new year’s resolutions

monet 1
Claude Monet – Haystacks

January is a natural time for making plans.  A whole year’s calendar sits there all open and full of possibility.  I’ve been reading a lot about goal setting during the last year and so my “new year’s resolution” this year is to be more consistently resolved!  I have always enjoyed making plans but I never realized that there’s a real art to planning itself.

I’ve been reading books by Brian Tracy, the best of which, in my opinion, are “Maximum Achievement,” “Goals!” and “Eat that Frog.”  And I just read Tony Robbins’ book “Awaken the Giant Within” which is full of wisdom.  Some of his stories are a little dated now, but the ideas are pristine.

The first element of goal setting is self-examination.  I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want from art at this phase of my life.  I look back at some of my earliest heroes, artists like Claude Monet (above).  I want to figure out how to emulate my heroes.  So, for instance, I’d like to master large landscape painting.

As the goal books will tell you, big plans need to be parsed into smaller, doable, trackable chunks.  For that reason I’m doing a gazillion small landscape paintings, and I’m approaching them in many different ways.  I’m using acrylic paint because it dries quickly but I know that much of what I learn from free-wheeling acrylic painting can be translated into oil also.  And I’m going to translate it.

There are many other facets to my particular plans and I won’t bore readers with the details.  Each person has different goals and every project needs to be thought through in its individual paths.

I just want to share some of my enthusiasm for the beginning of another year.  It’s a blank canvas.  It is full of possibility.  You have many choices about how to paint your year.  And I encourage you to embark on the new year with joy.

So, eat that frog!  You can even paint that frog.  If you’re an artist, you can have your frog and paint your frog and eat it too!

(You’ll have to read Brian Tracy’s brilliant book, though, if you want to get the joke!)

frog detail 3

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Drawing in the dark

I woke around 4 a.m., stirred and then I realized I was really awake.  Didn’t want to risk waking anyone else.  So I padded to the kitchen and made a cup of hot chocolate, then I padded back to a comfortable spot.  There was enough ambient light from the street that I never turned on a light indoors.  And while I drank my warm cup, I pulled out the black pen and started drawing in the dark.  I could see the large shapes, but not the details of the page.  And there was no still life except the one I was thinking about. 

It’s an interesting freedom got when you are drawing just thoughts without their having to be anything.  And at 4 o’clock in the morning, one is not likely to demand of a drawing made over a warm cup that it be anything.

Ideas you can keep in your pocket

I find more time on my hands.  It’s like looking inside your wallet and realizing there’s a twenty that you didn’t spend, not knowing — having forgotten, it was there.  Me, I had minutes I wasn’t aware of, time to spend.  And being thrifty, I try not to spend it all in one place, but whenever I have a little pause I just look and record.  A few crayons, a little notebook, some idle observations, and I have a scene.  A picture of a moment.  And it all fits into my pocket very snugly.

Time Management for Artists, number three’s a charm

Theme and variations.  Pick something, doesn’t matter what it is so long as you care about it (feel it tug at your heart or your curiosity — I prefer curiosity but some people are emotional).

Make one you like (this could take a while, enjoy the ride).

Make the next one either bigger or smaller, in a different medium; redo the oil painting into a watercolor; remake the color version as a monochrome; turns the masses into lines; change the format from a rectangle into a square, et cetera.

Play it in every key signature.

[This post is dedicated to the life and memory of Paul Squires of Gingatao, a great poet of the early 21st century.]

Time Management for Artists, numero deux

Count.

Oddly enough time divided up makes more time, time that can be seized and used.

Time sections are Jerusalem artichoke-like:  you cut the bulbs in pieces and get more plants.  Each piece will grow, and you’ll live in a forest of the plants if you’re not careful, a vast sea of waving heliotropic flowers continually turning their faces toward the light on the earth’s great sweeping clock face.

Count how many versions you’ll do.  (Set a goal.)  Count the amount of time that you’ll spend on each drawing. (Set a length goal.)  Set a timer, run your drawing like a race (get ready, get set, go!).

Redo the same thing thinking to turn yourself dumbly into a machine, a Xerox copier (all the versions will be different, humans are subtle).  This should be a separate rule.  I’ll repeat it later (which is also wise time use, repetition, we are a forgetful species).

[This post is dedicated to the life and memory of Paul Squires of Gingatao, a great poet of the early 21st century.]

Time Management for Artists, numero uno

First know that there is never enough time.  You have to use what is available.  I have tried different efficiencies over the years, but what I found most effective was having a child and obviously that won’t work for everybody.

But when I had my child, I learned quickly — with Nature as my teacher — that children require intense care, which gobbles up a day’s time very fast.  You have left over chunks of perhaps five minutes here and five minutes there.  And I began seizing those minutes.

Five minutes can be a lot of time, I discovered, perception being such an amorphous, stretchy and variable thing.

A child grows and time quantities change, and one must adapt to new measurements.  Still I’ve kept the fundamental insight: use the time that’s at hand.  One handful will do.

[This post is dedicated to the life and memory of Paul Squires of Gingatao, a great poet of the early 21st century.]

Drawing lessons from the koi pond

Had to do some research yesterday so I went swimming.  Ah hem! Okay, it wasn’t all research, it’s just that I had to take the kid swimming.  Perhaps I wanted to go as well.  But even beside the beautiful blue of the swimming pool, I could not let go of my koi.  In our beach bag of supplies, besides the sun block and the snacks, I took colored pencils and my big tough notebook.  My pencils were pre-sharpened (though I have a handy portable sharpener like kids take to school) and I drew blue patches and fish silhouettes.

Was thinking about how people learn to draw, and I decided that this would be a pretty good first foray into art for those so inclined: to take simple materials like colored pencils (for the pool I use the cheap dime store brands!) and make color patches.  You put colors beside other colors and teach your eye to marvel at how certain color combinations make your perception dance.

I think of it as proto-art — that first impulse to mark, to color, to decorate, seeking and discovering delight.  For me these pool side drawings are experiments with different patterns.  But for someone else they might also provide simply a beginning.

I swam a lot too.  In between swimmings, I swam in the pond of thought.  Being in the pond, I learn the role, find my inner fish, work to get inside the Koi mind.  And outside the pond, I play like a child with my artist’s tools.

En Plein Bouquet

I say I’ll paint outdoors again, so naturally I stay inside.  It’s hard to make plans.  I never could get away so I made a virtue of necessity and drew still lifes indoors. 

The bouquet is just as good as a tree top.  Up it goes (see how nearly trunk-like the glass vase is) and out it expands, flowers like boughs, everything hanging this way and that, expand, expand.  A little bit of satin blue-grey-green sky all around.  A bright shiny lawn of exceedingly vivid satin green.  Presto chango — the outdoors imagined!

Never were faux silk flowers more attuned to Nature.

Bonnard’s moody wife

Sometimes when there’s no time for anything elaborate, I just draw in the notebook.  This drawing I copied from a Bonnard painting I found reproduced in a book.  The medium is ballpoint pen.  The generalized features with which Bonnard captures the personality of his mysterious wife lend themselves well to casual, careless pen lines.

I made this drawing in a journal where I jot down comments on the passing days.  It will surprise me again someday, perhaps years from now, when I stumble upon it once more .