It is not an exaggeration when I say I have been painting, painting and painting for the last few months. I have been painting inside and outside. I have had paint all over myself, paint cans, brushes, the living room floor, on old wooden panels, concrete blocks and on canvas. I have painted so much I can’t use my painting apron and some brushes anymore.
My latest and biggest project has been to paint the full set for the Wonderland musical production for Beach Nuts Theater. And finally, now that the production is underway, I can share the real work with you here.
The set consists of 22 4 foot x 10 foot panels and about 6-7 weeks worth of solid outdoor work in buggy, muggy and rainy Costa Rica. I loved every minute of it and mostly I have loved the kids reaction to them. Those kids put so much energy and love into this epically entertaining production, they deserve every amount of joy I can give them back.
This commission is taking me a long time to finish. I make three decisions and then I’m exhausted, and the paint needs to dry. I walk away.
As I work, I think about my client. She has an irreversible and deadly disease. This painting is for her life partner as a parting gift, in memory of their life together. Their best memories are in the water, the mantas are metaphors and symbols.
Thrilling, intimate, scary, flowing, connecting …. fill in the rest here.
We all know life is finite. But it is another thing to know death is looming. It is another thing to be touched intimately by it and be asked to partake in the goodbyes.
I love her (my client). Every decision is a worth a million more than the thought that goes into it. I want to have all the time in the world to finish this painting. I want anything to slow down goodbyes. I never want this painting done so she can never give it to him. So she will never die.
So I slow down. And reflect on color and life.
The Birth story: color and life
Of the images she gave me, there were sea turtles, mantas, sea life, water, underwater corral. Of the words she gave me, mantas, moving together, light and colors, love and the stories she has shared with me about them.
This image burned for me. This is sketched and painted on 9 x 12″.
Which eventually led to a rough idea and agreement.
I changed the mantas as little as I worked on the larger image which is about 26″ x 26″. They are purple; regal and spiritual. They come together in a more fluid shape. They merge so one is undecipherable from the other. The energize each other at the connection point.
And then I add background color. I also altered the color scheme a little, adding deeper blues and simplifying. The challenge is to keep the eye on the mantas while creating motion, energy, support and a story with color. A vivid purple draws the eye in just the right places, there should be color and contrast where meaning occurs.
The aquamarine frames the mantas. Dark colors keep the eye inward. The yellow draws the eyes to it and the mantas. Purple and yellow are complimentary colors, they glow next to each other.
Now I’m happy with the basic composition which is different than the first sketch. I took what worked from it and added and subtracted. Then, I return to the blues and yellows, softening, shading, darkening and adding depth.
This week, I came back to the mantas with more layers of colors and shading. The rewards for patience pay back huge in vibrancy and motion. The mantas are deeper purple now, the result is higher contrast which builds more energy and richness to the painting.
What is left?
I need to keep working the shading in the two mantas, their upper bodies are still a bit ill-defined and the background colors still need a few more layers for richness and just the right frame.
She loves it. Believe me, she would tell me if she didn’t. I’m relieved and joyful. This project aches, but I’m so pleased that this painting is doing what she wants and needs it to do.
A tree and climber tend to each other while conjuring private magic.
One offers height, an ever changing maze, adventure, and endless possibility of another world. The other lays hope before her, curiosity and this secret; to understand what lays in her own hands. With each strong grasp and successful push she learns she is capable, again, again, and more.
In a tree’s magic cradle.
Watercolor 24″ x 18″
Original Sold (Commission)
Customized Limited Edition Prints: $65
This is a lot of work, a lot of mistakes, learning and a little bit of duct tape and cardboard to pull it all together.
Not only is it a lot of work making it look like this.
But it is a lot of work getting myself organized like I’ve never been organized as an artist before.
Usually, I handle details like certificates of authenticity and storycards, personalization, custom prints with silver and gold embelishments and payment as they role in. Getting an art booth ready requires you be prepared for anything. I prefer to be over-prepared but I confess I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants.
If anything, this project has propelled me into a commitment level and preparation level I was too insecure to handle. Now, I’m committed. The fear of not being prepared has committed me. That makes me laugh.
I’m seriously changing my workflow so I don’t have to do so much all at once. Ever. Again.
I’m almost done.
My Goal by this Saturday at 6 pm: A good system in place so my husband can help me at the party while I drink wine.
And hang out with some friends I haven’t seen for awhile. These people are awesome. I don’t want to miss them.
Notice the feathers? Those are my daughter’s addition. As she has watched this art booth emerge, her excitement has mounted as has her “help”.
Every now and then I look up and breath a bit and think “holy cow, I created all of this.” And then I look at my To-Do List and I’m back at it.
There isn’t a way this would have happened without my husband, who is awesome help, wicked talented, and amazingly supportive. This party is going to have the best wine because of him. And he, unlike me, hasn’t broken a single frame. I’ve got him 2 to 0 on that score.
And now, I’m going back to that To-Do List. Hope to see you soon.
This was my first thought when my husband suggested this project. I’ve done the graphic design thing. I worked at a firm at one point. I’ve taught design and related software. I really respect graphic designers. It’s a lot of work, talent, persistence, thought, completely artistic but highly client focused and much more technical and straight edged than I’d like my next career to be. I’m not a white space person, I struggle with white space. I’m walking away from a computer screen in favor of a paint brush for a reason.
But all those “I’m nots” is more a defense to keep me in one place. And they are full of assumptions. I’m not in a position to be closed-minded. Plus I generally don’t respect a closed mind.
So I looked into it.
This work in progress is for my husband’s climbing team t-shirt. He sold hiring me to his team, and his coach liked my work. They understand they are getting a paintbrush.
I originally sketched this out vertically. I started drawing with one idea and ended with another. This is my concept sketch.
The team liked it. But we all agree horizontal for a t-shirt is better. My husband doesn’t like pink (typical). They all prefer red, blue and green. The name of the team will be under it. I thought I would use a program for it, but maybe I’ll paint it now. I’m warming to the completely handmade idea.
I don’t usually sketch as heavily under my painting but I am real sensitive to getting those climbers right in relationship to the rocks. We are a climbing family, my husband and I have been climbing for over a dozen years and the kids with us. It won’t be right if they aren’t right.
It’s a small project, but fun to capture something we are all so dedicated to. And perhaps the fear of not getting it right is really why my initial reaction was full of “I’m Nots”.
Did you know that a baby sea turtle isn’t much bigger than a ping pong? And they are dark, almost black. From afar, they could be wet bark and then they move. Amazing. As they grow they stretch that layer thin and the green reveals itself.
Seeing one is witnessing a breathing miracle. The one in Mexico was deadly persistent in its pursuit of the sea. A wondrous role model. Sadly, it didn’t make it. There were many factors against the poor thing, including the crowd of tourists, the daylight, the gentle-ish yet inconsistent surf and the pelicans circling overhead. The survival rate of a baby turtle is about 1% and humans contact lower these chances more. Yes, we can kill them with our love.
It did not escape my daughter, Dana, that this was a and uncommon and momentous event. She drew the experience and then steadily persisted that I paint her drawing.
I’m grateful for sea turtle markings which are like an unique topographical map, and gave me some artistic freedom. Dana wanted a golden head. So gold she had it and though I was challenged by it, I’m thankful to not have to map that artistic decision.
Although I’m an abstract and illustrative artist sometimes I find myself struggling with the seen and seek permission to break through the literal. Why do I need permission? Why do I feel like my painting must look like what is? That makes me laugh. I insist there is much we don’t see. I’m very interested in making the invisible, visible. And yet, I struggle. It is a human bind.
Every choice is very deliberate in art making, even when it seems arbitrary. This turtle tested the balance between symbols, color, memory, relationships and art. Because in part, it had to be a turtle as you and I know it while more fantastic to satisfy my child and the child in all of us.
This post is a continuation from Part 1 posted last week. In order to be successful with Part 2, Part 1 is required reading. You can’t make magic by skipping steps. Come on, you know that. 😉
Step 3: Plan
Yes, I know, planning isn’t really the way it works in the movies or in fairytales. Unfortunately or fortunately, real magic does not require a magic wand, staff or mirror. And magic isn’t going to happen if you just wish for it or say some magic words. Sorry. Life would be easier wouldn’t it? But then, it wouldn’t be such an adventure either.
Like any good potion though, it does require ingredients, and planning is one of them. So we must add a Plan to our potion.
Remember, you are an apprentice. Like any good apprentice, you will have to work hard, study and learn in order to make this potion work. Think about Harry Potter, he had Hogwarts, a whole school and curriculum to study magic! Even Gandolf the Grey learned, toiled and practiced until he became the White Wizard. Don’t you want to be like him? I do.
If you want to practice magic, you must commit to being a student of magic. You must always plan.
It will help to think of your plan as a treasure map that will help you get from where you are now to your Idea.
You are building a map to attain your Idea. The more detailed this map, the better.
So lets do it.
1. Articulate Your Idea
In words, pictures, writing, song, you must spend time really understanding your Idea. You must know this Idea inside and out. You must create a vision of what the world would like if your idea came true. How would your life change? What will you have accomplished? How will the world be different? What artifacts will have been created as a result of this idea?
See yourself in the middle of your idea. What does it feel like? taste like? sound like? Put yourself there and then describe it, record it, perform it in whatever method works for you.
Be as specific as possible.” I kinda think it will look like this…”, “I’ll try…” or “I hope…” does not cut it! Use direct action words, start with ” I will…”
Paint exactly what your Idea looks so you know it when you get there without a doubt. This is your treasure, treat it like a treasure!
As you learn more about yourself and your Idea, you will come back to this vision, over and over again, adding facts, tweaking and rewriting. That is life. But the Idea is the same, do not waiver from the Idea. You must believe ( see step 1).
2. Create Goals
Goals are the key markers to getting to the treasure. Think about a treasure map. It will take 2-5 years to get to the treasure, but in three days you want to cross the river. Crossing the river is a goal. It is the smaller steps towards getting to your Idea, it marks progress and gives you a sense of accomplishment. It gives you hope. You will need hope.
Magic. Is. Hard.
The bigger your Idea, the more goals you will need. Why? Some goals will be easier to attain and some might come easier than you think. If you have the goal, you will know you made progress. It will give you hope and keep you motivated.
What can you achieve that will mark your path on your way to your Idea? Think about this, research this question, read some books and talk to people. They will have different ways of getting to your Idea and they will be helpful. As you think and research start brainstorming goals.
Write or draw each goal on a separate piece of paper.
When you create your goals make sure they have these components:
What will happen?
Keep creating goals. Brainstorm all the goals you can that will help you feel closer to your idea. Remember you are putting each goal on a separate piece of paper. This is important!
It’s a mess isn’t it? Maybe even overwhelming? Here is a sad truth; somethings must get worse before they get better. (Sorry…suck it up…and keep goal crafting.)
Once you have a good set of goals, let’s make it better. Detangle them. Make a map.
Which goal needs to happen before others? Which needs to happen first? Which ones last?
Lay each goal out from first to last. Some goals can run parallel to each other, overlap a little and some will happen at the same time. This is ok. This is great!
How Will You Know?
Now that you have a Map take a look at the first few goals and ask:
How will I know that I have accomplished this goal?
In other words, how will you measure this? If you don’t know, go back and rewrite your goal. You must have a way of measuring your goal. It is simple, if you don’t, you won’t know that you have achieved your goal.
Because seriously, how can you celebrate if you don’t know what you are actually achieving?
This is the fun part! What is the use of goal if you don’t have fun? You Must Have Fun! Fun is deadly serious necessary business.
Create a reward system for attaining a goal.
You want to make $1000 dollars in a month? When you do, have some chocolate, drink some wine, buy your favorite sweater in that catalogue, ring a bell, dance, do it all and just make sure you do something that makes you feel good.
When you achieve a goal, record it somewhere. Create a book of goals you have achieved, or put it in a fancy box, sing a song or paste it on a poster. Make it colorful. Make it real. Make it feel like your goal really did just happen!
You want to watch the pile of achieved goals accumulate.
This will make you powerful!
The more powerful you feel, the stronger your magic.
As much as ideas define you, goals define the attainment of your Idea. Without goals, a map, and a celebration, no magic.
Strategy is the how, what, where and who you need to make your goals happen.
Think of your treasure map. Are you going to go through the woods or over the mountains? Are you going on horseback? How will you get a horse? by boat? by caravan? running or walking? Will you do this alone? bring your family? what about friends? when will you do this?
Pick 1-3 Goals that you are comfortable starting now. These should be ones at the front of your map.
Ask of these goals:
As I stand right now, do I have what I need to achieve this goal?
Do you need additional
to attain that goal?
You may need to take classes, educate yourself, practice, research, read, meet people, talk to people, develop yourself or stop doing something that is killing your time. You may need people with those skills you don’t have and who want to help you.
If you need more of the above, make a goal to get it and add it to your map.
Refine your goals. Make sure you have everything you need to make them happen. Be honest with yourself.
Are you sure you have the right 1-3 goals to start with and everything you need to achieve them?
Let’s move on.
Think in NOTS.
Ask the following of your goal;
What can I possibly do to make sure this goal does NOT happen?
No, seriously. Try it out.
Here is an example:
Goal: Sell $1000 in paintings this month.
My list of NOTs:
Let no one know I sell paintings. Do not price my work. Do not reasonably price my work. Do not show people my paintings. Do not talk to people about my painting. Do not show any enthusiasm for my painting. Do not love my painting. Do not post my work online. Do not share it on facebook or other social media. Do not contact galleries about my work. Do not contact interior designers about my paintings. Do not ask people if they want to buy my painting or commission my work. Do not actively search for people who like and buy art. Do not seek out ways to provide alternative affordable options for buying my work.
Now try it. Go on, get it out of your system. Give me all the NOTS you can think of. Take your time. It kind of feels good to get negative…in a productive way.
Is it clear now?
The point is:
Plan to Give Your Goals Opportunities! Lots of Opportunities!
I must say it again. A goal will never be achieved unless you plan to give it opportunities.
After you have listed as many NOTs as possible, delete the NOTs and you have the beginnings of your tactics.
Now get specific.
Spell out the when,where and how for each tactic.
Your tactics need to be flexible, this is a strategy. Make sure you have more than one tactic for how to achieve a goal. Why? One tactic will be more successful than another and sometimes it will surprise you!
Here is an Example:
I’ll share my work every week day (when) online on Facebook (where) and twice a week on my blog (where and when) These posts will include a picture of my work, a description, price and a means to contact me (how).
I will contact via email or phone (where) one potential buyer once a week (when), introduce myself and my work and ask for a brief meeting or studio visit to discuss my painting (how).
I will hold an Open studio party at my studio (where) once a year when (March 28th to be exact!) and invite people to review my work, purchase prints, paintings, commissions and socialize.
Now, you have a lot of work to do, don’t you?
I’m tired too.
I’ll leave you to it. It takes time to articulate your Idea, create your goals and build your strategy. And like all the steps, they are dynamic and you will return and tweak them. Over and over again.
But the more time you spend thinking and working on your plan, the stronger your magic will become.
It may seem like we are close to done, but we are only half way there. There are 3 more steps and they are just as critical as the first 3.
Dana is happier with the turtles progress now. The water has pulled in the ideas she was exploring in her drawing. She notices this. She feels seen, she feels important. I have had a small moment of connection and motherly victory. I'll take what I can get. I get a lot of eye rolls and sighs these days too.
I also washed the head in some deep yellow because she suggested a golden head. I'm really going to have to think about the head now. I'll look at some pictures, but as I write some ideas are forming.
So much of painting is looking, studying, thinking. I often take long breaks and photos on my cell phone so I can just look. Before I had my studio, I used to prop my painting at at the end of the bed before I went to sleep, just to look at it and make decisions for my next painting session.
Her original drawing has a nest of eggs. She has told me not to include it now. Honestly, I'm glad to not include it, I knew it would be challenging to design. It will let me focus on the other elements more thoroughly. I think it will also reflect the experience of seeing the turtles more acurately. And in some way, that makes it more magical for me, and less scientific. Is that weird? The turtle just appears and we don't know where it comes from now.
For me, There is a point in painting, when a the painting goes from being a painting “of something” to a reflection of my viewpoint, where I and the painting merge. At this point I internally say “Now, this is me, now I'm heading somewhere,”. It is as if I and the painting are making our ways towards each other.
Ironically, often when I'm done, I laugh and think I must be a little insane. I don't mind being crazy as long as it makes me laugh.
It is interesting to me how the practice of art is a melding of personalities and roles. The artist is the giver and the receiver is the subject or client or both. But somewhere in this process, I feel I’m gaining a very precious gift and our roles are reversed. I am grateful.
My daughter wants me to paint her turtle drawing (this is absolutely necessary since I finished Daire’s Dragon).
Daire’s dragon in many ways reflects him. It is all energy, desire and a frenetic wanting of everything without compromise. My son is 5, almost 6.
This turtle is calmer and more grounded, like my daughter. We saw baby turtles in Mexico this winter and large green turtles laying eggs in Costa Rica a couple years ago. It was magical, of the real life kind, both experiences were awe-inspiring. Unlike a dragon, turtles are a real life story. She draws what she sees and learns, she is very scientific and loves the natural world.
When she saw my progress, she was clear she wants more stimulating colors like the dragon – a golden head for example. This surprised me a little. She wants, in many ways, more of me in the painting. She also expressed the knowledge that I was only just beginning, and had confidence the end would be a lot different. She pays attention that way.
What I’m noticing is that through art, the giver and receiver express their relationship and that relationship matures in the process. It is very intimate and so wonderfully human.
I feel this in all the paintings I have done for others, but witnessing it being expressed from my daughters point of view is very touching and expanding. She is 8 almost 9, and really defining herself as a person. In doing so she is also defining me as her mother. She is making sense of me.
And this is in part what this painting is about, a mother making sense of her daughter and her daughter doing it right back.
Something we will do for the rest of our lives I suspect. I am grateful for it.