Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Oops, My Bad.

After a long day of painting and contemplating the woes of the life of the starving artist (fortunately, they are all financial and, therefore, rather quickly bested), I tucked myself beneath our electric blanket to sleep the chilly night away. It was in that exact second I remembered that I hadn’t blogged. Or rather finished my blog post…

Strangely, as I reduce the amount of time I spend per day working on my craft, the harder it’s become to remember to blog. I think it has to do with the fact that during my inky years, the blog was a chance to come up for air, a recess in between endless hours of drawing. Now, it’s just another thing on my Tuesday list of things to do. That’s not a bad thing, just a subtle change in how I view my activities and time management. I’ll have to do a little better in the new year at keeping things straight.

Anyway, here’s what you didn’t read yesterday:

Suck It 2015!

See you in 2016. Yep. The holidays are upon us. Shopping, competitive gift giving and record setting sleeping in. And no blogging until next year. You won’t bother me, I won’t bother you. Everyone wins.

So, the wrap up. Not the year I expected. But that’s not a bummer either. It’s just par for the course. Though since I’m mostly playing by myself, I could lie and say I’m actually like 15 or 17 under par, all with just a 9 iron, if you can believe that. I’m a chipping fool. But I like to keep things honest, said as that may be at times.

The painting is the greatest surprise of the year. Had anyone said I would crank out more than 100 paintings starting in August, I would have said they were crazy. Yet, here are the paintings. I’m not exactly sure what to do with them, but they exist. Some are good. Some are decent. A couple kind of suck but that’s what I could do that day…

I’m still looking for faster and messier. Given that I spent ten years drawing with the tiniest pen point imaginable, it’ll take time for me to work faster and messier. I’m not quite where I would like to be in the game of gesture versus precision. My default setting is to slow down, take my time, find the right mark or line and systematically make it happen. Which is great for pen and ink but simply terrible for brushy, messy painting. I’m not completely sure how to get faster and messier, odds are this is a mental issue that can only be dealt with through experimentation and piles of painting, but I’ll figure it out.

And then there’s the writing. I started the year rather big on writing, mostly because I enjoy doing it and it is cheapest, fastest way to get an idea on the page. But as the year went on, I’ve lost a lot of my energy for writing. It seems to me that we don’t live in a time of great writing. Sure, occasionally something amazing comes into being and, more amazingly still, gets the attention it deserves; but for the most part, the picking are slim. We live in a time where movies, which includes things like TV shows and nonsense on the internet, rule the roost. Intimate or epic, more people get their sense of place and culture from the sights and sounds of moving images than ever before. The technology to produce such things is near ubiquitous. The means of production, construction and distribution are in our pockets or the palm of our hand all the time. That means a major shift in what we value and why.

I’m not sure that writing, as a stand-alone art form, is as prestigious as it used to be. Which makes it harder to focus on writing just to write. Where I once thought a novel here or there might be an interesting way to talk about the world, I now think it’s probably a poor use of time. The desire for storytelling doesn’t change, but the media does. Not to change with it seems like a terrible idea.

Not sure where writing will fit into what want to do in 2016. Maybe it won’t. There are still a lot of changes in the works. Just as I can’t rule anything out, I can’t give anything undue support either. Be it writing or painting or whatever, everything has to pull its weight or be left behind.  

And with that somber thought in mind, I’m going to take a vacation from all things internet until the first week in January. You’re busy. I’m busy. There’s all that travel to be had, heaps of food to be eaten, naps to be taken and gifts to be given. Happy holidays and I’ll see you in the new year.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Trick: Pain is All in the Mind.

I’ve sort of found myself talking to a number of aspiring artists about how to go about being a successful artist. Now, since commercial success has more to do with the vagaries of a retarded and nonsensical market, there’s not much I can say about that kind of success other than to be lucky. But if we’re talking about artistic success, well, that’s a different ballgame entirely. And it’s territory I’ve been wandering for the last few years, so I do think I have some good ground rules. I figured I’d toss some of them into the universe, maybe they can keep someone else going.

As you know, I’m switching things up around here. Instead of focusing 24/7 on my work… and actually sitting at my desk for nearly every hour of every day in order to do so, I’m bringing a new A Game to my life. It’s taken the better part of two years to get my talent and my mind to the point where 90 minutes of painting feels as “right” as 15 hours of inking. That’s my personal battle and I’m winning it, but every truly talented and ambitious person has to figure out what to do and how to go about doing it. In the past, I was fine with being super-absorbed with what I did because I believed it led to the career I wanted. But it didn’t and now I need a new, more functional system to lead me to whatever sort of career thing will happen in the future.

These days, I can knock out a painting or two or three in a short period of time, clean my supplies, post the work and go on with my day like a normal person. More or less. As Mandy continually tells me when I become aggravated with being in the normal world, “You are an artist, it’s what you do, it’s all that you want to do, so you should just pretend that you’re just like everyone else when it behooves you to do so,” … though she never used the word “behooves”. Her advice actually works since most normal people don’t realize just how strange artists actually are. But my point is, I’ve spent oodles of time, money and effort to create a new approach to my work that is both highly productive and time effective. And it just so happens that people seem to like it, a small bonus I hadn’t really considered because being an artist is all about being self-absorbed and irrationally confident.

So, step one in surviving in the arts, find a way to get things done that is not crippling to your life, health or bank account.

Once you figure that out, and who knows how much time that will require, you can take on the philosophical challenge of being an artist in a world that doesn’t support very many artists. I’m speaking economically of course. We love our artists of all stripes and we consume damn near everything they produce, good or bad as it may be… mostly bad. But we do not pay them near enough for their efforts. That’s just how the system works. There seems to be enough money in the kitty to keep like 5 artists afloat per annum. To illustrate this point, think of the Screen Actors Guild, which is the union that keeps tabs on movie and television actors. They have roughly 100,000 members, which is a lot of actors. And of that 100,000, roughly 100 are considered “stars”. So, while a star gets a couple million dollars, or way more than that, to do a movie, the average SAG actor brings home something like $5,000 a year. That’s not an actual living salary in this day and age, but it is the reality.

That’s the logic which runs the entertainment industry, which includes things like gallery shows and publishing and stuff I foolishly grew up thinking was more than just entertainment… but turned out to be nothing more noble than your average television sitcom. At least in the eyes of salesfolk and marketing sheep. Knowing the bean counters don’t actually understand the value of things, just their price tag, is only a moral victory and a small one at that.

Needless to say, the odds of being the person who reaps tremendous rewards for his or her work are very slim indeed. Add to that the tidal surge of internet based artists, talented or otherwise, who bring their work to the table and the odds grow slimmer still.

The question quickly becomes, if no one cares what you do, if there will be no social or economic recompense for your effort, why do it?

There are so many other things one can do with his or her time. If it’s all about the money, the arts are the worst place to go looking for a comfy gig. It’s taken me a decade to get it through my thick skull that the best way to afford being a professional artist is to find a job that has literally nothing to do with being a professional artist. They didn’t teach me that in college but it would have been really helpful.

Or if a person is into altruistic work, as I tend to be, then there are jobs that put your boots on the ground in more practical situations so as to be an agent of change. I’m not saying that being an ideas person is a bad move, progress requires good ideas, I’m just saying only being an ideas person might not be the most productive way to go about making this silly world a better place. At least in and off itself.

But that pesky, philosophical question underpins everything. If no one cares what you do, why do it? If you can’t find a satisfying answer, you’re going to drown. The only artists who keep going, know why they are still fighting the good fight. The rest, for better or worse, find something else to do with their lives.

For me, for all my idle thinking and endless pondering, I keep going because Mandy is correct, I am an artist, it’s what I do, it’s not a hat I wear when I go to work, it’s something deeply embedded in my personality which allows me to process all the pain and weariness of a rather insane and tiresome world and find beauty and meaning in the chaos.

If I’m lucky, I get a little of that sublime muckity muck onto the page. If I’m luckier still, you see it and you understand it.

And that’s the thought that keeps me going when the insufferable madness/physical torment of being a professional artist in this wacky age becomes too much. Whatever the pain is and wherever it seems to originate from, it’s really all in my head and that means I have total control over it. Mind over matter. Mind over matter.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Rough Seas of Pre-Holidays

So, for the first time in a long time, I don’t have a deadline looming over me as I go into the holidays. It’s very strange. In previous years, I scrambled to squeeze in all the important family/friend stuff along with putting in the hours necessary to keep on track. During the worse years, I would mistakenly schedule deadlines around the holidays with the foolish belief that having extra time and extra help would make things easier. The reality was that it sucked and worked myself more than usual.

With nothing like that kind of stress on the horizon, I’m again breaking new ground. That’s where the strange feeling comes in. As I keep working on my daily amount of painting and writing, I understand that in a few weeks, nothing needs to change. I don’t have to hit the gas, to put in those extra miles per day, in the hope of keeping my nose above the water. Bet you’re thinking that was a mixed metaphor but I might have been referring to traveling by boat, so… But anyway, the goal remains the same: to get my hourly chunks of work done and move on with my life. Which in this case means time spent eating chips and pie and working on my PS4 score because nothing says merry Christmas like wiping out stormtroopers in Star Wars Battlefront 1… sorry Battlefront 3, I thought you would be a good game but you’re kind of lame and run of the mill. The fun of the first Battlefront was tied to the massive battlefields and tons and tons of enemy combatants. Online gameplay firefights can’t compete with epic battles. But good for you for trying. Maybe you’ll get it right next time.

If I learned anything from the T-day weekend, it was that four days away from my routine is probably too many. I have enough trouble taking a two day weekend and not doing something productive. Doubling that made me feel a bit rusty when I got back to work. I know that sounds silly, what do four days matter to my obsessive nature? Turns out, a lot.

First, that’s eight hours of focused time I didn’t spend tormenting the creative demons in my head. That gave them time to collude against me and when I got started, bright and early on Monday, it was bad. Things moved slowly and most of what I did ended up in the trash.

Second, there is the whole ‘obsessive nature” thing, which means it’s a downer for me not to work, consequently, four days of not working means four times the amount of bummed out. It’ll take time to dig out of that negative thought space.

And third, the whole point of a routine, what I would call a work ethic, is that it is consistent. One ignores a functional routine as their own peril. For me, time spent out of my routine allows me to find new distractions or to question my motives. New distractions suck. I have enough trouble with the old ones. Questioning my motives is even worse because it undermines my confidence and makes me anxious about my artistic success. I can’t afford that kind of nonsense.

Which means, going into this holiday season, my goal is nailing my one or two hours of work per day. I have a few weeks to pound away at it as I have since August. The key to staying on track is to keep moving. It’s sort of like riding a bike, you don’t go fast enough, you fall over. With that in mind, my work space is again the model of efficiency. All those little things that appear from nowhere, beckoning me to try this or experiment with that, are gone. All my notes for dream projects are safely tucked away, mostly likely to be tossed in the trash at some yet to be appointed date.

I figure I’ll end this year with a lean collection of tools and materials, just what I need to plow into the next year at full speed and nothing else. And we’ll see what that does.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Zeitgeist or Something Like It

I’ll keep this post brief, what with the coming holiday. You have things to do, I have things to do. The non-stop race to January 2nd is about to begin. Godspeed to everyone involved. I hope you survive the season. Really, it’s a marvel that anyone does.

First with the updates. After several weeks of effort and getting my nephew to lend his editorial eyes to the project, I finally wrapped up the edits for my first Box Books novel. Walking through 400 odd pages of text is a lot more time consuming than knocking out a picture book of 125 words. But now I can check things out and soon release the title, making this a record, two book year for me.

And now that I understand the amount of time it takes to do things, especially the things outside of my control like the printing of the proof and shipping, I am better prepared to hit 2016 running. I’ve already started the edits for my third Box Book, which I hope to release in January or February. Of course, it’s annoying when things take longer than I want them to, but such is life. At least the books will exist and you will be able to own them if you choose to. Which is the goal.

On to painting, still hammering away. I don’t know if I’ll keep working as small as 5x7, but switching gears has given me new ideas. So let me go into the biggest one that occurred to me as I rode the A Train, bored out of my mind.

It all comes down to the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age for those of you less in the know. See, when I was in college and studying to be a gallery-oriented artist, the whole game was about getting the show. You’d get the show, frame the work, promote the show, sell the work and be a successful artist. Of course, no one taught us that the odds of getting a show are small, that framing a show costs more than you could ever make from the show and that no one will come to your show and you will not sell anything anyway because such an honest portrayal of reality of a starving artist would cause students to go into less risky occupations. And yes, some artists do make their living selling art, but that number is so ridiculously small that to gamble that you are going pull it off is akin to playing the lottery… I don’t mean to sound so dire, but that’s how the world works. It’s not my idea. It’s our sad reality. Personally, I would much rather have people buy paintings instead of assault rifles which are only designed to kill lots of people very quickly. But I live in a country filled with remarkably stupid, short-sighted and frightened people. Shrug…

But I digress. Anyway, since the name of the game was get a show, fill the show, sell the show, we were still supposed to play by the rule of the 20th Century Art World: big is better. You know, make a painting that will fill a wall and put a big price tag on it. Or make something that would look lovely over the sofa. Because that’s how art was sold. You needed a good size object to fetch a good size price. The agents believed that, the collectors believed that, so the artists believed it.

And for a while that was the case. But not for me and not for my generation and certainly not for the future. Which is good because working large has never done much for me. But here’s why the wheels have come off the bus for that old fashioned thinking and why I think I’m finely making work the way I want to for an audience which seems keen to accept it. Our zeitgeist, when it comes to nearly all things visual, is more and more palm-size. Think about it. How much crap do you ingest, every day, on your phone? Or tablet? Or maybe slightly larger on your monitor but most likely smaller…

Which means, my work doesn’t have to look good at say 22x30, the standard size of a sheet of watercolor paper and the scale I used for most of my college career. In fact, my work doesn’t have to look good at 8x10. But it damn sure better look good at roughly 3x4 or thereabout. ‘Cause whether I like it or not, whether you like it or not, that’s how everyone looks at almost everything that isn’t literally in their physical presence.

Fortunately, I do like working small. It is nothing but advantages for me. The costs in time and materials are reduced, storage and scanning become easier. I can do more and explore more, far faster than I could in the past. But I still need to slay the dragons of my college education. Which is hard because my professors were good and they meant well, they just couldn’t see how things would change so drastically in such a short span of time. It behooves me to get in touch with the spirit of the age and create heaps and heaps of hauntingly good work. Perhaps it might behoove you as well. Something to think about…

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Keep On Keepin’ On

You wouldn’t think I would need to tell myself that at this time of the year, what with all the bleak and cold; but it seems I must. It’s good you weren’t around the JC this weekend, I actually inched my way back toward all things inky, making lists of projects I could do with, say a fountain pen, and which projects I could do with the new paintings. Then I thought about all the projects I could and prolly should simply abandon. Then I thought I could give up the whole mess and settle into a luxurious life in customer service at some corporation that might stay in business long enough to fire me instead of retire me.

But then Mandy said, you’re an artist. Meaning me, not you, my faceless followers though I’d like to think you’re all artists in your chosen fields. Her point being, I can take up another occupation, perhaps excel at it, buy a Porshe, tag great white sharks and go out in a blaze of glory like Paul Walker… which reminds me it’s been too long since I’ve seen Varsity Blues… but that hardly matters since I’m an artist and the making of art is always in the forefront of my mind. It’s a terminal condition and it guides nearly all of my decisions, from when to wake up to if I should go to sleep. A subtle and secondary meaning behind Mandy calling me an artist was for me to get my act together and stop wandering around the apartment with armfuls of materials which would not, even on a good day, lead to anything productive. I have a thing, these days it’s the black and white paintings on toned paper, so I’m supposed to do my thing.

And it’s taken me the better part of three days to get my act together.

But back together I am. Not 100% sure why or what I’ll do with myself, but that hardly matters. This game is all about knocking a little something out of the park, each and every day.

Oddly enough, I think my last round of discontent or crisis of faith came from a totally new place. See, in the past, the work I would do was time consuming. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the massive, charcoal drawings I did in college, the large format photography I did after college or the decade spent inking; every medium I’ve ever chosen to work with took a long time to use. Yeah, stuff looked good when I was done, but that came at a price in hours, days, weeks. And that was fine. I was willing to pay those prices to get those results.

However, and this is where things get crazy for me now, I didn’t require a lot of ideas, mostly because I couldn’t work on a lot of ideas. One or two interesting notions and I had enough to explore for the countless hours it took to realize those ideas. If I thought of a cool drawing, I would pour myself into that idea until it was done, hours or days later. Sure, I had lots of ideas, just like you, they kept coming whether I liked it or not, but I only had time to knock out the precious few.

But now… it’s a whole different story. If I do two paintings a day, that’s two full and complete ideas. Add to that sketches for illustrated books. And the random moments of beauty I stumble across and attempt to capture. Where I used to complete a fraction of a single idea after days of concerted effort, I now complete a handful. Which, for the first time ever, puts me in a place where I need more ideas than I have. Or more good ideas than I have. I’m used to thinking something and tossing it out the window because I won’t have time to do anything with it, which is actually a habit. A bad habit.

Hence the mini-meltdown. Suddenly, I find myself in the position to have a thought, crappy or otherwise, and the time and process to do something with it. Suddenly, I need all those ideas I used to have and near instantly forget. But I’m not in the habit of catching or storing those ideas. I’m still in the mode of gleaning only the best ideas for future use. Which has me in a weird place, scrambling to generate more good ideas than I’m used to generating. And I think over the weekend, rather than just suck it up and bring my A Game to the new work, I just pooped out and said to hell with all this effort, I’ll just get out the ink and that way I’ll just need a single idea and that will kill a week. Which is stupid. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, I’m on to something new and better. And if that means I have to get off my lazy ass and spend more time imagining stuff, so be it. I mean, that’s why I get paid the big bucks. You know, in theory. 

To facilitate this new kind of thinking, I’m messing around with some other paper I wanted to test for my painting, but in this case, work 5x7 inches. This forces me to work faster, which forces me to have more ideas, thus getting the ol’ brain working at this new pace. New paper, new habits, new pace; win win win.

Now to do it…

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Goldilocks-ing the Goldilocks’ Effect

Or me trying to figure out why I’m being so weird as of late.

Hi, everyone. November is flying by at a chilling pace, as is 2015. Were it not for the pages of writing and stacks of drawings and paintings, I would really wonder just where the year went. That said, it’s time to start evaluating my year so as to better prepare for 2016. I’m sure someone out there is saying, Tim, it’s only the 10th of November, what’s your rush? As it turns out, my rush is to amp things up, not coast into this coming winter.

Time to explain my odd post title. I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in my painting method, one that requires some serious thought and concerted effort to change. Basically, it goes like this: when I got started painting, many months ago, the goal was a complete painting in 15 to 30 minutes. Quick and awesome, that was the plan, quite a departure from the years spent in the ink mines, where massive time consumption and awesome were the watchwords. Ideally, I would take a little bit of the speed I’d acquired doing sumi-e paintings and couple it with my mad drawing skilz and invent a way to make some good stuff in a handful of minutes.

At first, I was pretty good at hitting my 20 to 30 minute limit. Those magical, 10 to 15 paintings were rare indeed. But I was doing well with completing a painting under a half hour. And that kind of kept going with the Civil War book proposal paintings. Which is not surprising when you remember graphic novel images have to compete with text and design elements, so they are not, for the most part, complex compositions. Simple paintings should take less time. But then I started doing a painting a day, Monday through Friday, as a means of practice and to get some more work “out there”, wherever that maybe. Australia at times or someplace equally remote, I guess.

And I watched as my time to complete a daily painting ballooned from 30 minutes, to 60, to 90 and now they occasionally verge on 120. Yeah, clearly something is amiss. I haven’t changed the size of the paintings, the content is similar, the paint is the same and I’ve pretty much painted in the same place since August. But something is going on. Which got me thinking…

Over the weekend, I had a chat with Adam the Photographer about the costs of doing what we do. And by that, I wasn’t talking about the dollars and cents we poor into our passions, but about the time and energy it takes to have an idea and then to realize it. Like, for instance, doing a still life is low cost because it’s just stuff sitting there, ever ready to be painted or photographed. All one has to do is arrange it, light it and go to town. On the other hand, there’s portraiture, which is just one expense after another: you have to talk to someone and convince them to pose, then there’s scheduling issues, location issues, travel, costuming, lighting, weather, dealing with the two personalities with different ideas, etc. Compared to doing a still life, making a portrait is akin to planning the Normandy assault.

But we do it. We do everything we can, the expensive and the inexpensive, because we want to. And that’s where I started thinking about why my paintings are taking longer. Because I enjoy them. Normally, one wouldn’t think that was a problem, enjoying what one does. But in this case, it’s screwing me over because my enjoyment of the painting process is getting in the way of the painting process itself. The goal, as stated above, was to paint fast. That was of primary importance. I enjoy it regardless of how quickly or slowly I paint. The pleasure of making something cool is essentially the same, fast or slow.

Of course, this all makes sense. Without having a contract to fulfill combined with a decent amount of time to accomplish my daily tasks, there’s no temporal or financial reason to stop me from painting on and on and on, as slow as I like. The sense of urgency I want to inject into my work is an internal thing, it’s not forced on me by the outside world. But so is my sense of enjoyment. And when one internal thing, my urgency to develop a fast illustration style, runs into my internal desire to enjoy a pleasurable experience, we know which is most likely to win. When does any of us choose the frustration of exploration and failure over self-delight?

Consequently, as I’ve been painting away, without much of a care in the world as far as things go, I’ve found myself filling more and more time with the act of painting. Sure, it’s a great way to learn things and it helps me leap forward at a pretty good clip, but it doesn’t help me with my goal, that of working faster. It would be one thing if I was mass producing painting, like 4 per hour for 4 hours a day. But I’m not. And that’s an issue that must be dealt with.

The trick, of course, is figuring out a functional way to deal with this problem.

I was thinking about this while at the laundromat. Through the din of Telemundo, I had the thought that during my inky days, the emphasis of my illustration was that technique, meticulously drawn images, combined with engaging stories would do something for me, and maybe some kids out there. And it did. For ten years, it worked like a charm. But those days are over. And yet I think I’m still hanging on to the first part of that successful combination, the meticulous nature of what I did. This whole change to something else, to something fast and messy, gestural and lively, is a huge change of gears and even though I can understand it intellectually, my talent is still trying to catch up. Every time there’s a chance for my previous creative behavior to rear its ugly head, I find myself backsliding. Hence the growing amount of time per painting.

To combat such behaviors, I’ve decided to divide my work day into much smaller chunks and to use other activities between said chunks to keep me moving. The logic being, if I don’t stand at the easel for 4 hours, I won’t make a single painting which requires 4 hours to produce. If I have 1 hour to paint and I need a finished painting in that time, then I’ll knock something out in that single hour and move on with my day. Or maybe I only get 30 minutes… Even better, right? And then I can go run, which is good for me and makes me feel less fat and lazy… which could inspire 30 minutes of writing or cleaning the apartment. Why, suddenly, I’m painting more and faster, while writing and being healthy in a neat and tidy apartment and still allowing myself the privilege to do stuff with my life, like take in the city or travel. Which, if you recall, was the motivation for the whole “need for speed” philosophy to my new work. To kick ass and have time to take names. Or something like that.

So… we’ll have to see how this new time management scheme works. It’s all about getting things “just right”. Fingers crossed. If it doesn’t work, it’s back to the drawing board for moi. However, if it does actually get me moving, things could get very interesting very quickly.