Archive | How to be an artist

How Have You Designed Your Artist’s Life?

Val-Marie-spur-webVal Marie in the middle of nowhere

One day a while ago, I got up in the morning and fed the cat. Then I went outside to add seed to the bird feeders and back into the house to head for the shower. Much later that day, I found the door was unlocked. This means I had left it that way when I came in from feeding the birds. Shower and all.

Usually I’m more careful. I grew up in a city where I learned from the age of childhood to lock from the inside as I walked through the doorway, and in my last location, for a period of 24 years, I could get positively obsessive about checking at night to be sure I hadn’t forgotten. And not without reason. My home was broken into once, when I wasn’t there, and sometimes things happened to people whose homes were broken into when they were there. You couldn’t be too careful.

But here, in the middle of nowhere, many people in and around this tiny village still just don’t bother.

Which is a long way from any way I ever thought I would live.

When I left the city to move here, to the edge of Grasslands National Park, I’d made my home in the same house, in a growing and supportive artistic community, for 24 years. I was well settled there. I had a good job, lots of friends, favourite restaurants and coffee bars and places to shop, and a comfortable routine. All I didn’t have was the time and energy to paint. Things weren’t always like this. When I moved to that city, it was a small, inexpensive, and easy-to-cope-with place. There were lots of artists, and artists could thrive there. We could manage on small jobs and enjoy the work we were put on Earth to do. But 24 years later, the city was bigger and a lot more costly. It was taking me more and more hours every week to earn my living. My art career had all but disappeared. I began to think I needed either to decide I was going to be an artist or decide to stop trying. Trying and failing over and over again hurt too much. Enter Val Marie.

I’d been visiting the area since 2001 when I first came on a self-directed artist’s retreat. I’d never felt at home in a landscape so quickly. In 2003 my friend the painter Catherine Macaulay moved to an acreage just outside the village, so I had a reason to come back two or three times a year and a place to stay when I did. I began to love the way it looks here, to make other friends, and to understand the way the place works. In 2007, my old city had a housing boom, and my house there was suddenly worth real money. A house in Val Marie doesn’t cost nearly as much, and in 2008 one became available, one that I, not the bank, would own. I decided to stop trying and failing to be an artist, and after buying the local house, and renovating, showing, and finally selling the one in Saskatoon, I was here. In a community where people don’t lock doors.

I’ve never looked back. It isn’t that this is perfect. Val Marie is isolated, and doctors and dentists and banks are 120 km/85 mi away over some not very good roads. The village streets are icy in winter and the air is roasting in summer. I found that taking yourself out of the action in the city can have the effect of, well, taking you out of the action. Though having discovered it, I took steps to work around it. As I take steps to work around the distance and the ice and the heat.

But I remember the day when the cats and I drove away from our old house for the last time, and I stopped for a coffee-to-go in a 2000-resident town about 115 km/70 mi along. As I left the cats in the car for a few minutes, I whispered, “I’ll be right back. You’ll be fine. We’re safe now.”

We are. Unlocked doors, time to paint, artist’s life.

How are you safe in your artist’s life? Physically, metaphorically, artistically? How have you designed it so it works?

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This blog is a series of posts from one artist’s life. To receive updates, with stories from the artist’s studio and beautiful images, plus a free printable postcard of one of my most recent paintings, just put your email in the box on the right. Your email address will never be shared.

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The Correction Line Principle

Blog-Dominion-land-system-overview

You’re travelling along. It looks like a pretty good direction. Due north, wouldn’t you say? Not a bad road, either. You should arrive by nightfall. Which, with any luck, will be a long time from now.

But after a few days or weeks, or even a few years, things start to look different. You haven’t left the road, you haven’t changed your direction, but somehow this course seems off. You find yourself hoping to heaven you don’t have to go all the way back to the beginning and start over. And what would starting over look like anyway. East? South? You don’t want east or south, you want north. You just want north to be the north you started out toward. Only this north isn’t going there.

Can I get a map, please?

Can I have correction lines?

Correction lines were a principle and practice of the Dominion Land Survey, begun in western Canada in 1871 for settlement purposes. The Survey laid out nearly uniform land parcels of essentially agricultural land areas, described in an understandable and detailed manner down to ten acres (4 ha) in size. Around 178,000,000 acres (720,000 km2) are estimated to have been subdivided into quarter sections, 27 million of which were surveyed by 1883. Very tidy, very orderly, very square. Very Canadian.

But the world isn’t orderly. And it isn’t square. Or more precisely, it isn’t a cube. It’s a sphere. If you lay out orderly meridian lines beginning at a specific latitude and head north, eventually all your northbound roads will converge toward the North Pole. Then your nice square ten acre plots will become ever-narrowing trapezoids, until they taper away to a triangle and then to nothing.

If life’s journey is like a land survey and the roads we choose are northbound, no wonder our directions won’t stay put!

The Dominion Land Survey fixed it. They added correction lines to the north road markings. Correction lines are roads that jog the meridians east or west, and the Land Survey placed them every 24 miles. The correction is approximately one mile. Directions run north, square plots stay almost square, and the best part is, you know how often you need to correct.

It’s the principle of knowing how often to correct that I like. Not when you get so mixed up that you don’t know what to do next, not when you feel so lost you wonder if you should quit. Just every 24 miles.

What would 24 miles be in human journey terms, I wonder?

Lately my directions have begun to feel confusing. I always have some non-art projects happening, both for income and for connection. But one of the non-art projects turned out to be way bigger than expected. Then another project started, and though its timing was planned, when the first project took longer the two overlapped. And my community connection commitments were suddenly demanding. It was a pile-on of un-expectations and the result was predictable. I got lost.

It’s time to get found. Time to put everything back in its grid. I need to find my 24 mile marker and create a correction line, then set out again in the right direction. Maybe it would have been better to plan this, but I’m glad to be creating it anyway.

Do you need a correction line right now? Do you think we can plan for them? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.

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This blog is a series of posts from one artist’s life. To receive updates, with stories from the artist’s studio and beautiful images, plus a free printable postcard of one of my most recent paintings, just put your email in the box on the right. Your email address will never be shared.

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Data courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan. Map courtesy of Indefatigable – the original XCF is available upon request: Indefatigable 22:44, 19 Nov 2003 (UTC)), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8966672

The Ocean at the Other Side of the Hill

GNP-Grassy-Hills-Distant-Butte-rev-web“Grassy Hills Distant Butte, Grasslands National Park” by Laureen Marchand (5″ x 7″, oil/board)

The wind has been blowing for three days. This isn’t just a light breeze. Today the wind is reported at 70km/45mph. In Val Marie, even though my house is in the village and relatively protected, the wind sounds like traffic on a superhighway. Walking into that would be like walking into a train. All the willing creativity I can muster isn’t going to get me outdoors today.

It makes me think of Ireland. Thirteen years ago I lived for a winter in the West of that country,where I learned about the Beaufort Scale of wind speed. I had rented a cottage near the sea in western Ireland for three months, to paint, make new friends if I could and try a different life for awhile. The experiment was a resounding success. I credit it with my discovery of the joys of rural life and my eventual arrival in this beautiful Saskatchewan Southwest.

But oh, the wind. It blew all the time. There are warnings of gales and strong gales on all Irish coastal waters and on the Irish sea. That was the Irish weather forecast, repeated on the radio hourly. Gales and strong gales are terms from the Beaufort Scale, developed in 1805 to relate wind speed to its effects on ships at sea and still used wherever ocean defines weather. A gale is wind up to 74 kilometers per hour; a strong gale is up to 88 kilometers per hour. The Scale says that at gale force, the ocean shows moderately high waves with breaking crests. On land, some twigs are broken from trees, cars veer on roads and progress on foot is seriously impeded. At strong gale force, there are high waves whose crests sometimes roll over and large amounts of airborne spray may begin to reduce visibility. On land, branches break off trees and some small trees blow over.

Saskatchewan being landlocked, we don’t usually measure wind using the Beaufort Scale. But in the winds these days I think I can hear the roaring sea. I think the ocean has moved in, somewhere the other side of the hills.

I’ve always said that in Grasslands National Park there’s a place where the ocean should be. It looks just like western Ireland. You could make your way up and over the hills, and you’d expect to come down on the other side and meet the tide.

Next time the wind goes down, I’ll go there and look for seaweed.

There are warnings of gales and strong gales on all Saskatchewan ranchlands and on the Grasslands sea.

(The title for this post was inspired by a wonderful fantasy novel by international award-winning writer Neil Gaiman called The Ocean at the End of the Lane. You should read it.)

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This blog is a series of posts from one artist’s life. To receive updates, with stories from the artist’s studio and beautiful images, plus a free printable postcard of one of my most recent paintings, just put your email in the box on the right. Your email address will never be shared.

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Creativity Working For You

March-Hay-webAbandoned bales in March

I need some outside time and I’m not getting it. The wind has been howling for the last two days. 60km/37mi per hour yesterday and 35km/20mi per hour today. Walking out there is like walking straight against a moving car. I like walking in the wind about as well as I like walking on ice. Which is to say, not at all. So it’s far too easy for me to talk myself out of trying.

But hey, I’m supposed to be a creative person. Is there a way I can let my creativity work for me, finding a way into movement, instead of against me, finding excuses why I can’t go?

Yes and No argue all day. I can’t do that! How can I do that? Not at all! Not even maybe?

In the end, “maybe” wins. I creatively pull on a fleece jacket, a denim jacket and a down vest over the t-shirt and turtleneck I’m already wearing, and add my winter hat and mitts. And I set out, head down. I’ll aim for 20 minutes. I’ll try.

The wind is steady and strong. The road feels uphill, though it isn’t. So I offer myself the grace of going slowly. This isn’t supposed to be get fit or die. This is creativity.

And in the end, creativity wins. It usually does, if you let it. I stop for cows in their pasture, and hills in the distance. And I wander. Imagine how long I’ve been walking this road and never stepped off it. There’s a dirt-bike track through the grass. There’s an ancient truck, with the box and cab permanently separated by rust. There’s an abandoned shack and some hay bales, abandoned more recently. With five layers of clothing and the hat and mitts, even the wind is okay. And with the grace of turning back – wind is always less when you turn back – “maybe” becomes “possible” after all.

I have the hay bales to prove it.

How can you let your creativity create possible for you?

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This blog is a series of posts from one artist’s life. To receive updates, with stories from the artist’s studio and beautiful images, plus a free printable postcard of one of my most recent paintings, just put your email in the box on the right. Your email address will never be shared.

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Between Life and Art

Blog-New-painting_March-webA new painting begins on Thursday

On Thursday I reached into the future and took hold of a fistful of something. It felt like smoke that pleated where my hand closed around it. A painting began. The smoke drifted out from around the edges of my palm.

On Friday I went on March’s Adventure. Monthly adventures were my 2016 New Year’s Resolution and so far they’ve been everything I could have wanted. This one was a three-day weekend trip to Banff, Alberta, eight hours driving from my home in Val Marie, to reconnect with old friends and do some art business. It was a beautiful time, rich with affection and landscape and the possibility of everything. On Sunday I drove the same eight hours home.

Today, Monday, I’m back in my studio. The smoke has evaporated, or whatever smoke does. My hand still reaches but it can’t grasp. I don’t remember where I was last week, how to hold a brush, how to make a mark, how to know the place that brought me here.

Maybe tomorrow will feel clearer. Maybe art is like life, slipping away and changing and becoming again. Pushing back doubt, striving, beginning.

I look forward to the becoming.

Thanks to Pam for noticing the parallels and commenting on a previous post, suggesting the idea for this one.

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This blog is a series of posts from one artist’s life. To receive updates, with stories from the artist’s studio and beautiful images, plus a free printable postcard of one of my most recent paintings, just put your email in the box on the right. Your email address will never be shared.

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Where Are You in Your Artist’s Quest?

Blog-studio2016A quest for the future

Each new painting feels like you’re reaching deep into the future. You don’t even know if it’s a future that exists. There are so many possible futures. Yet this painting must take you into some kind of future, because to stay where you are is to die.

And at the same time, you reach into the past. The past is where you came from. If you try to ignore how you got to the place you are now, you can only stay here. And to stay where you are is to die.

The artist’s quest. The hero’s journey. Re-enacted in each new work. Maybe it all feels a bit grandiose if you think, “But I’m only painting a picture. What’s so heroic about that?” But you are using all your skill, all your learning, all the specialness that is you, to create something that didn’t exist before. You will decide to bring a idea to life. You will push back doubt. You will strive to do the best you can do, always. And then at the end of making this painting, whether the wider world appreciates what you have done or not, you will probably begin again. The next time will be that much more difficult, and that much easier.

You will never stop reaching.

Where are you in your artist’s quest? I would love to hear from you in the comments.

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This blog is a series of posts from one artist’s life. To receive updates, with stories from the artist’s studio and beautiful images, plus a free printable postcard of one of my most recent paintings, just put your email in the box on the right. Your email address will never be shared.

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Letting Imagination Be Freedom

Blog-spring-walk-webOpening up

The first walk in a new season. It isn’t quite spring, but neither is it glacial. To step out without watching my feet and tensing for an inevitable tumble onto unforgiving ice  – I can almost fly.

Winter where I live is always cold. The only question is only how far the mercury will fall. This winter was mild, relatively; the average maximum temperatures for January to February in 2016 were -3.6 to +4.8C/25.5 to 40F, instead of our normal -6 to -2.5C/21 to 27.5F. But the problem with daytime highs of just above freezing is that they’re enough to soften snow, not melt it, and at night everything freezes solid again. In the morning you begin again.

Val Marie is too small to have snow clearing; we have snow packing by trucks. With the long melt in progress our streets looked like frozen rivers most of the time. They were rippling and slippery and as treacherous as…well, ice. For most of February I barely left the house except to get in my car. And even with all that caution, I still managed one really scary fall.

But eventually the sun shone and the wind blew, enough so the ice left us, and I’m walking again. This is the old PFRA irrigation dike, with canal on one side and Frenchman River on the other. The river is both frozen and open, and even though it isn’t quite flowing, I am. Brown hills open in front of me, offering space and time.

When you walk in freedom again after a spell of constriction, it doesn’t matter that the constriction was minor and probably mainly imaginary. Unless we’re physically imprisoned or infirm, or living in extreme poverty, constriction is probably mostly mainly imaginary. What matters is that we believe it’s real. Or we don’t.

In this first walk of a new season, I’m willing to let imagination be freedom, not restraint.

How are you moving into a new season? What constriction will you let go?

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This blog is a series of posts from one artist’s life. To receive updates, with stories from the artist’s studio and beautiful images, plus a free printable postcard of one of my most recent paintings, just put your email in the box on the right. Your email address will never be shared.

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Stepping Onto a New Path?

Blog-on-easel

Mostly-finished painting

I prefer not to be out of the studio for too many days in a row. The longer I’m away, the harder it is to remember where I was. For the same reason, I usually work in series, trying not to hold multiple visual thoughts at the same time.

But if neither condition holds, it’s really nice to have something concrete to return to. Something like a mostly-finished painting, last seen with enough way-posts and markers to bring me home.

There was  Curve, a series of paintings continuing a consideration of the essence of beauty, using objects that have in common their lightness of line and richness of colour as well as the symbolism and narrative that naturally inhabit them.

Then there was something new, a collaborative project with Linda Duvall.

It was well worthwhile leaving the path I was on. And now I’m back again. Where that mostly-finished painting is here to help me find my place. But since all new paths alter the one they branch from, maybe it isn’t the same old path after all.

The painting will be completed in a few days. Youll be the first to see it. The new path? It takes form ahead of me. I can hardly wait to see where it goes.

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This blog is a series of posts from one artist’s life. To receive updates, with stories from the artist’s studio and beautiful images, plus a free printable postcard of one of my most recent paintings, just put your email in the box on the right. Your email address will never be shared.

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Becoming Part of Something More

Wedding-LindaLinda Duvall, artist collaborator

Which is the best part of collaborating with another artist whose work you admire and respect?

Pick a word. Each is the best part.

Linda Duvall is a Saskatoon-based visual artist whose projects focus on how individuals emerge and are revealed within a societal context. In most projects, Linda starts by setting up conditions or a framework and then pays attention to what happens. She has one of the most original minds I know and it’s a fascinating pleasure to be involved with her production.

And in response to one of Linda Duvall’s conversations, I’ve been working on this idea. I made three small paintings, two six inches and one five inches square, and wrote a piece of text. Now, through the magic of scanning and Photoshop, my images have been joined with the words on a panel that will be printed 50 inches high and 24 feet wide. They’ve become more than they were.

I’m one of so-far 22 artists who have responded to Linda’s idea, and the results will be seen for the first time this summer. As we scanned, placed, measured and Photoshopped, Linda showed me three or four of the other artists’ contributions. Such imagination. Such different kinds of imagination. The surface of the panels is beautiful and since they’re plastic they roll up into a compact package, waiting for unfurling and installation and reaction. Reaction will be to each individual piece but also be to the totality of many different artists’ responses. Once again, the works will become more than they were.

This is so far from the way I usually make things. Usually I’m a studio loner. What a transformation it is to become part of a larger whole. Does it mean a permanent change to the way I do things? Probably not. Can I learn and alter nonetheless?

Isn’t that a good question?

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This blog is a series of posts from one artist’s life. To receive updates, with stories from the artist’s studio and beautiful images, plus a free printable postcard of one of my most recent paintings, just put your email in the box on the right. Your email address will never be shared.

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Spirit and Stopping

Blog-cat-restingOld cat resting

There are days when spirit aligns with circumstance and everything flows. And weeks when those days string together. You can’t imagine anything happening to spoil it.

Then, without warning, comes a different kind of day. It feels like all kind of spirit just left town. The sun won’t quite come out and the wind is blowing. Your sense of colour is as dull as the sky.

Of course, these days aren’t confined to only artists’ experience. Everyone has them. But the artist is luckier than many people. The artist is mainly self-governing. I took this day off.

A late breakfast. Some laundry. Some dedicated viewing of videos on YouTube. A not too demanding book. And a cat who sets a really good example for snooze.

Maybe days like this aren’t sent to try us. Maybe they’re a gift. You’ve been working hard, responding to every demand, and now you need to stop. Without spirit leaving town, you’d probably keep going. Until the return of colour might take a lot longer. Maybe we should accept the gift of temporary grey.

At the end of this day, the sun shows at the orange edge of the sky.

How can you honour the need to stop?

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This blog is a series of posts from one artist’s life. To receive updates, with stories from the artist’s studio and beautiful images, plus a free printable postcard of one of my most recent paintings, just put your email in the box on the right. Your email address will never be shared.

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