Tag Archives: studio

D.I.Y. Residency

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As 2015 came to a close, I decided that I needed to shake up my studio practice. Things had started feeling stagnant. I had a few ideas for how to do this… trying a new medium, starting a new project, maybe finding a bigger studio. I decided the easiest and most immediate thing would be to diversify my practice by working in a new medium, on paper. I spent a few weeks sorting things in my garage, and clearing a space to serve as my “paper studio”. I found a set of flat files to store paper and finished works, and started gathering materials.

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I started experimenting in a sketchbook, tentatively playing with new materials– guache, acrylic, watercolor, inks. I was still having trouble getting started though. This was not new territory, this resistance to starting a new body of work. Breaking into new work is difficult for me, and I usually need a little self-induced push. I decided that what I needed was a residency. I really felt that I needed the kind of dedicated time that a residency affords, and I had applied to two local residencies in 2015 but they are highly competitive and I didn’t get a spot in either one. So I decided to set one up for myself. At home. ‘Cause that’s how I roll.

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I marked two weeks in January as my time, and thought about my daily life and the things that distract me or take up time. I made sure that I did not schedule anything else during those two weeks. I planned some easy meals and did the shopping ahead of time and put some food in the freezer. I did errands or decided they could wait. I cleaned the house ahead of time, and made a deal with myself that I would just let it be dirty during the week. Usually, I’m one of those people that has to have everything in order before she works so this was a big one for me! This is something I’m continuing to work on… my most damaging procrastination habits tend to be getting things clean or done before I allow myself to work. So it was good practice.

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Then, for two weeks, I worked. I worked all day, and tried to exercise discipline by not indulging in distractions. This is the hardest thing about trying to do a self-initiated “residency”. Usually, with a residency, you have a work space far from the usual distractions, and that is part of the appeal and what makes it so effective. So re-creating those conditions at home was challenging, but mostly achievable. I can’t say it was perfect, but I got so much work done! I let myself just focus on process, and told myself that if I came to the end of two weeks without a single finished piece, that was okay. There were times when I just wanted to stop and there were times when I was so caught up in the work that I lost track of time. I had a few moments when I wasn’t so sure about this plan!

But by the second week, things started coming together. I didn’t have a finished piece by the end of my two weeks, but I had a direction. And momentum. And enthusiasm. I was excited about the new work.

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The painting/drawing above was the first piece I finished. I now have about five of these finished, and others started. Jump-starting this new work with a D.I.Y. residency was really effective, and I already have plans to do it again soon. It’s amazing to me what can be accomplished with some dedicated time and space.

What about you? What is your favorite way to start a new project? How do you overcome the inertia of beginning?

Thanks for reading,
~Lisa

 

A Good Mess

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There is, I think, loads of potential in being up to one’s elbows in a good mess. I’m not talking about the kind of mess visited upon you on a late Sunday afternoon when the last thing you want to do is clean up, but a weekend of neglect and fun and living has resulted in sticky mugs adhered to the coffee table and muddy shoes piled by the front door, dirty dishes in the sink, and wild tumbleweeds of dog hair blowing gently along the floor (ahem)…let’s call that a lazy mess.

No, I’m talking about creative mess, which is another thing altogether.  Well, it still might result in a pile of dirty sticky coffee cups, yes, but it’s also evidence of being busy and productive, of being in the moment, caught up, and just going with it, not stopping to worry about it. There is a kind of bravado to it.

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My studio cycles through this state several times a year, the sedimentary clutter building up until I don’t even remember what’s at the bottom, everything covered in a fine coat of graphite and glitter and paint. And where did I put that scraper?!

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Things, I admit, can get a little dysfunctional at the tail end of it. Then I’m ready to take a few hours and sift through, wiping things down, putting things away, rediscovering things, rearranging, scraping wax off most surfaces, shepherding spiders out the door.

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So, this is a different kind of potential, isn’t it?  Like a deep calming breath, a pause. The potential of a clear workbench, organized paints, the windows washed, and the graphite found. (Still need to whitewash that wall, though!)

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Ready for the next mess.

Double Life, and a Studio Clean-Up

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January is just whizzing by me.  Surely, time moves faster as you chase it.  And I feel as if I have been chasing it, with so much to do, and trying to fit it all in.  Sometimes I have to remind myself to just stop, and breathe.  And slow down the moment.  And pay attention.

For months now, I’ve been simultaneously preparing for war and peace, so to speak. ( I think it’s an Einstein quote, and he actually said, ” You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.”)    For about a year, now, I’ve been going to school part time to complete a certificate in technical writing.  I’ve also been trying to increase my hours in the studio, ramping up my practice, trying to make a go of being a full-time artist.  The sensible fall back plan, and the big dream.  I feel like every day I get up and just throw myself at it all.  There is rarely a sense of completion, because there is always something more to do.  I just keep setting little goals, and moving forward.  Inch. By. Inch.

There are financial pressures.  I don’t know if the artwork can answer them. It seems to be gaining traction, but I have to wait and see how it all shakes out.  I really want to be able to jump in with both feet into… something.  But for now, I must simultaneously prevent and prepare.

Painting and technical writing might seem at odds with one another.  And it does feel like I’m living two lives, or preparing for two futures, or even two potential selves, sometimes. Each activity exploits different parts of my personality.  But the two things also compliment one another in remarkable ways.  When I was working my way through my foundation technical writing courses, I was struck with how the skills I was learning could be directly applied to all of the writing that I am required to do as an artist- statements, bios, website copy, etc.  Active voice, defining audience, elegance, efficiency, specific language, direct style.  My studio notebook has become my constant companion, and I’ve learned to just get it all down, and edit later.  My editing class sharpened my attention and further developed my appreciation for brevity and specificity in my painting practice.

Right now, I’m taking a course in Information Graphics, and I find myself asking different questions in the studio.  Questions like “What is the question that the work answers?” and “How do I shape the data to answer the question?”.  It’s all pretty interesting stuff.

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One of the things I always do in January is clean my studio, and this year was no exception.  I also tried to create a “clean” area, over to the right, for a drawing space.  I’m trying to have a corner that isn’t covered in wax and paint splatters! (I know–good luck!) I’ve also added the memory foam mat on the floor, because all the standing takes it’s toll.  If you don’t have one of these in the studio, get thee to thy computer, and order one.  They are heaven.

Well, then, back to work!  I have a data set to download, and some paper cutting to do!

Studio Shots

It’s been such a gray and rainy spring! But that hasn’t stopped the work in the studio… in fact, it’s been a wonderful year for the plants this year. Above, some mustard gone to seed.

The hummingbirds have been busy disguising their nests with this moss that grows on the old plum trees behind my studio.

This lovely thing fell to the ground during the last wind storm. I’m looking forward to drawing it.

This pile of embroidery thread is waiting to be woven into some paintings… paintings that are only in my head at the moment. I’m looking forward to the hours of summer, and seeing if some of my new ideas work.

Whatever Works…

The other day I was working in my studio, and this was the scene… and I thought, “How strange this looks!” So I ran to get my camera to share it with you all. I’m so fascinated by other artist’s processes, and the unusual ways that we problem solve when we are trying to get an idea out of our heads and onto the image. Encaustic is such a “new” medium in it’s current usage, and as I meet more and more artists using wax in their work, I am struck with how we are inventing it as we go.

I also thought this was funny because I’m often told that my work is delicate or ethereal, and yet the process is so… scrappy. I knew here that I wanted a large, white circle on the painting, but I didn’t know what to use to guide the circle. none of my usual objects were large enough. And then the garbage lid called to me from across the studio…  “Me! Me! Use me!”

So I did.

Inspiration: walking and seeing

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“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.”   -Rumi

One of the trickiest things, I’ve found, about making images is the simultaneous need for experience and innocence. On one hand, we want to bring our years of experience to bear in the studio. On the other, we want to be able to see as if for the first time; an adventurous and inventive eye must not be hobbled by what it thinks it knows and sees.

This summer, I’ve been walking the same route through the fields, almost daily, and like to practice seeing things with a fresh perspective. A few times, I’ve taken my camera, and it has been so fun to look through that magic window and see how limiting the view can sometimes expand how I see. 

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Artistic perception is this great elastic thing that must be exercised to stay limber and responsive. Ironically, doing something repetitive is sometimes just the thing to practice keeping things new.

Experiments In Wax and White

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I’ve been having some fun in my studio this week experimenting with wax inlay (intarsia). Here are some of the results-in-progress.

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First, I tried putting oil paint into the texture and doing a wipe, but it didn’t work as well as I had hoped, so I tried filling with wax and scraping back, and I’m much happier with it. I like using intarsia in my underlayers, as I like to imagine that they are more stable, and an oil wipe in the last stages of a painting. But, Oh! The scraping- my fingers don’t like it much. I need to do a serious perusal of my local hardware store for a razor holder that works well for this. I took good photos of the intarsia process this time, so I’ll do a technique tutorial on it soon.

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Above: a detail of a larger acrylic painting. I’ve been trying some new things with acrylics, too…. laminating milky, transluscent papers into this painting, tracing some of my field sketches, and using a graphite paint that I found recently. It is such a good exercise to try to explore the same aesthetic and formal concerns as the white encaustics, but it a radically different medium. I think it keeps things fresh all around, with each medium informing the other. Well, we’ll see. I don’t think the above painting is really successful in the way I want it to be, yet, but I’m going to keep on playing with it. I’d love for it to segue into a new (and parallel) body of work.

And I’ll leave you with one last image, something I picked up on a walk the other day. I don’t know what my neighbors thought, with me traipsing through the neighborhood with my dog and a dead bush, but I love it- it’s color and form- and can’t wait to take an hour or two and draw it from different angles. 

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P.S. I’m going to the opening for “Working in Wax” tonight in Walnut Creek (see announcement below) and am so excited to see so much encaustic work!