Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone

At a show I recently participated in, an artist friend of mine discussed with me how she was venturing into uncharted waters and beginning to work with oils. The medium was a mystery to her as she'd spent the last couple of decades working with acrylics. In her case, her reasons for abandoning her comfort zone were very familiar to me; wanting to grow as an artist, needing to feel inspired by her medium...again, needing to be reinvigorated by the excitement that comes from the process of learning. I'm sure there were also other reasons, but we didn't get too much into those. She was passionate in the way she spoke about her new direction and her passion inspired me to think about what it means to muster the courage to try new things.

It's very easy to say (and somewhat of a cliché) that we as artists — well actually, we as human beings — should whenever possible, make an effort to leave our comfort zones. But the reality is that it can be very difficult, both emotionally and practically, to deviate from what we know and experience what we don't know. We often find excuses as to why we can't or shouldn't attempt to do, or experience, something new. These excuses are often nothing more than our fear talking. Fear of failure, fear of unintended consequences, fear of judgment — you name it and fear will make an excuse for it. But if we could step back and look at those who have overcome fear, we'd find how often success favors the bold.

Unfortunately, there are also other forces at work we artists must face that can hinder our desire to break new ground — namely art buyers. Just as we may be afraid of trying something new, so are art buyers. Those that are comfortable with you as an artist, may not be so if you decide to move in a different direction. They will only let you get away with so much "artistic exploration" before writing you off as an artist who hasn't yet decided who they are artistically. This financial pressure can be as debilitating as fear and it's understandable why there are many artists that seem to stagnate in their work.

But there really should be no excuse. Evolving as an artist (and a person) through new experiences is not about short-term rewards, but rather, long-term growth and betterment.

Looking at those that had the courage to accept financial risk and overcome a myriad of fears in their pursuit of artistic fulfillment, you will immediately discover a long list of artists that not only produced better work, but saw more financial success as well. A very long list.

If you feel bored with your medium, or if your work no longer excites you every time you start your day, then maybe it's time to delve into the unknown. Maybe it's time to try something new. No fear. No expectations other than to learn and grow. Remember, success favors the bold so stop making excuses and try something new...anything new.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dealing With "The Blahs"

“The Blahs" was a term I first read about in Edward Aldrich's book, Drawing and Painting Animals. In his book, he discusses an onset lack of motivation for completing a painting — caused by any number of factors — and terms this loss of enthusiasm, "The Blahs".

This generous confession regarding his difficulties as a painter really struck a cord with me because The Blahs is something I’ve experienced many, many times. In fact, I would say I get The Blahs with probably 80 percent of the paintings I complete.

This feeling seems to most often occur when I'm working on a painting and reach roughly the midway point where things are either moving very slowly and I'm struggling to maintain focus, or when the painting just doesn't seem to be going the way I intended. I then begin to feel like the painting is a loss — that it's just a steaming pile of art doodie. I feel like I'll never get it to come around and begin to consider scraping the painting and moving on to something new where my enthusiasm hasn't yet been tainted by being confronted with my limitations as a painter.

It can be difficult to push through The Blahs.

Far more often than not, The Blahs are just a cruel trick of my insecure artist mind and not a symptom of a poorly executed painting. It's easy to get bored with a painting. It's easy to loose focus when I am consumed by the sometimes tedious nature of developing a work. This boredom can lead to me being prematurely critical of my uncompleted painting. It can also be used as an excuse to start something new (so I can again feel the warm and fuzzy feelings that come with an idea and a blank canvas) and abandon the work before it’s truly realized.

As I’ve aged a bit, I’ve found there are ways to lessen the effects of The Blahs. First, I understand that when they occur, it's time for a break. I relax. Get out. Move around. I maybe have some lunch or walk Brutus (my Boston terrier and trusted studio companion). I can then come back to the painting refocused and with fresh eyes. Second, I sometimes work on more than one painting at a time. When I find myself becoming bored with a painting, I can switch to another. And finally, I know and acknowledge that I’ve felt like this before and have made it through — if sometimes just barely. This understanding is often just enough to help me refocus, take a breath, step back and figure out what needs to be done. It’s amazing how when I manage to not let The Blahs get the best of me, how quickly my excitement for the painting returns.

If you sometimes get a bad case of The Blahs, remember that you’re not alone. Just take a moment to refocus (however you do that is up to you) and return with a renewed sense of purpose — to make the painting work, to push through those parts you find boring, and to give the painting an opportunity to be great. In the end, I suspect you’ll find as I have, that sometimes the paintings that come hard are the ones that teach us the most and are often the most successful.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

We're Artists, Not Hermits


That's often the word that comes to mind when I think of my existence as an artist. My day typically consists of waking up, working out, eating breakfast, sending my wife off to work with a kiss and a goodbye, then either working on painting concepts or the paintings themselves until she returns in the evening. Day in and day out.

It was while staying with 5 other artists in Charleston, SC for the Southeastern Wildlife Expo that I was reminded of the importance of interacting with my peers. The shared camaraderie, the trading of ideas and experiences, the insights, critiques, and simply enjoying the friendships founded on our common interest in all things art. This was something I hadn't had the pleasure of truly experiencing since my time in the art department of the last advertising agency I worked for before I took the plunge and went full-time as a fine artist. And I found I miss it — tremendously.

This is why I've decided to no longer be a hermit. I will no longer be content to hide in the bubble of my studio. It's time to venture out. It's time to join a local artists' group, or attend open studio sessions for drawing or painting — anything really. It's time to make an effort to get out and get together with other artists. It's time to do what I can to connect with other artists and play a part in a group interested in bettering their work and growing as artists.

I encourage any of you artists out there who are "artist hermits" to do the same. Don't be content with isolation. Venture out and connect.