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Procrastination … my solution

Every artist I know suffers from procrastination when it comes to painting.  There are a million things (preparing for exhibits, answering email, web marketing, sorting socks …) that need doing when what we really want/should do is paint.  I’m as guilty as anyone, yet my artist friends say I generate more paintings than many of them.

Listening to WNYC recently, I heard an expert explain that people procrastinate because as humans we like to front load our rewards.   Given a choice between preparing for an exhibit (must do now; reward is now) and struggling in the studio to produce a painting (can do later; reward is later), we prepare for the exhibit.  In business, we used to talk about taking care of the urgent at the expense of the important .

Thinking about it on the subway on the way to my class at the Art Students League, I realized what it is I do to front load the reward.  A couple of years ago, I decided that to be a serious artist I had to produce at minimum one painting a week on average.  They wouldn’t all be masterpieces, but they would be paintings.

Part of the logic for picking a quantity goal came from the book, Art and Fear, by David Bayles & Ted Orland.   In it, they describe an experiment of sorts where they told one art class they would be graded on their best work (quality) and the other class they would be graded on the number of paintings (quantity).   Although both classes produced high-quality paintings, the quantity class produced more.

Now to  front-loading the reward.  Every time I finish a painting (even one I think isn’t absolutely wonderful), I do two things that are powerfully and immediately rewarding:  I enter the title and specifics of the painting into an Excel spreadsheet and I scan the painting so I have the image to use in a variety of ways (load onto my website, use in my blog, use to create mailing labels, business cards, seasonal cards, etc. etc.)  That’s the equivalent of a gold star on my forehead which tells me, in a way that is different than the paintings themselves, that I am a serious artist.

No magic …  simply a system to measure my progress toward my goal.  And as I also remember from my business days, what gets measured gets done.

So that’s my solution.  Maybe it will help other artists get it done.  Let me know.

Some new exhibits

In my spare time, I’m trying to get ready for some upcoming exhibits:

  1. The 1100 Watercolor Society has a group show at the NYC Municipal Building Nov. 1 – 27.  With any luck I’ll be able to get four paintings matted and framed in time.  The reception is Wednesday, Nov. 3 from 6 – 8 pm.
  2. The 1100 Watercolor Society also has a group show at the National Arts Club (NYC) Dec. 6 – 18.  I’m thinking of putting two of my larger abstracts in this show.  They are not standard sizes, so the frames will be more expensive.  Ah well..
  3. Blue Door Art Gallery in Yonkers has a “Small Works for Holiday Giving” show from Nov. 20 to Dec. 30, and they’ve accepted 6 of my small paintings. I have a lot of small paintings  but they are all different sizes, which means I need all different size mats and frames.  Which will be expensive.  When will I remember to make everything one of maybe three or four standard sizes?!?   I did that really well the last two years, but it’s fallen apart now that I am experimenting with abstracts.
  4. And Wave Hill has accepted my painting, Copper Beech, into their Nature’s Palette exhibition at Wave Hill House, December 2010 – January 2011. The reception is Sunday, Dec. 12, 1:00 – 4:00 pm.

Hope to see you at some or all of these exhibits.  Right now I’m sort of frazzled…

But my hair is still curly.

My Yo-Yo Existence

I should have known better. The fact that I did a few successful abstract sketches in pastel did not mean it would be easy to translate that success to watercolor. Each medium has its own demands and rules. Duh!

Well, I just spent all day trying to turn one of my pastel sketches of Monica, our model, into a watercolor. Three attempts later I’m ready to tear my curly hair out!  There are no easy answers to creating art.  What worked in pastel just isn’t working in watercolor.  I took the final pastel sketch and simply tried to recreate it, forgetting that the pastel sketch was a result of several steps, including smooshing.

I’ll have to find the watercolor version of smooshing … maybe that will work.  Or maybe I should take one of my not-quite-successful (= unsuccessful) pastels and use that as my pre-smooshing version in watercolor.  Or maybe …

Oh rats!  I think I need a drink!

On the plus side, I finished my Cheap and Cheerful Market abstract painting based on some photos I took the day we arrived in Cusco.

Cheap and Cheerful Market

The local markets in Peru are so colorful.  Since I took pictures of them in every town, I have lots of raw material to work from.  How’s that for ending on a positive note?!?


I showed Frank my experimental sketches (aren’t they all experimental?!?) from last week and he liked them!  Actually, he thought one was successful, two didn’t work as is but had promise with some changes/additions, etc.   He definitely understood why the smooshing was a liberating way of getting beyond my relatively mechanical initial sketches.

Now I think I will try to convert (translate?) the successful one into a watercolor painting.  This may be painful, but what have I got to lose?

Plus my hair is still curly.  I’m on a roll…

Breakthrough … I think

It was Thursday evening at the Art Students League and I had just started my second abstract sketch of the model. She was a great model but my sketch seemed destined to be like my others: a little too mechanical for my taste.

A friend in the class had mentioned that in his Tuesday night demo Frank O’Cain had said that he was not abstracting the model, but rather abstracting from the model. Since I was clueless regarding what that meant, she explained that Frank uses the model to create the general lines of the painting and then simply finishes the painting each stroke dependent on the previous ones. In other words, after the initial composition is determined based on the model, the artist doesn’t need the model. In fact, Frank told her she could step down once he had the initial plan for the painting set (in his mind and on paper).

So …  I looked away from the model and focused on my sketch and tried to continue it just based on what I thought it needed.  Better, but still no cigar.

Then I happened to look at the work done by the artist standing at the easel behind me.  She had gotten frustrated with her own sketch and had impulsively smooshed it all over with a paper towel.  Since we are working with charcoal and pastel, that had pretty much smeared it.  Then she was adding more color over the smear (pronounced schmear).  The result was dramatically better than the original.

So… I smeared my sketch with a paper towel and started over.  The result was both simpler (irrelevant lines were eliminated) and more complex (you could still see some of the original drawing underneath), and the colors were much richer.  Plus, since I suddenly wasn’t worried about the result since I was working on top of a failure, I was freer to just improvise and … Ureka!  It worked.  Damn!  Who’d a thunk it?!?

Thanks to the help from my fellow artists, Thursday night’s class yielded three significantly improved sketches and a way of working that looks promising.  I’ll show those sketches to Frank in next Wednesday’s class.  That’s the acid test.

I live in hope that I will master this abstract thing within my lifetime.

And my hair is still curly.

Back to frustration

I guess it’s going to come and go in waves.  I seem to alternate elation (when I finish a painting I like) with frustration when I am trying something new that isn’t working the way I want it to (abstract sketches of the model in my Abstract Drawing class at the Art Students League).

To try and abstract what I am seeing, I simplify the model’s features, pose, clothing, etc.  Remembering Picasso, I make sure the shoulders don’t line up and try to envision his/her features and pose seen from different angles.  But that ends up looking cartoonish.  I add color using pastels but that only makes it worse, so I stop using color.   An artist friend suggests I draw the spaces around the model, which helps;  Frank tells me to stop protecting the figure and reminds me of his push-pull principle from the summer Abstract Watercolor class.   Slowly it starts to work a little better.

Then I saw an O’Cain demo using cut outs of colored construction paper (rather than painting) which really reinforced in my mind the idea of overlapping shapes to confuse the viewer regarding foreground/background (what Frank calls push-pull).  Ureka.

The next day, Frank looked at what I had done and told me one of my sketches was worth turning into a painting.  Halleluia!  Of course,   now I have to figure out how to do that.

Back to frustration.

But there is a ray of hope.  Frank says I just have to  work at it and apply the (new, abstract) rules and that over time it will become automatic.  At that point, it will simply happen without my agonizing about it so much.  I guess painting is like music:  with a lot of practice, scales can become the Moonlight Sonata.

I live in hope.

Oh, and for those of you who have been following this blog from the beginning … my hair is still curly.