Archive | How to be an artist

Singing a New Tune

Kicking-horse-pass

Kicking Horse Pass, British Columbia, Canada (photo: Flatiron Corp)

There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white man and long before the wheel
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

My travelling companion and I are headed home from a west coast holiday. We’re on Highway 1, between Revelstoke and Golden, BC, in the Kicking Horse Pass. Where, unlike in the song, the highway, the super-bridge, the river and the railway all run in the same place. And we’re singing.

But time has no beginnings and the history has no bounds
As to this verdant country they came from all around
They sailed upon her waterways and they walked the forests tall
Built the mines, mills and the factories for the good of us all

Well, not really singing. Separately but companionably, we’re calling out stray phrases of Gordon Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy as we manage to remember them. It seems to be that sort of setting.

For they looked in the future and what did they see
They saw an iron road running from the sea to the sea
Bringing the goods to a young growing land
All up from the seaports and into their hands

Basically, we’re keeping each other awake. My travelling companion has a hard stop to this vacation in the form of a meeting on Friday back on the prairies. This is Wednesday. We decided we needed one more vacation day more than we needed one more day on the road, so we’re motoring over 1640 km/1000 miles home in just two days. Now we’re near the end of the long first day’s drive.

Bring in the workers and bring up the rails
We gotta lay down the tracks and tear up the trails
Open her heart let the life blood flow
Gotta get on our way ’cause we’re moving too slow

And despite our early start, the traffic, all those miles, and leaving places we both love, this is singing weather. A late day sun shines in over our left shoulders, casting its glow on everything.

Behind the blue Rockies the sun is declining
The stars they come stealing at the close of the day
Across the wide prairie our loved ones lie sleeping
Beyond the dark ocean in a place far away

We travelled this road at the beginning of our vacation just 10 days ago, but I feel like I’ve never seen it before. It’s so beautiful. Is it the change of light? The change of direction? Or is it me?

We are the navvies who work upon the railway
Swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun
Living on stew and drinking bad whiskey
Bending our backs til the long days are done

There aren’t navvies here anymore, but sometimes in the past weeks I felt I was labouring like one. All the work I do is worthwhile, but lately the reward has mostly been in the accomplishment of completion rather than the process of getting there. When I’m being mostly an artist, much of the reward is that miraculously I’m allowed to do it, hour after hour, day after day. This other work is valuable, but goal-oriented, not process. I’ve missed my process.

So over the mountains and over the plains
Into the muskeg and into the rain
Up the St. Lawrence all the way to Gaspe
Swinging our hammers and drawing our pay
Layin’ ’em in and tying them down
Away to the bunkhouse and into the town
A dollar a day and a place for my head
A drink to the living, a toast to the dead

And I start to wonder? At what point in the last 10 days did this singing weather begin to replace A dollar a day and a place for my head? Was it the lovely scenery, the good food, the time spent going slow, the dear friends and relatives we saw? Being on vacation instead of drawing my pay? Or was it a newly-made discovery that I should honour my love of process rather than focusing on getting things done? Even though this will inevitably mean finishing less? Or doing some things not at all?

Oh the song of the future has been sung
All the battles have been won
On the mountain tops we stand
All the world at our command
We have opened up her soil
With our teardrops and our toil

This long travel day is almost at an end, and another one will follow. I look forward to being home. To finding out what following the process means. And to taking the singing weather with me.

The lyrics shown here are a selection from the whole and do not fully represent the richness of Gordon Lightfoot’s song. For that, try this 2000 live version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiSFZBDAH9Y. It has lost nothing in over 30 years.

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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

A Sweet Voice Whispering?

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Author Katherine Lawrence reads from “Never Mind

Behold,
the tiny copper
trumpet,
held to a bellflower’s ear.
(Pocketbook Memorandum, sketch viii, from Never Mind by Katherine Lawrence, published by Turnstone Press 2016.)

What whispers to you through that tiny trumpet? Maybe in a voice so sweetly poetic you can barely hear it over the everyday noise? Is it calling you to connection? To richer friendships? To recognizing abundance in those you already have? To connection with your own abundance, to the poetry in you? Is it your next adventure, calling softly?

That voice is yours to hear. Listen – what is it saying to you?

Poetry called to me last week, in the form of Never Mind, a new collection of poems being launched by a dear friend from my old life in the City. Val Marie artist Catherine Macaulay and I set out for the Saskatoon reading. Nine hours in the car by the time we’re home again, but neither of us wanted not to be there. It was the usual overly ambitious plan. Val Marie to Saskatoon, overnight, fit in as much as possible, drive home the next day. I had planned on hearing how poetry has whispered to someone else. I didn’t plan on having it whisper to me.

Turns out poetry’s in everything, once you listen. It’s in a beautiful book, once that draws you into another life and makes you understand more about your own. It’s in a capacity crowd for a public celebration. It’s in someone’s generosity in opening her home to everyone who wanted to be there, to continue the celebration more personally. It’s in a gathering of five friends over breakfast the next day, in a bakery with coffee shop. Even the espresso coffee grinder shouting in its own loud tone couldn’t mask the poetry here. It’s in copses and flocks and rivers and valleys all the way home. I’m so glad I let it speak.

How might poetry be whispering to you?

Never Mind by Katherine Lawrence is published by Turnstone Press.

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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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Returning to the Sun

April-web

April day with blackbird

On a bright, chilly afternoon, I head for the hills. Though the sun is shining, it feels more March than April. This is the first time I’ve been out here since this winter’s wind-driven snow made access impossible. Now the road is clear into the Frenchman River valley, and down into the valley I walk.

There isn’t much breeze today but what there is I’m walking into. Though the view looks as wonderful as ever, my brain doesn’t fully take it in. Instead I’m thinking about the wind’s sharpness on my skin, and the layers and layers of clothes I have on, and all the responsibilities that await me at home. Still, the afternoon is beautiful.

Usually I don’t like road walking. Roads are flat, boring, and long. But this is one road I feel differently about. You walk past the trees and over a rise and down, and suddenly you are into the hills. 70 Mile Butte, on the other side of the Frenchman River that created and divides this valley, seems to be almost in front of you. The river flats, normally far away and blocked from access by rough stands of willow, are close by on your left. Layers of undulating former grazing and hunting land, now with few signs that humans ever used it, open to your right. This road leads you out into the hills and down into the valley and away from all those duties that nag. The breeze might be seeping into my bones today, but slowly the road’s peace seeps in as well.

In the distance, the roll of the hills and the shadows of coulees seem to shine. In the valley the air is blue. From a nearby ditch a sudden meadowlark spins onto a fencepost and opens his throat to sing. In front of me, a blackbird sings back.

Then I reach the valley bottom and turn to go back up the way I’ve come. As quickly as changing direction, the wind is behind me, and March with it. Off come the ear band and the warm gloves. I’m walking with open jackets, all three of them. This might actually be spring.

It doesn’t make sense to miss things you can’t have. Still, I didn’t know how much I’ve missed this. I turn my face up to the sun.

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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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Night and the Moonlight and You: Connection


Night. Prairie. A full moon begins its slow float across the sky. To the east, darkness. In the west, the last rays of sun glow. I’ll hear later that there are deer on the roadsides, waiting to hurl themselves in front of my car and both of us to oblivion, but right now I don’t see them. My headlights pick up just one raccoon as it lets me go by in peace and curls back into the grass.

I’m on my way home from an author reading. It meant driving 120 km/75 miles each way, and there were moments this afternoon when I wondered. Tired out with commitments and loss, my more courageous self wavered, then re-gathered strength. I’m glad. It might not have.

Because these readers are more than just friends. We go back. They connect me to the past, and to the present. Through space and time and change, we’ve known each other for lifetimes. Connections that can’t be broken, no matter how hard we might try. Sometimes a little driving is worth it.

J. Jill Robinson, fiction writer, editor and teacher. The award-winning author of a novel and four collections of short stories. Every word she chooses has a meaning and takes you deeper into the world she creates. Steven Ross Smith, poet, teacher, arts journalist and arts activist. Also award-winning and published in many countries. A master of the sounds of things. Married to Jill and both of them the parents of Emmett.

Facts are easy to account for.

But how do you account for more than 20 years of talking? Or trust, hard won and then freely given? Or the knowledge that wherever you are, this link continues?

I don’t know it now, but later this week I will let go of responsibilities and loss, go back to my studio. Connection works its magic, as always.

As I drive, night draws further in.

How will you let connection help you go where you need to?

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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.

Know someone who’d like to see this? Please pass it on!

Composition Made Easy

Until-Day-BreaksLaureen Marchand, “Until Day Breaks”, (oil/board)

Can composition be easy? I’m not sure, but I know one thing it doesn’t have to be: Bound by Rules.

When people are talking about composition they love to hand out rules. The Rule of the Focal Point. The Rule of Thirds. The Rule of Odds. The Rule of Overlapping. The Rule of Leading Lines.

So many rules. You might feel like quitting before you start.

Lucky for me, the fashion when I went to art school was for concept and idea, not for rules of composition. So I never learned them and I get to keep making up things as I go along. What follows is a description of each rule, and a painting that breaks it. If I can do it, you can too.

Rule of the Focal Point: The focal point is the main subject of a painting. Paintings need a focal point or the viewer, who is easily distracted, becomes confused.

Breaking the rule

Marchand-A-Lady-of-the-House AvailableLaureen Marchand, “A Lady of the House” (oil/board)

Rule of Thirds: You must divide your canvas into thirds vertically and horizontal and place your focal point at the intersection of one of the thirds. Otherwise the viewer’s eye is drawn straight into the centre of the image and ignores the rest of the picture.

Breaking the rule

Marchand-Immaculate

Laureen Marchand, “Immaculate”, oil/board

Rule of Odds: A composition isn’t dynamic unless there’s odd number of elements in it.

Breaking the rule

Frailest

Laureen Marchand, “Frailest” (oil/board)

Rule of Overlapping: Elements in a painting must either be definitely apart or definitely overlapped. Anything else creates a weak, connected shape which will distract the viewer’s eye. Those easily distracted viewers again.

September-Song

Laureen Marchand, “September Song” (oil/board)

Rule of Leading Lines: Always lead the viewer’s eyes into the centre of your painting or they will wander off the edge and the viewer will go buy something else.

Breaking the rule

Curtsey

Laureen Marchand, “Curtsey” (oil/board)

There. Rules are made to be broken. What to do in place of them? Use both light and dark colours. Remember that the edges of your painting are as important as your subject. Avoid the middle distance unless you’re really sure of yourself – sticking to a foreground and a background is a lot easier. Take more out than you put in. Don’t assume the first way you see something is the only way you can see it. Move things around until they seem most interesting.

Make it fun.

For more posts on the process of painting, go here and here and here and here.

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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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Feel More Satisfied at the End of Your Day

Blog-How-to-Feel-More-Satisfied

Do you wonder how to manage your energy, manage expectations, manage distraction in your day? So did I. So I was very pleased to have the opportunity to write this guest post for The Abundant Artist blog, hosted by Cory Huff. Trying to tell someone else how to do something is such a good way to find it out for yourself!

The post is here.

Cory Huff is an actor and storyteller who fell into a career in Internet marketing. In 2004 he discovered search engine marketing and social media. Since then he’s worked on marketing and software programs for some of the world’s biggest companies. In 2009 he started TheAbundantArtist.com (TAA for short) as a way of teaching Internet marketing to his artist friends who were asking him for help. Since then, he’s helped dozens of artists go from having never sold anything to now selling pieces monthly or weekly.

Abundant-Artist-logo

For more on Cory Huff and what he offers, click here.

The post highlights some of the best resources from productivity experts and I’d love to know what you think. Ideas and comments on the post are welcome either on Cory’s blog or below.

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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.

Know someone who’d like to see this? Please pass it on!

Finding Shelter From the Wind

Blog-windFrenchman River valley in wind

It feels like we’ve had this same wild wind for half my life. At the end of February, the ice on the Frenchman River broke up. In early March, some unusual early warm temperatures looked like spring. But this is Saskatchewan and spring means uncertainty, a roller coaster of weather, and this year, too many gusts. For a month there have been daily winds at around 50 km/30mph or worse, with bad days at 70 km/45 mph. Walking into a wind like that is like walking into a moving car. And it’s cold, blowing from what feels like the arctic. By the end of the day I’m weary from fighting it, even if I’ve barely left the house.

But the problem with weariness is you can begin to expect it. I hear that sound in the trees and the roof and I’m already sure I can’t cope. I can’t fight it, I can’t move forward in it, and I don’t want to try.

How can anything happen if I won’t even try?

Today turned out different. The wind still blew, but gusts to 40 km, not 70. The morning began well below freezing, but the sun shone and eventually some warmth seeped into the kitchen. A friend asked me to go for a walk.

A walk? In this? Are you kidding? Well, maybe. Maybe this is what could happen.

Probably the long sweater and the down vest and the wool duffel coat and the scarf, mitts and winter hat weren’t all necessary. But they, along with the promise of companionship, got me out there. Shelter from the wind shows up in many different ways. And as usual, it was better to try.

Maybe next time I can find shelter in just trying, and try again.

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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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Studio Listening: Nothing is a Mistake

Blog-Schroeder-YearsofGlory“Years Of Glory” by Nike Schroeder

“Nothing is a mistake…always keep working on it. Just keep layering and layering. It adds so much to the painting, even though you can’t probably see the mistakes. You kind of feel them. And it’s somehow like the paintings are wiser because they’ve learned.” – Nike Schroeder

This is too good not to share.

I like listening to podcasts in the studio. Artist interviews, artist business, studio tips, creativity – usually there’s something playing all day. The conversation helps keep my brain from intervening between my eyes and hand and saying I’m doing this wrong. Not that I’m dissing my brain! It’s a pretty good one and I’m fond of it. But in the art production game, less thinking/more doing seems to work better.

And once in awhile, you find a real gem.

The Jealous Curator is a podcast provided by Danielle Krysa on her website of the same name. She interviews talented contemporary artists, but she’s also fascinated with, as she says “the self-doubt part – the insecurities, inner-critics, creative blocks, and of course the jealousy that all of us have to deal with at some point.” And who doesn’t get that?

But what I like the most is that the interviews are so natural. Danielle Kyrsa has a gift for this. She chats, her guests chat, and by the time the chatting’s done you know things you didn’t know before about artists who deserve the attention, and sometimes you know more about yourself.

This week’s chat was one of those. Danielle Krysa interviewed Los Angeles-based German artist Nike Schroeder and in the middle, there was this small piece of brilliance.

Imagine it. Nothing you do is a mistake. Because adding layers to your mistakes makes not only you wiser, but also the thing you’re making.

What a gift of an idea. I think I’ll go add a layer right now.

The rest of the interview is good, too. Here it is. And Nike Schroeder’s art is gorgeous. Enjoy!

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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.

Know someone who’d like to see this? Please pass it on!