My Virtuous Vice

I have a vice. It’s probably one a lot of you share. Like many vices, it’s hard to resist. It’s not normally seen as a vice. In fact, in this culture of more more more, it’s typically viewed as virtuous.

Multi-tasking

The following is a true story, and typical:

I put on moisturizer in the morning. While waiting for the moisturizer to soak in, I begin brushing my teeth. When I reach for the toothpaste I notice a cup on the bathroom counter than needs to go in the dishwasher, so toothbrush in mouth, cup in hand, I head to the kitchen. When I get there I realize the dishwasher needs to be unloaded, so one-handed (I’m still brushing my teeth with the other hand) I begin unloading the dishwasher. Teeth brushed, dishwasher half-unloaded, I return to the bathroom to rinse my mouth and put away my toothbrush. While there, I realize I never finished applying my make-up. Powder on, mascara out, I realize I never finished unloading the dishwasher. Mascara applied quickly, I return to the kitchen where I find my husband, unaware that the dishwasher was half-unloaded (because really, why should it be??) putting dirty dishes in the with the clean. Amidst all of this there is also some toddler juggling going on. This. Should. Not. Happen.

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So, in a quest for sanity, peace of mind, and just all-around efficacy, I’m trying to rid myself of my multi-tasking ways AND as I’m going to tell you all about it (Didn’t you know I would?).

In a Rut?

A friend of mine is in an art rut. Man, do I know that feeling!! I’m sure everyone out there has at some point or another. You’re not excited about anything you’re doing, it feels like a chore, but then if you don’t do anything at all you get that stressed out, tight, sad, tangled up feeling. Do you know what I mean? Those are the best words I can use to describe it.

I’ve noticed, though, that if I just keep moving, once I come out on the other side of an artistic crisis my work is better for it. In Walking in this World (the follow-up to The Artist’s Way) Julia Cameron points out that often what we refer to as break downs should really be thought of as break-ups, like an icy river breaking up in the spring. Once I was able to think of it that way, these periods of creative drought didn’t feel so scary. These ruts are not permanent. They’re just bumps and valleys we have to pass through to come out on the other side. It’s like the Pilgrim’s Progress of the creative life.

But, in the meantime, while we’re in them, they stink. So, here’s a list of ways I’ve found to help me keep moving through artist’s block:

1) First and foremost- Relax! This is not permanent. You are not doomed to forever live in a desolate artistic valley, devoid of creativity. Forget about your “responsible” reasons for needing to create (“I have a show coming up,” “I need to sell some more paintings,” “I’m trying to build my portfolio,” etc) and remember your real reason for creating. I paint because I’m happier when I paint than when I don’t. Period.

2) Do something that’s not your style. I think there’s a lot of pressure on artists of all kinds to have a recognizable “voice.” To have a style that people see and say, “Oh, that’s Erin Hardin’s work,” or whatever. That can get stifling, though. When I got thoroughly stressed out and bored by my super detailed paintings on metal, I started creating these little, simpler paintings.

I didn’t care in anyone even saw them. I just had to do something. I had to paint because, like I said above, I’m happier when I paint than when I don’t.

3) Change your surroundings. Can you reorganize or redecorate your art space? If you normally paint in the basement, can you move it to the kitchen table for a while? This may also mean…

4) Changing your medium.  If you normally paint, draw. If you normally draw, try watercolor. Or do something completely different like writing a detailed description of the cashier at the grocery store, the smell of the rosemary by your front door, the vase you got as a wedding present. You have a zillion facets to your personality and to your creativity. Explore them.

5) Try thinking of life as art. If you can cultivate a creative mindset in things that you might not normally think of as artistic endeavors, not only will that mindset become a habit, but also it will spill over into your studio life. Explore a little bit. Take a different route to the grocery store and enjoy meandering. Beautify your surroundings. Plant some fresh fresh flowers and enjoy the feel of the dirt. Try not to be so goal oriented and enjoy the process. You’ll get the same end result but with a better journey. Notice and appreciate the multitude of things that make life beautiful.

Most of all, just keep moving. You’re committed to your art and like any relationship it will go through ups and downs. Weather the downs and you will be rewarded with higher ups. Would any relationship be rewarding if it was always placid and stagnant?

What about you? Do you have a favorite tip for beating artist’s block? Please share! We could all use a little help sometimes.

Scary Diversion

In our house October is scary movie month. Almost every night for the entire month (after the little one has retired, of course) my husband and I watch a scary movie, or at least a scary t.v. show. We run the gamut from campy silly to scary horror.

I know this is an art blog and way off subject, but I thought you might want to put down the paintbrush and grab some candy corn and join me. Here’s what we’ve watched so far and my rating, in case you’re interested. Ratings are shown with * on a 5 point scale (I hardly ever give anything 5 stars, so 4 is really good).

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By the way, who decided this looked like corn?

Cabin in the Woods: Fun movie. Kinda scary, fairly gory, very witty- a different view on the whole “scary movie formula” (you know- the dumb blonde, the athlete, the good girl, the goofy friend, the smart one, etc.) A Joss Whedon creation…he pretty much does no wrong, so his movies and show are always a good bet. ****

The Awakening: Really good. It has that quiet, creepy style of The Others. Not gory. Scary while you’re watching it, but it doesn’t leave you feeling afraid to turn out the light. ****

Hellraiser: Terrible. Supposedly a classic, but the acting was distractingly bad (I know that’s a campy scary movie requirement, but this one wasn’t even trying to be campy). *

Ghostbusters: What can I even say? It’s Ghostbusters! ***.5

I Sell the Dead: Witty, campy gory, fun to watch. Dominic Monaghan (you know, Charlie from Lost, Meri  from Lord of the the Rings) stars. ****

Intruders: Really really good. Another one that keeps you feeling creeped out while you’re watching it, but doesn’t leave you terrified. ****

Clue: I forgot how fun this movie is. Just quirky enough to watch with a group of quirky friends who don’t like actually scary movies. ***.5

Trick or Treat: Favorite Halloween movie. A comic book style movie involving several intersecting plot lines. Kinda scary, but not nightmare inducing scary. Good scary fun. *****

As for scary t.v. shows, we’ve been watching an anime cartoon called, Blood. We haven’t watched much of it, so I can’t rate it, but I like it so far.

Enjoy!

Baby Steps

I’ve been thinking a lot about the stereotypes typically ascribed to artists. Some good, some bad. The list includes flaky, unreliable, emotional, observant, imaginative, starving, unpredictable, and complex. One adjective most “non-artists” (a misnomer since I think everyone has some form of art in them) don’t normally use is “perfectionistic.” A little known fact about artists- we’re typically very hard on ourselves. We may not seem that way to those around us, but we are. In fact, I would propose the theory that the “flakier” an artist seems, the harder they are on themselves (yes, I’m aware that should  have been a complicated, “he or she is on him or herself,” but that’s cumbersome. See? I’m even kind of perfectionistic about my grammar). We can have extremely high, impossible even, standards for ourselves; letting “the perfect be the enemy of the good” (to paraphrase Voltaire).

Julia Cameron, author of the series The Artist’s Way says that “artists block” is not caused by lack of ideas, but rather by a log-jam of too many ideas. Too much in-flow without enough out-flow. How often have you found yourself discarding ideas left and right, “That’s stupid. That won’t work. No one will like it. That’s too complicated- I can’t pull it off,” only to find yourself sitting on the couch stymied, frustrated, and wailing, “I can’t think of anything to paint!” (or write or draw or sculpt, or whatever)? When I do that (and I catch myself doing it often) I get grumpy and start feeling like all those bad stereotypes. Therefore, I paint because I have to paint. I write because I have to write.

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Two canisters and a candle

All art doesn’t have to be Capital A- Art. Sketch your dog, paint a wall a different color, make up a recipe. And if it doesn’t turn out, the world won’t crumble. Just create. You’ll feel better.

Bringing the Outdoors In

It started gradually. A little piece here. A little piece there. Next thing you know I have quite a collection.

I’m referring to my “bits of nature” that I just can’t seem to leave outside. I pick up every feather I come across, every mossy bit of fallen bark, every cool and unusual stick. I actually went outside in a downpour recently to “rescue” a perfect clump of moss that I had seen earlier in the driveway and had meant (and then forgotten) to pick up after depositing the groceries in the house.

It’s ok. I’m an artist. We’re allowed these little eccentricities and I quite like them- both my eccentricities and my collection.

Here are just a few of the many paintings inspired by my outdoor finds:

Please contact me for purchase. If you like these, you might also like the mixed-media work found in this post.

Let Helping Hands Help

I’m pretty independent…sometimes too independent. I figure that people have better things to do than help me when technically I CAN manage. Today, though, juggling a toddler and a heavy box I needed to exchange at an auto parts store I accepted a helping hand. A kind man in the parking lot offered to carry the box into the store and I turned him down. He happened to be leaving the same time as me as well and said, “Please, let me help you.” Maybe it was the tone of his “please,” maybe it was the gut feeling that he wasn’t creepy, or maybe it was the fact that I really wasn’t sure I could make to the car with the even heavier new item under my arm. Whatever the case, I gratefully handed it over. As we got to my car and I thanked him, he admitted, “I have ulterior motives.”

“Oh, great,” I thought, “My gut lied.”

He continued, “I’ve been sitting with my dying father for the last two weeks and I can’t tell you how good it feels just to  talk to a living breathing person and feel like I’m being some actual use to someone.”

I left the interaction feeling a warmth and generosity toward all humanity and the sense that we’re all in this together. We could all use a little help sometimes, as well as the opportunity to offer help. May the good you receive equal the good you share.

…aaaand since I don’t have a picture to illustrate this life lesson, here’s another onion 🙂

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Onion # 3  4″x4″ Oil on panel
$75

 

Onions and Organization

I did it again. I forgot I have to paint. I don’t mean I forgot I have work to do or I forgot I have a deadline. I mean I forgot I HAVE to paint.

At first I didn’t realize what the problem was. “I’m scattered,” I’d say, “What’s wrong with me? I keep forgetting things.” Enter the dreaded, stereotypical “flaky artist.” After the second missed appointment, third panicked car key search, fourth forgotten errand, and tenth stress headache, I realized- I haven’t been painting. We’ve been in and out of town and I don’t have any looming deadlines for which I feel ill-prepared, so I’ve allowed other things to get in the way. Mistake. It’s not a job with paid vacation. It’s who I am. It’s how I organize my thoughts. The world is full of so many things to look at and so much stimulation that if I don’t have that out-flow I guess my brain sort of overloads and shuts down.

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So today, noticing the pinks, greens, and yellows harmonizing on an onion skin, I put down the dish towel I was using and picked up my paintbrush. Upon finishing my little painting in a much calmer state of mind I paid an almost forgotten bill and prepared my daughter’s bag for her first day of mother’s day out. Relief. (Somewhat) organized me is back.