The Thing about Art (and Artists)

This scene is based on a view near Halls Harbour NS. It’s a beautiful scene of the old house house contrasted with brilliant musk mallow flowers. Available on my Etsy shop. Please click on image.

‘Just read someone’s heart-felt, out-pouring lament about the despair that sometimes seems to cloud over artists.

To be honest I identified with what this woman was saying. All her life she wanted only one thing and that was to be recognized for her art.

The problem seems to be less with ‘money’ as  she says, but a lack of recognition and understanding among family and peers as to her ‘being’ an artist.

Also she says she only started showing her art when she was 48 years old and soon she will be turning 50. She says her “time is running out.”

On her facebook post she gets lots of comments of sympathy and encouragement. So obviously it is an artist thing. Okay I’m kind of mad at myself for thinking in a similar way at times and I’d like a good honest attack on what the heck is really the problem with ‘us’ (artists)! I’ve heard everything from creativity uses up so many ‘happy’ chemicals in the brain ( therefore leaving us depressed) to we were all just raised with a silver brush in our hands and therefore don’t know just how good we have it i.e. ingratitude.

So what’s the problem and what’s the answer?

I’m going to give it my best shot.

I want to dissect her lament (without compromising her anonymity).

First let me work backward and deal with this age thing.  These will be profoundly redundant truths but truths, none-the-less.

  1. Age is meaningless really. Most likely she didn’t start being creative when she was 48. She likely has been creating her whole life in some way; at least ‘seeing’ like an artist. We are always growing!
  2. Chances are she will actually have more time to create now that she’s 50 than since she was 16 ! Maybe not. Maybe she will have to look after an elderly parent or ill ‘child’. But if you factor in the time just spent making a living and raising kids between , say, 25 and 45 it likely took up most of her time. So a year of solid creating or painting is more time than she would have had spending an hour a week for most of her life. ( You do the math..I’m an artist, lol)
  3. She says her time is “running out”. Well I can empathize however a lot of people don’t make it to 50 and a lot more ( in our western society) are making it to 85 ! So the simple fact is WE JUST DON’T KNOW! ha ha ( maniacal laugh). So why even bother to pretend to see the hour glass that belongs to an invisible Creator? We don’t know.

Next she confesses discouragement is part of this creative life. I get what she’s saying. I’ve known (and continue to know) that too. But is it really? Aren’t there hockey players that thought they were just that good and wanted to make it to the big league but now ‘just’ coach the minors on a volunteer basis? Punch! Slam! Pow!  That must have been one big Holy Batman Bag of Hurt!

Then there’s the returning veteran who struggles with scars of night terrors and perhaps horrors that have robbed him of the very limbs he or she needs to lift a paint brush.

So maybe we are just whining and sighing and sounding like a rusty saw.

She says she finds herself often waiting and waiting (the unrung phone, the empty inbox) for someone to ask her to paint something.

Why?!

She , like myself,is looking for Permission! Seriously. What else can it be? Who can ultimately give us permission? I think you know the answer. I think I know the answer. Sometimes she questions herself  as to why  she ever wanted “it” so badly. I take that to be the issue of recognition as an artist. So that’s a whole ‘nother thing. Let’s tackle it. ( Hey I’m expecting you to comment and flesh out whatever I’m missing here).

One last thing about the age thing. Art ( the pursuit thereof) is a lifetime thing…it NEVER stops. It takes years, even decades to become proficient in one’s skills.

Recognizing recognition.

Okay so further on in the comments on her post she mentions a spouse that is “very supportive” and is able to pay the bills. I don’t know about you but this is sounding pretty ideal. In fact I confess to a space of time where my wife was able to pay the bills and I was able to paint and pursue artistic venues full-time.

Recognition is going to come in this life in one or both of two ways.

  1. You will sell your work.
  2. People will tell you in some way that they like/love your work.

Selling Out

This artist, all artists, myself as an artist has to ask one question. How far do you want to go with selling your work? Is that what this is really about I wonder?  We want the phone to ring? ” Hello, I see you are a great artist and I want to buy your work”.  GONG!  It don’t work that way. If your goal is selling out ( of stock) then it means creating, finding, marketing your work and that itself is a freakin’ full time job! Nobody is going to save your a$$. Really.

The good news is, I believe, if you’re willing to put in the time and the good Lord gives it to ya then you can make some kind of living from your work. It means uncovering a market, it means finding your niche. It means study, study, study and work, work , work. Yeah like a mad dog. That’s what it takes. It means getting a thick skin and thinking of the veteran who just took a bullet for you and stop feeling sorry for yourself

The next great news is that with the invention of the internet you can paint while listening to free podcasts and Youtube vids on everything from marketing to creating work. Listen and listen. Replay the best ones until it gets stuck in your head how to do a thing and then practice it.

Falling in Love

After you’re dead and gone and if you could be ‘a fly on the wall’ you would hear a litany of praise on how great an artist you were. People will remember and think of how YOU made them feel better. Young nieces and nephews will say ” Gee Aunt so-an-so was an artist. It means I can be one too. maybe it runs in the family”

Every time your name passes over parting lips you will be remembered as someone who had a great gift, ” a natural God-given talent”. They’ll say stuff about you that will make you smile. They won’t say “she wasted her time”. They just won’t. The few that are saying it now have their own internal,emotional crises and it’s bitter water coming from a bitter well. Why drink from it?!

Fall back in love with your work and that part of yourself which is a special gift to others. It doesn’t have to be sold to be appreciated but it can be. Just remember that creating the art and the business of art are two different things that happen simultaneously. The artist is one who gives- not gets. This giving attitude , I believe, is what it takes to get.

To Be Continued…

 

 

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Character Lines

My Hiking Boots-Kevin Cameron 1994

Have you ever had to deal with character lines while painting a portrait? Character lines are important because they can reveal the subject’s personality and perhaps character , to some degree. Hence , I suppose, the actual use of the word character !

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about faces and particularly those of actors’. Actors definitely do need character lines to make their facial expressions of sorrow, joy, perplexity, etc as pronounced and communicative as possible.

Take for instance a few male stars that come to mind. There’s John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart and  the contemporary Ethan Hawke. (Also let’s not forget those wonderful female leads as well. ) One wonders what made them stars to begin with. I don’t mean their talent, ability or hard work. What did the directors see in them? What did the audience see?  For one, I think they had defining character lines. If you watch them as young actors you do see they have a uniqueness in appearance. As time progresses these character lines seem to become more pronounced with age of course. I mean… compare the young Clint Eastwood with the present day.

As a some-time caricaturist myself, I do know the importance of getting character lines just right. Too harsh and the face appears harsh and perhaps more mature. Too much blending and softness may expose a softer, maybe even feminine characteristic. ( trying to be careful with gender references here, ha ha)

Character lines are , of course, manipulated with the modern magic of make-up artistry.  We can hide or disguise ourselves but in the end the character lines will win out the day!

So why not be a little proud of them? They are our proof of life !

As artists ( or not) we see our share of ups and downs. Life throws curves at us all. Sometimes as human beings we go through hell on earth as they say. Add to this the fact that art is about bearing our souls to an often critical and unsympathetic public can produce its share of emotional scars as well.

The one thing we do know for sure is that we will get character lines. We can be proud of those lines and know that we earned them, in a sense. I didn’t say we deserve or do not deserve some of the judgments that befall us !

 Character lines go deep below the skin. They mark upon our very souls I think. They create the character or person we play in this life. They become the hammock of smiles and the gutters for tears on our faces .Whether we are female or male I think there comes a time, regardless of what is in vogue or fashion, regardless of  what we think of beauty or brawn we realize it’s best to own them.  To say with a quiet confidence, “this is me, I am unique and these are my character lines.”

Hey if you want to add to my crazy thoughts then feel free to comment! Thanks for visiting!

Let Me tell you a Story…

Sketch and Illustration by Kevin Cameron for a book called Stuck ( by another author)

Artists are story-tellers.  I’ve thought about it for quite a bit and can’t seem to disprove it. Can you?

Artists aren’t  natural default liars. That’s another kind of story-teller; like the punchy uncle at the family get-together that spews out strings of mistruths and half-truths and no truth about wild adventures of former times…when things were simpler…and less true apparently.

Artists tell a story every time they paint, sculpt, photograph or make music, et al. Even if they do not sit and draft up a plan but seem to act impulsively they are in fact telling a story. Sometimes the story is obvious. Take for example Banksy’s starving huddled boy  encircled by flies , behind an empty bowl, wearing a contrasting colourful Burger King hat (crown).

The story is one of poverty ironically juxtaposed with abundance. The boy likely found the hat and like any child pretends a different life. He feels he may be worth royalty but is contrastingly treated as a pauper.

Sometimes the story is not so much the content but in the mode of transmission.  Bright , bold and cheery colours might be expressing joy and lightheartedness and in fact they may be a result of something quite the opposite. A happy person can paint a dark portrait while at the same time one we would expect to be forlorn from a heavy life might find peace and respite in a world of painting happier contexts. I’m thinking of Maud Lewis , for one, who had a hard life yet surrounded herself with brilliant works of art painted from basic oil paints.

Maud Lewis – Two Deer in Snow

So what is your story? As an artist what are you saying to your world? These two are questions I ponder as art for me seems to be about expressing whatever it is I feel connected to in the moment or in some phase of life.

Art , for me, is like some twin joined at the hip or maybe more like I am the shadow of it; the art being the reality.

What does art mean to you as story telling ? Have I missed anything? Feel free to comment below. Thanks for visiting!

It’s Never Too Late ( to do what you love)

Over the Moon

Timing is a funny thing. In fact where I live the time just went ahead 1 hour (Daylight Saving Time) . Not sure if that’s relevant but just more coincidental to this post.

Do you find ( like me ) that you think a lot about whether it is best to do a thing when you feel like it or to just discipline yourself to grind it even when the feeling is not there?

Honestly I think it is a bit of both. Moderation is a word that I often feel is limiting. I mean, don’t you feel that a Yes or No or either this or either that is the answer you really want?

When it comes do doing something you love, like creating art, etc. it seems  we want it both ways. I’ve often heard other artists say ( myself included wholeheartedly) that ” Today I’m just not feeling it!” That is to say that if I don’t feel like creating something right now I should walk away from the  easel. Ever notice how this occurs usually on your day off or time set aside to actually do your art!!?

 Here’s the thing… I think both approaches are okay. I think that there are times in the scheme of things we need to go for a walk, split some firewood or take a trip. Other times ( maybe more often so) we need to just pick up the brush ( both metaphorically and actually) and lay down some paint with no idea where this will take us.

The best thing is to avoid guilt. Guilt is not a good motivator. Habit can be a good motivator ( GM), Feeling Euphoric can be a good GM, a Kick-in-the-Backside ( both metaphorically and  actually) can be a good GM. maybe a good BM could be a good GM..no, scratch that 

Guilt never works. When we say we were guilted into it then it never ends well. There are other ways to force ourselves to do what we love. It is ironic one would have to say that :”Force” ourselves.  I mean by concentrating on the small picture or doing that first small step. The idea that I can pour a drop of paint on the palette and play around with it and then draw it on the canvas…squiggling a line from left to right, top to bottom. That sometimes does the priming right there and the creative spark begins to work. Other times a grand vision  of mural proportions energizes us to create all things great and small, all things bright and beautiful…

Sometimes for my own pleasure I like to play my drums/bongos. There are times I’m not feelin it but when I  sit and tap out a rhythm to a tune  I like and in that weighted moment my spirit seems to rise with the music and often ends after an hour of enjoyable percussion.

Whatever occurs remember it is never too late to start again to do something you love. Never. You may have to scale back for health reasons or the demands of life put upon you but say to yourself that the promise of the rising sun is that you have this one more moment which is clean and bright like an empty canvas waiting for it’s next conscription.

And if you work at night then let the moon and stars inspire you.

The Encouraging Voice

theencouragingvoice

Caricatures I did of the cast of Casablanca

If you listen you can hear it (them).

It’s no surprise that we have voices in our head.

After all the brain is a huge memory bank as well a processor of ideas and actions. Some of them become voluntary and some involuntary- which makes sense. Who wants to tell their stomach to churn the food you ate and to add all the necessary acids and hormones to do their job. The brain assigns jobs that we are not consciously aware of.

thebrain

I remember seeing a TV show or movie years back that opened with the scene of a man being thrown into the water after being wounded in a car chase. At least that is what my memory bank tells me.

The screen showed a man being plunged deep in the dark waters and you could hear his thoughts.

They went something like this as he told his brain and body to prepare for survival:

“Heart- Slow to 40 beats per. min. Lungs- maintain oxygen levels and exhale slowly, etc”

You get the picture.

The hero of the show was controlling his thoughts to improve his chances of survival.

Maybe it’s fiction..but…hold on. Do you hear the voice(s) in your head?

What are they saying as you attempt to go about reaching your goals?

Often times we pick up the negative, critical voices that surrounded us from our youth. I know I have. We too , may be saying words that hurt others and we’re not aware of it. 

We use those harsh words, backed up by our respect for authority figures ( teachers, parents, that aunt or uncle, etc) to twist together a long whip with barbs and bone. We then get in the habit of whipping our own selves with it mentally.

 

Those harsh words we have owned and put our own personal stamp on them. They become our words, our thoughts. ‘Not going all Spock on you here but you hear what I’m saying, right?

We chose to believe them.

Sure criticism is good. It helps us survive and helps us learn. However we can dwell too much on words that do not carry us forward to our goals.

Once we realize that the thoughts we think are our own choice we can begin to bring correction to our direction!

This is the starting point. We can try all kinds of external influencers but when it comes right down to it we have to change, sometimes slowly and with practise, our habit of thinking and self-talk.

Image from blog "What Shih Said"

Image from blog “What Shih Said”

Be mindful of what you are telling yourself. Is it wise? Or is it harming your ability to take action and embrace change and succeed at your goals?

“Brain- You can do this! Heart- You’re large enough for this task. Lungs- take a deep breath and Go For It!!”

Thanks for visiting. Drop a line if you like 🙂

 

Did You Lose Something?

SecondCup

Under painting by Kevin Cameron (Second Cup)

You’ve started your painting and things are going “in the flow”.  You’re just at the initial stages- maybe the under-painting. Perhaps you’re focusing on value and composition or maybe it’s colour and/or sort of abstract.

Everything seems to be going great. Sometimes, however, there is  that period of staring at a blank canvas that feels longer than a Hobbit’s journey. But let’s assume you’re past that and you are fully in the moment and the painting (both noun and verb) is coming along nicely.

Then you have to stop.  For whatever reason. Maybe it’s to get a snack, maybe just some sleep. You return and something’s gone. It’s not your easel, brush or laptop . It’s that other important intangible thing-inspiration. Uh Oh! The muse has left!

It was like meeting someone for the first time serendipitously at a nearby cafe. The conversation has a promising glow. You turn to get your coffee and they are gone. You hardly had time to memorize their smile.

The Inspired Painting that Isn’t

At this point …you have before you… an expression of your passion but part of your mind is saying, “This isn’t complete. I can’t hang this. I can’t sell this and probably couldn’t give it away.  This is when our motives become challenged.  Do you push ahead and lay down coats of paint that seem to be only burying the life you had underneath?

This is a tough question. How do you resolve it? ( I’m not being rhetorical).  How do you resolve it?

Perhaps we could look at our options and motives. What do you want to capture this time?  Stay where you are and you’ve captured some primitive, emotive expression. Continue and it changes like a baby to a child and like a child to an adult.

I guess every stage is good. After all , who’s to say, if you proceed the creative work might actually get better. It’s all a matter of opinion since art is about emotion and communicating it to others. You can put down that canvas ( or musical composition, poetry ,whatever) and stop where you are.  Sometimes this is what must happen.  Other times you will paint right over it and something new is born once again!

You turn for your coffee.  A new friend is there and this time…they stay. :^)

Underpaintings2

Artistic Skill Vs. Inspiration

DadTractor

I took this photo of my Dad , Brother and friend many years ago. Kevin

At first glance, all art appears the same.

What do I mean by that?

I mean the realm of art is vast. There’s not much new “under the sun”.  Usually subjects and styles are just a rehash of something old. This realm includes not only creative innovation but also, sometimes, technical skill.

I believe technical skill can be taught but creative innovation or rather inspiration is not so easily taught.

Sometimes you can ‘prime the pump’ (like the old water pumps).

When I was much younger my GranDad had an old Ford tractor that could be started by turning the engine over by hand.  We’re all so accustomed now to electric starters  that we forget that at one time engines could be rolled over by using a hand crank, in this case inserted at the front of the tractor.

By going into our studio or simply opening our sketch books on the living room sofa and beginning to draw some lines we can ‘prime the pump’…get the juices flowing as some would say.  Like when Dr. Frankenstein uses a jolt of electricity to get the Monster’s heart pumping.

Artistic skill is the ability to train the brain to see and think like an artist and then produce those results on paper or canvas. Technique, value, perspective can all be taught and practiced. Inspiration is a different story.

Yes, I think you can be taught inspiration   in a way but it’s more about personal discovery, in my opinion.

Inspiration draws from the  wells of experience and desire that are deep down inside of you.  It uses the technical skills you have developed to express your truth.  Inspiration is the reason why someone can deliver an unprofessional speech, sing their heart out or paint loosely and yet still wow the audience and move the recipient (S).

Artistic Skill can be practiced and improved on with time. Inspiration has to come from within and often takes time. That’s my experience anyway.

There are ways to induce or tickle out inspiration ( another post).

Once you hone your skills and get that jolt of inspiration, you and others will be able to look at your art and proudly exclaim..

It’s alive!

Thanks for visiting.

Challenge Accepted

An oil painting I did a few years back.

An oil painting I did a few years back.

Life can really be summed up as a challenge or series of challenges  can’t it (?)  Each day each one of faces a new challenge. For some of us it’s a physical challenge like learning to walk for the first time, or hang gliding or maybe it’s learning how to get around with that new walking cane. Most of us face mental challenges.  Some more than others ( that really wasn’t meant to be funny but we do all need a good laugh once in a while.)
This is not to say the word challenge has to bring negative feelings .  A challenge can be a good thing. People have asked me what inspires me to make art.  Sometimes I search for an appropriate answer that would be way up there with trying to fund-raise for a cancer cure or tell the world of God’s love. All well and good motivations, I’m sure.  Really though, to be honest, I don’t  have such a sole,  noble  purpose for my art.  Mostly what drives me is the challenge to see if I can do it.
Art scares me.  It excites me.  It is infinite in a sense.  Since it is infinite, meaning the possibilities are endless, then the challenge is unending.  Sure I can use art for fundraising and many good purposes but it’s no use for me to lie to you just to give you warm fuzzies.  I like art because I’m a shy guy. I don’t sing ( I do play bongos and Tom toms… I know, laugh and get over it, ha).  I can hide behind my paintings, murals and logos and if any of them ever turn out half good I can do my own little happy dance, in my own little private place…TMI?  O, I can’t dance either.
So really it’s the challenge , I think , that is my biggest draw- pardon the pun.  Art is great for shy introverts ( yeah, extroverts, too). We each have to find something in our lives, some natural talent or gift that challenges us ;makes us move away from our comfort zones but to a place even more comfortable with our selves.
Mistakes?  They’re just part of it all. Without the risk of making a ‘happy accident’ there would be no adrenaline rush. This only brings on a new challenge.  How will I fix the mistake or how can it be incorporated into the final work?  It takes both Fear and Love to create something special.
Have a challenging day!  Thanks for reading!

That Moment

Sample corner of new painting

Sample corner of new painting

I struggled with a painting today.  It’s not uncommon though. Sometimes you get to a point where it all just seems ‘wooden’. It’s like you’re painting mecanically  and not ‘feeling it’.  I think they say this is when you’re painting more with the conscious mind and not the subconscious.
The thing is you are searching. You want something to stand out and say ” Hey, Look over here…I have the answer!” You’re an artist and it’s just how you think or how you’re wired. At first you want to panic; to throw in the towel.  Maybe it’s the wrong subject, the wrong canvas size…something isn’t right.  You take a break, get a coffee or a drink of water or go for a walk.  Your mind is pacing the halls of possible solutions.  You check you facebook, twitter and email.  There it is!  In this particular case it was Pinterest.  Someone answered a comment on a photo I saw months ago.  In the photo was the answer to my painting dilemma .  I went with it.  Problem solved!
Above is a sneak preview of my next painting.  It’s not finished , I’m just letting you see a small corner.  Hopefully I can post the whole painting by the weekend.  Thanks for stopping by!

 

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