by Sabrina Hill, President PSWC
It’s January of a new year in a new decade. Lots of reasons to reflect on the past year. My dwindling ability to engage in art has made me a little sad. I blame it on several reasons—dealing with my mother’s Alzheimer’s, helping to run a successful and very busy dental practice, and my own insecurities about my art—each which have taken a toll on my creativity.
One day recently, I was scrolling through my Facebook friends—liking a painting by Laura Pollak, and laughing at a cartoon depicting a Rhinoceros artist whose painting always include a giant horn right in the middle of the view, when I came across two posts from artist friends Ruby Silvious and Deborah Pepin (PSWC membership Chair).
Debbie’s post showed a lovely painting she had completed in pastels on watercolor paper with a coating micaceous oxide as the ground.
I was impressed with the painting and very impressed that she created her own substrate with the micaceous oxide.
Ruby Silvious’s post showed one of her many unusual canvases. Though this brilliant artist is widely known for her paintings on teabags (she has two books on the subject), she will paint on anything— from eggshells to corks to acorns—you name it. Here we see what she does with a roll of adding machine tape at breakfast every morning.
“Why can’t I do this? Why am I not this creative?” I reflected. I thought about these posts all day and into the night. And then it hit me: they were experimenting, having fun, taking chances. They were playing!
Numerous scientific studies have proven the advantages of playing. Playing is a stress reducer, a creativity enhancer, and a communication builder. It improves reasoning skills, problem-solving, and the ability to focus. Plus, playing is fun! Often as adults, we cast aside this important human activity in deference to the responsibilities of adult life.
Fun. I forgot the fun of art. For years, I have been creating emotional art, commissionable art, and the perfecting of an art technique. I was doing the work of art. Now, I love being an artist, and I love being able to make a living working as an artist.. As a professional, I always have commissions in the works. I also do calligraphy, so there’s always a wedding or shower or piece that must be done in a certain way by a certain date. And it’s not that these pieces are not fun, but they are not play. They can’t be experimental or quirky or have a surprise ending. But I haven’t allowed time for the other pieces that can flop or fail but also soar with new possibilities for techniques and materials and joyous play.
I haven’t made time for the sheer fun of making art.
But what to do next?
Luckily, it’s January 2nd. 2020. Time for a new vision and a maybe a gentle resolution or two or three. Here are mine:
This one is the big one for me in 2020. My art supply cupboards are Armageddon-ready. (If the world experiences a shortage in art supplies…call me, I can fix it). I don’t even need to leave the house to come up with a new use for a tool or material.
My first order of play is to experiment with calligraphy and pastels—my two art loves. And I am going to try incorporating Debbie’s micaceous oxide ground for this one.
I have written a children’s book that I want to illustrate with richly colored pastel paintings, but I have gotten stuck in the desire to make it perfect. And so, the book is stuck in my head. I am going to play with some techniques that will bring this to paper.
BE KINDER TO MYSELF
In my head there runs a news crawl that features debilitating criticism of my own self, from my weight to my art abilities. I won’t go into the painful way I speak to myself, but I am going to play with this idea a lot more as well. I am also going to expect a little less perfection—which BTW I haven’t achieved at all—and opt in for something that speaks to a sense of fun, forgiveness and love.
I still have commissions to do, projects to complete, but I am going to accept them as they relate to my changing perspective of myself and my art. If it is going to involve excessive stress, I may not take it on, at least not this year. And if the art can’t be fun, I am going to balance it out with other kinds of fun, adventurous projects. But more on that in a minute…
MAKE A PLAN
So, you can’t make effective change without a plan and a few goals. That’s where the SIMPLE STEPS come in. I am setting a real low bar for these resolutions so that I don’t get stuck in the failure of unattainable goals. Once I meet the first expectation, I can regroup and set the next one, just a little higher. Having lofty goals is great, but you can’t get into the loft without a ladder. I am choosing the one rung at a time method to achieve these goals.
Simple Step 1
A Doodle a Day. I must have a dozen sketch books and a least 2 rolls of adding machine tape. One doodle, each day, silly or serious, doesn’t matter.
Simple Step 2
Out of the Box. To break out of non-productive habits, I am going to experiment with new materials and techniques—one each month. January will be calligraphy on watercolor paper with micaceous oxide a la Debbie Pepin.
This year I will also try plein air painting which scares the hell out of me. My worst nightmare is I can’t capture in a painting the things I see, and I am totally washed-up as an artist. I then retire to the garden to eat worms—as the old song says.
Simple Step 3
Change the Dialogue. Specifically, change my internal dialogue. I am turning every statement I make to myself into a positive and empowering statement. When I question my art ability, I will remind myself of the pieces I am proud of. This one will be the hardest, but I am going to do it. Every time. I want to become my own best fan.
That’s it for the moment. I don’t want to overwhelm myself early in the process. I would like to know what you think, and especially what your reflections, revelations, and resolutions are and what your plan will be as you move forward.
Fabulous writing Sabrina. I love how real and down to Earth to wrote this! I couldn’t agree more with having fun with art. Yes curiously and the eager to try new things that makes art exciting.
Great writing! And happy new year!
I to need to experiment, I have just sent for gold and silver leaf to put on my pastel paper. I have many ideas for them. One if to use on my antique books which have gold on them and use them in a still life.
Susan, this is so exciting! I can’t wait to see what you do with the gold/silver leaf!
Great post! I think it’s easy to get too caught up in making products and forget to explore the process. Every time we play with a new medium or technique, it will affect our other work when we go back to it and make us think differently.
I totally related to the part about Plein Air scaring the hell out of you. It’s the art rendering for sure for me, but it is also the instant judgement of someone walking by that totally freaks me out. I don’t want to explain what I’m doing or even talk to anyone…let alone react to their comments. That is my one goal this year–to get out there somehow. Thanks for sharing how difficult it is to try and be “creative”…
We all find ourselves “stuck” but we each need to find our own ways to become “unstuck”. I love your simple steps and will look forward as to how the stepping is going. I am in my studio today to find may way to be unstuck. Create, laugh, and be happy, sometimes that means a little music and dance in the studio to get the blood flowing. The happiest of New Years.
Inspiring and heartfelt.
I love your honesty. I can relate to a lot of what you wrote. And…micraceous oxide?!?! I’m going to look it up. Thanks for sharing your thoughts..
Oh well, another New Years post…why not? But then I was part way through and found myself wondering at the tears running down my cheeks. How could it be that the PRESIDENT of PSWC was writing to ME? Directly? How was it that someone so successful could show me her fears and foibles. How did you manage to target so many rocks currently lodged in my heart? Thank you. Thank you. I will try. Again, I WILL try…
Well done Sabrina…food for thought. Sometimes we forget to just have fun!
What a wonderful post, Sabrina. I think fun and play are so important to growth, especially if you are painting a lot of commissions. Commissions are great but the pressure to produce one after the other can inhibit creative growth. I think it is important to give yourself the chance to play and paint with out expectation. I find my strongest work comes out of sessions where I am trying out new ideas and not concerned with the outcome. Thanks for sharing and have a fun and Happy New Year.
This post is so very pertinent for all of us artists. We can get so caught up in the deadlines and the have-to projects that we forget what initially attracted us to art: the chance to play and experiment and leave our left brains behind as we fall into that right brain zone.
I remember when my son was in the preschool at a local junior college, and i had signed up for a ceramics class just so I could enroll him at the school. For me, it was play time. I remember one day, at 4:45 getting a call at the ceramics lab. Where was I? I had told them I would pick up my child by 2:00, and they were getting ready to close. I had been in a state of Nirvana working away on the potter’s wheel with no concept of time.
While I have been “in the zone” on many occasions with my pastels, this one event sticks with me as the big example of what it means to purely play and experiment with art. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for your reminder of how important play can be. Happy painting! Happy New Year!
Suzi Long sent the following comment, which I am posting here for her:
Sabrina, I loved this post, especially about the fear of Plein Air painting. I was afraid to start too. I found moving to a place where nobody knew me was a painless way to begin (once I went through the pain of moving). I had it all… easel, hat, sunscreen, pastels (too many for field work), substrate, backing board, water, rubbing alcohol, brush, paper towels (only VIVA), and fear. “Self!” Said I. “Pull up your big girl panties and do this!” And I did. 14 years ago. I moved to Mendocino and began Plein air painting in January 2006. Well, the first piece was at the home where I was housesitting and I wandered the perimeter and made a bouquet in a lovely pitcher. and I painted it outside. That made it “Plein air”! I did it! Possibly the best painting I’ve ever done! Then I went out and painted standing next to my car. People came by, admired, and BOUGHT! And before I knew it, I’d made lots of artist friends and moved into a Watertower and in May I opened my own pastel gallery… should have called it The Watertower Gallery, but nope. Had to be clever. The World of Suzi Long. Yes, it was my world. My life. My support, my playground! So many memories. But I’m writing to talk about fear.. of failure. Sure. There are those. But if you don’t have those, how will you ever have a success?
Now I’m really ratcheting up the fear level. I had to leave my gallery at the end of 2017 when I broke my ankle and could not manipulate the spiral stairs. I have a cute little apartment that I am going to give up and I am sorting through all my things and I have just rented a storage locker for things I can’t bear to part with, like my pastels, and I’m moving into an RV for a lifetime adventure. I don’t know if I will come back here to live or where I will end up, or even how long I’ll be on the road. I have a lot of fear. I will be moving back to watercolor from pastels after 20 years, and I already miss the medium. But I was making some small ripples in the water color world when I was with CWA. Now I will be teaching pen and watercolor sketching and I think I have a future on the road. I have a lot of fear. But I have a lot of excitement, I have a lot of people tell me how jealous they are, I have a great little rig, and I have a lot of fear. And I’m a 72 y.o. Three-time breast cancer survivor. I will be moving back to watercolor from pastels after 20 years, and I already miss the medium. But I was making some small ripples in the water color world when I was with CWA. Now I will be teaching pen and watercolor sketching and I think I have a future on the road. I have a lot of fear. But I have a lot of excitement, I have a lot of people tell me how jealous they are, I have a great little rig, and I have a plan! Wish me luck!
Sabrina, Thanks for posting my response to your terrific essay. I see so many other artists were touched by your thoughtful writing, too! I’d love to post that first painting. I’ll be blogging from the road In April, but first I’m teaching a pen/watercolor workshop in Baja March 8-14. If you are interested, please find details at http://www.ThePortablePainter.com. I think only one more (maybe 2) spots left!
Jan Frank posted this reply to me, I am posting it here on her behalf:
Thank you Sabrina for the posting on the PSWC Blog Post. I also like to play as well as continue my regular pastel expression. It’s good to have something different to do if only to keep the creative process moving. I found myself using an internet subject called “Altered Puzzle.” It was a fun project costing very little as it incorporated everything from painting, stamping, decoupage, stencil, texturing and more. Really fun to find a used children’s puzzle (larger size pieces) and work them as individual pieces. All random and just plain fun! (I happened to choose a 100 piece puzzle and would probably try a small number of pieces to begin with.) Another idea to keep your hand in so to speak.
Thank you Sabrina for such a transparent post. I hope you will post again with an update on how your gentle resolutions are going. I appreciate the reminder to make time for playful experiments in 2020. I needed that. Regarding Plein Air, it wasn’t hard for me to get started lugging the gear, enduring the heat and explaining to onlookers that my sticks weren’t chalk. Laughing here. But I was MOST upset that I couldn’t create on paper the beauty I saw in front of me!! My studio work did not prepare me for the challenges of working from life outdoors. I had to learn to simplify and paint faster.. I still struggle but that’s okay. I have come to realize that standing outdoors observing nature for several hours while trying to interpret it, is of tremendous benefit to our soul even if the painting doesn’t turn out! I wish you the best in 2020.
Look at the dialogue you created!!!! Good for you, Sabrina….well done!
From Thomas Frey:
I wanted to thank you for sharing your thoughts and directives in the above article. It brought to mind the many roads new and experienced artists have traveled. I wanted to share some of my experiences with you.
I’m fairly new at pastel painting. I’m a retired college professor; I taught chemistry for over 40 year. I was turned onto pastels in about 2012 and have been working with the process since then.
I’ve taken several workshops (Barbara Jaenicke, Chris Ivers, Richard McKinley) and was lucky to get acquainted with Willo Balfrey several years ago. A local art supply owner has also been a consistent source of advice. All have helped me advance in my pursuit of being a pastelist. My scientific background and attention to detail has been a nemesis yet a guiding source during these 8 years. My attention to detail interferes with “loosening up” at the easel yet allows for maintaining a dedicated journal of my progress, technique and results; a definite push me, pull you phenomenon.
But it does restrict me from having fun as you mentioned in your article. I have taken the direction recommended by many to find the right surface, find the right underpainting style, etc. and practice with that as your goal. Then others have said to experiment (dangerous thing to tell a chemist) and be creative. Presently, I’m doing a little of both. Since I have little background in drawing or painting, I decide to explore new horizons and keep an open mind on what’s next.
We have recently established our own local California Central Coast Pastel Society (3CPS) and we do paint-outs on a regular basis. In fact, we had one this morning. I, too, was very resistant to put myself out there with other experienced artists but the pangs of terror and discomfort have diminished as I mark another day on the calendar out with cows, trees and ponds.
You had mentioned Debbie’s experience with the fluid acrylic Micaceous Oxide.
Quite by chance I tried using it as well on both black UART 320 and black 320 sandpaper. Ginny Burdick recently also told me to mix Liquitex with other fluid acrylics to add tooth if using fluid acrylics as an underpainting. Besides teaching chemistry I’ve also been an avid amateur astronomer for as many years. I’ve seen what experienced astrophotographers can capture so I thought I’d try a cross-over with pastels. Attached is a 5×7 piece of UART 320 coated with Micaceous Oxide and then with Pan Pastels and soft pastels depicting a reflection nebula. It goes with your Simple Step 2. More nebula pastel paintings will probably be done.
I’ve a long way to go but I am enjoying the journey and the stops along the way. I just wanted to let you know that your paper really spoke to me and thank you for sharing.
Well said, Sabrina. I, too, was caretaker for both my seriously ill father and, simultaneously, my mother suffering from Alzheimers. My sympathy goes out to you as you trudge this exhausting, painful path. i lost several years of painting and am in rebuilding mode. Bravo to you for making a plan and treating yourself with gentle patience. Best of luck!