Sunday, January 5, 2014

Tigers and temporary studios and starting to think about the new year - oh my!

My first finished board of the new year - "Tiger Eyes"  5x7" Scratchboard/Ink (c) Pam Boutilier
Thanks to Just Chaos from WetCanvas for the reference image!
Welcome 2014!  I am currently working out of a 'temporary' studio at my in-laws (from Michigan, where it's cold and much very snow!).  I was perusing the recent post of an artist who I admire and who's blog I follow, Ingrid Schmelter - AKA Kastle Kaos, here.  She spoke of her resolutions last year and what she planned for 2014.  One phrase in her blog that really resonated with me was "So this year I need to always make time for the Art First kind of art.  To do the art that I would do if no one is looking, to do the art that I do when I have no other agenda."  Which I misread as First Art.. because the first art all people do is spontaneous art-for-yourself.  There is much to be said about the art you do when no one is looking... whether that art is scratchboard, dancing, singing, writing, or whatever form of creative expression you gravitate to (and if you cannot think of any then your New Year's Resolution for 2014 should be to foster a creative expression, even if you only do it when no one is looking!).  
I hope the in-laws aren't getting sick of me taking over their dining room!
I must admit that year to year I vacillate between making resolutions and eschewing them.  I hold no illusions that promises made to myself on the first day of the Gregorian calendar will magically change any of my habits, but outlining and defining my goals does help give me a structure and a boost of enthusiasm - especially around this time of year when everyone is doing it (and it turns out there may be something to that).  New Years is also a time to reflect, and when I look back at the past year I am nothing short of amazed.  

When 2013 started I had recently met with my acrylics teacher and he helped me take a lifetime of work and distill it down to what was the best... in terms of my own interests, medium, skill, and also marketability.  Seeing my work through his eyes gave me a clarity that I just couldn't get on my own (which is why I blogged a series of articles about it).  So 2013 was really the time to work on this new insight, and I did, but I was also working at my job in veterinary consulting, and we were very, very busy.  It is a relatively left-brained kind of job and it was difficult to switch from that over to the mindset I needed for developing my art further.  I found that when my job was busier it demanded that my linear-sequantial-fact-based processes be at full force, and during those times my art fell back to what I already knew... formulaic, representative to a fault, and stagnant.  

I managed to schedule some chunks of time, two or three days in a row of studio time spent in an actual studio (I traded studio hours for teaching a couple of youth classes in scratchboard).  One of those days I had a breakthrough - I started doing a portrait in a way that married my desire for detail and realism with some degree of abstraction and looseness.  This is what I've been referring to as my 'new style'.
Initial sketch for 'Gracie'
First layer of ink for 'Gracie'
(more to follow!)
Then change came.  In the middle of the year, for numerous circumstantial reasons my husband and I moved from Ontario, Canada to the Caribbean.  Even more unforeseen was that due to complex legalities I was unable to keep my consulting job.  So for the past few months I have found myself 'unemployed', or as I prefer to call it 'a full time artist'.

I've struggled since around 2008 with what it means to me to be an artist.  Fall of 2008 was the point at which I was first able to actually call myself "an artist" (you know, to other people), and this was about 6 months after my 'rediscovery' of my right brain's skills at drawing.  I have always wanted to sell my art, and I'm not exactly sure why.  Validation?  To avoid accumulating a pile of my own work?  My love of sharing in the human-animal bond through pet portriats? An excuse to spend more time on my art?  A way to avoid blank-canvas syndrome by taking commissions?  Whatever the reason (and it's likely a combination of all of those and more) it was the original inspiration for starting Cat-in-a-Box Studio.

Since the beginning of 2008 when I wrote that blog post I have been more mindful of my right-left brain functions.  Who I'm favoring, who I'm listening to, and most importantly - who I'm using more for certain tasks.  Since rediscovering my art I have been terrified of losing it again.   I spoke way back then about 'waking the sleeping dragon'.  A dragon that I finally realized is intrinsically tied to my own vitality.  A dragon that is fragile enough to wither and die if it is stuffed into a cage again with no light or nurturing.  It feels like if I let myself go back to an overwhelmingly left-brained existence it would be like chaining this guy back up in the Gringott's vault:
(c) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Having the past few months to do art full time you'd expect that I would have a mountain of things produced wouldn't you?  I certainly did.  But I was wrong.  For some reason the going is slow, and for reasons (likely the same ones that got me through vet school) I am frustrated and expect more from my dragon than it is giving.  I want to yell at it and force it to work harder.  I look nervously at what seems like a paltry amount of finished new work, miniscule movements toward developing my art further, and I feel the urge to push the dragon harder.  The whispered criticism.. "this is not good enough".

I should clarify... part of me feels that way, the other part of me is excited just to see the dragon at play.  This other part is like a nurturing mother who sees a deprived and atrophied dragon who will take some time to reach full magnificence, but who has the potential to be awe-inspiring and beautiful if given enough time and space and sunlight.  This is where I think of Ingrid's words "the art that I would do if no one is looking".  This includes art that is crappy (mistakes are important as every inspiring commencement speech that I love will tell you), art that is banal (sometimes the best work to help me hone my basic skills and identify flaws in my technique), art that is my 'old stuff' (because even if my style changes, my older styles are a part of me as an artist and part of my development).  This also includes art that is new, dynamic and beautiful.  The more I think about my agenda (specifically the need to make money from my art) the more I fall into the traps of caution and perfectionism.  Not that having an agenda is bad, but I think every artist who chooses to try to make a living from their work has to remain cognizant of how much that desire is impacting what they do.   They need to never stop making what I'll evermore think of now as 'First Art'.

So I will continue to ruminate on 2013 and what my goals are going to be for this new year.  I think I'll lean on the eastern side of my psyche and use the Chinese New Year as a deadline to set my goals and aspirations for 2014.  This year it falls on Jan 31st, and it will be the Year of the Horse... which is cool, because I just happen to have piece in progress that is a horse!  So anyone who wishes to make New Year's goals but missed the Jan 1st deadline can join me then!


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Pam, I think some artists (including myself) feel that we need to get permission to make art. That from the outside we look like we are having too much fun with so many around us working miserable jobs to pay the bills. Many of us struggle in unseen ways, being our own worst critics while striving for perfection thinking everyone will see some mistake in what we've done. Mistakes are the best way to learn! Carry on Pam, you are doing what is best for YOU.