Two more for Tiny Painting Tuesday
Why do I keep forgetting to post here? Here are my last two tiny paintings, which were dutifully posted on Instagram… but sadly not the blog. My bad!
Why do I keep forgetting to post here? Here are my last two tiny paintings, which were dutifully posted on Instagram… but sadly not the blog. My bad!
Realized I have not been posting my tiny paintings on the blog! Apologies, been solely hanging with instagram. Anyway here are my Tiny Painting Tuesday works this far this year.
(This is part of my Project: Artist with a Day Job series!) Sometimes when you work a day job, life can be summed up as “go go go go go.” Your brain is addicted to getting things done, checking things off the list. As an executive assistant, I proclaim sweet victory every time I mark an item on my list with a big capital-lettered DONE. But when the time comes to be at the easel, it can be downright impossible to turn off this frenetic mindset. And THAT is a hindrance, since art-making is most joyful and fruitful when done while calmly focused on present moment. It can be an even bigger hindrance when you only have, say, 30 minutes in the morning to paint before heading out the door, or 5 minutes with your sketchbook on your commute. The heart starts racing and the mind screams – “START. Get something done NOW, you only have a few mintues!” Yeesh.
The key is to relish the time you have, instead of getting worried about it. And don’t get worried over the finished product either. You are not here to make a masterpiece. You are here to paint. Plain and simple. Because “making a masterpiece” would just be another bullet on your overwhelming to-do list. That’s not what painting is. Remember that if you’re feeling flustered at the easel. Here is a hard and fast tactic that I use to overcome the crazy “get it done” mindset.
1. Before I start painting (even if I have a mere 10 minutes), I take a couple of slow deep breaths.
2. Then, before brush sinks into paint, I consciously tell myself what a lovely gift it is that I have these minutes to relish in making marks on a canvas. Even if I don’t really FEEL that gratitude right then, saying it to myself helps a little bit. Having gratitude for the time (rather than anxiety that I need to use the time sensibly and get something done), puts my mind a little bit at ease and in a better place to make art.
Can You Be and Artist and Still Be Joyful About Your Day Job?
The short answer is, yes. But I didn’t always think so. My god, did I hate the fact that I had to work. For *so long*, I felt oppressed at having to work in an office when I really just wanted to paint. (oh, hello there, Over-the-Top Histrionics). Yes, in a perfect world, I’d be painting all day and making enough money from my art to pay my rent. But, that isn’t working for me, not right now anyway.
So is it lazy complacency to cultivate happiness at the office when you’d really rather make a living off of your art? Does it mean you are not working on your creativity and dreams? Hell no! It is VERY possible to strive for your dreams while also embracing your current life. What I mean by “embracing your current life” is to be present and experience your life as its happening – not to miss out on everything while you fantasize about the future. If you are in a place in life where you need to work a full-time day job, at least for the time being, here are your choices: you can come to terms with the fact that you have a day job, balance your work with your art-making, and notice and experience all the good stuff that you currently have in life. Or you can be sad about it. That sadness compounds on itself. It fosters a “there’s not really a point” thinking. And that thinking in turn fosters a blocked artist getting home from work and sitting on her couch instead of being at her easel.
The day job doesn’t have to be this awful presence in your life. I feel lucky to work in a place where I value the mission and feel valued by my employers. As a result, I *want* to do good work here. (If your day job does not do these things for you, it may be time to seek one out that does. They exist. Honest.) This is not to say I don’t have terrible days, or often wish I was painting instead of working on spreadsheets. But I am much more at peace about my life with a day job now. I understand that the job helps me paint: I use the money I make from my salary to pay for art supplies, classes, and painting retreats overseas. I find inspiration for projects in the scenes I see on my commute. I am inspired by my coworkers. In turn, the paint helps me work better at the office: I find that being creative in my own personal life sparks me to be creative about my day job. My mind tends to be more alert and creative in the office when I have art projects nestled in my consciousness. Because of this, I feel purpose in my job. This purpose and energy actually feeds my art-making energy. It creates a wonderful feedback loop. Energy and inspiration begets more energy and inspiration.
So the point is, don’t be down about your job. Be grateful for it, notice the amazing stuff all around you in the midst of your working life, and you will be inspired to make art. I am in no way saying that an artist with a day job shouldn’t make an attempt to be free of it and try make a living off of their paintings. Yes, absolutely go for it if that is what your soul is crying out for you to do. But if you need to go through a period of transition to get there, during which time you will need to work that day job, being at peace that this is the way things are FOR NOW will help you make better art and calmly develop a plan to make a living off of it down the road.
First tiny painting of 2019! 3” x 3” oil painting of a trainscape sunset in Jamaica N.Y.
In addition to eating less cookies, I have an important goal for 2019: to make 52 tiny paintings. The concept is to post one tiny painting a week for the entire year, each piece no more than 7” on any side (and perhaps as tiny as 1” x 1” if I can possibly make something out of that!). I think this is a fun way to keep up my painting practice and stay accountable. So, stay tuned: I’ll be posting on Tuesdays (which will henceforth be known as renaming that day of the week “Tiny Painting Tuesday.”), starting right on January 1. Meanwhile, wishing everyone a very happy end-of-2018.
My blog has been on radio silence the last few years, but of late I’ve been inspired to write about living the creative life while working a day job. There’s a ridiculous notion that being an artist, on principle, should not include commuting, dress pants and spreadsheets. But my life certainly includes these elements and everything else that accompanies a full-time office job - in addition to my paints and easel. That’s the case for many of us. There’s a lot we can learn from each other about how to balance art-making with a day job. Whether your job is fulfilling or boring, going beyond the office and indulging in that still small voice inside you to make art brings deep fulfillment. I couldn’t imagine life without it.
A few of the things I’ll be writing about here are making those long commutes more of a creative gift, and being grateful for your job even when you’d rather be painting, and ways to move forward with art when you ARE discontent at work (seriously, that can be really hard). Looking forward to sharing and hearing ideas. More to come.
You know that last post inspired by Michelangelo, about staying with a painting until it feels right? Here’s the other side of that coin: the ravaging destruction of perfectionism. That awful feeling that can gurgle up as you cover a canvas with paint, that you need to impress, to be the best… Get off that panicky road to the perfect painting mirage. Perfection is not only unattainable, but its downright soul-sucking. And a piece of art with its soul sucked out of it… well, who wants to spend time looking at that? An imperfect and passionate painting is so much better than one pulverized by anxious perfectionist energy. And I believe perfectionism also results in timid paint strokes, as fear of making a mistake is strong in this mindset. Timid paintings versus raw boldness… yup. Perfectionism can kill a piece of art.
So while it is important to stay with a piece of art until it feels right to you, it’s also important to know when to take a break from it, or consider it finished… or even scrap it. So how do you know the difference when you are in the trenches, in a ball frustrated energy? For me, this is all about a feeling. (ugh, I hate to be so vague and abstract). But here is my attempt to concretely explain what I mean by this ethereal feeling that accompanies me when I am frustrated while painting. The particulars of the feeling determine if my frustration is perfectionism or something else entirely. Frustration can be born of many things, so its important to keep alert for where its coming from.
Time to Stop When…
Are you bored while painting this work? Are thoughts such as “what will so-and-so think about this?” and “would anyone ever buy this?” and “will this get me a ton of likes on Instagram?” bubbling up? … Move on. Put the painting aside for awhile, out of your consciousness. Later, you can look on it with fresh eyes and a rested soul to see if you are truly inspired to finish it. Or maybe it’s not in your soul. It’s okay to let it go. You can use the canvas for something else. Something you are excited about.
Keeping Painting When…
Do you feel excited about this piece, even while you are frustrated? Or perhaps you feel scared? Both of these feelings are signs to keep going. Getting over your fear is the next step, but fear in general is a sign post that you are exploring something new. And that is usually worth your time.
A yoga teacher of mine has a particular philosophy on karma that fits well here: “Think about your present practice in terms of how it will help you for next time you approach it. You don’t have to be perfect right now. Your attention and efforts to today’s practice will serve you next time. This is karma.” Paint what you are excited about, explore your work and dive past your fears. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Everyone has their own measure of when to stop. I strive to stop at “it sings to my soul.” Either that or, “I hate this freaking thing and I don’t want to spend any more time on it.” And off it goes into a pile of canvases to paint over. And that, my friends, is completely okay.
So that’s what helps me. Do you have ideas, tips, thoughts on getting through perfectionism? I would love to hear what helps you! Please share in the comments!
What I learned from Michelangelo
So here’s a conundrum: I am a notoriously slow reader, yet I decided one day on a whim it would be a good idea to start reading The Agony & The Ecstasy by Irving Stone – a biographical novel of Michelangelo’s life. Friends, it took me a few months but it was well worth it… even if there were a few nights reading in bed that I woke up to quite a heavy book falling on my face. Those are the perils of reading a big book while exhausted… these perils are worth every sentence of The Agony & The Ecstasy.
Let me say first that I aim to write about this (and other) books here not as a review, but to explore the effect of the book on the way I make art… and how it might affect you should you happen to pick it up and give it a read.
What this book has me thinking about is what it takes to be such a staggeringly incredible artist that the world still worships your work over 500 years since your death. I mean… damn. It’s not even close to easy (hence the Agony portion of the title). The book is fraught with examples of unbearable anguish that Michelangelo chose to put himself through in order to make the absolute best artwork he could. The Sistine Chapel was more than years of painful head craning to make an utterly gorgeous painting. The way it all began? It was an order from the Pope, and Michelangelo had zero desire to paint it. He just wanted to sculpt marble. That was what his soul was begging him to do. But, the Pope is the Pope. So, Michelangelo hired a bunch of friends as assistants to paint the design he sketched out onto the ceiling. It was this lovely time full of laughter and friendship. The friends spent their days together in the Sistine, working and laughing, and boarded at Michelangelo’s place at night. They ate, drank, and painted together. (I mean, seriously: can life GET any better than that?) But then everything changed. Michelangelo realized part way through, as he examined the ceiling, that it was just not superb work. He recognized that he could create something entirely different and gorgeous - but he would need to do it by himself. So he let his friends go, and painted over that first attempt… traded his days of laughing & friends for lonely hours up on the scaffolding, freezing cold and aching… and created a new world of artistic mastery. He figured out that world as he went, for four tormented years of his life, and created an incredible masterpiece that he felt in his soul was what he needed to do.
What I, humble lil painter with a day job, take from this story is to always create something the best that I can. If a painting looks sub-par, and I know I can make it better, then go ahead and do it. Make it better. Spend as much time as needed to make it so the painting sings to my soul. I can think of past paintings I made that I thought, “eh. It’s done, I guess. I’ll move on to something else and check this one off my list.” … But in my deepest being I knew that painting was not done, and forever after that when I looked at it, it just didn’t satisfy. It might be easy to throw a piece in the “done” pile if I don’t know what to do next. But instead, I now sit with a painting, not knowing what to do, and just look at it. I keep it out while I work on other pieces. For perhaps weeks I won’t touch it. I’ll just be with it. My subconscious is aware it, and all the while that I am living and painting, it is magically figuring out what needs to be done. Then some day, the answer appears as a bolt of lightning. “ohhh! I need to tone down the background a bit and up the purples in the foreground!” And then I do it, and the painting has come to glorious life. In this way, we can all make our own private masterpieces. Our own little Sistine chapels.
When I step into yoga class, I’m not one of those superstars standing on one hand before diving into chadarunga. I look at those folks and admire them deeply, and I love to watch their work even as I wobble and fall.
Not being a master myself doesn’t lessen my experience in yoga. It’s called “practice” for a reason. Its something you do continuously – similar to honing your painting craft, you hone your yoga practice. It is a long and wonderful journey.
The lesson is this: don’t get caught up comparing yourself to the masters. Yes, take time to look at them, admire them, understand their methods. But also understand this: they are on their own journey, and it likely took them many many years to develop into what they are doing now. Those years are precious. From the beginning to the end, each moment is one to be enjoyed. Don’t push or get frustrated that you are not farther along. It is a journey, and one to be relished. Make crappy paintings. Fall out of Crow and bump your head. Experiment. Screw up. Keep on honing and practicing and loving every moment.
Photo by Matthew Kane