Archive for January, 2013

ImageI get asked where I get my crazy ideas maybe a little bit more often than a lot of other folks, maybe because a lot of my ideas really do seem pretty crazy. Like the collage illustrating this post. I do have my fans, and most of them use phrases like “strangely disturbing” to describe my stuff. That suits me just fine. But honestly, the most important thing is not having fans who “get it” (as wonderful as that is), but the fact that you, yourself, love what you’re doing. Seriously.

I keep hearing about artists with MFAs who chart careers. I can see the graph now, the incline, the plateau, and then either a further incline or the long descent: “Emerging” then “mid-career” then “late-career” as though the stage the career has reached is the best way to describe the art and the artist as well.

Take heed, fellow starving artists: I personally don’t care if you’re on a career path or not, but I do care whether or not you love what you’re doing. Otherwise, why be an artist at all, especially a starving one?

One of the most useful,  entertaining, and  inspirational experiences I ever had was a week-long workshop with Lynda Barry a few years ago. This woman is a genius who draws and writes like nobody else. She captures the feeling of what it’s really like to be a child (the terror, the longing, the love) as well as anyone since Dickens. I love her work and no one else could do it.

Lynda Barry spoke from her own experience when she advised us to pay attention to the work, pay attention to the voices in your head. Do not give a thought about an audience for your work (at least not while you’re in the midst of  working). Be selfish. Do it for you. At the time of the workshop Lynda was working on a wonderful art journal where she put ideas, drawings, snatches of conversation, color experiments. Did she use a fancy-schmancy expensive notebook with an extra-special grade of paper? No. She used regular lined yellow paper. What counted was what she put on the paper, not the paper itself. Being allowed to leaf  through that journal was one of my most thrilling adventures to date (and I’ve had more than my share of adventure).

At any rate, what I’m trying to say is that you can find a way to do what you want to do somehow, if you really want to do it. This may mean you have to get a grunt job somewhere to pay the bills, but that’s okay. That sort of job just leaves your mind more free to explore ideas when you get off work, instead of fretting over some office deadline. By the way, don’t fall into the trap of getting stuck  in the kind of corporate career path you find it hard to get out of, even if it’s a path in corporate art (unless, of course, it’s corporate art that truly makes your heart sing).

I know it’s hard to do this, especially if you have a family and all the responsibilities that entails. Still, try as hard as you can to come as close as you can to your ideal. Listen to your inner voice, be it quiet or explosive, soft or wild. Take time, and let your family know you must take time, to do your work. Even if they tease you. Even though they may ask you why you do it, when it doesn’t look like anything they’ve ever seen before. Or why you do it, when they’ve seen other things” just like it.”

I myself have partially solved this by having an extremely understanding and caring husband, who is a genuine 50/50 kind of guy. We are both self-employed and live and work in the same building, with a bookstore up front and an apartment in the back. It took us years to achieve this goal, but it does give us more time as well as more space. We can trade off chores, depending on who is getting ready for what project. This month I’m working on getting a gallery show together, so Ken is demonstrating his culinary skills (good for me, since Ken is an excellent cook). In March, while the show is on and I have more free time, I’ll do some more cooking and he can spend more time on his own projects.

As I said, this required time and commitment, but we have as good a balance right now as we could ask for. We may not have much money, but we do have the most important things: love and meaningful work.

Of course, there are alternative solutions and compromises that you can come up with too.

Just remember, the first thing to do is listen to those inner voices and they’ll tell you what your priorities are.

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You may have noticed in last week’s post that while I was talking about organization, I didn’t dwell on tossing things away. In fact, I am not entirely in favor of the anti-hoarding movement of the past few years. You know what I’m talking about; you’ve seen the shows on TV. Tiny houses filled to overflowing: some with actual, disgusting garbage (ugh, yuck), but some with a mixture of the usable and the unusable.  Enter “hoarding experts” (who are these people, by the way, and where do they get their certification?) who proceed to convince the owners to throw away most of their possessions, until the houses are left as bare as one of Jack Webb’s old Dragnet sets or a vacant motel room.  Guilt is used as leverage, i.e., if you don’t throw out your stash of beloved objects, it means you love them more than you love your family. Now, in some cases that may be true, but to act as though this bit of psychobabble applies in every case is just plain silly.

J at worktable

Here I am, happily working on a few small pieces in the small allotted work space at my work table. I’m using some of the chipboard that I’d acquired for cheap a few years back — hundreds of pieces of it, which I kept stored in a box, waiting for their time to shine.

I’d hung on to them because I was sure I’d eventually find a use for them. And I did. They’re great as miniature book-casings and as the foundation for the small purses I’m making here. The “hoarding experts” would without a doubt have torn these seemingly useless pieces of board from my hands, insisting that unless I threw them away I’d be proving myself to be both crazy and selfish.

To tell you the truth, I’m perfectly capable of loving both my husband *and* the chipboard, just in very different ways. My husband understands and does not feel threatened by the chipboard or any other materials I keep on hand.

At any rate, my point is simply that if you see a bargain and you are absolutely positive that you will have a real use for it even though the project might not start today, tomorrow, or even next week, go for it. Remember those swell vintage ties I mentioned last week? I have  now stored them neatly in a stackable bin with the rest of my fabric. I know I’ll use them; I even have a few ideas roiling around in the back of my head already. Those hoarding experts may consider this an affront to their calling, but I’m keeping them just the same.

PS  My husband, naturally, has been given first choice of any ties he might want to keep for himself.

To begin, sorry about taking so long between posts. The world, myself included, was overtaken with sad, bad news and the writing of a semi-facetious blog for artists, even struggling ones, didn’t seem all that important for a while.

But when I thought the thing through, I realized that  no matter how sad or bad the world is, we must respond with our art — our smart, heart-felt art.

So here we go and I hope not to get sidetracked again.

I am not including a photo in this post because it would be just too disheartening. The topic  of the post is organization, and I am in the middle of my semi-annual attempt to practice what I preach on the subject. At the moment, however, it seems as though everything is on its way to somewhere else and my worktable is harum-scarum with no place to actually work. Organization, as you may guess, does not come naturally to me.

Still, as we budget our money, we must also budget our time and I am fed up with spending hours surveying the wreckage that is my living room in order to find the right brush, or my clear gesso, or anything else that I desperately need at the crucial stage of a project (I make collages, in case you were wondering, and John Heartfield and Max Ernst and Lou Beach are my heroes even though my work doesn’t look much like any of theirs). Also, it is so much more pleasant to work in a place that is not junked up and just plain dangerous looking. Part of the problem, of course, is the fact that we accumulate supplies and materials somehow as if by magic and it’s easier to put them on the nearest flat surface than where they belong. Sometimes you might even acquire something you’ve never had before (I am now the proud owner of over 200 vintage ties) and they tend to sit for months in the same paper bag you brought them home in. This sort of behavior is heading into Hoarders territory and I do NOT want an Intervention wherein earnest friends and family urge me to throw away my precious stuff. I just need to organize it, that’s all.

At any rate, my self-imposed job for the week is to put like-with-like. All paints together, all fabrics together, all brushes together, all colored pencils and pens and markers in their separate bins. This can be done on the cheap, by the way. You do not have to buy the special “artist’s organizers” found in Michael’s. Although I support locally owned artist’s supply stores, and go to them when only the best will do, containers do not fall into that category.

Organization allows you to find what you’re looking for when you need it. This sounds simple and obvious, I know, but it’s not that easy when you’re working in a cramped space, as I’m sure many of us starving artists are. I’ve used clean cardboard boxes large and small; shoe boxes (good for organizing samples & card-size paper), stackable in-boxes and trays, even magazine racks and laundry bins. Scout out your local thrift store and you’ll find a lot of stuff that can be put to use as storage. You may even find a sturdy office supply cabinet or two.  Think vertical, because otherwise your stored stuff will wind up in a sprawl all over what should be your working area (otherwise known at least in my case as my living room). But you also have to think accessible; in other words, if you stack a lot of cardboard boxes on top of each other it will be a drag to have to take apart the stack to get to the bottom box, no matter whether the boxes are labeled or not. Labels, by the way, are a good idea. If you have to stack boxes, at least put the least used items in the bottom box and don’t make the stacks too high. Three or four boxes should be the limit. Use stackable trays, etc., whenever possible, or furniture with drawers. Drawers are good.

The thrift shop is always my first stop. Big Lots and Costco also have some affordable storage containers. Myself, I don’t shop at Walmart for a number of reasons but that’s up to you.

Use your imagination and you’ll come up with a workable system of organization, no matter what the size of your home or apartment. (If you have your own dedicated studio space, you are probably reading the wrong blog). For little cost on your part, you can get your stuff together (literally), and thereby give yourself both more time to make art and less time for hair-pulling frustration.

A word of warning: One thing you do not want is to find your materials ruined by water damage, mold, varmints, or other damage. NEVER store anything in a damp basement. Cedar chips are good for keeping insects away from fabric so toss a few in, even though the container appears to be airtight. Wood cabinets with drawers are sturdier and nicer looking than cardboard boxes, so keep your eyes open in the thrift store and replace the cardboard when you find something better. Ditto for plastic racks. They’re fine in the short run but over time start to sag.