Confidence

August 15th, 2017

Even small successes nurture confidence.

A month ago I had the delightful experience of watching my youngest grandchild learn to walk.  He’d already taken his first unsupported steps some time before I arrived for my visit, but on my first day there, he was still toddling only a few steps at a time before landing on his well-padded seat and having to cautiously resume his upright stance before making another attempt.

"Stepping Out," by Charlotte Mertz (7"x5" graphite pencil, #170801p)

“Stepping Out,” by Charlotte Mertz (7″x5″ graphite pencil, #170801p)

The second morning of our visit, he was able to walk for several additional steps at a time.  But if he swiveled his head or tried to turn, he lost his balance and would drop down onto his seat again.

By the third morning he had mastered his turns enough to make a game of pivoting, and by evening was able to not only cross the entire room but chase his brother halfway down the hallway.  His efforts weren’t perfect; he wobbled a lot and frequently lost his balance.  But he had developed enough confidence to prefer his upright mobility to his previous four-point method of locomotion.  And the more he drew on his confidence, the more adept he became.

The same is true when we practice any skill.  Our advancements may not be as apparent as those of a young child, but even our baby steps do improve with practice, and, despite minor setbacks, “wobbles,” and sometimes-less-than-stellar results, the more we succeed, the more confident we become.  That confidence becomes apparent in the results of our efforts, which, in turn, encourages us to stretch our skills even further.

So whether our practice is in walking, drawing, painting, playing a musical instrument, or some other skill, even small successes indicate progress.  And progress generates confidence that our efforts are worthwhile.  So let’s focus on our successes, however small.  We’re getting better all the time.  Let’s keep at it!

Creatives and Commitment

August 1st, 2017

“Creatives” – those of us with an artistic or creative bent, often find that our artistic interests lie in a number of different fields—visual arts, music, writing, crafts, invention, and more.  Our problems often lie not in a lack of interests or abilities but in an overabundance of them.  Our time and energy can become so fragmented as we attempt to follow such a wide range of pursuits that we don’t fully commit ourselves to any.

But, however creative we may be, without commitment and focused effort, how can we excel?

I’ve found that when my own attention is cast in too many different directions, shotgun style, I can’t home in on a single area to try to master.  I am often faced with some hard choices about which to set aside.  I need to determine where my primary field of interest lies at any given time, and therefore where I need to concentrate my most intensive focus.  Once I do that, it becomes easier to cull out the less important or less productive pursuits that drain my time and energy or distract me from seeking mastery in that primary area.  Painful as it often is, I need to conscientiously say “No!” when tempted to head off on yet another artistic or creative tangent.

I’ve had to do precisely that this summer, having come to the painful realization that one pursuit, which I thoroughly enjoyed, was demanding a disproportionate amount of time and energy and had been distracting me from what I consider my primary pursuit.

Certainly it’s possible to pursue and attain a high level of skill in more than one creative field. We have many examples before us of creative people who have excelled in multiple areas of expertise. But we need to know ourselves well enough to recognize our limitations and how many fields we can realistically expect to master within a given time frame.  Also, we can rarely reach mastery in two different fields simultaneously, but are more likely to master them at different periods in our lifetime, allowing ourselves time and focus to develop separate skill sets specific to each field.

Perhaps we may be satisfied with mastering one or two fields and be “just good enough” for personal satisfaction and general enjoyment in other areas.  That’s ok, too, … so long as  “just good enough” in too many areas doesn’t interfere with striving for excellence in even one.  If it does, it may be time to evaluate our self-image and personal goals (“Am I willing to remain mediocre because I feel that I’m nothing special, or because I don’t want to stand out in the crowd or become famous, or because I don’t want to work that hard, or because I can’t afford the time or cost of further training, or because I’m giving [X] higher priority right now?”)  We may have valid reasons for settling for mediocrity in some areas.  Or these “reasons” may just be excuses—conscious or unconscious—to justify neglecting our innate talents.  We often walk a fine line in that regard, so we need to be honest with ourselves.

I think it’s important to acknowledge what our own individual bent is (which is not the same as a talent we may envy in someone else and wish we shared), and to concentrate on that, committing to hone our understanding and related skills in that/those limited area[s].  Then we’re more likely to get somewhere noteworthy.

Investigating Artistic Impetus

July 15th, 2017

Last time I wrote about my interest in trying to figure out what compels me to paint and what drives me as an artist.  Is it merely the sensual stimulation and enjoyment I gain from manipulating the brush and color?  Or could it be some egotistical need to compete with and attempt to enhance nature’s glory?  Or am I driven by a desire to share with others my perceptions of those subjects that interest me?  Or is it a combination of things that impels me toward some greater, overriding purpose?

I have practiced art from the time I was quite young.  Whether the drawings were any good, and whether my color choices had any basis in reality, or were simply a response to what I thought they should be, was largely immaterial.  The point was that I was interested in trying to depict subjects that appealed to me.  It was a way of investigating and trying to more fully understand and appreciate the world around me.

As I got a little older, I tended to stay quiet, with “eyes and ears open and mouth shut,” as my Dad used to put it.  I watched people.  I looked at the lines of their bodies as they moved around, the way their facial features were shaped, and how the texture of their skin reflected light in different ways at different ages.  (It may be just as well that my classmates had no clue about what I was thinking; it definitely could have been misinterpreted!)

In a way, I suppose that’s what I’m still doing—studying, trying to understand and appreciate subjects that interest me.  And such intangible qualities as light, color, line, and pattern are at least as important subjects in my work today as the physical subjects that act as vehicles for exploring them.

"Illumination"

“Illumination”

A-ha!  So that‘s it!  (Have you ever experienced a revelatory “a-ha” moment yourself?  Exciting, isn’t it!)

Now that I recognize what my subject matter really is, I look forward to growing in that knowledge.  I trust it will free me to explore it further, becoming less concerned with objects as subjects and more concerned with those revealing qualities that drew my attention to those objects.

Stick around and let’s see where it leads!

So … Where are we now?

July 1st, 2017

As a (very) late bloomer, I have discovered how important it is to not only plan my progress toward pre-identified goals, but to periodically evaluate how satisfactorily I’m actually making progress.  This year I set out to work on my watercolor skills, to explore and identify my “style,” and to discover who I am—what my role is—as an artist.

“In Daddy’s Hands” by Charlotte Mertz (5″ x 5,” graphite pencil, #170605p)

The first goal—learning, developing, and polishing skills—is an ongoing process that will never be complete, as long as I can lift a brush and continue to challenge myself.  With conscious effort put toward improving my understanding and development of specific skills, I hope that they have been improving this year, with my work more consistently displaying higher quality.  But I wonder if my focus on one area has allowed me to become lax in others. A periodic flop warns me that I’m not infallible and there is still plenty of room for improvement.

I have also come to recognize characteristics of my personal style and what elements of others’ art particularly influence my own work, which increases my confidence that, in general, I’m on the right track.

The third goal, discovering my role as an artist, has been more elusive.  So that is another realm that I hope to explore more rigorously in the coming months.  Certainly I think of myself as a teacher and encourager of others.  But what is the underlying drive and purpose of my own artwork?  I have long recognized that the concept for each piece and my inspiration to paint go hand in hand. But less clear has been what might be the consistent, overriding similarity in purpose that compels me to paint anything.  This is a question to which I’ve gradually been finding answers.  More about that next time.

Materials Evaluation Time!

June 15th, 2017

As I take a brief vacation break to do something different, I’m considering a short-term shift from watercolors back to oils for a few weeks.  The changed requirements for and approaches to preplanning, brushwork, edges, color blending, and so on, may help by refreshing my perspective on watercolor when I return to it, and perhaps to help me return to the style-seeking mode I mapped out for myself in April.

"Limited Palette" (#170303w)

“Limited Palette” (#170303w)

An article comparing some of the top brands of oil paint, published on www.Wonderstreet.com* this past spring, reminded me to review my own oil paints and other materials to verify that they really suit my current needs.  Certainly there are always new colors to try and evaluate, but this kind of comparative article helps to narrow down the optimal choices of paint manufacturers.

In general, I’ve been very pleased with my choice of M.Graham’s walnut-oil based line because they can be used without solvents.  Even for cleanup, I use just walnut oil and Murphy’s Oil Soap, which means I don’t have to worry about the odor, health effects, or disposal of turps or other petroleum-based products.

I also occasionally use water-soluble oils (which the Wonderstreet article did not include).  But frankly, they don’t have the same smooth “feel” and are no easier to clean up with soap and water than the M.Graham paints.

But my needs and preferences aren’t the same as everyone else’s, so I appreciate it when comparative evaluations like the Wonderstreet article appear as a reference that allows artists to make informed selections based on their individual needs.  Here are some of the comparative references I’ve found most helpful, to date:

For oils:  http://wonderstreet.com/blog/how-to-choose-a-brand-of-oil-paint (Comparisons of major manufacturers’ oil paints, with pros and cons cited by working artists)

For acrylics:  http://wonderstreet.com/blog/choosing-the-acrylic-paint-thats-best-for-you (Comparisons of major manufacturers’ acrylic paints, with pros and cons cited by working artists)

For watercolor:  Hilary Page’s Guide to Watercolor Paints (an extremely comprehensive coverage of most manufacturers’ colors and the characteristics of individual pigments as of 1996, with a more limited free update printout as of 2009 available).  Unfortunately, the original book is no longer available except through resale.

Another watercolor resource is WonderStreet’s article on watercolor paints, http://wonderstreet.com/blog/which-brand-of-watercolour-should-you-choose, Though the article does not delve into specific pigments or individual paints colors as Page’s book does, the article provides a general overview of what to expect from each product line.  It is a helpful resource when seeking desirable characteristics from a specific manufacturer’s products.  The information, compiled from findings by WonderStreet’s readership of working artists, is up-to-date as of this spring.

*Note:  Wonderstreet is a UK-based platform on which such artists as illustrator Kerry Darlington can showcase their work.