5 Mark Making Exercises to Jump Start Your Art

Are you an artist who hates to draw? Making daily marks for 15-30 minutes a day will improve your creative work flow not only in the studio, but in all aspects of your life. These 5 easy exercises will help you get that pencil moving!

Advertisements

In the first part of my 2018 Resolutions post I encouraged you to draw at least 15-30 minutes a day and as a result of this prompt, I received many requests for suggestions on how to get started. Even if you think you can’t draw, think you don’t know how or just stubbornly refuse, these 5 exercises will help. But before I discuss the How, I would like to discuss the What and Why I feel you must draw everyday.

The What…let’s take the word ‘drawing’ out of this article for now because it tends to scare people. When I’m teaching, I use the words drawing and mark-making interchangeably because for my purposes they are the same thing with only very slight differences. Think of it this way…a mark communicates a word and a drawing expands that word into a sentence…a poem…a sonnet. As artists, whatever we do in the course of making work begins as a mark on a surface made by one human to be interpreted by another in an effort to communicate. Mark making is expressive, gestural, emotive and works of art that contain such marks are the ones I will cross the room to view-they literally speak to me without words, they communicate. No matter what kind of work you make or in what medium, understanding your mark, what it is and how to make it, will make you a better communicator through that work.

The Why…Critic Lance Esplund writes, “Line is a rich metaphor for the artist. It denotes not only boundary, edge or contour, but is an agent for location, energy, and growth. It is literally movement and change – life itself.” This quote speaks to lines specifically, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll think of marks and lines as one in the same. The mark adds the lifeblood to the work that sets it apart from anyone else’s. Your personal mark or gesture is literally as unique as your signature and practicing making marks everyday is the only way to find that mark. As I mention in my Resolutions post, when you practice moving those parts of your body and brain required to make a drawing, everything else in your art making process flows much more smoothly. How many times have you entered the studio cold and stiff from not working and end up puttering around wasting time? Or picked up a paintbrush, but just couldn’t make the paint say what you wanted? The more marks you make and the more frequently you make them, they become indelibly written on your brain, your movements in the studio become more practiced and you will approach the work with confidence and knowing. I’m not saying that drawing everyday will rid you of all the struggles us artists face in the studio, but I absolutely guarantee that it will get you moving faster and in the right direction toward your goals.

The How…Now for the fun part. Your daily drawings can be made with any media on any substrate and inspired by any subject. I like to give myself ‘projects’ in which I work on a series of drawings inspired by one thing with the same media for one month. This offers me a chance to work out every angle of a certain subject and/or experiment with new media. At the end of the month, I also have a series of drawings that may be strong enough to show. Visit this post to read about one of these drawing series’ of mine. You can choose to work with monthly projects or you can draw something different everyday, the point is to make marks daily for 15-30 minutes. For those of you who think you’re too busy to spare this time, I suggest in my resolutions post that you always have a sketchbook and drawing tools with you in your bag because you may have more time than you think…on the bus/train, waiting at the doctors office, waiting in line at the food store. It’s almost depressing how much time we spend waiting so why not do something constructive while you’re at it. Last, don’t forget to set that timer! I’m a stickler about setting the timer for daily exercises like this and I explain a bit about why in this post. In a near future post I’ll talk about restrictions and why they are so important in art making. For now, understand that the timer will create a time-space for you to focus only on what you’re doing. For that short time, you don’t have to think about or do anything else but that draw.

The following drawing ideas are tried and true-a few have been used in art schools for centuries and a few I’ve modified and used over and over in my workshops. Once you start, your creative brain will begin to flow with many of your own ideas. At the end of this article I share some drawings from my workshop participants as well as some other artist’s works whose marks and processes I find inspiring. If you see your drawing below, let me know and I’ll add your name!

The Ideas

  1. Blind Contour Drawings If you went to art school, you probably went blind making blind contour drawings-they are used so much as a learning tool and that is because they are so helpful. Start by staring at an object in front of you for one minute. Then close your eyes and imagine the object in your minds eye…try to see its color, its form, its texture, it’s scale. Then open your eyes and look at the object in front of you. How does it look? Try to spend two minutes (or longer) just looking at the object, examining it in great detail. Then close your eyes and draw it continuously, keeping your eyes closed for a full two minutes. Don’t lift the pencil or open your eyes until your full two minutes are up. If you ‘finish’ drawing your object under two minutes just draw it again. If you find you can’t help yourself from cheating, wear a blindfold. Do this with the same object over and over, or try different objects in order to fill your 15-30 minutes. Another variation is to begin with the blind contour and then with your eyes open, ‘connect’ the sketchy lines you drew to make a new drawing.
  2. Opposites Make drawings in pairs which express opposite adjectives. For example, make a drawing which is noisy in as many ways as possible – your pencil should make a lot of noise as it vigorously scribbles and scratches across the page, and the finished drawing should be noisy in the way in which it communicates. Then take a breath and make a very quiet drawing. Your pencil should hardly touch the paper (imagine it’s the tip of a feather). Hold your pencil far away from the drawing end so you cannot apply too much pressure. Hush your pencil as you draw, and let the end result be a very shy drawing. Enjoy the differences between the two drawings – let your ideas bounce off each other. Push yourself to extremes of noisy and quiet.
  3. Words Choose 5 words randomly from the dictionary and either write them at the top of the page or begin with a drawing of the word itself. I use Design Language by Tim McCreight in my workshops because the words in it lend themselves to visual inspiration. Working on the same paper, spend one-2 minutes interpreting each word with marks. Let each word’s marks intertwine and overlap. Take this drawing a step further and add more marks, collage or stitch to make it a cohesive drawing.
  4. Music This idea comes from one of my favorite artists, Wassily Kandinsky, who believed that colors and marks in paintings created visual ‘chords’ which resonated in the viewer. A must read for any artist is Concerning the Spiritual in Art by Kandinsky in which he writes in depth about the essence of expressionism in painting. Create a playlist of 30 seconds of 20 different songs ranging in tempo, style, genre, etc. Using a large piece of paper on the floor or taped to the wall (must be positioned so that you can use your body expressively) and gather 5 different drawing tools near you so you can switch if you’d like. Turn on your playlist so the songs play successively with only 3-5 seconds between each. Respond to each song with marks and allow the marks to overlap and intertwine. At the end of the playlist, the drawing will likely look like a bunch of scribbles, so what you want to do next is isolate certain areas to use for inspiration. Cut a rectangle out of a piece of paper and float this frame over the drawing. As you do this, you’ll find so many great ideas for marks that you can trace and use in paintings. Another variation is cut up your large drawing and scatter the cut outs onto another large piece of paper. Experiment with with creating new distances between the cut outs, turn them upside down or rip them in half. Begin drawing new elements and shapes in between the old ones to create a new drawing. Forget your original drawing and think about new meanings which might be created, think about how the new drawing might be interpreted.
  5. Response This is my personal favorite method to begin a drawing and I have completed many series this way. ‘Response Drawing’ is a term I coined in one of my workshops and it just stuck. Response drawings are basically just as the words describe… it is a response to marks either you or someone else made intentionally, accidentally or found. Responding to marks that are not yours encourages you to expand your mark making vocabulary by making marks you aren’t normally inclined to make. There are many ways to begin a project like this but the basic premise is to begin with some kind of mark on a substrate-it could be a splash, a pour of paint, a burn, a footprint,  rust print, transfer print, a mistake. It could be something you found in the trash, a folded or cut piece of paper, crushed pencil shavings, anything! It could be a project between you and a friend in which one of you makes a mark and the other responds. This actually has a name -Exquisite Corpse- a term and game invented by surrealist creatives. I’ll be writing a more in depth post about Exquisite Corpse, but in the meantime you read about and see some examples of them here. However your first mark is generated, the next step is simply to respond to it in any way you want. The image at the top of this page is from a series of drawings from 2005 called ‘Flesh’ in which I started with tracing paper that had been burned and splashed with watercolor and I then responded with organic forms drawn in graphite and colored pencil. See more from this series in the images below.

If this post was helpful to you, please let me know, I invite your comments questions and suggestions in the comments section now located in the upper left sidebar of this post.

In my next post, I’ll share with you my acrylic/gouache series of layered drawings. I’ll discuss my approach and process for these drawings and how this whole series began by drawing only 15 minutes a day.

Image Links (read left to right from top row)

  1. Workshop student exquisite corpse.
  2. Lorraine Glessner Flesh series response drawing.
  3. Jeri Ledbetter, artist, see her work here and here.
  4. Lorraine Glessner, found ledger sketchbook response drawing.
  5. Workshop student exquisite corpse.
  6. Emma McNally makes drawings responding to unlikely sounds like white noise and city sounds. See her work here.
  7. James Watkinson responds to aged paper and stains of old book covers with detailed narrative drawings. See his work here.
  8. Ayanna Jolivet Mccloud’s experiments with a china marker, making as many different marks as she can. See her work here.
  9. Workshop student music response drawing.
  10. Workshop student scattered elements response drawing.
  11. Workshop student music response drawing.
  12. Workshop student music response drawing. I love how the strong shadows and deep wrinkles of the paper contribute to the drama of this drawing.
  13. Lorraine Glessner Flesh series response drawing.
  14. Workshop student found object mark response drawing.
  15. Workshop student music response drawing.
  16. Workshop student architectural sketch response drawing.
  17. Lorraine Glessner Flesh series response drawing.
  18. Workshop student mixed media drawings collage.
  19. Workshop student mixed media drawings collage.
  20. Workshop student found object mark response drawing.
  21. Workshop student mixed media drawings collage.
  22. Workshop student scattered elements response drawing.

 

My 2018 Studio Resolutions, Part 2

Read the complete list of my 2018 Studio Resolutions so you can get started off on the right foot this year!

I hope you all have been spending the last two weeks purchasing books, reading at least 30 minutes a day and drawing, drawing, drawing everyday! If you haven’t done so, please be sure to read Part 1 of this post, which includes the how and why these resolutions are so important to me and my guarantee that they will get you started on the right foot this year. Remember, they will only work if you give them a determined try.

  1. Studio notes every studio day I’ve mentioned in a few recent posts why reading about what interests you in your work is so important and directly related to reading is writing. It is imperative that an artist write well! After all, we have to write statements, biographies, exhibition and teaching proposals, grant and residency applications, catchy snippets on social media, BLOGS..the list goes on. The only way to get better at writing is to practice writing. Remember Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages? I learned to love writing by making this a part of my practice way back in the 90’s and then fell in love with writing again in graduate school while writing my thesis. Reading is a huge help in sharpening writing skills, but you also have to put pen to paper and write your own words as well. What better way to do that than writing about your work every studio day in a short paragraph. I call it my Studio Log–it’s basically a short diary entry, (written in sentence and paragraph form with an actual pen on paper), that explains what you did that day in the studio-what you made, your process and how it turned out. Begin each entry with the date and how many hours you spent in the studio and add up those hours every week-this helps you track your progress and creates a feeling of accomplishment. Please note that while I know bullet journaling has become a very popular thing and it’s totally fun, we are working toward sharpening our writing skills with these entries, so you  must write in complete sentences in paragraph form. Writing in this way helps you to organize your thoughts, put things into proper perspective and see your accomplishments in writing. It’s also important to note that actually writing in a designated book or sketchbook and not on the computer completes the connection between your thoughts and your hand, the computer is a third party that breaks that connection. Further elaborations on your log entry can include but are not limited to…Do you like what you did that day and why, Do you hate what you did and why, What thoughts surfaced from the subconscious while you were working, Did you make any changes of note to your process or thinking, What are you going to work on tomorrow, next week or next month and/or any other thing pertinent to you and your work that day. I rarely look back at my daily log entries, but when it’s time to write a statement or a proposal, I have a wealth of information right at my fingertips.
  2. Visually document every studio session Something we should all be doing in order to promote ourselves in a social media obsessed world. Even if you don’t contribute to social media, photographing what you do in the studio will accomplish two things…1. It will enable you to gain insight into your process and 2. You will be able to track your progress and achieve a sense of accomplishment.  Although you may choose to share these images , the purpose for collecting them is to see where you’ve been, where you are and where you’re going. If photographing while you work is distracting, just take a few photos of your work at the end of the work day to note progress. Or you may choose to do this at the beginning of the work day. Either way, it’s your studio photo journal and can be set up any way you wish. At the end of the week/month/year you have a collection of images that actually track your progress and this is so important for those times when we’re down on ourselves or feeling like we’re not doing enough. Even more elusive to us than a sense of progress is analyzing our process. We’re artists, we are visual people, we have to SEE things! Sometimes it’s not easy to see what is happening with the work until you look at from a different perspective -laying it flat or hanging it up. These photos offer many perspectives for viewing work, providing the opportunity to turn the image every which way, crop it, blow it up, etc . Observations made from these images can be shared in your studio log and used for social media posts, statements, proposals, etc. Understanding your process is an important part of knowing who you are as an artist, it sets you apart from everyone else, it’s defines you and helps shape how you and others view your work. More than anything else you can do to document your studio work, photographs give you insight into that process.While the studio log you’re keeping is helping to organize your thoughts and progress, keeping photo documentation will help you visualize this progress.
  3. Work toward a studio hours goal every week Your studio log entry requires that you log in your studio hours for the day and then add them up at the end of the week. This is yet another way to track your progress to make sure you’re meeting your studio goals. This was the first resolution I made to my list when I first started doing this in 2015 and I simply set a workable goal for a range of weekly hours I could get to into the studio. Everyone is going to have different hours due to addtional work and life responsibilities, so the key to achieving your weekly goals is making them feasible as well as slightly challenging. In 2015, I was teaching 2 days a week at Tyler School of Art, plus at least one day to prep for teaching. My goal for the studio was to do 25-30 hours a week with 25 being the minimum and 30 being the maximum (with plus or minus a few on both). I arrived at this number by creating a weekly calendar and crossing out the days and hours that I was scheduled for other things like teaching, paperwork, appointments, etc. I then began to fill in the open hours of each day with hours I could feasibly work in the studio and added them up. Once you arrive at a schedule and weekly goal, sign it and hang it up on your studio door or on the fridge, wherever you can see it that it will remind you of the promise you made to yourself. I also made rules as to what activities would fall under studio hours and again, your rules will be different. At first I was very strict and said that only activities contributing to making actual work could count toward my hours. I eased up after realizing that there are so many things I do that contribute to the making of my work-reading, drawing, photo research, even cleaning the studio counts! Give yourself at least 2 months to implement this schedule and if you find you were egregiously off in your hourly estimates, don’t be afraid to adjust the schedule. It is better to make a slight adjustment then to give up altogether due to frustration or feeling you have failed.
  4. Walk outside 15-30 minutes everyday I just added this resolution this year and I’m only doing so-so at achieving it due to the extreme cold we’ve had this winter…but I’m working on it! In the spring, summer and fall I walk everywhere I can and make a point of walking every night after dinner, rain or shine and I notice a significant change in my outlook and productivity. I have always known I’m just ‘better’ in the warmer weather and there are many factors that contribute to this, but I’m sure a huge part of it is walking and hiking. You may already know that there is much research to support a direct correlation to walking and boosted creativity, but just in case you don’t, this article is a good read. Another benefit to walking is the opportunity to snap photos of anything along the way that strikes your fancy, which can then be called ‘photo research’, which can then count toward your studio hours! The image at the top of this post is one of those images of mine taken on a walk on the dunes in Provincetown. So….Walk, get in shape, boost creativity, add to your studio hours…win, win, win, WIN!

By now you may have already forgotten your original 2018 New Year’s Resolutions, so you can now try these! Please feel free to post in the comments section (comments are now located upper left of this post), I would love the hear what you do to keep your studio practice alive and if any of my ideas have resonated with you. Remember, they are designed to work together with Part 1, so if you try them, please make sure to come back and post about your experience.

Stay tuned for my next post on Mind Mapping for Artists. What if you get to the studio and don’t know what to make or you have a whole body of work ready to go out in the world but you don’t know what it’s about? What if you don’t know what books to get or what subjects are pertinent to you or your work? Mind Mapping will help you narrow this all down. See you soon!

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.

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!

 

10 Mistakes I Made as an Artist, Pt 2

10 Mistakes I Made as as Artist, Part 2

Thank you for being so patient, I know you’ve all been on pins and needles waiting for Part 2 of my list list of artist mistakes. Please be sure to read Part 1 of this post, which includes a brief introduction so you know what this list is all about. This list could go on and on, so I may be making it a routine end of year post.

In my first post, I invite you all to feel free to add to the list of mistakes by including your own in the comments, but for some reason the comments section is missing from that post! I made sure the comments box was checked on this post, so again, please feel free to add to the discussion. And remember, one of the main reasons we are here on earth is to make mistakes, learn from them and move forward to share our knowledge with others. Take it from me, a serial mistake maker, sometimes we will make the same mistakes again and again. Even so, we do eventually learn from them.

  1. Not painting enough/not having enough work. When I retired from adjunct teaching last year, I thought my time in the studio would be limitless and although I still never seem to have enough, it has improved tremendously. Getting into the studio first and then getting in there enough is the most common problem that many workshop participants share with me and even though my situation has now improved, I know this frustrating experience very well. When I first started to consider myself an artist, I thought I was very disciplined, but I really wasn’t. Like most of us, I had always balanced my art career with other part or full time jobs. Unfortunately, my studio time took a back seat to jobs and other life responsibilities. My lack of studio discipline became glaringly apparent during my first semester in grad school when I almost failed out due to lack of work for my review (eesh). Even though, I learned the hard way how to make time for the studio then, my studio discipline began to deteriorate when I graduated and started teaching. I loved teaching but I had so much to learn about doing it that I threw everything I had into preparing for my classes. I had been spending all of my studio time making samples for teaching that I had made very little to no work of my own. It was after my second year of teaching that my department head told me I needed to start exhibiting or lose my job. It was then that I really set my focus on my studio work. It wasn’t that everything else took a back seat, but the studio took precedent. I began saying NO to many social activities, I let the house get messy and later, hired someone to help me clean, let the laundry go a little longer, let the phone ring, etc. It has been an ongoing project to balance my studio work with all the other ‘stuff’, but I have figured out how to make it work. I first set myself a strict schedule and actually wrote it out, signed it and posted it. It really helps to write it out and sign it like a real contract. Next, I started my ‘studio log’; a journal where I jot down the date, in/out time and what I accomplished in the studio. I rarely look at this log, but just like the schedule, it helps to write it out on paper. I also had to sacrifice a lot in terms of friends, etc. but what is a little sacrifice when you’re doing the work you were meant to do? It’s not really a sacrifice at all and the people who care about you will totally understand. The ones who don’t..well, who needs them around anyway? There are millions of books and articles about creating boundaries and saying no, but a really fun, easy read specifically for creatives is Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity by Hugh MacLeod. A great article called Creative People Say No by Kevin Ashton has been passed around extensively. Last, a super fun blog post by Austin Kleon, the author of Steal Like an Artist, shares humorous ‘NO’ letters by famous creatives. Feel free to share your favorite books and articles on this this subject in the comments section.
  2. Not saying no to poor opportunities. This is sort of a continuation to the last list item, but slightly different. When I graduated from grad school I made a pact with myself that I would say yes to every opportunity that came my way. For emerging artists, I still believe that every opportunity no matter how ‘small’ it seems, may lead to something bigger and it almost always does. You never know who is going to see your show, your talk, your article, etc., and how that could lead to more amazing things. Try to think of an opportunity as a tree with extensions of roots, branches, leaves, flowers, seeds and fruit and you can’t lose. However, as I cross the threshold from emerging to mid-career, I have found that there is a dark side to saying yes to every opportunity and I have learned to weigh my opportunities and appropriately say no to those I feel may not bear fruit. I feel terribly guilty saying no, it brings about fears that once I close one door another will never open again, but that has yet to happen. For me, weighing opportunities always starts with my time and how much of it will be invested vs. my payment in terms of benefits. As I write that last sentence, I’m think it may appear selfish, but I’m older than I was, time is of the essence and it must be very considered in terms of business. Of course, one never knows how an opportunity will reap benefits-again, some of those ‘small’ opportunities do tend to pay back. For this reason, each opportunity is very carefully weighed, researched and deliberated over many days, sometimes weeks. I say no very rarely, but I’m proud to say that I have successfully mastered this simple word on a few occasions.
  3. Selling my work too low too long. Before Internet commerce really took hold, most artists and galleries only had web sites featuring their portfolios and it was rare to see pricing with those portfolios. This made it difficult to compare my prices with a wide range of art and artists and I also didn’t have the benefit of so many helpful blogs, podcasts, videos, etc. Instead, I relied on the advice of other artists, looking at pricing at galleries, art centers, shows, etc, but this was very limiting and a lot of my initial pricing was guess work. There is so much to consider when pricing and I’m not going to discuss formulas or even numbers because they vary so much from artist to artist. What I will say is that my pricing was so low when I started selling with a young gallery that on more than one occasion, my commission on the sale of multiple paintings averaged less than pricing on a print. My heart sank each time I received my check and did the math. By the time I started to make a name for myself and get into better galleries, 2008 reared it’s ugly head and I couldn’t raise my prices then, right? So they stayed pretty much the same for about 8 or 9 years and probably would still be the same if it wasn’t for a wonderful gallerist who kindly, but firmly told me my prices were way too low. This is why it’s so important to always pay attention to your pricing. Make your pricing a significant part of your annual business duties and create a schedule to review them and regularly raise them a certain percentage each time. If you’re looking for pricing advice, there is a ton of it out there, just google it. But make sure you’re reading from a reputable source…I like RedDot Blog for good artist advice, Alyson Stanfield’s Blog is excellent for many art related business topics and if you’re signed up as an artist on Saatchi, their newsletter has helpful selling advice.
  4. Not reading enough. As an artist juggling teaching, studio work and the business of making art, how does one have time to read? Like anything, we have to make time for it. I was such an avid reader when I was young. I constantly had a book in hand and never had to be prompted to settle down to read like other kids at school. In middle school, we had times during the day when the principal would announce over the loud speaker that it was time to drop everything going on in class and read for 30 minutes (I loved when this happened in gym class). So maybe I was a bit of a nerd, but I did love to read and still do. However, as I got older, went to college, started working many jobs-sometimes three at a time, reading became a thing I only did on vacation and eventually only sporadically or not at all. I would still visit libraries, sit on the floor and look at art books for hours, but sitting and reading a book cover to cover was a thing of the past. In my mid-thirties, I got accepted to grad school and had to read as part of my research and the world of reading opened for me once again. I discovered in school that reading is an integral part of my work as an artist, so I made it a habit to carve out a bit of studio time each day to do it. I have a stack of books and periodicals set aside, I set my timer for 30 minutes and settle in to my comfy chair to read. As my students will attest, I believe setting the timer is essential as it creates a beginning and an end, a window of time. For that 30 minutes you don’t have to worry or think about anything else but the task at hand. I know that 30 minutes of reading is nothing to most people, but you would be amazed at how much you can accomplish in a week if you do just a little bit a day. When I think about all the lost time I spent not reading, it only makes me more determined to read everything on my extensive Amazon wishlist. The more I read, the more informed, grounded and expanded my ideas become and the more interesting my work is to make as well as view.
  5. Not becoming a member of the art museum. My humble city of Philadelphia is a great city and we have many awesome museums, with the Philadelphia Museum of Art as one of the best. I have visited the PMA frequently since I was an 18 year old undergrad and have watched the museum grow from really good to truly great. Sometimes I just feel myself drawn to it’s quiet echo, its musty smell and the lovely gardens and river surroundings. Most of all, I’m drawn to the old collections of art and craft. I rarely visit the contemporary sections of the PMA simply because I don’t find much of it inspiring. I want to see color relationships, brush stroke, composition, etc. I want to learn from the Old Masters as they learned. I have many favorite sections and always choose just one to focus my attention per visit. I always bring a sketchbook, but I rarely sketch, most of the time I just sit on a bench for hours trying to absorb it all through my skin. It’s my refuge and a place I can go to consistently be inspired in a vast, quiet space. I sporadically had student memberships as an undergrad, in my late 20’s attending a Continuing Education Computer Course at Moore and again in my 30’s as a grad. It was only after grad school that I realized I couldn’t be without this membership and have consistently been a member since. Being a member not only allows me to visit as much as I want for free, but it also gives me the opportunity to attend lectures, tours, workshops and other events for free or at a discount. It’s like having my own giant house of art and inspiration! My membership also financially benefits the museum and therefore benefits me, so its a win/win. Truly, no artist should be without a museum membership-multiple museums if you can afford it. If you don’t have a local art museum, become a member of the one you frequent most and you’ll soon find yourself visiting and learning more than ever.

Coming up in 2018 is a big change for Art Bite Blog…because this blog has gained so much in popularity this year, I have decided to post twice a month next year. I realize this is nothing compared to what hard core bloggers do, but I truly love sharing and want to share more with you, however, I do need time to paint ; ) Next year, you can look forward to more art tips, demos, curated posts, inspiration and encouragement. To start the year off, January’s posts include my New Year’s Art Resolutions and a story I have only shared in bits and pieces about a few sad years I when I just couldn’t paint and how I got my groove back. I look forward to sharing my story with you.

Wishing you all the very best of this Holiday Season. Thank you so much for reading and supporting this blog, see you soon in 2018!

10 Mistakes I Made as an Artist, Pt 1

Unbelievably, the holidays are already upon us and with the holidays usually comes the inevitable time of reflection. With this in mind, I thought it would be a good time to write this post.

I am a podcast junkie, I’m always listening and gathering information on way too many subjects, most of them about art. One of my favorite podcasts is AHA (Artists Helping Artists) in which two artists, Leslie Saeta and various artist co-hosts, discuss topics dealing with just what the title suggests. No matter the topic, I always find something helpful and they always make me laugh. One of my favorite episodes is 10 mistakes each of them have made during their art careers and as I listened, I found myself making up my own list. Surprisingly, my list came out to be quite a bit different from theirs and I had so many mistakes I had to edit out a few to get back to 10! No worries, I kept the good ones 🙂 and my list is in no particular order. The best thing to keep in mind when reflecting on your mistakes is obviously that no matter how many times you make them, you still learn from them. Less obvious and a mantra I have to repeat to myself daily, is that without making these mistakes you wouldn’t have taken the path you did and you wouldn’t be the artist you are today. I’m sure as you read you’ll come up with a few of your own mistakes, please feel free to share them in the comments.

  1. Relying too much on a day job. Now that I am a retired assistant professor and selling my paintings and teaching workshops for a living, I couldn’t be happier. I spent waaaayy too much time thinking about doing what I knew would make me happiest and I realized I have done this many, many times throughout my working life. Too many jobs I have lingered at way too long while knowing that I should just do it already because no matter what, I will always land on my feet. I let fear creep in too many times, let the comfort of security lull me into a false contentment until I realized I was not content at all, I was miserable. It took me to age 49 to realize I was feeling bitter and resentful and I didn’t want to continue in that direction. It’s so true that when one door closes a window opens and I can expand on that by saying that the freshest, cleanest spring mountain air flows through that window and it just keeps you awash in it’s light when you’re doing what you were meant to do. If you’re worrying and waiting and finding yourself staring out from your cubicle wishing you were painting, the time to leave that job is now. Make a definitive plan and get the heck out of there, life is too short.
  2. Not acting on good ideas for new work. Have you ever found yourself making art in your head and then telling yourself the reasons why you shouldn’t actually make the art in your head? I so wish I had made so many of my really good ideas, but I allowed the negative voices in my head to talk me out of it only to find that years later someone else had made my idea and was getting recognition because of it!! I read somewhere that ideas can jump from one brain to the next and you need to act on the good ones or else they will move on to someone else.
  3. Not hiring people. I have a problem asking for help. There I said it. I should also add that I have a problem asking for help until it’s way too late and I’m up at 4am wiring paintings because I have a 7am shipping deadline. I am of the DIY mindset and because I have held so many jobs and acquired skills, I feel if I CAN do it, I SHOULD do it. Not true. One valuable lesson I learned this year is that just because I can do it, does not mean it is the most valuable use of my time. I SHOULD be in the studio making work and that is always the focus of the day. Of course there are many tasks keeping me away from the studio that must be done, but there are many things I could use assistance in doing. There are also those tasks that that I procrastinate doing because I don’t want to do them, don’t know how, etc. So I made a list of tasks that need doing and went about searching for quality people who could help with those tasks. Now this is a work in progress, but this year I have hired a catalog designer, a virtual assistant, a housekeeper and an accountant.
  4.  Not asking for advice. Like I said above, I have a hard time asking for help and that becomes even more difficult when it’s an intangible thing like advice that you can’t find in the yellow pages. Many, many times during my artist career I wasted a lot time going down the wrong path, procrastinating or not doing anything at all because I didn’t know what to do or whom I should ask. It wasn’t until graduate school 15 years ago when I was so overwhelmed I was forced to ask for advice or fail. It was there I learned that having a wide range of artist friends and speaking with them regularly is the best thing you can have in your life. I have artist friends that range from groups on Facebook to close buddies to accountability partners and we are always asking questions, exchanging advice and sharing information. I have several scheduled monthly calls to artist friends and sometimes I don’t even know I need advice until it comes up in one of these calls. It’s also great to have people to talk to who have been there, shared the same fears, feelings of rejection, etc. Most of us work in isolation, so sometimes it’s just good to know that you aren’t alone in having these feelings. Although we are all artists, we all have a varied path to how we’ve gotten there and how we persevere to stay there. Your artist friends are your best resource and I wish I had met them 20 years ago, it would have saved me so much anguish!!
  5. Feeling intimidated and ‘not good enough’. We all feel this and it rotates round and round, although I have to admit it gets easier to deal with as one gets older and more accomplished. However, this wasn’t always so- low self esteem, comparing myself to others and not feeling worthy or good enough kept me from doing the things I should have done to begin my career throughout my twenties. It took me until age 34 to go to graduate school and even then it took me two years after graduation to call myself an artist. I even referred to my studio as ‘my room’ for many years because somehow calling it a studio made me sound like an artist and I didn’t believe that’s what I was. My favorite book, Art & Fear devotes a whole chapter to this subject and I recommend reading it whenever you’re feeling low, less than and/or not worthy and/or comparing yourself to others. Here’s a great quote from that book, The important point here is not what you have–or don’t have—what other artists have, but rather that it doesn’t matter. Whatever they have is something needed to do their work–it wouldn’t help you in your work even if you had it. Their magic is theirs. You don’t lack it. You don’t need it. It has nothing to do with you. Period.

I’m sure you’re all curious about what that image is at the top of the post…its a painting I recently murdered. I talk a bit about it in this instagram post and I’ll also talk a bit more about it in my next post.

Wishing you the best of the upcoming holiday season. Stay tuned for Part Two of this post and a mini-post which includes a holiday gift from me to you.

My Encaustic Fairy Tale: 3 Lessons Learned

3 Lessons I Learned as an Artist by Lorraine Glessner

While writing my last blog post chronicling my early journey with encaustic, I realized that I learned many valuable lessons through it all. Three lessons stood out as being most important while at the same time being those lessons that I’m constantly re-learning as I go.

When I’m teaching, I always begin each day with a quote that works to set the tone for that day and almost always it’s a quote from Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. If you haven’t read it, go get it NOW, read it once and then turn around and read it again. I quote from it often because I read it often, roughly once a year since it was first introduced to me in graduate school. My copy is highlighted almost all the way through because each time I read it I find another valuable snippet that seems to speak directly to me and the struggles I may be going through at the time. All of the quotes from this book were used to write this post unless otherwise noted .

  1. Experiment often with current and new materials, make lots of samples, document and save them. What you need to know about the next piece is contained in the last piece. the place to learn about your materials is the last use of your materials. The place to learn about your execution is in your execution. The best information about what you love is in your last contact with what you love. Put simply, your work is your guide.
    I can’t recall where I first heard the 40/60 principle or even if I’m getting the percentages right, but it’s something we all must strive to do. The principle works something like this…60% of your studio work should be spent making work you are known for and/or work you are ‘comfortable’ making using materials, processes and ideas you know well. The remaining 40% should be spent experimenting with new materials, processes and ideas which will generate new work. If you keep doing this, sooner or later the ‘new’ work begins to seep into the current body of work and eventually it becomes your current body of work. If you apply this principle, your work and you as an artist, will continuously evolve and grow. This sounds great, but many artists may find it difficult to work experimentation into their busy and sometimes, very limited, studio time. What I’ve done to keep experimentation alive in my studio is average my daily hours and experiment for a percentage of that time-usually about 30 minutes to an hour for every 6-8 hours. I call this work my warm-up drawing time and sometimes will work on the same drawing all week, applying new layers each day (see the featured image above). I have so much fun just playing around with materials in the studio that I’ve forgotten about. Many times, this experimentation has generated new bodies of work that I would have never conceived of without first experimenting.
    Vision is always ahead of execution, knowledge of materials is your contact with reality, and uncertainty is a virtue. I don’t mention this in my last post, but my first year of graduate school was very difficult for many reasons. My first review was at the end of my first semester and it was coming up fast, so fast that I was in fear of not having anything to show. One of my committee members suggested just having a wall of samples for my review. I had a few samples, but not nearly enough so I spent 3 straight weeks barely coming out of my studio to make hundreds of samples. Only having limited time as well as keeping in mind that these were just samples prevented me from being too precious and worrying about making a ‘finished’ work. Those three weeks were perhaps the most painful but most prolific of my total two year experience-more importantly I learned so much about what my materials could do and what I, as an artist, could do. I saved almost all of those samples and I still use most of them as teaching tools today, both in workshops and in my own studio.
  2. You don’t always have to know what you’re doing. This lesson could be read two-fold: a) You don’t always have to know HOW to do what you’re doing and b) You don’t always have to know what you’re going to make-what it’s going to look like.People who need certainty in their lives are less likely to make art that is risky, subversive, complicated, iffy, suggestive or spontaneous. What’s really needed is nothing more than a broad sense of what you are looking for, some strategy for how to find it and an overriding willingness to embrace mistakes and surprises along the way. Simply put, making art is chancy-it doesn’t mix well with predictability. Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding.
    This is likely my favorite quote of all time and I read it in every workshop. It is absolutely essential to keep experimentation, the idea of imperfect perfection and  the element of chance in the work at all times. This doesn’t mean I’m encouraging you to make sloppy or ill-conceived work, rather, allow for a symbiosis to occur between you and your materials. Allow your materials to do what they do and you to push them gently in a certain direction. Full control and technical perfection is the death-knell for any work of art. It’s in the imperfections that true art is made and is the predominant concept behind the Japanese principle of Wabi-Sabi–an awesome subject for any artist to know, but far too complicated to explain here. The best book I have read on the subject is Wabi-Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence by Andrew Juniper and Wabi-Sabi for Artist, Designers, Poets and Philosophers by Leonard Koren is also good.
    When I first started working in encaustic, there were no books to refer to, no workshops and barely any information online, so I was basically on my own. I used tools that I already had in the studio, combined encaustic with other materials, basically developed my own processes and ways of doing things with this medium. The result was that I developed a truly original body of encaustic work. I absolutely believe that if I had taken an encaustic workshop, I wouldn’t have developed this work or perhaps it would have come much later. On the other hand, taking an encaustic workshop would have saved me two years of improperly ventilating wax fumes as well as understanding the importance of fusing and the reasons why Damar resin is added to the beeswax. While it’s okay not to know too much, ALWAYS work safely and technically accurate with your materials. Once you know those things, have fun and let things happen!
    Last, a great story illustrating the woe in striving for perfection comes from Art & Fear….The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right, solely on the quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scale and weigh the work of the quantity group: fifty pounds of pots would get an ‘A’, 40, a ‘B’, etc. those being graded on quality needed to produce only one pot-albeit a perfect pot to get an A. Well, came grading time and curious fact emerged: the work of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the quantity group was busily churning out piles of work and learning from their mistakes, the quality group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end, had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay. Remember this story every time you strive for perfection and find yourself overworking a piece into oblivion.
  3. Don’t start working on a white background.  Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case. –Chuck Close
    The fear of the white canvas isn’t new, we’ve all experienced it in one way or another and have developed our own methods of fighting it.I always tell my students that art begins in the head with an idea, flows through the heart, which makes it personal and out through the hand, which makes the actual work. Too much emphasis in any one of those places creates an imbalance in the process. Whenever I have developed a finished work in my head and then tried to make it, I almost always fail due to the frustration that it isn’t coming out ‘right’. The same thing happens when I try to plan too much before beginning a piece, I get mired in the planning stage and never actually DO anything. The best method for me and one that I suggest to students is to develop a step by step process that will generate a mark, then follow or respond to that mark. The less control you have over that initial mark, the better.
    Covering a board with a stained or rust printed fabric and then responding to those marks was the process I developed in grad school. This process enabled me to create subsequent marks to generate paintings I never would have had I started with a white board. It was also important that I didn’t have total control over the initial process itself-in a sense the process controlled me and that was just fine.
    To see some of the stained fabrics and paintings I created using them, go to my last blog post. I have also presented a talk on generating process and artists who use process in their work-for artist links and a presentation outline go to this blog post.

While we’re on the subject of mistakes, learning and re-learning, be sure not to miss my next blog post listing 10 mistakes I have made as an artist.