Thinking about the life of an artist…

I woke up this morning thinking about the life of an artist and I guess I could easily include the life of a writer in this as well. I consider myself both. I love both writing and creating art. Both journeys are pretty much in a learning phase and I wonder if that will ever change. My thoughts sort of went like this:

The life of an artist isn’t an easy one. Not only because most artists are assailed every moment by their inner critic and can be compounded greatly by their feelings of self-worth but also because artists, at least the artists I’m aware of, have a variety of issues that have nothing to do with art. Some may have mental health issues while others may have physical health issues. If any of these issues are severe enough to prevent an artist from employment then their issues maybe accompanied with financial concerns. But, even if an artist doesn’t have any of these issues, they still have to deal with every day life like the rest of the population who might not consider themselves artists and don’t pursue this creative adventure.

Note: replace artist with writer and these thoughts seem to be equally true for both. If one pursues being both an artist and a writer then there is even more to learn and less time to divide up into each adventure.

I, probably, love writing just as much as I love being an artist. I classify myself as a creative being. I didn’t always do so. I had my first real taste of being an artist during school from eighth grade until twelfth grade, thanks to a wonderful art teacher. Then because of needing to work and earn enough money to live off of I ventured off into the digital world of computers and never looked back until a few years ago. (That statement isn’t exactly true, I had moments of trying to pick up a pencil to draw but my inner critic always won and I would put the pencil back down and not try again for years.)

The one thing I never stopped doing was writing because our whole society and workforce requires it. For my personal life I would keep a handwritten journal or as they called it back then, a diary. I, however, was not consistent at it. Usually it would reappear in times of strife. If I really think about it, I never really stopped being creative. I might not have picked up a pencil much to draw but I did do other things, like learning to crochet which my mother started when I asked one day while I watched her crochet. I then took that further and taught myself how to knit since my mother didn’t know how. Knitting and crocheting have been a part of my life ever since with periods of abstinence.

Over the years I ventured into several avenues of creative categories. I tried polymer clay, making my own beads which were then made into jewelry. This took me into taking a jewelry repair class which I absolutely excelled at but never had the money to pursue. The equipment and supplies were just too costly plus no landlord would ever allow the combustible products on the property. Since I have, until recently, only rented the places we lived this wasn’t a viable option for me to pursue. It is still true today since I live in a townhouse complex under strata management. Besides I will not risk other people’s homes. I never checked but I’m sure the homeowners insurance would be rather costly if it included a jewelry repair workshop.

I also ventured into pottery. I learned slab and throwing skills for creating beautiful things out of clay. This is something else I fell completely in love with but when I moved away from the city where I lived, any new place I moved to didn’t seem to have the same opportunities at such a financially feasible cost. I miss it. Again having the equipment in the places where I live just isn’t possible and are quite costly and working with polymer clay just isn’t the same. I really love raku which involves flame/extreme heat which isn’t something you ask a landlord or strata council to approve.

I have always had a secret dream of owning my own home that isn’t under strata management, has a yard and not attached to another person’s home. If the yard was large enough and I had the funds, I have no doubt I would create a massive studio where I could pursue jewelry making and repair, as well as, pottery, and have a portion of it for my art. When I say my art, that can be anything from mixed media, watercolors, oil, graphite, charcoal, pencils, pens and inks of a mixed variety. I want my comfort too so I would need a comfortable sitting area and a screen for watching videos and sound system for listening to music. I have no doubt other artists have similar dreams. And because I LOVE books my home would contain a library.

The dilemma we artist’s face is often financial. Unless one is already well off financially that is. As you can see, after reading my secret dream and what I have learned along the way in my journey, being an artist doesn’t come cheaply. Though it can. Our, or at least mine, doesn’t except when I am forced into such a situation.

Learning to be an artist on a strict budget has been a challenge but not as big a challenge as I had first believed.  When I was laid off of a rather well paying job, and not earning any income for a year and half, now finding myself earning only minimum wage in a part time position, I have had to find ways to manage my creative life on a very small budget. Not having so much time to work in the love of my life, helps. It has greatly reduced the consumption of my art supplies. I can write as often as I like on my computer. It only takes up digital space so as long as I have enough hard drive space, I can write until my heart is content. Art supplies, can come cheap, but my artist has expensive tastes and loves the not so cheap art supplies, so those get purchased only when there is room in the budget which isn’t often.

The same goes for art courses. Like several of my artist acquaintances I have discovered I love to collect art classes so at any time when the urge hits, I can sit down and follow along on a class. Following along on a class means I don’t have to come up with my own idea. There are times I need that period of mindlessness to just do something creative, even if it isn’t from my own imagination.

Creating something from my own imagination can be quite difficult at times. That is a topic of another discussion but yes, it is part of an artist’s life which should be mentioned. I don’t think there is an artist out there who hasn’t faced their own issues with trying to create their own piece of art solely from their own imagination and not come up against a wall of doubt and sometimes a complete vacancy of ideas in the mind reflecting the completely blank canvas before them. The more the blank canvas is looked upon the blanker the imagination becomes. Breaking through is hard because it involves letting go and trusting one’s own instincts or intuition. Sometimes, especially in the learning stages of one’s journey, this doesn’t come easy and sometimes we don’t hear the intuitive thoughts at all.

I want to write, “now, back to the life of an artist not being easy” but I never left that topic, though it might seem as though I went off on a tangent, I haven’t really. Being an artist doesn’t necessarily mean you are a painter. I have touched upon a few other mediums artists can work in, there are other’s like wood, metal, textiles and so on. Artists can work in anything, even food, as long as one creates, they are an artist. When you consider it in that way, I don’t know of a single person who isn’t an artist or a creative. After all, we all are responsible for building/creating our own lives. There are just some people who feel the need to take that creativity further into a medium of their choice to create something which physically represents their state of being at the time they created it.

I might find people who disagree with me on the last statement. I would imagine some artists would say their creations don’t represent their state of being. I believe everyone is allowed their own opinion and if this is what they believe then I support them. I used to think this as well about my own creations but have since seen my own reality within those things I create. Sometimes that is difficult to admit, especially when what I created isn’t something I like. Generally if that is the case it is because I’m either not in a good place or I am trying to force it to be something I am not at the time. This is the part of the artist in me which isn’t easy to face. It also isn’t easy to write about. But if I am to be authentic and write about the life of an artist, then I need to include this as well.

Like any piece of art an artist creates, our journey goes through an ugly stage. We don’t often want to admit it. We often don’t want to look back and remember it either. But those ugly stages are when we have learned some very important things about ourselves and our abilities. If we give up during the ugly stage, then often it is because we don’t think we have the ability to make what appears ugly, beautiful. We also can’t look at it and see the beauty that lies within it. I’m not talking just about art. I’m also talking about life.

I think we have all heard a saying that goes something like this “we have the ability to make our lives anything we want it to be” or “our life is what we make of it”. Make means we create it. It also means we can destroy it. It can really be whatever we want ‘it’ to be but we first need to recognize the overall authority we have. Plus, we also need to recognize where we are in our skill level set. Don’t expect a masterpiece if you are only just beginning your journey. While at the same time, if you have perfected several skills don’t aspire to do something at the beginner level. This journey is about learning to create and learning is about improving your knowledge and skill. A journey is about movement not stagnation. Through each level, there will be ugly stages as we learn and perfect new skills.

I’ve been the worst at being hard on myself. Sometimes in my journey I have gone back to being a child and acting as a child or creating as a child. There isn’t anything wrong in doing so. Sometime we have to revisit old skill sets and mind sets in order to remember why we have left them behind. The journey of an artist is such a one and therefore will always be a difficult journey, a life that isn’t easy, because we choose to express ourselves outwardly by creating something that represents where we are in our journey, while others keep as much as possible internal. Those who also choose to put their artist works out in the world for others to witness also put themselves at risk. It is difficult enough to listen to our own internal doubts and self-flagellation all we can think of is that is what we will receive in return when we put our work on display. Sometimes that is true but more often it is not, or at least I hope it isn’t for all artists.

Artists don’t just have to face the battles of every day life, they have to face their inner battles over their work, not just to create it but also whether to let others see it, and if they do then to face their own inner demons again in making it public, then possibly again when someone chooses to say something unkind about their work. Artists take such comments to heart because their artwork is a reflection of them which is something not everyone understands.

It takes a brave person to live the life of an artist and an even braver one to put their work on display. I, however, think the world is a better place because of these brave souls.

This is always in the back of my mind whenever I display my own work. I don’t necessarily feel very brave, though some have said I am and also brave in writing about my art journey. I watched a movie recently titled “The Circle”. It deals with transparency. This is a very controversial topic which the movie does an excellent job in bringing out. Transparency is how I like to be in regards to my art and my journey as an artist. If what I write about can help an artist to have the courage to either be an artist or even show their artwork, then my time and work in writing about my art journey is worth it.

Since my last post, I worked on a few things. I worked more on the abstract flower page. I think I have reached the point where I am done working on it. Yes, more could be done with it but it is has served its purpose. It has helped me learn more of what works for me and what doesn’t. Plus I’m learning my own style of abstract flowers.

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I then watched week 30’s videos for Life Book 2017 and chose to do the bonus lesson titled “Practicing Radical Acceptance” with Samie Harding. I’m not usually into this type of art but in the end, I enjoyed it and like how it turned out. It might be something I do more of and would be in my private journal if I do. This class was more about learning to accept things in life even if you don’t agree with it so it can bring out a lot of emotions which some would want to keep private.

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Sometimes when I work on a class, I don’t realize the emotions that are brought up. When this happens, I usually feel the need to work on something that can center me and is something within my comfort zone. Working with mandalas and tangles do that for me. When I find myself resistant to doing another class or a harder piece of art is when I realize I need that comfort zone for a bit before moving on. So the next thing I worked on which took several days is this one:

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Abstract art which feels comfortable to me generally includes geometric shapes. This one started out with using a compass to draw circles of varying sizes and overlapping. Once I had the circles in place, then I proceeded to either make smaller circles within them or add in lines to divide the circles into parts like a pie and to connect the circles. Then it just took adding a few more lines to create a tangle I wanted or adding tangle patterns in the smaller circles. For the largest circle I altered the smaller circles so they became a spiral, then created the pattern.

This was a fun and soothing project. I was glad to have it to work on over several days while I worked my various hours at my job. I could work on it before I went to work or after I came home. It helped me to wind down after work and relax and I could work on it while streaming Netflix. I had discontinued our cable service as one of the things to cut back on expenses after being laid off of work. I am surprised how little I miss it. Netflix and CraveTV are our solutions to no more cable TV. I consider this part of the artist’s life because I choose to spend my money on art supplies instead of cable TV. Streaming programs I love while working on art then becomes my zen zone.

My final step in this one was to add some shading. I like this piece. I especially like the bolder lines and the stippling I did in the spiral. I am also understanding more of how repeating a pattern can improve the appearance of the overall piece. I often found myself questioning my first choices, or my intuitive thoughts. I have learned when those intuitive thoughts persist to just go with them. It is easier than trying to resist them. As I do this more and more, following my first intuitive thought is becoming easier so I find myself resisting less and less.

After writing all of this, a question just appeared in my mind, “What is my goal as an artist?” It wouldn’t be what many might think it is. It isn’t to sell my art, though at one time I thought maybe I would and I might still but that isn’t my goal. My goal is to create a harmonious life. That might sound strange to some but for me it makes perfect sense. I find peace, joy and contentment when I do something creative. This means as an artist I experience these things even with things I don’t like. I might find angst as something I also feel when something doesn’t turn out the way I like it but I’ve learned for even those things I don’t like, there is also contentment, joy and peace because I learn from them more than I probably learn for those things I do well and love.

When I wasn’t doing my art, my life wasn’t very harmonious. Facing difficult times was even harder. And my inner landscape felt like I had abandoned part of it. Now, as long as I’m doing something creative, my inner landscape feels whole. Don’t confuse whole with finished or complete. There will always be room for improvement and growth but at least now I feel like I’m working with the whole plant including its root and not just with pruning it’s branches.

 

Art Journal spread completed

I’ve been working on my art journal spread which I spoke about in my previous post.  This is the progress of my page at the end of that post, you can read about it here.

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My next step was to consider background and hair. I wanted to use watercolor paints and my attempts were less than satisfactory. It ended up too bright in a dark sort of way which meant the white or black pen I wanted to use to draw in her hair didn’t work. It became rather invisible.

To try and fix the situation, I decided to use white acrylic paint with a fairly wet brush. This meant the watercolor would then mix with the white paint creating a soft pastel background. Once dry, my black Sakura gelly roll pen then showed up nicely.  I often had issues with the pen skipping which at first I worked hard to try and avoid. Eventually gave up when I realized I liked the effect it had with the pattern in the hair.

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Once I completed the hair with the black pen, I realized I wanted more color in the hair so I went back to my watercolor paints. I applied a small amount of the dark purple to the areas I felt would be shaded or darker, then using a wet brush I blended the color out to give a gradient appearance.  I added more color, some pinkish purple, and a bluish color (sorry don’t know the names, they are colors in the Prang watercolor set of 16 colors) around the darker purple leaving some areas white for highlights. I really loved how this turned out.

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I learned about Prang watercolors from Barb Owen. Since I have a very tight budget I decided to give them a try. I didn’t originally use the Prang set when I started the background with watercolors. I decided to try a Daler Rowney watercolor set I had gotten a while back that were in tubes of 24. I bought a palette so I could squeeze some of the paint out to dry and then see how well they worked. I have to say I was disappointed in the Daler Rowney. In  fact, so disappoint, I switched to using the Prang set when my first attempt at using watercolor (Daler Rowney) failed.

It may be I just need to practice with the Daler Rowney set to get the hang of them but Prang is so vibrant it was difficult to switch to using Daler Rowney. The rest of the page when I say I use watercolor, I am using Prang watercolor.

For the opposite page, I first wanted flowers and tried more watercolors but it was an immediate fail. I am sure the fail was because of trying to use watercolor over acrylic paint without applying a watercolor ground first, so I went over it again with white acrylic paint. Before the acrylic paint was completely dry I added another layer with a wash of watercolor which mixed with the white acrylic paint. I dabbed at it occasionally with a paper towel. Below is the result.

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You might wonder why I added the watercolor paint to the acrylic paint. First, the addition of more white acrylic paint meant what color had been in the background had disappeared even more and I wanted more color. Second, I wanted to see what would happen. My Prang set is almost used up so I wasn’t worried if some acrylic paint ended up in the watercolor paint. I became rather sloppy in my application but it was FUN!

I really liked the result and was trying to decide what else I wanted to do. I was still thinking about flowers when I saw a blog about an interesting technique. You can see the blog post here.

I tried a few things differently since I was working on top of acrylic paint. I eventually found what worked.  The biggest obstacle was in trying to figure out what pens or paint pens to use. I used Sakura gelly roll black pen for the initial drawing of the circles and lines. I tried using Faber-Castell markers, alcohol markers, and Permapaque markers but didn’t like any of them. Plus I was afraid of drying up the tips of the pens. Eventually, I decided to use a small paint brush and white acrylic paint to color the straight lines, to make them stand out more from the background. Then I used a Sharpe oil based paint pen for filling in the circles with black.

Once it was dry, I tried using charcoal to try and create the translucent effect but because the acrylic paint didn’t have enough tooth, it wiped right back off. My hands were covered in the charcoal more than the page. I wiped off the charcoal by just lightly wiping my hand across the page. What was left on the page, I left alone. I resorted to using graphite by rubbing the graphite onto the tip of a blending stump and then rubbing it on the page. I only covered the areas outside of the circles with the graphite.

My last step was to use darker shading of graphite around the circles and where the lines overlapped other lines to try and give it a 3D effect. To fix the graphite I sprayed the spread with workable fixative. I used workable fixative in case I wanted to add anything else to the page.

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I may actually journal on the page by using either a white pen in the black circles or a black pen in the white lines. It would make an interesting journal page.

So far she is my favorite. She posed interesting challenges for me and I found I could do what people have been saying  which is if you don’t like it you can always paint over it.

I lost track of time while doing this art journal spread. I worked on it over several days. I know I started her before October ended but exactly what day, I’m not sure. I generally don’t spread something out this long, however with work, and #inktober going on when I started her I wanted to see if I could work on her in small doses. Instead of drying her with my heat gun between layers, I put her aside and let her dry naturally, usually over night. I only worked on her in October after I did my inktober drawing and if I had some time to spare.

When #Inktober was over, she became my main focus and is all I worked on until she was finished. I finished her yesterday other than the writing I may add later. I think her hair is my favorite part of her, that is, if I had to choose a particular technique from this art journal page. Otherwise, I love her in her completeness for what she represents of my art journey.

Note to self: I had to be careful of not drying out the tip of the markers I used. I am hoping I didn’t ruin any of them. They all still functioned after I used them and in some cases not as well as when I had started with them.

I need to learn ways of layering and using products that will help lock in a layer and give me a better surface for using other products on, hopefully reducing the chance of ruining a product. I considered using clear gesso, or matte medium but in the end didn’t use either. In some areas when I went back to go over the black gel pen lines on the lines due to the white acrylic paint covering some of them up, my pen would cause some of the paint to come up. I think the clear gesso or matte medium would have prevented this but I wasn’t sure how well my pen would work over top of either product. I do have an Art Techniques and Test journal (my Effy Grimoire version) which showed either of the products would have been a good choice, but I didn’t refer to it when working on this spread. I just went with my gut instinct.

One of the reasons I didn’t refer to my Art Techniques and Test journal is because I didn’t test what would happen if I applied clear gesso or matte medium over top of gel pen or some of the other pens I had applied to the page. I was afraid of, in particular, the gel pen smearing. Effy Wild addresses some of this in a couple of her lessons which I need to go back and make some notes about but I also need to add to my grimoire by testing what happens when particular products are applied over top of different pens.

Another reason I didn’t refer to my Art Techniques and Test journal is because I wanted to just experiment on the page. I wanted to find out if I could fix my own mistakes or work from just pure instinct. I think I was successful on both accounts.

The other things I learned:

  • when in doubt check my Art Techniques and Test journal
  • when it isn’t in my Art Techniques and Test journal, then add it
  • let myself experiment on my art journal page
  • let myself fail

I am not at all disappointed in this art journal spread. In fact, I love it. When I compare it to my previous art journal page in this book which was created from one of Effy Wild’s BOD2017 lessons, I can see so much improvement.

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The difference between this art journal page and the one I just created is, this one was done by following a lesson. The one at the start of this article was done completely from my own imagination. The Effy lesson one was done around June 2017, so there is only about 4 months separating the two.

There are so many factors that separate these two pages. I think I’m more invested in pages I design and create on my own than I am when I’m doing one from a lesson. I don’t really consider something I have done from an art lesson as my own work. Therefore, I think I work harder on trying to do a good job on my own designs. Inktober, dare I say Inktober has been a powerful influence for me this year and I think it shows in this spread.

There is something here I cannot ignore. Following a lesson is wonderful for helping me to gain confidence in my ability to do something someone else is demonstrating. What it doesn’t do is give me confidence in my ability to create something completely on my own. Inktober is a demonstration of that this year.

In the page from Effy’s lesson I can’t even begin to tell you how I did it, but in the page I created all on my own, I can visualize almost every single step I took and the issues I ran into. I can’t help but wonder if one of the reasons I haven’t been doing any more of the classes is because of this.

Don’t get me wrong. I love doing the lessons and yes they have helped me immensely in taking that next step in my art journey. It just feels as though my journey needs to move forward more on my own than in following someone’s instruction. What these lessons have given me is the courage to step out on my own, without them I probably would have given up.

This is something I will need to think on for a while to decide if buying more of the art course offerings is something I want to do, or do I want to spend the next year just playing around on my own to see what develops.

What I keep hearing from that inner voice that tells me what to do is this. Do buy what I can afford in the art course offerings but do so only if it provides what I need for furthering my art journey in the direction I visualize myself going while challenging me to try something new and different. In other words, don’t keep buying the same thing and expecting my skill to grow if the courses don’t offer anything more.

This is paraphrased, of course. My inner dialogue is quite different and difficult to put in writing. It is comprised of a mixture of images, words and feelings/emotions. The wonderful thing about this is only I need to understand it.

This inner dialogue is also based on a lot of what I have learned over the past year from my purchasing experience. After having purchased a couple of courses which could not be saved and had a limited period to access them, it became quite clear to me this doesn’t work well for me. Logically, if I purchase a digital class, I feel it should be accessible to me for as long as I want and as often as I would like to view it. I know some art teachers don’t feel this way about their courses and feel they should be offered like courses are in college or live in a classroom setting. I think they miss out on a lot of students because of this.

I totally love the idea of buying a course and having permanent access to it. I have considered monthly or yearly memberships but this doesn’t work for me because of losing the access to the classes if I need to end the membership. I totally get the membership option that appeals to art/craft instructors, unfortunately, this doesn’t work for me and my budget. The other reason it doesn’t work is in the cases of the sites I’ve had an opportunity to look at, the membership doesn’t provide a good enough value for those courses that interest me. Basically, buying the individual courses would be better for my budget than buying a membership.

As stated, I will need to think about what art course offerings I will want to invest in for this coming year. I may find that list to be quite short, especially if I feel a need to pursue my art on my own to see what develops. The good thing is, most of the courses that appeal to me can be purchased over the next ten months or so because they are year long courses. Granted I might not get a discount but I can spread them out so it isn’t a huge hit on my budget at one time and I get more bang for my buck with these types of offerings. On top of that, I can take my time to decide if it is something I want after I experiment with playing around on my own for a while.

So much to think about and time will probably fly so fast I’ll wonder where the year went. That is how I feel about this year. Where did it go? It feels like it had been spring only a couple months ago not six or seven months ago.

By the way, since I started my job, my art supplies have suddenly stopped dwindling. Where I once thought I would never be able to keep up with my art supplies to have on hand for the art I was creating, I now find myself worried my supplies might get old before I have a chance to use them. Such an about face in such a short period of time. It is challenging for my mind and emotions to keep up with. I’m glad though. It means I have plenty to work with over the next several months and I’m still enjoying my job.