My 2018 Studio Resolutions, Part 1

I must confess that in the past I was never a New Year’s Resolution maker, I always thought it was kind of a silly thing to do. I tried many times and usually by March, my resolution to keep a diary, stop eating chocolate and lose 10 pounds was long forgotten. My resolution cynicism was put to rest, however, when I needed to either get back in the studio or give up being an artist for good.

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It’s so cold and gray here in Philly in January, I just want to hide under the covers and hibernate. It’s hardly a time to think of new beginnings and fresh starts, but when the calendar page turns at the end of the year, something in my mind shifts. Suddenly, I’m full of new thoughts and hopes for making strides toward bigger and better things. I must confess that in the past I was never a New Year’s Resolution maker, I always thought it was kind of a silly thing to do. I tried many times and usually by March, my resolution to keep a diary, stop eating chocolate and lose 10 pounds was long forgotten. My resolution cynicism was put to rest, however, when I needed to either get back in the studio or give up being an artist for good.
If you have been reading this blog, you know that I went through a long studio slump due to personal troubles and grief (read this post for more about how I began to get out of that slump). In order to get back in there and make work, there were a few actions I needed to take. The first thing to do was to make the commitment to be a professional artist again. Even in my slump I still considered myself to be a professional artist, but I wasn’t acting like a professional. An artist who isn’t making art is not an artist at all and once the studio habit was broken, my confidence was shaken. Once I learned to quiet those confidence shaking voices, I could make the all important choice to try again.
Next, I applied for a residency (read this post if you are considering applying for a residency). A residency would get me out of my usual space where I would feel free to work, experiment and build back my studio discipline without the trappings and chores of being at home. The residency was the best decision I could make and it accomplished all I needed it to do-but once home, now what? A few months passed and suddenly it was January, 2015 and what better time to make my new commitments solid by creating a list of New Year Studio Resolutions.
To write this list, I had to return to my graduate school curriculum when my artist discipline had truly developed. The following list is based on the five daily must-do’s that I had to complete in order for me to get my degree and be successful after graduation. My complete list also includes weekly, monthly, and annual goals that support both the studio and business, but I’m just focusing on daily studio tasks here. It’s important to note that even though this is a ‘daily’ list, the tasks don’t have to be done everyday, just each day that you are in the studio (with the exception of drawing, that is). For me, studio days are 5-6 days per week, so adjust your list according to what is feasible for you. I have shared this list with graduate students, colleagues, workshop participants, artist friends, basically any artist who is struggling. I guarantee if you employ these basic tenets, your studio practice will improve, your work will expand conceptually and your production will grow exponentially. How many guarantees are there in life? Not many. Try it, you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.
  1. Read 30-60 minutes every studio day The reading I’m referring to here is not the latest novel, it is research relevant to the work you’re doing in the studio. Read #4 of this post and you will see why I feel that not reading enough is one of the top ten biggest mistakes of my artist career. Reading and research is imperative for professionals of every discipline in order to stay on top of what’s going on in their field. For artists, part of that research is the work itself, of course, but we have to feed our work cognitively and conceptually.  Take a look at what I’m reading this year in the image at the top of this article. I have a pile of books that pertain to my studio work and a pile for teaching and I revise both piles at the beginning of every year. I usually have one studio book, one teaching book and one inspiration book (with pictures) all going at once. I only read these books on my studio days because I have to have fun sometimes too! I keep track of the books I finish and it gives me a sense of accomplishment to see a long list at the end of each year. I also time my reading with the timer on my phone to minimum 30 minutes and maximum 60 minutes according to how much time I have that day to do it. My mind usually wanders, so I focus on the fact that for that short 30 minutes all I have to worry about is what I’m reading. Don’t know what to read or what your work is ‘about’ yet? No worries, I’ll cover how you can figure that out in in my second blog post next month.
  2. Draw 15-30 minutes every day No, that is not a typo, I didn’t forget to write ‘studio’ in there..you should be drawing every day, whether you’re in the studio or not. Before you stop reading because you think you can’t draw, please note that a drawing can be anything you want it to be. Also note, that these drawings are for your eyes only, unless you choose to share. They can be of any subject, made in any medium on any kind of media and completed any time and anywhere-their purpose is to get your creative juices flowing. I remember reading somewhere that there is a brain/body connection to movement and creativity and that a physiological change takes place in the brain when you move. You must move the parts of your body that you use to paint so as to create a rhythm that the creative parts of your brain will recognize. Starting to paint without some kind of warm-up exercise is like starting to run without stretching-you can’t start cold, you’ll hurt yourself! The same thing applies to painting. While I don’t go to the gym everyday, I do get up and stretch my body with short yoga exercises. If I didn’t, my body would be stiff within a short time. Drawing works as ‘creative stretching’ for me. If I don’t do my minimum 15 minutes, I’m ‘stiff’ and it takes me twice as long to get going in the studio. Get a small sketch pad-one that fits in your bag, take it with you everywhere and start to mark it up. I guarantee you that by drawing a short 15 minutes a day, your work and mindset regarding your work will improve drastically. If you’re still having issues with drawing everyday, I’ll share some easy drawing exercises in the next few blog posts that will get you started. Last, use that timer for the same reasons as above!

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Studio Resolutions in my next blog post. It goes without saying that this list is only helpful if you actually commit to or RESOLVE to doing it. Do what is comfortable for you and what will fit into your life-do not over extend or you will end up in frustration. Last, you will need an artist friend, mentor or coach who will help to keep you accountable and moving forward. I would love to work with you to create a personalized list of resolutions just for you and help you to keep them. Please visit the mentor page on my web site to see what I can offer you.

See you back here in February!

 

The Grass IS Greener: A Life Changing Artist Experience

Happy New Year to you, Art Bite Blog fans! I thought I would start the new year with an inspiring story that will hopefully move you in a good direction for 2018. If you are stuck or need prodding like I did when the events in this story took place, it might help nudge you out of your rut. I have shared this story in bits in pieces, but never in full. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I did in recalling and writing it.

In 2014 I was awarded my first month long residency at Jentel Artist Residency in Banner Wyoming. I applied for this residency in 2013 out of utter desperation. I had been grieving the sudden loss of someone very special to me and as a result, I hadn’t been in the studio or made any work for over two years. When I did receive an invitation to this residency, it was manna from heaven. I drove from my home in Philadelphia to Wyoming-a first for me to travel that far on my own. Although I had been out west many times, I had never traveled at ground level, witnessed the marked changes in terrain, the changes in the light from blue to green to gold or watched the sunset for three hours as I drove due west. As I made my way further away from my home, I felt the mountains of guilt, grief and depression fall away from my shoulders and as each mile passed, I felt lighter and more free.
The residency is located on a thousand acre working cattle ranch with trees, foothills, desert flowers, a lovely creek, rattlesnakes, deer and porcupines. I was in love at first sight with the raw beauty of the land and the huge sky that I could see for forever. Behind the house was the tallest mountain on the property and for some reason, I got it into my head that before the end of the month I would climb that mountain. This was a ludicrous thought because for one, I’m afraid of heights and two, I had never climbed anything resembling a mountain. However, these pesky logistics didn’t matter to me. Come hell or high water, I was going to climb that mountain and I was also going to break my two year slump and make some work during this residency.
During the month, I hiked those thousand acres, exploring each foothill, memorizing the curves, drawing the contour of the land against the sky with grasses I collected and dipped in ink, hearing nothing but the wind and my own breathing as I walked and worked. This strange, brown and barren land was healing me step by step as I hiked, line by line as I drew, breath by breath as I listened to the wind. I kept an eye on my mountain nemesis behind the house, everyday assessing the height, the verticality, the rocks. It loomed and taunted me, just as the challenge to let go of my depression and get out of bed everyday seemed to loom and taunt me.
It didn’t happen for me right away but by almost 3 weeks into my month long residency I finally had a breakthrough in my work and it all started to flow. I made about four paintings, a ream of drawings and about 1000 digital drawings by the last week. I was definitely on fire, determined and inspired. The residency had done for my studio work all I had hoped for and more.
But. I. Still. Hadn’t. Climbed. That. Mountain.
Ok, so I never told anyone I was going to do it. I never made any promises to anyone, except myself, of course. It certainly wasn’t a requirement of the residency program that I climb it. Who would know if I didn’t do it? Well..I would know..and I would feel like a total failure even with all of the studio success I had achieved.
So…On the second to last day before I was to leave, it was now or never. It was a lovely day for a hike and just as I had done most days, I woke up, put on my backpack and hiking shoes. But instead of heading out to the thousand acres, I went behind the house and started up the mountain. It was much steeper than I thought and at some points, it was almost vertical with nothing but scree in most places. I had no climbing equipment and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing from a mountain climbing standpoint. I just started, one foot in front of the other… grabbed, slid, sweated and breathed my way up, paying close attention not to look down. To pull myself up the sheer verticals and to stop myself from falling when I slipped, I held on to the the tall grasses, they were my lifeline-just as they had been in the studio when I made those first drawings in ink.
At one point I did look down and immediately panicked.
I had climbed so far, there was only a short distance left, but what lie ahead of me was nothing but rock and a sheer vertical, I had no idea what to do. My heart started to pound and I couldn’t breathe, I had to sit down. As I sat there on the rock, crying, paralyzed with panic, contemplating the embarrassment of butt sliding back down in defeat…or worse, having to be rescued, I heard something breathing behind me…it was a deer! She was pretty close and seemed a bit skittish, but more confused at what I was doing all the way up there on her turf. She quietly turned around and went over the top of the mountain. I kept an eye on her path and followed it..hand over hand, step over step, gripping anything I could, even digging my fingers into the dirt to pull myself up and finally I made it to the top. I turned around to look at the ranch below me and snapped a picture ( shown at the top of this article) so I would never forget that moment. I still remember how victorious I felt and it was then that I knew everything would be okay. I was strong and I could get through my grief and depression and move forward. I would never be the same as I was before, I would never make the work I was making before, but everything was going to be okay. I was going to be okay.
As I turned to continue down the other side of the mountain, I was relieved to see a green meadow with flowers, a clear path and an easy, gradual descent down into the valley.

I hope you enjoyed that story. If you have a similarly inspiring story you would like to share, please leave it in the comments section below. If you are interested in applying for a residency, but are unsure about which one, this post may be helpful. I will be writing more about my residency and the transition from my older work to the work I do now, so stay tuned for those articles in the coming months.

As promised, I will be posting to this blog twice a month and my next post outlines my New Year’s Studio Resolutions. Since 2015 when I started making these resolutions, I have shared them with a few people who have found them very helpful and useful for their own studio practice. If you haven’t made your resolutions yet, please make sure you follow this blog so you don’t miss my next post!