Here are a few of the artworks I’ve recently sent to Joseph Gierek Fine Art (www.gierek.com) for the upcoming Holiday Art Show. I’m sure you’ll notice my “still life” object practice work now combined with characters. Yes, I’m trying to make every element count toward the visual story. You know, like a writer tries to make every word count.
Been busy packing and shipping an art exhibit’s worth of my artwork to Joseph Gierek Fine Art (link here). I’m feeling like Santa and the elves in the North Pole workshop. I’ve made the artwork, I’ve carefully sandwiched each artwork between thick sheets of cardboard then delicately wrapped everything in bubble-wrap with love. Now to load it onto the sleigh…
And off you go my precious… may you bring cheer and laughter to all.
It’s been my experience that one’s reading is the fertile soil from which all other creativity grows. So I find books like this one, “1000 Books To Read Before You Die” by James Mustich, an essential art studio tool.
The Mustich title is especially useful as it’s more like a restaurant guide than most “read-this” books; the suggested titles are sorted alphabetically by author, there are readable book note details about the genre/subject, when it was written, and other notable works by the author are listed. A “further reading” section about the author’s life and work or on the book’s subject is included. There’s a “try this” section listing other books by other authors suggested for the reader if they enjoyed the featured book. Helpfully “adaptions” of the featured title are also noted: films, plays, musical compositions and audio books. Hints are given whether you could read the book “in a sitting” or not. There is also a section of Mustich’s book that lists books sorted by genre/section: my favorites (so far) are “Lol”, “Mysterious Matters”, “Soul Food” and “Animal World”.
I find all of this pre-sorted book sorting helpful by making it easier to find books related to my creative topic. For example I’ve been reading books about objects lately since I’ve been doing some still life paintings. So yes, that has meant reading Marcel Proust and John Ruskin among other authors.
As you know I’ve been doing both food themed fine-art paintings as well as several food-recipe illustrations – so reading mystery novels that have food in them has been a good way to keep the “creative fun” going in my head while I wait for paint to dry. BTW, I found an online source for culinary themed mystery novels; https://www.cozy-mystery.com/blog/cozy-mystery-authors-with-culinary-themes-part-1.html)
One of my favorite things to do is sit for an hour or so before bed and read with my beverage of choice handy. If you follow my Instagram page occasionally I post what I’m reading and what I’m drinking. While it looks (and often feels) like pure indulgence I’d say that my time spent reading is one of the most important things I do to develop and maintain my creativity.
Anyway, here’s a photo of the book by Mustich – alongside one of my favorite wines by Burnt Bridge Cellars. And, don’t worry, I was sharing the bottle of wine with my wife… 😉
BTW, a local newspaper had a wonderful interview with James Mustich about what books did and didn’t get included in his “1000….”. Oh, and here’s a link to a local bookstore for more info about the book itself.
At a friends house recently we were served a spinach and pomegranate salad. It was yummy and something like this recipe here. As I ate I realized I’d never looked properly at a pomegranate. I also realized I didn’t know cut one open. So later, back at my studio, I found an instruction video here – then I got some pomegranates and began looking and painting. This is what I did:
After the paintings were done (and the pomegranates added to my salad) I submitted the artwork for consideration to the gallery. They were accepted so I framed them and delivered them along with 10 other small pieces for a “Small Works Holiday Group Exhibit” at Caplan Art Designs the months of November and December. www.caplanartdesigns.com
All in all not a bad way to learn how to make a salad!
Typically I paint food and drinks from my memory and imagination. Sort of. I take my sketchbook along and draw from life what I’m eating or drinking. But when I get paints out in my studio to do a “real” fine art piece I’m winging it from my sketchbook-aided memories of the food flavors and presentation. Recently I’ve done something different.
I’ve been working from “live” models in my studio. Here are my models as they came from the store:
You see, I’ve been thinking of that moment during a nice dinner out, when the waiter brings you some after dinner mints, and you sit with your friends munching them and gentling into the rest of the evening. But I can eat mints pretty quickly. (Mint is one of my favorite flavors) And in such a situation I’m usually focused on the conversation. So have I ever really looked at a mint? I mean really looked?
I bought some mint candies as art models for the serious artistic meditation thereof. And while I did look at (and eat) them I still ended up somewhat “winging it” when creating these paintings:
I think as paintings they worked out okay. While I tried some different colors (the purple, the teal and the orange) I feel I conveyed the minty goodness of the candies. I also think I managed to imply a story in each of them, at least an implication of people eating the mints.
At any rate I have really looked a mint now. Really looked.
Dr. Bob Hoke had a little musical ditty he’d sing during our visits*: “Oh the candy man is made out of tin / It’s just the kind of world we’re in / so begin, begin, begin…”.
I took this to mean that we don’t have to wait for “perfect” conditions to exist before we begin something. I also interpreted the phrase “the candy man is made out of tin” to mean that the dispenser of candy wasn’t a perfect person – they were just doing their best to sweeten up the ordinary day.
Then I remembered the kids song “Candy Man” and searched for the lyrics to freshen my memory. (Full lyrics here: https://kidsongs.com/lyrics/candy-man.html/ )
And then I wondered about the origins of peppermint candies… (here’s a link: https://www.leaf.tv/articles/what-is-the-history-of-peppermint-candy/ )
All of those thoughts were in my mind as I worked on a new painting, now finished and titled “Enjoymints”. I was reaching for an idea of the magic-ness of the very ordinary, an ethereal sense of mixing the mundane with love and making the world taste good.
*Dr. Bob Hoke and I were visiting about the illustrations he wanted me to do – that eventually became the book “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit”.
Beauty and wisdom are all around us if we’re attuned to look for them. Like a mystery story detective looking for clues we train our eyes to “see” what is there. This is partially a function of he way our brains work. We see what we expect to see. How broad or narrow that expectation is affects what we will see. It’s all too easy to “see” only to-do lists and drudgery in daily life. It’s too easy to “see” beauty only in dramatic once-in-a-lifetime vacation places. Yet our view can be broadened so we can see beauty in the fruit at the local market – and find wisdom on our coffee cup.
I see my job as an artist as a practice of seeing beauty in ordinary places and things; of telling the stories of the beauty and the wisdom I find. To help others to see the beauty too.
Beauty and wisdom can be too easily ignored, lost and forgotten – and when that happens life can seem dull and drudgery filled. This is why we need to constantly train our eyes and minds to look around our mundane lives and see the beauty, the wisdom. It takes repeated practice. It takes detective work.
Dr. Bob Hoke (the psychiatrist I illustrated a book for) had a phrase for this phenomenon of the mind “When the student is ready the teacher will appear. And sometimes the teacher has been there all along waiting patiently for the student to become ready, to notice and remember to notice again the next day.”
Here are some beautiful ordinary things I remembered to see – and what I thought about them:
Life’s A Bowl Of Cherries, Stems, Pits and All – At the farmer’s market during Rainier Cherry season I saw a father teaching his very young son how to pull a stem off, chew the cherry, extract the pit and put the stim and pit into a cup. it reminded me of how we have to be taught how to deal with the adversities in life, how to cope with the pits, how to focus on and remember to enjoy the good things.
Coffee City – I’ve been thinking of how much our lives are reflected in the objects we own, save, give away or dispose of – and the many mundane moments out of which a life is made. Perhaps choosing carefully what we focus on, choosing what encourages our “better angels”, choosing what becomes mundane is what makes for a good life. These thoughts began when I was having coffee in one of my downtown coffee shops, staring at the highly polished surface of the ceramic coffee cup which reflected the surrounding city-scape. It was an ordinary moment that elevated my spirit. So I made this painting in order to remember.
More info about my upcoming art opening is available on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/events/2217205128523609/
True confessions: since the opening party is tomorrow night I am having a bit of the “will anyone come?” jitters. No matter that I’ve been having one person exhibits for many years, many times a year, or that all events have for the most part been well attended – even knowing all of that as opening night nears I get a little nervous. (“Will anyone else see….?”) The exhibits matter to me. They’re risky on many levels. That’s part of the exhilarating fun of living the artistic life.
So, yes, I can see the beauty in my nervousness.
There was a time when I felt that writing words-in-a-row about visual art was rather like using lemon juice to describe honey. But somewhere along the way I realized that being a professional artist out in the “real world” meant I didn’t have to write as if I were in an academic university. That was a relief. And I realized that writing about visual art was like combining multi-media or like a playwright creating a musical theatre piece about a historical event.
It’s genre bending/blending.
So I began practicing writing about my own visual art in an everyday conversational way. When I’m coming up with my artistic ideas I write by hand what I’m thinking and feeling as I’m drawing in my sketchbooks. Later on I use that hand written data to write more formal “blurbs”, or story-clues, about what inspired each of my artworks. I say “more formal” because the blurbs are type-written, the spelling has been checked and the original hand written data has been neatened/edited/condensed. These “blurbs” are often printed and posted near my artwork in exhibits. In my writings I largely leave off the technical points of artistic technique because the majority of the time I’m talking to the general public. (Of course if I’m asked about art techniques I’ll gladly share details!)
In Sept I’m doing a one-person exhibit titled “Story Stuff” at Caplan Art Designs (I wrote more about that in a post titled Cozy Mystery Story Stuff). Here are a few of the artworks and the “blurbs” (story-clues?) I’ve written that will be alongside the art at my exhibit:
Near Forest Park – I enjoy hiking in a large forest in the middle of an urban city (Portland Or). I love it that I can pop out of the dense forest, get a coffee – or boot laces – and then resume my hike.
A Novel Morning – One of my favorite things to do is to go to Powell’s bookstore, find a new-to-me novel and then get something in the café. The “text” in this painting is re-combined and paraphrased from “Death at La Fenice” by Donna Leon.
Good Morning – What constitutes a “good morning”? One of my answers is plenty of coffee and enough leisure time to work the daily newspaper’s crossword puzzle.
During my exhibits I’ll often see people reading the blurbs and then looking more closely at my artwork – and sometimes they’ll approach me and talk about the topic within one of my paintings. It seems that my “multi-media” pictures-plus-words exercise is helpful for starting conversations at least.
What are your thoughts about combining writing and visual art?
In September at Caplan Art Designs www.caplanartdesigns.com I’m doing a one-person fine art exhibit titled “Story Stuff”. And you can thank the literary genre of the “cozy mystery” for it.
You see I enjoy detective novels and movies. I particularly enjoy cozy mystery novels because I like the inherent premise in them that a regular person living an ordinary mundane sort of life can use reason and logic to resolve problems.
After reading and watching a gazillion mystery stories – I realized how often some small object; a receipt, a coffee bag, or a whiskey tumbler is the clue that solves the mystery. That thought inspired me to try telling visual stories with “just stuff”. So for this exhibit I’ve selected things from my daily life and arranged them in my imagination, along with color, light and texture, in such a way that the viewer can deduce a story; they can “read” my visual description of how things are and which things matter. The viewer becomes the story detective/character-actor.
In some of my works I’ve also invented a character-actor – a cat or a dog – who plays a more obvious part in the story. Anthropomorphic animals are a way to make it plain that the artwork is a visual story. These particular animal characters are created and chosen because their breed characteristics add elements to the tale. The viewer is still the detective – there’s just more actors on stage.
I’m merging fine art techniques, and fine art genres of “Still Life” and “Animals in Art”, with literary and mystery genre concepts. I also love food, drinks and books – they are the elements of everyday Pacific Northwest life which for me is the stuff of stories.
Here’s (ahem) a short story collection from my upcoming exhibit:
As a long-time coffee lover I’ve been recently learning about tea. More than half of the world drinks tea and/or has some kind of tea ceremony. As far as I can tell the philosophy of tea is basically a way of valuing mundane life – in a somewhat carefully curated way. The ordinary as a source of stimulation, of stirring inspiration.
In making this piece I’ve deliberately used multiple perspectives – visual oddities – to emphasize the many ways there are to approach, value and appreciate a personal moment of pleasure in daily life.
Perhaps not surprisingly I’ve titled it “A Stirring Occasion”.
I confess that I’ve recently been reading a number of titles from the British Library Crime Classics. (here’s a link https://poisonedpenpress.com/series/british-library-crime-classics/) They’ve a number of books sorted by “impossible crimes” “locked room mysteries” and other detective mystery themes.
And I also thought about the concepts “bone china”,”dogs with bones”,”seize the day” and “stirring/stimulating/interesting”…
So as I worked on my artwork I designed yet another “impossible object” because I wanted to depict that feeling of dynamism within mundane pleasures.
As you know I’ve done “impossible objects” before when it suits the artistic concept – most recently my cat portrait titled “Alpha Betty” (past blog posts about that here and here and the finished art here) which has an “impossible book” reflecting the multiplicity of language.
Anyway – If you’ve been following me on Instagram you’ll see some of my recent tea adventures…