Sunday, August 31, 2014

Not Just Yet

I'm just a little late posting today because I was doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing - which is working in my studio.

I've often wondered how that little nugget gets put at the bottom of the list when life coaches and business coaches and art coaches give out their recipe for success. Get a website, get a blog, get a FaceBook profile, get a gallery, get a resume, get a residency ... oh, yeah, sure, don't forget to do the creative work.

I've been standing that template on its head lately, spending lots of time learning how to paint, and far less time telling you about it. It seems sensible that a really good painting will far outlast a marketing plan for a really good painting.

What's exciting - at least to me - is that I've some mistakes lately, which have actually turned out to be pretty interesting experiments in paint application. I'm looking forward to more mistakes in the future.

I'm not ready to share with you just yet the fruits of my labor. Despite the hue and cry to share share share, I'm just not gonna do it.  All in good time dear friends, all in good time.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Hearts to Valentine

Last weekend I enjoyed teaching a wonderful group of students at a workshop in Valentine Nebraska.

I use the word “student” loosely, some of them have ribbons from national awards hanging on their studio walls. More accurately, perhaps, I stood in front of them and demonstrated my painting style and talked through my color choices and methods, while they sat patiently, watched, and asked probing and intelligent questions before going to work at their easels. I was more guide/entertainer/host than teacher.

Workshops are tough. There are visitors to be dealt with and table-mates to befriend. We’re out of the comfort zone of our personal work space and don’t have the usual access to the coffee pot, the fridge, or the proper radio station.  Lunch comes unexpectedly. The day wraps up too quickly – or not soon enough.

My first demo, based on Labor and Plenty, a painting in which I'd already figured out some of the problems I wanted to address.
Each of us has a problem we want addressed, or a question answered, a method explained - or simply left alone to work out problems on our own while keeping half an ear on the conversations around us. 

Often the problems and questions we set forth as students are not answerable to our satisfaction. How-to’s are very personal to each artist. Simply receiving information does not qualify as experience, and it is the experience that gives us the answers we seek. I believe strongly that the teacher can only point the direction, then step out of the way.

And, to be quite honest, we want to have some fun. Not necessarily belly-laughing fun, but a warm camaraderie we’re-in-this-together kind of fun.  Painting in private space is one thing, no one else watches while you wipe off your painting for the 3rd time. The potential of being observed while making mistakes is not for the faint-hearted. It was natural for the group to enjoy watching me stumble around while I attempted a demo using a long forgotten photo of a wooded shoreline with long reflections in still water while they relaxed awhile. Yike.

Second sweat, I'll paint it into submission one of these days.
I’ll show them. I’ll give that demo some concerted effort in the privacy of my studio and show them what several layers of paint and hours of work can do to rein in a wayward painting. Wink wink.

Thank you Valentine area Sand Painters for a really great experience. It was an honor to share work space with you. Huge thanks to my personal host Debby, who treated me like a dear friend - which we now are. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Hold the Worms

Often times – too often perhaps – I paint by the seat of my pants. I’ve got the idea in my head and trust enough that my mental image and experience will be enough to carry me through. This habit of working comes from years of standing at my easel focused on the task at hand. I rarely invite others to watch me work, therefore I rarely worry about my step-by-step procedure.

Me, evidently trying to get the words out...
One of the challenges of teaching a workshop is taking all the muscle memory, the habits and the gut feelings and putting them into a coherent format that another person can access. Workshop participants are usually not satisfied with grunts and long pauses.

Composition, color, value, rhythm, spacing…they’re all vital parts of a complicated whole, and challenging – at least for me – to put into paragraphs. In the college years these concepts would each be given weeks or semesters of time. Most workshops cover a weekend at best.

There’s also the issue of the students’ previous experience. In a class of, say, 20 students, there could be photo-realists, impressionists, weekend painters and dedicated lifers. How to leave room for their personal quirks and style, yet also balance that with information I can provide so they can further develop those quirks and deepen that personal style. My job, I believe, is to help them become better at what they do, not become better at what I do.

So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much and what to cram in to these two days of workshop I’ll be leading soon with a terrific bunch of artists in Valentine Ne. I’m doing somersaults to make sure I’ve got it right, or at least close. Color? Value? Composition? Good golly, lifetimes are given to understanding this stuff. Am I giving enough?

Yet it occurs to me that I’m not the only one who needs to prepare for class. While it is a fair question to ask, "What is the teacher going to teach?", there is another question that deserves to be asked, and that is, “What do you plan to learn?” 

Taking a workshop is not all about sitting in a safe nest, mouth wide open like a baby bird waiting to receive nourishment. Little bird, it’s your job to watch how others fly, and to flap your wings as hard as you can to leave your comfort zone and take off on your own. You get to exercise those muscles, take off with your new found knowledge and be willing to bounce off a few branches and land hard on the ground a few times before figuring out how to do it your way.  Mama bird gets to encourage, offer some helpful advice, and eat worms while baby bird works their tail feathers off.

So that's my lesson plan. Present, nudge, and push a little. Watch you fly to new heights. Hold the worms.