you worked through it?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Scotland Adventure 2015 - project launch!

The first trip over in 2009 had me mesmerized. I swore I would go back - probably multiple times.  There's just something about this magnificent country - its rich history, splendid music, wonderful people - I knew I had to go back.

Plans were made. Life went sideways. More plans were made. At last it is concrete - I will return in the summer of 2015.

While the last trip was quite the adventure, the next one will be even more so.  I will spend at least six weeks wandering Scotland with even greater opportunities for adventure - and I do so love a good adventure.  I have intentions of going about it in ways that most tourists would never try though, and indeed in ways that probably most Scots might not.  I'll be backpacking and will likely be spending most of my time out-of-doors, and possibly half my nights camping.  I did this last time, but next time will be for a considerably longer duration and quite a bit more wild.  One route I am planning
on, for instance, is walking from Cannich, which is just west of Loch Ness, to Broadford, which is on the Isle of Skye.  I estimate that should be about 4 days' walking where compass and map will be needed things. It might take a bit more, depending on how often I stop to sketch or take side trips to see other features along the way.

Such activities are necessary, as an illustrated artist's travel journal will be published in the wake of this adventure.  I will also be gathering an enormous amount of photographs, from which to produce a large body of work when I return home again.  Total immersion is key. I want to absorb as much of this experience as I can, as fully as is possible.  I want to learn more about the history and the culture, to study the wildlife, to hear the music, to meet the people.  There is just so much to it - the last journey of 22 days barely scratched the surface.

Along with all the planning and reading and map study and research, there is another side of this adventure that I've been building upon that would give you folks the ability to have a unique piece of it.  I'll be producing miniature feather paintings from this adventure, on top of the larger works and the book. The miniatures are for you who wish to participate.  You would also receive a signed certificate with a thistle remarque, as well as one of my paintings printed in postcard format, mailed to you from somewhere in Scotland.  Sound interesting?  Rather than repeat all this information within the blog post, please do have a look at the webpage I have built on my website just for this purpose.

In the coming weeks and months, I'll periodically talk about hopes, plans, and areas of focus here on the blog.  It will be quite the amazing adventure indeed!  See you again on Tuesday!

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Most Complicated and Thoroughly Researched Feather I have Ever Done

Upon seeing the Robert Burns portrait I painted upon returning from adventures in Scotland, an acquaintance in Scotland asked me if I would create a portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie for him.  Now this gentleman is also a Jacobite reenactor, so I knew if I attempted this it had to be as right as I could make it in every way.

This one painting required more of me than any ever has before. First and foremost, I had to push my skill set and technique higher than they were at the time, otherwise what came out the end of my brush would not measure up to what I could envision in my head.  Fortunately, this commissioner is quite patient and did not mind me working away to improve what I could do.  There were several failed attempts at the portrait as my ability was not yet up to the challenge.

There was much more to it than mere growth in skills. Also required was an enormous amount of research.  Many historic portraits of the prince exist, but as I read and studied, it became apparent that not all are as they claim. A number of these portraits of Prince Charles Edward Stuart are actually of his brother, Henry Benedict Stuart. At this point I had to learn to look through the artists' styles and recognize one brother from the other.

Further difficulties. I chose the setting for the Prince to be Edinburgh.  Prince Charlie's residence in Edinburgh was a very brief window in time, the winter of 1745-46, so my representation of him needed to be very age-specific. The problem with that is, existing portraits that were truly of himself portrayed him as a youth and as an older man. None at this time existed that were painted in Scotland when he was there.

I fussed about with every bit of detail in this portrait, down to every symbol and every minutia - except for the Prince's face. I was sketching and guessing at what he may have looked like at age 24, and was afraid to commit that concept to paint.  Great fortune in timing struck, however, when the discovery of a fantastic little Ramsay portrait painted from life of Prince Charles Edward Stuart hit the news earlier this year. This one was found hidden away in Edinburgh, and was indeed painted when the Prince was in Scotland.  Although anything I could ever hope to produce could never in a million years come close to a Ramsay, at last I have an image of the Prince at 24 in Scotland from which to go by!  In an odd coincidence, I had already painted the Prince's coat a pale blue and based it on the riding coat he wears in a statue depiction of him astride a horse.

With all the reading and research done in preparation for this commission, I had a lot of material from
which to pull together a lot of symbolism within the painting.  Look out the window, and you will see Arthur's Seat, as well as a bit of St Giles Cathedral. This places the Prince in Edinburgh.  He places his hand upon an 18th century French polished marble and hardwood inlaid table, which represents his Parisian ties. Above him is an 18th century Italian wall sconce, representing his Italian origins. Within that sconce, with lit candle, is a cameo of his father, King James. This represents the rise of 1715, his father lighting the way for the rise of the 45.  Upon the French table is a cut glass vase, containing three white roses - two in the bud and one in full bloom. This is a well-known Jacobite symbol, and represents King James and his two sons, Charles and Henry.

 I wanted this portrait not to have a dull expression as so many portraits do, but to be full of life and
maybe a little bit of mischief. Hopefully that was achieved on the Prince's face.
The candle's flame is only 7mm

I'll include some closeup shots from this feather painting, so that you may see the details in these elements.

Very happy with the way the table came out. It's not easy to paint over the feather's quill.

There are far more hours invested in the painting of this feather than I care to count. I stopped counting after forty.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The list - Getting It Done!

The single most effective time management tool I have ever utilized is a hand-written list.  Any time I go for a period without working from to-do lists, I do notice a drop in efficiency and productivity. Far more gets accomplished with a list to guide me than without.

I do prefer the tactile feel of applying pen to paper. It's more carefully executed and more permanent than a list produced on a digital platform. There's just something about the act of writing that is more thoughtful and more deliberate.

Many recommend that one create lists on daily, weekly, and monthly levels, and some say annual and five-year lists should be considered.  Although I do write down longer-range goals, I think that for now, I'm doing pretty well with just a weekly list to help guide me along.  It allows me to focus on the week ahead, plan and prioritize, and make commitments on execution without feeling trapped by the restrictions of daily lists, or overwhelmed by a detailed monthly list.  Flexibility is nice.  If you've got a good head of steam and you're really sailing through projects, you can knock out even more on that week list than you originally intended for the day.

As your projects and priorities get accomplished, there are further benefits.  The act of making check-marks and drawing lines through items is ridiculously satisfying. That satisfaction goads you on to complete more so that you can make even more check-marks and lines.  At the end of the week, you may not realize how much you accomplished, but then you pick up that messy list and have a look - and with a sense of accomplishment you realize that yes - you actually did get a lot done!!  That finished list is now also like a checkpoint on a map.   It shows your progress on longer range projects so far, which will help you chart your course for the coming week.

I've put an awful lot on myself for upcoming projects, goals, and aspirations and even adventures in the next twelve months lying before me.  With all that daunting stuff ahead, using lists has gone from handy to essential - or maybe even mandatory. It's the only way I can keep everything straight.  Without goals you don't have a destination - but if you have a goal and are without planning and lists, you have a destination without a map or compass, or a solid idea of how to get to there from here!

Well, back to my own list for the week ahead - let's see how much of that I can get accomplished!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Painted Feathers - price increase, but not just yet!

Every visual artist faces this inevitable situation - with the cost of framing supplies and art supplies continually going up, as well as a substantial increase in requests for commissioned work,  so too must the price of those finished works follow suit.

I've held off on this decision as long as I possibly could.  I'm only making a modest raise this year, to help compensate for the higher quality frames purchased from Lucas Art Gallery, a quality investment whose difference in cost I have simply absorbed over the past couple of years.

The value of the work has gone up as well, I do think.  For the past couple of years I've put a lot of focus into improving what I do, seeing the light and portraying the details to the best of my ability.  Each painting teaches me things that I apply to the next, and with each painting I try to push the quality a little past that point of the preceding painting.  The result is growth.  The result also is much more time spent on each piece.  That means fewer paintings overall but it also means a higher standard of quality.

The price of each custom framed single-feather painting, whether it is a completed work from studio inventory or is a privately commissioned specific piece, will go from $275 to $295, effective November 1st 2013.  If you have already requested work from me, don't worry your price will not go up.  Likewise, if you send me a request for a commissioned piece before the November 1st deadline, your price will hold at $275.  Setting this date as such, I think, will allow sufficient time to discuss, design, complete and ship requested paintings intended for Christmas gifts.

In the meantime, I continue working through this queue of commissions that shall remain firm at $275.  I love the variety of subjects and ideas that have found their way to my work table, and with so many purposes too! Most have been requested as gifts - Scouting, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and those that are most delightful, 'just because'!  I thank you for these opportunities, it is such a treat to work with each commissioner individually and through telephone or email conversation come up with the most appropriate image for each recipient.

Asil Arabian horse, details of the painting completed and ready for framing. Privately commissioned

Asil Arabian horse, now fully matted and framed at 8" x 18", ready for shipment to a private collector in Birmingham England.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Creative Outlets

If you're a creative sort who is always thinking about making stuff, any stuff, chances are you'll find a way or simply fall into an opportunity no matter what it is you're involved with.

I've been involved with the Clan MacLeod Society since the year before my solo trip to Scotland in 2009.  Each year I get a bit more busy and active, attending all the Highland Games in this part of the state (and we are blessed with several events here) and becoming increasingly involved in volunteering.  

I don't like to simply show up, it's much better and more meaningful to find a way to be useful, and find some way to benefit a group or organization along the way. It's a nice feeling, and an addictive one at that, to do something and know you've added some small bit of value somehow.

Our clan booth has seen a little transformation over the past couple of years, as I have been adding to it.  My art show grid panels have been utilized in providing us much more display space by making use of vertical space.  We hang Penny's collection of tea towels - with wooden clothespins at first, but that seemed rather boring so I painted 24 clothespins with the Lewis and Harris tartans of MacLeod.  That was a small thing but their color sure added to the Fun factor.  I have paintings inspired from 2009's Scotland backpacking adventure,and since they are locations that are either in or near MacLeod territory they too hang in the tent.   

At one point 2 years ago, Penny handed me two cotton tartans from which to make banners. She'd had them for a while but never found enough time to do something with them.  Now, how on earth do I make a banner?? Ooh, creative challenge!  That right there was enough to inspire many hours of Googling various clan banners, taking photos of other clan banners at events, and trying to decide just how to go about it.  I had no experience in making such a thing but I had hand-sewn a fair amount of  PNW Native regalia because of involvement with Order of the Arrow (Boy Scouts) and out of pure interest (another case of 'oh this is cool! I wanna learn!). One art form feeds another, so equipped with a simple needle and thread I took what I learned in making regalia and applied it to clan banners.  Funny thing - there is a parallel between the two.  Button blankets display the wearer's family crest, and a banner does exactly the same thing!  No buttons on those banners though, but I did applique a whole lot of seed beads into their designs to add sparkle and pizzazz.  

My husband got involved too, with his woodworking interest, and created some very nice upright poles for carrying these banners. He woodburned crisscrossing ribbons into the wood, and then carefully painted in 2 shades of wood stain to make them really stand out.  Neither one of us is done with them yet.  We just keep adding to them. Matt is going to tool leather to cover the PVC joints on the poles, and I am going to add a crossbar to each for added stability in wind.  Lewis is not yet done, but Harris has been marched in all the clan parades last year and this year.

This last weekend Clan MacLeod was honored and privileged to be chosen as the host clan at the Skagit Valley Highland Games.   What an overwhelming treat it was for us to lead the clan parade right behind Northwest Junior Pipe Band onto the field!  Penny opened the Games both days from the stage - what an honor!  I worked until 2 in the morning the day we departed for the event, hand-sewing a heavy backing to the MacLeod Harris banner, which made a big difference in its presentation and behavior on the field.  Now - if I can get Lewis to the same state of completion for next year's events, all will be golden.  It's good to have a variety of creative outlets that are ongoing. 

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Just Start

Start. It's difficult to push yourself into beginning a task, particularly one that is in addition to those many that you already do. It's easier to convince yourself that you should be putting your time elsewhere, or to ease your conscience by telling yourself "I'll begin that next week, when I don't have quite so much on."

The painful fact is you will always have plenty going on. You're not going to find a week where you have nothing to do.  Blogging. Website updates. You know they are important for your creative business but telling yourself you'll get on that next week is a guarantee that these important bits won't get done.

Begin.  Allot yourself ten to fifteen minutes today to work on what you know you must. Procrastination is not an option.  It doesn't have to be perfect, heck it doesn't have to be huge.  Close the door, close your email, put on some nice music if that helps you get into the flow (it does for me) and simply begin.  Chances are you will lose track of time and work a bit longer than those ten or fifteen minutes. Perhaps you'll accomplish more than you thought you would - like finishing a blog post - for a blog that has been neglected for many months.  You'll find it's not as daunting as you feared.

So let's start.

Old Man of the Woods - fully framed and available at Artisans of the World, St. Michaels, Maryland.