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.