Archive | How to be an artist

Terror Doesn’t Count

It’s just fear talking…

015-Marchand-You-are-so-beautiful-1-web“You are so beautiful #1” by Laureen Marchand (oil/board, 2014)

When you haven’t made art for awhile, starting feels scary.”Do I still know how to do this? What if the idea doesn’t work? What if it does and no one wants it?”All that beginning mumble-jumble stuff. The same stuff, over and over.

Why? I think it’s because we as artists use our very souls to make things that didn’t exist before we made them. And once I think that, being scared is all kinds of sensible. Once we’ve been doing it for awhile, skill and habit take over and you don’t notice the fear as often. But before then, the trick is to realize that it’s only fear talking.

In early September, the ecomuseum whose board I chair hosted an Open Mic in the Val Marie Hotel in the village where I live. It was a great night, with lots of community contribution and many talented musicians on the stage. I’m not a musician. I decided to read a story.

I’m not a performer either. I can give a workshop or a speech without blinking, but that’s me acting as myself. Acting as the voice of another character is something else entirely.

The story I chose is The Dishcloth Concert of Oliver Hyde, by Richard Kennedy. It’s a good story. It’s about music, and it’s about what the human heart is capable of if we let it be. It’s also a bit strange and a bit long. At 10 or 12 minutes’ reading time, there’s lots of opportunity for failure. If people start to whisper, you’re dead.

So I don’t know why I decided to read a story. I was scared beyond thinking.

I begin to read. And my left leg begins to shake. I look for audience awareness of my fear. None so far. My leg is vibrating like a tuning fork. I send it a wordless message: “Just don’t, okay?” It stops.

I’m into the story. My mouth is so dry I can barely speak. Once again, I watch the faces. They don’t know. I need all my language for reading, but there’s a part of my brain that doesn’t use words. With it, I think, “This is only terror. It doesn’t count.” I’m literally scared spitless, but how could I stop?

And once more I calm a quaking limb. The audience can’t tell. They’re still with me.

It must be about eight minutes now. A glass of water? Really, it wouldn’t help. This isn’t about thirst. Again I think, “Just terror.” In another few minutes, when my throat goes dry, it’s a relief. The terror isn’t holding, it’s working through me. I will get to the end.

And I do. There’s applause. Warm applause. Not sympathy, not “Thank heaven that’s over.” Appreciation. I may never know why I needed to get onto that stage, and I did it. No one died. Not even me.

So if I can read a story, I can begin a painting. All that muttering? It’s just fear.

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Passing Over, Across, or Through

Transit is an active verb…

???????????????????????????????An art gallery closes

I always underestimate the time and effort that change requires. I always think transition will happen by itself.

Take now, for example. Recently I closed down Grasslands Gallery, a home of my heart for the last five years. I began teaching my last online course ever for University of Maryland University College, where have I laboriously worked my way up to Adjunct Assistant Professor (the only time in my life this will happen), where for 10 years I’ve helped new non-traditional graduate students learn some of the research skills they’re about to need, and where for most of those 10 years I’ve also been Assistant Course Manager. I moved back into my home studio to figure out what happens next in the life of an artist who opened a major solo exhibition in April after two and a half years’ production and who hadn’t painted a stroke since June.

Just walk away from the gallery, breeze through this last whack of students, remember how to create. Easy.

Blog-computerA class and a career end

Apparently not.

It’s been just over two weeks. In the mornings in the studio, I’m setting the timer for 20 minute slots. 20 minutes is almost possible. Three 20 minute slots makes one hour. Six makes a not-bad shift. If I keep this up, in two or three weeks I might know what flow feels like. In the later afternoons, it’s the gallery. I pack, contact artists, think about where all that display furniture might go. Taking it down in a month is way less fun than building it over five years, but it’s getting there. In scattered bits of the day, there are the last of my students and the end of my course. First thing, lunchtime, after supper. Two more weeks and they’re done forever.

I chose all this change. I want it. And physically, emotionally, mentally, fatigue is my constant companion. Turns out that during transitions, one must transit. It’s an active verb. Who knew?

Blog-new-painting-1aA painting begins

There are many packed boxes on the gallery floor. I imagine wishing the students, and my academic career, well and good-bye. There’s a small painting beginning on my easel.

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When is an artist?

A question about meaning…

???????????????????????????????A studio, waiting

As I move back into a studio life after closing Grasslands Gallery permanently last week, I wonder – when am I an artist? Am I an artist as I unpack and re-home oil paint and brushes and all the bits fitting into an artist’s workplace? As I move from studio to office to dining room table, photographing the objects that might become new subjects, editing and printing the photographs, considering and marking and discarding the resulting images? As I fiddle with this new website and blog, struggling into knowledge I’ve never had before?

Or am I an artist only when the colour is mixed and the brush moves in my hand, making the marks that might become expression?

I tend to think it’s this last that matters. That what I am to do is make paintings. That nothing else really counts. So far in this renewed studio life, I’m shifting, sorting, thinking. Not making.

When do I become the artist I’ve chosen to be?

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How to be an artist

It isn’t an instruction. It’s a question…

July 1-b-web

The hills of home

I’ve lived here for five years. Val Marie, Saskatchewan, gateway to Grasslands National Park, one of Canada’s most beautiful and remote regions. For most of that time I’ve operated Grasslands Gallery, with gorgeous and original art and craft by about 25 artists, inspired by the Grasslands experience. On Saturday this week, the gallery closes permanently. No one person can do everything and I’ve decided it’s time for me to focus on my own painting. The decision wasn’t arrived at lightly or quickly, but I know it’s the right one to make. The time and energy that went to promoting and selling the art of others will go into creating and marketing my own.

So what happens when you become a full time artist? An all-the-time, no-excuses artist? How do you really make it work?

Over the next weeks and months, I’ll find out. The intention, the commitment, the action, the money. Please join me. We’ll explore this together.