When I teach repeat students, I’m often asked if I’m saying all new things from previous workshops. Often I’m repeating something that I’ve said earlier, but the student did not internalize the information. It’s always surprising how we don’t hear advice until we are ready to implement it. We often don’t even take our own advice! I think this proves the value of repeating classes or workshops. As we grow in our artwork, we become more ready to absorb information or put it into practice.
“Listening is a positive act: you have to put yourself out to do it.”
I filmed a time-lapse of my process for “Summerfall.” I didn’t talk during the filming. My inspiration for the painting was the farming term Summerfall. It means to plant in late spring in preparation for a late fall harvest. Planting this way is unusual and farmers sometimes resort to it because a fall planting failed. As I worked, I thought about colors for summer like blues & violets and colors for fall like reds and golds. If you’re receiving this post via email, click over to the website to view the video here!
The early parts of the video show the painting with the top on the right, to better fit the video format. I tried to lay in the layers in a sort of x-shaped movement, falling from the high horizon line. You can see this in the earlier parts of the video best. As sometimes happens, I felt that mid-way through the process my values got a bit too dark. My solution in this case was to add metallic silver and opaque blue and yellows to lighten up areas of the work.
My repeated Mantra
One thing students who are listening hear me say over and over is to paint your own personal experience. I must say this multiple times in each workshop. It’s always amazing to me how much inspiration I can still find in this series about my rural upbringing and the farm.
I hope you’ll enjoy watching this peek into my process. There was so much idle time toward the end stages of the process while I agonized over what to do. Those finishing touches require so much courage and contemplation that I don’t think I could do them while worrying about a camera!
In other news, I’m preparing for upcoming workshops. My good friend, Ruth Ellen Hoag, will be here teaching at the beginning of February. I always enjoy painting with her and learning how her mind works! After that, we are expecting new lambs here on the farm. Then I’m headed south to Santa Barbara to study with Skip Lawrence and to teach a workshop of my own. It’s going to be a busy spring when you throw in all the shows I’m doing… I hope you can join me!
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As procrastinators go, I would rate my ability to ‘do it later’ as above average. That doesn’t mean that I don’t aspire to become a better procrastinator. This trait is vital to my success as an artist. You may be wondering: ‘Is she serious?!’
Yes! Let me explain. Artists must wear many ‘hats’ to sustain their small business. Marketing, networking, framing, presentation, book-keeping, graphic design, reproductions, and (in my case) teaching. I forgot to mention one other very important thing: making the art! It is easy to lose sight of the importance of regular studio time when faced with that long list of business oriented work. Add in household duties or a small farm, as I do, and you have many choices for how to spend the few productive hours in a day.
One way that I cope is to joke with myself about being a ‘good procrastinator.’ I’ve even set goals to become better at procrastination. I’m not talking about wasting my time… I’m just choosing to put off things that can wait till less productive hours. For example, I can do laundry in the evening when my brain is fried. Or I might postpone writing a blog post until I’ve finished new work. Another great way to procrastinate is to put off running errands until you can consolidate several into one trip. This is especially beneficial for those of us who live far from a Metro area.
In all seriousness, I like to enter my studio with the goal of just fooling around for a little while. Giving myself strict productivity goals often seems to backfire. Forcing productivity turns off the part of my brain that just wants to play with color. Being responsible is not for day-dreamers like me. (At least not while I’m in the studio.) I love Mary Oliver’s take on the Artist’s Task – part of the collection of essays in Upstream. Read her view on solitude and responsibility here. Un-interrupted by my more responsible self, I’m free to chase ideas to my heart’s content.
I’m not good enough at procrastination to go full blown ‘Instant Gratification Monkey’ like Tim Urban. If you haven’t seen his TED talk, do yourself a favor and hop on over to take a listen. This is the self-defeating phenomenon described in Steven Pressfield’s War of Art – when someone is resisting doing the difficult thing. Ultimately I’m trying to fool myself out of ‘resistance.’ If I can trick my mind into feeling like I’m playing hooky from important jobs, then the artwork becomes the instant gratification!
Are You Procrastinators?
When do you procrastinate? Does it help you or hurt you? How? I’m fascinated by how each of us self-manage. If I were a negative person, I’d be beating myself up right now. I’ve started 6 blog posts today, and finished only one of them. However, I choose to look at the glass as half-full. I have the start of 6 fabulous essays ready to be fleshed out. I’m excited to add to the ideas that came up while I wrote this post.
I’ve put off the real reason for this post long enough! I’ve been in the studio and here is the latest and greatest. This new abstraction was inspired by a memory of chasing the cows when I was a kid. Our fences on the farm were more like suggestions. The cows frequently escaped their pasture and wandered around. This summer day, it was my designated job to get them back into the pasture. We had seen the herd near a slough in the center of a large field – probably 200 acres. Normally I’d do this job on foot, but I was getting older and smarter, so I took my horse! I was about 11 years old, and riding bareback.
As I approached the slough, the scent of wild mint wafted through the warm air and I felt happy. Suddenly, the neighbor’s giant Polled Hereford bull ambled out of the thicket of brush and lily pads. Fear and panic surged through me as I quickly decided that even on horseback I didn’t want to tangle with this creature. I did not hesitate: I escaped with my horse and called for reinforcements.
Trying to paint this memory, I knew that I wanted the peaceful and fragrant greens, contrasted by the sinister blacks and bolts of red fear. I tried to channel both the peace and the fear – thinking about a poem by Jane Hirshfield titled “Each Moment a White Bull Steps Shining into the World.”
Give it a read, then let me know your thoughts about the poem, the painting or procrastination. I hope your New Year’s resolution involves hanging out with procrastinators like me! Finally, don’t wait: tomorrow is the final day to enter my giveaway! Click here to enter: http://rutharmitage.com/solstice-giveaway/
Praise and success are a tricky thing for the artist. While everyone wants to be successful and praise is seductive, the nature of art is so subjective that there are many definitions of success. During the creative process, we run the risk of becoming perfectionistic if we allow thoughts of success to overpower the idea at hand. We all know that perfectionism is fear, and bold creations cannot thrive in an atmosphere of fear.
“We must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause.” – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
I have been re-reading “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. I find it difficult to maintain a regular studio routine during the holidays. Well, let’s be honest here. I always find it hard to maintain a regular studio routine. That’s what the book is about. I’ve been trying to balance making time for artwork with preparing for the Christmas holidays. At times like this I’m thankful to have a dedicated studio space where I can retreat, even for short periods.
Another reason that praise or success can be a fickle mistress is that it breeds pride. Pride is different than self-confidence. Hubris, or pride, is the most serious of the 7 Deadly Sins. I’m not talking about feeling the humble joy of success. Hubris is more about egoism, or undeserved self-aggrandizment. I have seen many artists hamper their own creative growth because of pride. Pride demands that we ‘save face’ and avoid failure. The creative process demands that we risk failure to grow and change.
“Success leads to the greatest failure, which is pride. Failure leads to the greatest success, which is humility and learning.” – David Brooks, The Road to Character
Artists must always monitor the evaluation of their own work. One must be unflinchingly honest – we have to maintain a healthy amount of self-esteem to even attempt self-expression. But we must avoid hubris or false pride in order to maintain humility and openess to the creative process.
Avoiding Seduction – Keeping it in perspective
Everyone loves to hear that their work touched someone. Sales tell me that someone loved my work enough to live with it. I also receive positive feedback from social media and from juried shows. But by the same token, I know that I need to remember:
Ratindra Das has accepted “Jump” for the 9th Annual Signature American Watermedia Exhibition in Fallbrook, CA. I’m honored to be in great company. Artists must be a signature member of a Watercolor Society or Group to enter this show. So, the competition is tougher to get in. Standards for achieving signature membership vary. Generally it means your work has been accepted into more than one exhibition or has passed a review board.
The show will run February 4 – April 15, 2018
Open Daily February 4 through April 15, 2018 | Mon – Sat 10 am – 4 pm | Sun Noon – 3 pm
The Janice Griffiths Gallery @ The Fallbrook Art Center
103 S. Main Ave, Fallbrook, CA 92028
When we were kids in the 70’s, Flower Power was all the rage. Even though we grew up in a farmhouse from the 1800’s, my mom made one of our bedrooms into a brilliant, day-glo, funky room with flower-child wallpaper. Memories of that bedroom inspired me to make this painting. Although it was a tiny room, the wallpaper made it bright and sunny. We had sheets on our bunkbeds with artwork by Peter Max, and my mom even painted the wood floorboards with psychedelic flowers in hot pink and orange.
The painting is a bit subdued compared to the riot of color in that room. But you can still see the curves and lines of the flower petals and the bright coral-pink that I began with as an underpainting. I especially love the little bits of black in the focal area. I have a vivid memory of reading on the top bunk and rubbing my grubby, dirty feet on the papered ceiling. Those were barefoot summer days. I’m sure my mother was revolted – that made it even more satisfying. I must have been nearly a teenager. How did she survive 4 girls!?
How does it feel to you?
I hope the final image feels a bit nostalgic, graceful, yet real. Let me know your thoughts, or share a memory from the 70’s. My friend, Pam, commented on facebook: “Beautiful: imagination, movement and fairy tales.” I like that!
They say Change is inevitable but Growth is Intentional. I have a few new pieces for Portland Open Studios, getting them framed up this week! Please plan to visit me October 14-15 or 21-22, 2017 from 10-5. My studio is #7 on the tour in Community 1. There are several other great artists showing in our area! You can download the free app with addresses, or the paid phone app that shows 3 images per artist. Here is the link! Or you can purchase the tour book, which also includes a directory of teaching artists. Only $15. I have several available here at the studio. Here is a link for a map to my studio from points North. And this link provides a map to the studio from points South.
This week will be my first try at framing an oversized work myself (Fishing in the Dark – below.) Wish me luck! My least favorite part is placing plexiglass over the mat and painting without getting any dust or specks on it! Difficult! If anyone has any tips or tricks for this, I’m more than willing to listen.
I adore this change in the seasons and cooler, crisp fall temperatures here. My mom reminded me that each fall and spring, during the Big CLEAN, her mother would rearrange all the artwork in the house. It is amazing how changing the position of a painting lets you see it with new eyes. I’ve been doing a bit of that myself… getting ready for the Portland Open Studios tour. I think this year I will re-hang work in other rooms of my house too. I’ve had to do that unintentionally, since I robbed our powder room for the Local 14 show last weekend. I didn’t get all my paintings packed up and have to go back for them! OOPS! So I put Orchard’s Edge in the powder room instead of “Autumn Tilling.” I like how it looks!
Complex Vs. Simple
Orchard’s Edge is an homage to this fall weather, the neutrals, and subtle colors of grasses against the backdrop of a dark orchard. I have been thinking about my parents’ farm and what it will look like when the hazelnut trees are grown up. I don’t like to think about how that change will look. But I have to accept it. As a painter, it is difficult to abstract something like an orchard. I chose to represent it as the dark band at the top of the painting. The next band represents grasses, and the bottom area represents water. Attempting a banded composition like this requires an artist to find exciting ways to break up all the stripes and make each one interesting, to hold the viewers eye.
I have been finding that many viewers prefer a calmer composition like this to the more complicated, active compositions of a painting like “Seismic Shift.” Just like some people prefer seafood and others prefer steak… What is your preference? Do you prefer simple or complex paintings? Leave me a comment.
“Beauty is the only thing that time cannot harm. Philosophies fall away like sand, creeds follow one another, but what is beautiful is a joy for all seasons, a possession for all eternity.”
“Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.”
-Percy Bysshe Shelley
Objects and Their Influence on my Work
I have been thinking of all the flood victims in Texas this week. I am trying to imagine the devastation they must be feeling and the loss. While our homes contain so many meaningful objects; the familiarity and meaning that they carry can’t be replaced. So, in an effort to make a small difference in the recovery from Hurricane Harvey, I’m donating 50% of any sales through my website from now through Labor Day weekend.
Help for Texas
If you’ve had your eye on a painting, now is a great time to add one to your collection, because your purchase will help relief efforts for those in Texas.
Speaking of water: an oxbow in our river bottom that was cut off from the stream inspired me to create the new painting below. As a kid I loved to explore the woods at the edge of the river. This small pond was a sure place to see ducks, turtles and other natives like frogs and salamanders. Those early years of solo exploration seem to be important to my development as an artist. I would spend hours looking at ferns and moss, small ponds, polliwogs, and wildflowers. Traveling there in my memory gives me peaceful relaxation.
I hope the colors in this painting suggest the quiet forest and reflection of the water surrounded by ferns, moss and wildflowers.
Another reason I’ve been thinking of objects recently is that I’m preparing for my project for PDX-CSA.
PDX-CSA Season 4 sales are open and project summaries are on the website for your perusal. Pre-sales fund the creation of new artwork and you gain access to the creative process as ideas become reality.
The variety of projects and the quality of the artists are certainly terrific! But, don’t take our word for it – see the project details for yourself. Or better yet, talk to the artists and see examples of their artwork in person at our Meet the Artists party.
Meet the Artists
If you’re curious about the other artists participation, please join us! Each of us will be bringing a small piece of work similar to what we will be doing for our Community Supported Art project! Learn more here: PDX-CSA
Meet the Artists
Wednesday, September 6th, 6-8pm
Wagner Studio, 1522 N Humboldt St,
Portland, OR, 97217
Which objects speak to you?
I’ve been going through some of the rich materials I’ve collected for assemblage to identify the objects that would work as additions to my Oil & Wax paintings. Each one tells its own story and suggests its own color palette. I’m thinking about what kind of colors I might want to use, and whether the objects should be fairly consistent or varied. I’d love to hear your suggestions!
Here are a few objects that have been calling to me:
Do you prefer the shells or the driftwood? Should one of my pieces have that little metal tray or the brush? What about that 45 record? Leave me a comment and let me know… or, even better, sign up to become a collector through PDX-CSA! Click here to get your name on the list.
Networking page for students of Artist Ruth (Art is Truth). This is a place to share recent work, networking opportunities and feedback.
“A strong woman is one who feels deeply and loves fiercely. Her tears flow just as abundantly as her laughter. A strong woman is both soft and powerful. She is both practical and spiritual. A strong woman in her essence is a gift to the world.”