artist process

10 Mistakes I Made as an Artist, Pt 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!

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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

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.