Walking and Seeing

When I see people walking around with big canvases, I always wonder what they’re up to and what projects they’re planning. Walking home in the hot sun with a 40” x 40” canvas yesterday, I now have some insight into what they’re thinking: “Crap, this canvas is heavy.”

I love to walk.

When I’m home, I hike around the foot of Mount Seymour with a friend (a friend is a necessity given that there are black bears around!) But here in Montreal, my walks are urban ones, and I love them! I like seeing the interesting old architecture, the beautiful gardens, the charming shops. I like seeing the chic Montrealers walking and biking to work. And of course, I love seeing cats.

If he lost his glasses, he probably can't find his way home.

There’s no better way to get to know a new place than by wondering around. It’s something we do on every vacation, and getting lost is even better. Walking alone, I’m observing more than usual. I’m quite inspired by places where art animates businesses. Graffiti art has definitely crossed over to the professional side, and young business people have adopted it. Today I saw a new café being built where black and white graffiti art is on feature walls and the menu frame, with minimalist décor it’s all very chic and cheap. I also saw this adorable patisserie:
Yum, if it's good enough for the bear, I'm in!
(Correction, I went to Sophie Sucre on the weekend, and I'm told that the "bear" is actually a cat! Better and better, and the cinnamon rolls are yummy there.)

Of course, having no car means that I have to carry everything I buy home. I really wanted two large canvases, but I decided that one at a time was enough. Having to work in the small space I’m in, that’s probably better anyway.  I’m used to being surrounded by all my equipment, and here I have to make do constantly. The focus is on the painting, rather than my normal process of layering.

Perhaps it’s like this in many big cities, but Montrealers have a habit of leaving their unwanted stuff on the sidewalk. On this morning’s walk, I could have had a choice of three different couches: brown leather(ette), burgundy velour, and a beige of unknown fibres. There were TVs, hangers, a footstool, and even dryer balls, although it’s tough to imagine anyone desperate enough to take used dryer balls.

Miraculously, exactly the things I need have been turning up. Yesterday, I found a like-new set of three wire drawers from Ikea, just what my son’s closet needed. Last night, I noticed my back was sore from bending over at my makeshift art table, and today voilà: a nice modern chair appears on my block, which saves me from having to lug it far. What will tomorrow bring? I think I’ll wish for a 40 x 40 canvas to magically appear on my doorstep.

My Own Private Artist Residency

A new painting about...guess what?

Today you’ll find me in glamourous Montreal…wearing rubber gloves and scouring a toilet as part of my artist residency! But before you all rush out to sign up for this alluring experience, perhaps I should explain how this happened.

I’ve been toying with the notion of doing an artist residency for a while, checking out glamourous villas in Spain or collaborative spaces in suburban Tokyo. But an artist friend warned me, “You’re really at their mercy, you get a call and you have to come out right away…it’s difficult to plan ahead.” While I’m sure that’s not true of all residencies, it is a factor for me. I have an ailing mother, so I can’t go too far for too long. Summers I like to spend at home in Vancouver, my kids are home from school and the weather is pretty damn nice, especially this summer. Fall is a busy time, as I get ready for the November Culture Crawl. And I have to admit, I love my studio, it’s perfectly set up and I have yet to find a residency that welcomes resin artists. “Bring your toxic chemicals to our lovely shared studio!” And not working in resin would mean a big change for me.

However, the idea of a residency kept nagging at me. I decided that I would arrange my own short residency; combining an art class with a city I loved. I chose Montreal, since my son already has an apartment there. He shares with two other McGill students, and I had seen the place when he moved in last September, it’s brand new and brilliantly located near downtown. I found a short art class I could take, and I was all set: museums visits, an apartment where I could paint as well, an interesting class and free accommodations. I promised my son I’d “pay” for my stay by leaving a big painting in the living room. What’s not to like?

If you could have predicted the problem already, you’re a lot smarter than I am. Apparently three intelligent young men, who can get admitted into a top university, are not smart enough to clean out the fridge before they leave for the summer. I saw mystery meat at university, but yesterday I got to see mystery vegetables…I have no idea what they were. And I’m pretty sure the apartment has not been cleaned since I saw it a year ago. So I’ve spent the first part of my residency getting the apartment into a state of minimum human habitability. I’m painting as well, but if my work is influenced by my surroundings, there’s going to be some sort of Hoarders masterpiece ahead.

Luckily for me, the hockey bag doesn't reek.

On the other hand, it is kind of satisfying to fix up a place like some HGTV show. If all goes well, I’ll post some before and after photos. And being all alone and in a new place is already inspiring some new ideas. I’ve been sketching Montreal buildings and my painting on canvas is very flat and smooth. And being able to make art at any time of the day is quite exciting. Despite the housework, I think my private artist residency is going to be great! 

Do Anything

Tracey Emin's My Bed

If you’re currently lying in a pool of bodily fluids on your unmade bed, alongside the attractive model you sketched last night before gorging, drinking and other things you can’t recall, then you don’t have to read this post. However, if you’re like me, a person who tries hard to do what’s right and feels guilty way too much…read on.

I’m currently reading the book, Antifragile, Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. And by read, I mean that I read a section, reread it, think about whether I get it or not, and then usually read it again. It’s not that the book is difficult to understand, but more that it’s stuffed with ideas which he builds upon, and I want to keep up.  At this rate, I figure I’ll be finished the book by the end of the year.

But it doesn’t matter when I’m done, because I have already read the section that set me free. As an author, Taleb discusses the effect of criticism on a book, “Criticism, for a book, is a truthful, unfaked badge of attention, signaling that it’s not boring; and boring is the only very bad thing for a book.” He adds that nothing could be better for a book than being banned, as people will then go out of their way to find it and read it. The greater the energy that is used to discredit the author, the great the resulting fame. He adds “it is not possible to stamp out criticism; if it harms you, get out. It is easier to change jobs than control your reputation or public perception.” Taleb, who has a rather violent streak for a university professor, fantasizes about punching out an economist with whom he disagrees. He uses this fantasy to demonstrate to his publisher what “antifragile” means: that certain professions cannot be harmed by disorder. If he punched out the economist, sales of his book would probably rise due to his new notoriety. Taleb concludes with these life-changing words: “Almost no scandal would hurt an artist or writer.”

Wait, what? Can this be true? Is there no horrible thing I could do that would cause sales of my paintings to fall? Let’s say I committed some heinous crime, like having an affair with a sheep. (Please note: I personally know no sheep, and no sheep were harmed in the making of this post. I don’t even know if female/ovine relations are possible.) When my crime was discovered, I would be infamous immediately. Sure, some people who already own my art might become outraged and burn the works on principle. But there would also be people who would want to buy my paintings, just to say that they were done by that woman who went baaaad. (Sorry.) Critics who looked into my work, could look for hints of mental illness and depravity. In any case, the number of people who knew my name and my artwork would vastly increase.

Think of the artwork that shocks or is banned. Chris Ofili’s painting, The Holy Virgin Mary, caused great controversy for its use of elephant dung as a medium. When, years later, I read an article about how Ofili paints delicate watercolour portraits as a warm-up exercise each day, I knew his name immediately. He was not an artist who courted controversy, like Damian Hirst, but nevertheless, he was famous due to controversy. And I would expect that after the initial backlash, all the negativity had a positive effect on his career.

But luckily for sheep, there’s no need to go to extremes. The main takeaway for me to be braver and more daring in my art and my life. To quiet the little voices in my head that worry about whether a painting is consistent with my style, whether it will sell, whether a wider audience will “like” them. I say to my art, and to all the safe art I see, go for it! Why not do something daring? Be bold and different, try new methods and make rash decisions in the studio. Wreck things, spray-paint over them, waste expensive materials…just try to do something bigger than what’s been done before. Artists are superheroes, we’re antifragile, and we can do anything.

Good Deeds

Doing something nice for someone else should be its own reward, right? Well sure...but there can be other benefits. My friend, Denise Relke, has been a huge supporter of my art for ages. Not only does she admire my work wholeheartedly and buy paintings from me, but she helps out too. Every year, she comes and minds my studio for an hour during the Culture Crawl, so that I can grab lunch and do a mini-tour of my own.

Denise runs her own jewellery business, Sporty Jewels.  She is very self-sufficient, and seldom asks me to help her in return, even though she has booths at various sporting events all year round. So I was very happy to have a chance to repay her kindness when she needed a promotional dartboard for her jewellery booth. She had an idea of what she wanted, and we brainstormed on how to achieve it. We got a round piece of plexiglass cut, and then I drew a dartboard pattern on it and painted it with bright acrylic colours. She got personalized darts to complete the game. The whole project was a big success, with her customers loving the playful aspect of the promotion.

It looks like a tropical location, but it's actually Victoria,

Of course, Denise was overly grateful and brought me a gorgeous orchid for the studio. So my good deed was already rewarded, right? Well, actually the biggest reward has been that I had to buy a compass to draw the dartboard. And having a compass has caused me to paint dartboard patterns everywhere. In the past months, here are some of the layers I’ve painted.


So you see, creative ideas can come from all kinds of places, even good deeds. Does this inspire you to do something nice for someone today?

Scandinavian Top Ten

This summer we travelled to Scandinavia, specifically to Denmark and Sweden. We began in Copenhagen, drove north through Denmark, took a ferry to Sweden and made our way to Stockholm.

I’d never been to this part of Northern Europe before, and it was incredible. We’ve been trying to maintain that holiday feeling by trying to bring little reminders of our trip back home, I’m lighting tea lights at mealtime, eating a homemade granola I developed after a fabulous hotel breakfast, and watching the TV series, Bron/Broen, which I highly recommend.

Of course, we did all the regular tourist things like canal cruises and castle tours, but we also hit art museums wherever possible, especially contemporary ones. Here are my top ten art highlights.

1. I wandered into the tiny Charlottenburg Museum in Copenhagen, simply because it was across the street from our apartment and I had a free hour. First I saw a local MFA show of mixed quality, but when I got to the top floor, there was an exhibition of two text artists: Simon Evans and Öyvind Fahlström.

If someone had told me I’d fall in love with an artist who used paper, ballpoint pen, scotch tape, and litter to make art, I would have thought they were nuts. But Simon Evans’s work is incredible. He balances obsessiveness, humour, and order to create incredible work. I could look for hours at his pieces; they look like the output of a creative genius locked in a cubicle with only office supplies. Unfortunately photos (and especially my crummy photos) do not do justice to his intricate works and he doesn't seem to have a website, so google him and check him out.
A close-up, where you can see a dissected mouse and his intricately-taped paper.

2. The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, located just outside Copenhagen, is a gorgeous contemporary art space right on the water. We got to see a Pop Art and Design show, which was excellent. I’ve noticed that I’ve seen a lot of incredible American art while I’m in Europe, but I guess the best art transcends nationalities. At the Louisiana, I discovered the obsessive work of Tara Donavan, an artist turning things as mundane as drinking straws and nails into art.

This giant sculpture was made from strips of film.
My favourite piece at the Louisiana was the permanent Yayoi Kusumi installation, “Gleaming Light of the Souls,” which you enter into. It’s a mirrored room of glass, water, and lights, which both delighted me and took me back to the disco days of my youth.

3. At the National Gallery of Denmark, I wandered through the works of many interesting Danish artists I had not encountered before. Afterwards, I found that I could learn more about them from the excellent museum website. But I was particularly struck by this huge painting by Poul Gernes, because it reminded me so much of the circle paintings I've been doing, right down to the painted metallic surface. His was done in 1925-26, and I swear I've never seen it before!

4. I loved Your Rainbow Panorama at the top of the Aros Museum in Aarhus, Denmark. It’s a fantastic multi-coloured transparent tunnel by Olafur Eliasson. The city of Aarhus is all around you, reflected in different colours as you walk through.
From the Aros website, the wider view.
Me, in the purple and pink section naturally.

 5. Also in Aarhus, we saw the Sculpture By The Sea exhibition, which consists of more than 60 sculptures set along a walkway beside the ocean. Lots of humourous works, including a simulated car crash/landfill and my favourite: a giant message in a bottle. Since the Danes love to picnic outside in the summer, it was the perfect blend of cultural activity and sea breezes. The path was filled with Danes of all ages, and tourists like us.

It's the scale that makes art pop.
Many international artists had to scrounge their raw materials, so lots of garbage was used.

6. Sometimes the building rivals the art inside. In Moderna Museet Malmö, everything was orange: the exterior, the interior, the furniture, even the elevator. But inside we did see the installation at the top of this post: Scandinavian Pain by Ragnar Kjartnsson. Originally a huge empty barn where the artist enacted the tortured lonely life of Nordic artists, here the barn was combined with the paintings of tortured Nordic artist, Edvard Munch.

7. Loved the modernist architecture of Malmo, Sweden. A huge area of the city has been redeveloped as modern condos, all with water views of the ports that were formerly shipyards. Also in this development is the famous Turning Torso building.

8. Did you know that Stockholm has a whole island of museums? I chose to visit the Moderna Museet, of course and it was amazing. There was a Niki de Saint Phalle retrospective, I always liked her big, bright female figures but I had no idea how dark and Freudian her oeuvre was. But the art student in me rejoiced as I got to see so many artworks that I had studied in art history like Tatlin’s Tower. 

And then this epic sculpture:

 Yes, Raushenberg’s goat! Amazing to see it, literally in the flesh.

9. Also at the Moderna Museet, I got to stand in the middle of four Gerhardt Richter paintings. For me, that’s better than drugs.

10. My favourite part of the many sights in Scandinavia was seeing the many and varied crowds enjoying the art. To see school kids laughing and pretending to bow down before an Andy Warhol painting, showed me they understood his importance in the canon. To see young families at the Louisiana, enjoying the art, and then playing among the Richard Serra sculptures on the wide green lawn. To have the rail employee tell us what train to get to a museum, and then say how much he envied that we were getting to go there. To see young men together, drinking beer, and wandering through the Sculptures by the Sea. It all showed that art is not elitist in Scandinavia.

And there is so much art! Vancouver and Copenhagen have the same populations, but where Vancouver has two art museums, Copenhagen has 10 art and architecture museums! Whenever I go to Europe, I am blown away by the sheer appreciation of art.

It's like tag, except you have to wear a wolf mask if you're it.

This Is Your Brain on Studio

I wonder if our studios look like our brains? It’s something that I’ve been thinking about ever since I visited the studio of Siobhan Humston’s studio in Harrison Hot Springs, a tiny vacation town in southern British Columbia.

When faced with eviction from her beloved Vancouver live/work space, Siobhan began an odyssey of couch-surfing and artist residencies that ended up in this one year artist residency at the Ranger Station Art Gallery in Harrison. The Ranger Station is a two story building with a community art gallery downstairs and a rambling apartment upstairs. In return for being the artist in residence and manning the gallery on weekends, Siobhan has the entire second floor to fashion to her own needs.

As someone who has shared her home for over 20 years with one husband, two kids, three cats, and various small mammals and fish, I found it fascinating to see the home of an artist who lives with only one peaceful cat. The freedom to set up your home to suit your own interests is very appealing.  

Naturally, there’s a normal bedroom and kitchen/dining area, but the rest of the place is set up to suit her many creative pursuits. It’s like a dream come true for anyone who has ever had to clean up her art project so dinner can be served! She has a meditation corner that looks out onto beautiful Harrison Lake. She has her musical instruments set up in another corner, a merry mix of drums, mandolins, violins, and the like. There is book-filled nook for relaxing.  

She has a small back room with her sewing machine and fabric stash, where she is crafting pillows, clothing and accessories. 

She has a back room filled with power tools where she builds panels and sculptures. It's filled with supplies for her next sculpture project.

She has a big painting studio with multiple works on tables and pinned on walls.

There is a tiny corner for small coloured pencil works, where I longed to sit at the little desk and doodle.

A driving force behind Siobhan’s work is recycling. Many of her fabrics are donated or salvaged, and even some of the papers she paints on were saved from dumpsters. Her current sculpture project is based on one year’s worth of her waste, things that could not be recycled or composted. She has been collecting raw materials with a childlike freedom, sometimes with a vision and sometimes for unknown future possibilities. You can check out her lovely work here.

I really enjoyed my visit to Siobhan’s studio. It stirred my creative imagination to have a peek into her creative process through her studio. I drove up to Harrison with fellow artists, Rachael Ashe and Valerie Arnzten. We were all so inspired by the trip that each one of us blogged about it. For different perspectives, I've linked to their posts as well.

Now, look around at your studio. What's it saying about you?

How to copy

Recently I opened up my Facebook page and found an interiors shop I like featuring a brand new artist. The painting looked very familiar, and I thought, “That’s Artist X!”
But when I read the post, it wasn’t Artist X, it was a brand new artist. So brand new, she didn’t even have a web page yet, but she did have a Pinterest page, and guess what? Artist X is an artist she admires! Admires so much apparently, that she doesn’t mind completely ripping her off and then selling the work.

The issue of copying and copyright is one that affects musicians, writers and artists. With the internet, it’s much easier to find ideas. Musicians are the most protected, you can't even quote song lyrics without permission but riffs are harder to prove. While exact plagiarism is easy to trace, writers have more difficulty protecting their ideas, thus the more than 50 copiers of 50 Shades of Grey. Most artists can’t be bothered pursuing expensive or time-consuming legal action, and the copiers get away with it.  In addition, people seem to believe that because they live far away from the original artist it’s not really theft. But the internet also makes it easier to get caught.

In recent conversations with a leather artisan and a jewellery maker, both found people making replicas of their work. In gentle communications with either the store or copier, both were told that the work “wasn’t exactly the same.” The artisans had a sad resignation when they told me their stories. I think they felt abused, but didn’t want to drain their creative energies going after the offenders. But the sadness remained as they told their stories. Many artists have also told me that etsy is a ground zero for copiers' inspirations.

Certainly, copying is a good way to learn. Copying was one of the original methods of teaching drawing, which you can still see in museums to this day. If I see an artwork I like, I analyze right away why the composition is pleasing to me or why the size/palette/medium works. I have even done works “in the manner” of artists like Basquiat or Wayne Thiebaud. Some were for school assignments and others were experiments.

Any artist is visually inspired. I have seen motifs on damask fabrics or on antique tiles, and then used them in my work. I have seen colour combinations I liked, and created a palette around them. When am I crossing the line into copying?
Since I’m standing here on a soapbox, I should confess one case, from my own practice, where I might be accused of copying. I have long admired the work of Richard Diebenkorn. I like his use of subtle image under thin paint, his switching between representation and abstraction, his colours, and his composition. In fact, I liked his compositional form so much, that I did a one-page art school assignment on it. Then a year later, I did this painting:

lines revealed

Ocean Park 54 by Richard Diebenkorn

Ocean Park 116 by Richard Diebenkorn

I wasn’t consciously thinking about Diebenkorn when I did the top painting layer, and but certainly there’s no question that there is a resemblance in terms of the final composition and palette. I didn’t copy a single painting, more like I took everything I liked about him, stuffed it in a blender and spewed out this painting. Then, I added my own technique of ripping away the surface and created the exposed wood, randomness, energy, and layering that can be found in most of my art. Originally, I had intended to paint more layers on top, but the composition was so pleasing that I stopped right there. I resined the work, and then featured it in an open studio. It wasn’t until someone mentioned that it reminded them of Diebenkorn, that I realized the resemblance.

So is the final painting mine or a homage? I guess that is debatable, but the fact I even have to ask the question, means that it’s too close. Since then, I have learnt to ask myself if there are visible influences in my work, and if there are I obliterate them. As artists we are visually stimulated and have great visual memories, and we have to make sure that we are not unconsciously copying another’s style or content. If we are consciously copying, a pox on us.

When I first found the copier, I was incensed. I had made the connection that others might not, given that the copier is in Australia and the original artist is not hugely famous. I wanted to email everyone involved, the store, the artist, the copier and the art website which originally featured the artist. In fact, I wrote a whole post, exposing her and other artists I've recently found who copy. But when I talked with my good friend, who also happens to be a life coach, she asked what exactly I was trying to accomplish. Did I want to humiliate and shame artists?
I realized that what I really wanted was prevention: for all artists not to copy each other’s imagination. First I needed to look at myself and see if I could pass scrutiny, and if not then I don’t get to throw the first stone. We can definitely get inspired by work we see and learn from it. Goodness, artists teach workshops so we can learn their technique. We can copy at first, but then we have to stay in the studio and push the work until it becomes our own.

In this case, I noticed that the copier’s work was not as good as the original, she had copied the motifs and techniques, but was missing the random and aged qualities that made the originals sparkle. Still I feel sorry for whoever buys the painting. They own a hollow artwork which lacks its own creative spirit.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

While everyone else was writing their summaries of 2012 or their New Year’s Resolutions, I was lying in bed and complaining about how I was starting 2013 with a bad cold. And then I had to catch up on life, and the blog kept getting pushed back. So my resolution to update the blog weekly went down the drain before it could even begin!

But you know that one of the secrets of success for artists is to keep plugging away. So here I am, not late…but early for the Chinese New Year!

2012 was another great year for my art. It was my best year ever in terms of sales. I have been fortunate enough to see my art sales grow almost every year since I began working fulltime as an artist. I also feel privileged to have met so many wonderful people who support my art: clients, other artists, art bloggers. One amazing part of the internet is that all of these people who I have never met in person, and yet they immeasurably encourage me in my art practice.

Of course, there were setbacks too, but I’m trying not to dwell on them. One of these days, I do intend to write a whole post about rejection, but I’ll be putting a positive spin on that too. I avoid the dark side, because it’s too easy to live there.

So what’s in store for 2013? First off, I do vow to blog weekly…from now on. I’ve even had requests to post more, well from one person anyway but that’s enough for me. I’m actually quite surprised at how often people tell me they enjoy reading my blog, I write a blog post and I rarely get immediate feedback, except from my sweet husband. (By the way, my children find this slightly embarrassing and hugely amusing: “You see each other all the time and you write to each other on the blog. Mom!”) But back to the blog, months later people comment to me in person about blog posts they have enjoyed, so obviously I should blog more. Besides I enjoy writing…

This year I’d like to continue my 2012 vow to do more giving. Just as an update, last year I did loan two paintings to the Union Gospel Mission, donate a painting to the National Nikkei Museum fundraiser, give away five paintings in contests on my fb page and through my newsletter. But I have tons of other ideas for giving, and frankly it was a lot of fun. During the holidays, I was delighted when my kids wanted to come to the studio and make art. When I posted the resulting paintings of the Ikea monkey on my personal fb page, a friend wanted to buy one but instead I gave her the painting and asked her to make a donation to an animal charity. She gave $$$ to the Vancouver Humane Society in my name (which was lovely of her) and they sent me a thank-you card with a pig on it! So the new year is starting off right.

But my biggest push in 2013 is around learning. I’d like to learn some new art skills or techniques this year, so I’ll be looking for interesting courses to take. I’m particularly interested in learning more about Photoshop, screenprinting and figure drawing.

There is a particularly inspiring thread about learning art on a board called Conceptart.org. A man named Jonathan Hardesty decided that he wanted to improve his drawing skills, particularly in the digital realm. So he began putting his sketches up and asking for feedback. He pledged to draw one sketch every day, and more on weekends. To be honest, the first sketches are pretty bad, BUT Hardesty differed from most people. First of all, he did stick to his pledge, he posted drawings constantly, good and bad. Secondly, he kept an open mind all the time. If someone made a suggestion, he thanked them and took it. He was never insulted or defensive, and as a result he got even more advice and encouragement. It became a virtuous circle.

I guess I don’t have to tell you that this story has a very happy ending. You can follow Hardesty’s visual journey from his first drawings to the masterful artist and art instructor that he has become, in this thread.

So, I guess the point is that resolutions are not just for belated New Years. We can all strive to be better…at drawing, at business or wherever our imaginations take us. All it takes is an open mind and a willingness to learn.

New Works

Finally! I've done a ton of experimenting this year, mainly because I didn't have many deadlines. After several months work, I've completed some new paintings that I'm really excited about. As my sometimes curmudgeony photographer commented to me today, "I think you're getting the hang of this."

green city, 36" x 72".
 This painting had very grid-like, urban feel as I was completing it. So of course, I added a map of Vancouver. So far everyone who sees it has tried to find their street. I love the motion of the big colour blocks in this painting.

bikini, 48" x 36"
After I finished this painting, I went home feeling completely satisfied and said, "I did a good day's work today." However my cats were more interested in when I was going to do some cat feeding. I love the detail that shows through the many circles, and the beautiful purple created when the blue and pink resin meet. The yellow flower balances out the composition, in fact there's a lovely balance of many elements here. Sigh.

sunset trip, 36" x 48"
This painting was the most challenging for me. For a long time, it sat on the wall, looking beautiful but incomplete. I hardly ever use black resin, but in this case it added that touch of darkness that so many of my paintings need. In addition, the black is not a deep black, but more like a squid ink black. When wiring it today, I noticed that it worked better on the horizontal, creating a hazy sunset scene. 

tipsy, 36" x 24"
Inspired recycling brought this painting to life. I intend to take a few paintings I'm not happy with and rework them with more layers of resin. This painting was a rather plain one with a little colour and a lot of line, and I added the big black stencil form and then went crazy with the coloured resin. Fun, fun, fun!

upon the shore, 36" x 108"
This painting was the first one to be completed, which means it came together really beautifully (with no agonizing on my part.) It was a direct result of the experimentation I did early in the year, playing with a lot of graffiti elements. I was looking back on my portfolio, and I realized that although I love bright colour, I hadn't ever done anything  neon bright. Now I have, and this painting is so amazing. I can hardly wait to see it hanging in a home, it's the biggest piece I've ever done and a real statement.

vibrant, 24" x 72"
This painting is actually part of a series of three that I worked on a year ago. One sold at the Crawl last year to the loveliest couple. And the third one isn't done yet. This painting has a vibrant, modern look and is also an attempt by me to get as machine-like as possible with three coats of supersmooth resin. It's not perfectly smooth though, I don't think my resin work will ever be. And that's good, since the human touch is what distinguishes original art.

Too much choice?

Only one of these size will survive...

A lot has been written about the many decisions we make in our lives, and the idea of too much choice. A few years ago I read the book, The Paradox of Choice, by Barry Schwartz. He explores the idea that although we would think that having lots of choices would be a good thing, it actually fries our brains. The brain tires of having to make the constant decisions, and begins to shut down. At first, the brain is as bright and perky as an energetic preschooler, but after having to decide breakfast, what to wear, which route to take to avoid the accident, and then all the work decisions… by the end of the day the brain is as exhausted as that preschooler’s mother at 5:00 pm. “Whatever,” the brain says, “I don’t care anymore.” This whole idea of too much choice has given birth to voluntary simplicity movements and ideas of non-consumption.

I completely agree with this idea. One way I simplify is to make choices by colour. I prefer bright, true shades, the kind you see in my paintings. To the despair of my technophile son, my cellphone was chosen because it came in this great turquoise colour. My camera is hot pink. My car is cherry red. And this works for me because I’m happy each time I use the item, its colour cheers me up.

Yet when it comes to my paintings, I have to admit I do a lot of experimentation. And one way I’ve experimented has been size. I created smaller sizes to make more affordable work for certain shows and events.  But because a lot of my work is dense and layered, I feel that detail doesn’t work on a small scale and I usually work as large as I can. Currently that size is limited by what fits in my cherry red car, so what I’ve done lately is to work on diptychs. The work is larger in total, but more portable.

When life hands you a bunch of 36" square panels, make a diptych.

But I feel many sizes are actually confusing for people who come to my studio. They say they love the work but they can’t make up their mind. The second year I displayed my resin art in the Culture Crawl, I had only two sizes and eight paintings and they sold out. The only decision that had to be made was: Which one do I like best? These days I can hardly keep track of all the prices and sizes. So in order to simplify things, I’m going to cut down on the number of sizes of panels that I work on. I currently have 16 different sizes and in the upcoming year, I’ll cut that down to six. I’m looking forward to having fewer decisions in my art. It’s important to really get to know a size or shape and be able to explore all the compositional possibilities. Limits are what fuels creativity. I enjoy playing with small panels, but my main practice is creating the large pieces. Years ago, I made a philosophical decision that I wanted my artwork to have impact when it was displayed, and size is a part of that.

Phew, having made that decision, my brain feels better already.

Art and community galleries

One of the great things about having artist friends is getting the chance to see their exhibitions, both for the art and the chance to explore a new gallery. Seeing work in a studio can’t compare to seeing everything beautifully mounted on pristine walls, with enough space to really appreciate the art. Last week, I went to see the work of my friend, Michelle Sirois-Silver, at the Maple Ridge Art Gallery. The show is called Love, Decay, Repair, and features her textile artwork, both her traditional hooked fabric work and some new explorations she has been making with distressed screenprinting on fabric. I think that the show displays an evolution in Michelle’s work, she is extremely skilled in the fabric hooking and her large scale hostas display that expertise, but I know she is also very excited about doing the new printed and stitched works and I have to admit they are my favourite pieces in the show.

I attended a talk that Michelle gave on her process, and she is extremely generous about sharing all kinds of information on how she does her work and where she gets her materials. She will be giving another talk this Saturday, and I hope to attend that as well. The show runs until October 13, 2012.

I had never been to the Maple Ridge Art Gallery before, and it was interesting to explore it. The gallery is located on a plaza that also connects with a large shopping mall, city hall, the library and a sports centre.  I found this to be a contrast to many community galleries, which are free-standing, destination buildings. I think it’s a good idea, and I hope that many more people drop into the gallery as a result.  Certainly, Michelle’s talk was very well attended.

Recently, Bob Rennie stirred up some controversy in Vancouver when he suggested that instead of one new landmark gallery, the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) should open ten small galleries in different sites throughout the city.

The idea is an interesting one to consider. Is there a way to work art galleries more seamlessly into our lives? Would we feel more ownership of galleries within our community? And what about the existing community galleries, because every city in the Greater Vancouver area already has its own gallery? Some community galleries, like The Reach in Abbotsford, already seem to have a relationship with the VAG and display their work. Others have formed their own mandates, like Surrey Art Gallery, which features more video work. Still others have retrospectives of important artists who are not favoured by the VAG; I have seen fantastic shows of Renee Van Helm, Vicki Marshall and Bill Burns at community galleries. While the VAG displays artists who have already been crowned by the art world, Vancouver has few venues for emerging or mid-career artists. The now disappeared Artropolis show was a great way for new local artists to be discovered, but nothing similar has taken its place.

The Maple Ridge Art Gallery set up for Michelle's demo

Shows like Love, Decay, Repair are important for the artist in many ways. As the audience, I enjoy seeing Michelle’s work displayed in the proper setting, and it gives others an introduction to her talents. But for the artist, a solo show like this is validating in many ways: the chance to work with a professional curator, a deadline to complete a large body of work, a milestone for the CV.  In addition, I believe there’s a wonderful personal satisfaction in looking at your work filling a huge gallery space. “I made all that,” you think, and it feels great.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Artists

What limits artists from reaching their full potential? Here’s my list of the seven deadly sins of artists, because everyone likes lists, right?

1. Envy
This is the number one sin in the minds of many artists. They envy something about other artists: income, fame, representation or even talent. A little envy can be motivating if it kicks your butt into working harder or doing something new. But too much envy is paralyzing, it eats away at you like evil moths on your favourite cashmere sweater. Art is subjective in many ways, so while you create work that you love, it can stay undiscovered for a multitude of reasons. If you feel the envy, try to imitate rather than compete. I don’t mean imitate someone else’s art, but rather imitate the ways they get their art out there because exposure is the only way that people will find your work. When I find an artist whose work parallels mine, I look at the galleries or online sites they use as potential venues for me.

2. Greed
Most of the original sins have to with excess. It’s good to desire to have one easel, but wanting 12 is greedy. (Although can you apply that to paint? I always seem to need and want more paint.) I would twist greed around a little and say that you really need to develop a style of painting, and not hop onto every new trend you see. Painters can paint still lifes/landscapes/portraits/abstracts in watercolour/oil/acrylic/encaustics/pastels, the permutations are endless. But if you hop onto every new trend that catches your eye, are you really getting better? Are you developing your own style? Many beginning artists come into my studio and say immediately, “I want to do abstracts too! I want to use resin too!” My process came out of years of experimentation. At first I copied styles I liked, but eventually my interest in layering and transparency brought me to the place I’m at now. And while I still experiment, I do try to focus on the same ideas that brought me here.

3. Pride
After you’ve worked as an artist for a while, you begin to take pride in your practice. You’ve accomplished things, you’ve had career success, you have technical expertise, you may even start teaching others. Now what are you? An emerging artist? A mid-career artist? An established artist?
In Buddhism, there is a concept called Beginner’s Mind, where you have to empty your mind so you can learn more. I think it’s important to have Beginner’s Mind, to continue to take classes, to ask questions either of other artists or on artist forums. While it’s satisfying to give advice, once you become “an expert” you’re painted into a corner where you have to know everything. You want to keep evolving your art, not become one of those artists whose work looks exactly the same as it did 20 years ago. Keep seeking your painting nirvana.
I do see the irony in the fact that I’m writing an advice post and saying I’m no expert, and later this week I’ll write more about Beginner’s Mind. Also, since I certainly don't know everything, I do welcome any comments and advice you have. Feel free to add your own advice to the comments section, the more minds the better.

4.  Wrath
Honestly, I don’t know if wrath can apply to artists. Most are so delighted to be able to pursue a profession of autonomy and creativity, that they don’t need to rage. But do know that if you’re filled with negativity it will come out in your paintings, paintings really are the mirror of our emotions as we create them. I’ve had so many people say that my art is happy, and some even suggest that I must be a happy person. Although I don’t consider myself particularly sunny, I guess I am pretty optimistic, and I’m always happiest when I’m painting.

5.  Lust
Thankfully for this list, lust does not apply only to sex, according to Wikipedia it can also be “the intense desire of money, fame or power,” So let’s examine that, let’s say you do want money, fame and power, gulp, all of it. The art world has a hierarchy and you have to learn it to climb it. So while working hard in the studio is important, you also have to get connected to the art world. This means going to openings, meeting other artists, collaborating with other artists, reading art publications and blogs, in general becoming a bigger part of the world around you. Also working on projects that are larger scale is good, like public art installations or international artist calls. Publicity is important too, as is winning awards. Of course all of this is easier said than done.
Of all the sins, this area is my biggest weakness. I love to go the studio and put the hours in, but then I want to go home and be with my family. And when I do go to openings, I'd rather look at the art than network. So how can I give advice? I recently read an interview with NYC artist, Will Cotton, who tells how he got connected and he makes it sound so easy! Plus his paintings look delicious.

6. Gluttony
I don’t know what to say about this except if you eat a big lunch then sometimes you fall asleep in the afternoon. And if your face lands on your paint palette or a painting, that would be bad. Not that I know personally of course.

7.  Sloth
When I went to art school, almost everyone was talented…duh, that’s how they got admitted to a competitive art school. However in every painting class there were one or two people who were transcendently gifted, they painted stuff that made me go “Wow!” or “Holy @$&#!” Sometimes it was work I didn’t even like, like fleshy portraits or muddy landscapes of skateparks, but anyone could tell it was good. What is interesting though, is that those really great painters had a good work ethic. They painted and painted, they had their assignments done, and they had time for exploration as well. I would have predicted that these students would be successful artists.
(As an aside, my predictions were only 50% right. Out of all the people in my painting classes, two are now fairly successful artists, one I would have predicted and the other never impressed me yet I saw his work at the VAG last week. The one guy I thought was the best painter, I’ve never heard of him again, he may be in the States somewhere but he’s never shown in Vancouver.) 
It’s a chicken and egg situation. Are they talented first and work hard because it comes naturally, or are they good painters because they’ve already worked so hard? The answer doesn’t really matter because either way, they’re a good bet for greatness in the art world. The corollary is also true: the lazy art students are never heard from again. If you can’t even finish your assignments, what are the chances you’ll be ready for a big show?

So that’s it, the seven deadly sins of artists. What’s your weakness? Attack it today.

Turkish Delights

Whew! Five posts in five days. While that may not seem like much, I have trouble blogging monthly. It all began a week ago when Rachael Ashe told me that there are online challenges to blog every day for a month, so I decided to first see if I could even do five in a row. I'm proud that I've done five, and I think I'll sign up for one of those challenges sometime soon. I'd like to plan it out first, and work on a theme like "The Business of Art" or "Expressing your Creativity." Stay tuned for that.
And speaking of Rachael, she asked me, "When are you going to blog about your Turkey trip? I want to read about it!" So by request, here's the art I saw in Turkey:

I love going to Europe, and luckily Patrick’s obsession with all things Byzantine has already taken us to Venice three times. However Constantinople was the true Byzantine capital, so we finally went to Turkey this summer. I found Istanbul to be much more of a European city than I had expected: the narrow cobblestone streets, the vibrant café life, and the cultural diversity. Indeed, Istanbul has a geographic foot in both Europe and Asia, balancing neatly in the centre.

When we travel in Europe, we spend the first days exploring the must-see attractions, in this case: Aya Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Dolmabahçe Palace, Topkapi Palace and Kariye Müzesi. All of these sites are magnificent in their own ways, and I was dazzled by the mosaics, the grand scale of the buildings, and most of all the strange evolution of many of these buildings in their conversions from Christianity to Islam, and then partially back again. As always I eventually begin to crave something bright and modern. At this point, I take over the itinerary and we head to the nearest modern art museum or exhibition, which happily every European city always has. 

In this case we went to the Istanbul ModernA former warehouse, right on the Bosphorus Strait, has been converted to an elegant art museum. The building has some great permanent art installations, like the suspended book ceiling on the lower floor and the chain link & bullet hole staircase. The exhibitions rotate, but there is an emphasis on modern Turkish artists, most of whom I was completely unfamiliar with. We saw a retrospective of Burhan Dogançay, who did a lot of paintings of urban walls, something I find very inspiring as well.
Usually when I visit a museum, there is one artwork I end up falling for, in this case it was Horrible Shark by American artist, Mark Bradford. From the first time I read about Bradford, I was very interested in his work because he uses an excavation process as I do. He uses found materials like the paper flyers torn from the walls of his neighbourhood or the perm papers from his mother’s beauty salon. I was not allowed to take photos at the Istanbul Modern, but I did find one online image of this painting. Unfortunately, I feel like the colours are not correct here, the pink was more vibrant and you don’t really get a sense of the depth of the work. The painting is huge and amazing, I could examine its details for hours.

Horrible Shark by Mark Bradford (Photo from the blog of Kileigh Hannah)

In addition to the Istanbul Modern, we went to some contemporary galleries along the main pedestrian mall, the Istiklal Caddesi. There was an amazing variety of work, and we particularly enjoyed the Erwin Wurm exhibition at Gallerist Tepebasi. Wurm is an Austrian artist who has a great sense of humour, and the small rooms with antique detailing set off his work beautifully.

Erwin Wurm at Galerist Tepebasi

The huge gallery building of  SALT Beyoglu was very impressive as well, a minimalist space full of cement and straight lines. We saw some interesting American photography there. One slightly disconcerting thing is that even the smallest galleries seem to have armed security guards. Security guards are more prevalent in Turkey in general, but having them in gallery spaces seemed to me to politicize the artwork in some way.

The lovely Misir Apartments building has been changed into a series of small galleries. The whole building has elegant architectural details and exploring it was a real adventure. We walked into one dishevelled gallery, where a middle-aged man dressed in a coverall sat in the middle of a trash-filled room. When I asked him if he was the artist, he barked something in Turkish and a hipster girl came running out to explain that he was only the locksmith. The show idea was that they were cutting gallery keys for anyone who wanted to come in and create art at any time. Since one of the hottest bars in the city is at the top of Misir Apartments, most of the art seemed to have been created in drunken stupor, but the idea was a brave one. Also in that building we saw these interesting paintings by a young artist who used faces taken from the newspapers for his subjects. Unfortunately I have lost my notes, but I will continue to search for his name.

Mystery portraits in the Misir Apartments

I love maximalism and there was one bravura exhibition which used colour, detail, and ornamentation to the max! Two artists, one Canadian and one Turkish, have created a multi-storey extravaganza of art. The show was called Revolution Revelation by Arkin (Mercan Dede) and Carlito Dalceggio, and I was able to take a number of photographs. The amount of work which went into the show was incredible and the whole experience was like a funhouse ride at the fair. You kept going up flights of stairs and finding more craziness. Rather than explain the complexities of this show, here's a visual smorgasbord for you:

The studio where it all gets created.

Colour is my boyfriend

I love colour! But for me, colour is like that boyfriend with whom you keep breaking up and then getting back together. Why do we break up? Sometimes, because other people say we should, “M.A., you could sell more work, if it was more…subtle…” or “Do you really need to use every colour, every time?” Sometimes, because the light or season changes, and bright colour seems too harsh. Sometimes, because I want to do something different, just for the sake of change. Pretty much all the various reasons you break up with anyone, but luckily colour is that steady kind of boyfriend who sticks around.

Right now, I’m back together with bright colour, and I’m playing with coloured resin. I love its transparency, its vibrant colour and the fact I can’t predict how it will turn out. It’s tough to manipulate resin, I pour out a lovely swirling pattern and next thing I know, it’s a blotchy puddle. Or I try to mix my tints and come up with a strange snot-coloured green instead of the bright lime I was aiming for. And when I’m in this colour mood, I do want to use ALL the colours ALL the time. These smaller paintings were all done in the past two weeks, but I am in the final stages of completing seven new large paintings. They are just getting to the exciting phase, where I have completed a lot of layers and I’m getting ready to rip them back and see what’s beneath. And since I’m in a colourful phase right now, that will definitely influence the final product.

I’m really excited, and right now it looks like my boyfriend, Colour, will be sticking around for a while…

City and Colour

Yesterday I told you about how I fell in love with Mike Kelley's miniature city the moment I saw it, I even wanted to live there. Will it ever be possible to live in a translucent resin city? Well, that might be something I regret the first morning when I go to take a shower, or possibly when I have to watch others doing the same. However there are places in the real world where colour does rule, and in the past week I've seen a few of them on blogs and on my facebook feed, so I thought I'd round them up for you.

First off, a timely Olympic salute from Plenty of Colour, finds London's Riverbank Arena for field hockey embracing the limitless possibilites of artificial turf. Instead of pretend grass green, they're using a cerulean blue and a hot pink. It's generating buzz from the media, and the decision was not a purely aesthetic one (unlike my life where I make all purchase decisions based primarily on colour) these colours were chosen to be easier for spectators to process. 

Here's the lovely painted house of Katwise, a fabric artist in New York state. She took a shabby white house and transformed it into a piece of colourful art. She chronicles the whole process on her website, including the day she walked into the paint store and said "Give me one of everything!" She's truly an artist living her aesthetic in all aspects of her life. That reminds me, sometime I'll have to give you a tour of my house where colour rules as well, although not this vibrantly.

Finally in Taipei, as part of Very Fun Park 2012 (Really? The project name alone is making me happy!) Takashi Iwasaki has designed beautiful temporary installation on the Fubon Financial Centre. Not only does it look cheerful and buoyant, it perfectly conveys his artistic style on an enormous scale. If you're not going to Taipei, you can find his work on a smaller scale on his website or at an August show in Winnipeg. I'll be going to Winnipeg soon, so I'll check it out and report back.

Colour has the power to uplift our everyday lives when it's used in design. As I mentioned, my own home is very colourful and I find it a cheering contrast to the grey Vancouver weather. Occasionally people ask me for help in choosing their paint colours, and I'm always encouraging them to go for something bold and crazy. It really makes you feel happier, and that's worth a lot!

Going Back to Planet Childhood

I had a moment of pure joy at the Portland Art Museum. Each time I visit, I enjoy some old favourites as well whatever new works they have on display. This weekend, I went to see two artists they were advertising: Francis Bacon and Gerhardt Richter, both of whom I like very much. The Bacon painting was a very good one, but sadly only one painting. The Richter works were very much in the grey tones, and not the huge squeegeed work that I love, so that too was a little disappointing. But when I went upstairs to the Modern Art area, I turned a corner into a darkened room and saw this:

Unbelievable!  The surprise and the sheer joy of seeing a colourful, brightly lit city in miniature made me squeal delightedly in the luckily deserted gallery. I walked slowly around the whole installation, while it was definitely a city, none of the buildings looked like anything realistic, the whole thing was more fantastical than representational. The work was made of translucent resin, LED lights, and colour, three of my favourite things.The title is City 0000 by American artist, Mike Kelley. According to the explanation in the gallery it’s based on the comic book city of Kandor, “ the home of Superman (that) was supposed to be have been miniaturized and stolen before the planet exploded.”

Kelley’s City 0000 definitely creates a sense of childish wonder and delight, everyone who steps into the space became instantly happy. The card in the gallery further explains Kelley’s influences as “populist childhood references to his fascination with Superman and Kelley’s oft-stated longing for a more perfect, rational life.”

As a mother, I noticed that my son, Sam, loved to draw when he was young, but his pictures were not representational as much as narrative. He would draw hundreds of tiny stickmen, armed or in motion, sometimes battling each other or sometimes journeying across a carefully mapped territory. His drawings were unlike anything I’d ever done myself, and when you looked at them he would carefully explain exactly what was happening in Sam-world. While at art school, I read about sculptor Claes Olenburg, and how as a child, he and his brother created a complete historical and geographical world of their own. I remember feeling that click of connection: Oh…they’re just like Sam. 

As artists, it’s a way to touch others, to pull from our common experiences of being young and full of imagination, that time in our times when our creativity is limitless and uninhibited.  And then like Mike Kelley, you can move people to joy with your art.

Follow that blog

I stole her logo for this post only

I love to read blogs about art, and their content ranges from gallery reviews to social issues to artist interviews. I can happily waste hours checking out art and art commentary. However I do have one favourite art blog, and that is the Artsy Forager.

Lesley Frenz curates this delightful blog, and her premise is a simple one: she loves to discover new artists and introduce them to art lovers. I have found many new artists to admire on her blog and I have also had the honour of being featured on her blog. Lesley chooses her favourites from your artwork, and then writes an eloquent essay on the work as well. Being on her blog got my work noticed by other bloggers and art websites, and yet Lesley does so much without any monetary return. Her blog has no ads or popups, it’s fuelled only by a passion for art.

Everyone has their own taste in art, and I’ll never love every pick someone else makes, but what I do respect about Lesley is that she really delves into her task and finds different artists from everywhere. Some of them don’t even have websites, but use Tumblr or Flickr, and yet she’s dug them up. While I've noticed that some art bloggers endlessly reblog each other’s favs, Lesley searches for unique artwork that excites her. 

If you’ve ever been cornered at a party by some boring person who tells you their entire life story, you know that a little mystery makes a person much more interesting. What I enjoy about Lesley’s writing is that while she writes about art, she inserts something of herself into the essay, to explain better why the art appeals to her. She has mentioned bits of her own history, hinting at a love story that has taken her right across the United States, as well as having to uproot her home every few months. I enjoy those personal glimpses as much as the artwork.

This week is the perfect time to begin following the Artsy Forager blog, if you haven’t already. Lesley and artist Christina Baker have organized a turnabout, where artists get to interview Lesley! I am one of the artists, but having seen the gorgeous art of everyone involved, I’m sure it will be a meeting of creative minds. So please check out the Artsy Forager  and also tell me your favourite art blog and I'll check it out.

What's new in the July studio

This year has been all about experimentation for me, and I especially like to experiment in the summer. Here are three paintings I did for a Japanese-Canadian art show, so I used my favourite pop colour along with with maps on Japan. I played with abstract shape, floating areas of paint, and photo transfers. Instead of resin, I sealed them with acrylic medium, so they are subtly shiny, if anything I paint can ever be called subtle.

pink map of Japan, 16" x 16"

Pokemap of Japan, 16" x 16"

souvenir map of Japan, 16" x 16"

These three paintings have just gone to Toronto, where they will be in the Artsu Matsuri show. Here are all the details:

Artsu Masturi
July 12 - 28, 2012
Opening: Thursday July 12, 7 - 9:30 p.m.
with music by Bruce Tatemichi and wieners by Chef Shoji, cash bar, and Artsu Matsuri artists
Pechu Kucha Thursday July 19, 7:30 p.m.

JCCC Gallery
6 Garamond Court, Toronto, ON M3C 1Z5 
416-441-2345 email: heritage@jccc.on.ca 

I wish I could be there, Chef Shoji's weiners sound especially intriguing.

Your experiences with art and travel

I love to travel and I love to see new art when I travel, and it seems I’m not the only one. In this blog post are the answers to the May/June contest question, “What was your best art experience while travelling?”
I was amazed at the detailed answers I got, the question seemed to stir up the wonderful trip memories. Emi wrote that she made the subject the topic of a dinner conversation and I got three great entries as a result.

Some people had their best encounters with art in Europe, where treasures of art exist both inside and outside the museums.

Amy wrote:
My best art experience while traveling was my very first art experience while traveling--and maybe my first real art experience ever (I don't count being dragged to art museums during field trips, because no one ever pays attention during field trips). My sister was studying abroad in Spain during my junior year of high school, and I went to visit her for two weeks. It was my first big solo trip traveling anywhere at all, and I was excited to go to Europe. My sister and I spent several days in Madrid, and she took me to the Prado, Reina Sofia, and Thyssen museums. While I was just wandering aimlessly around the Prado, not really sure what I was looking at because I was just seventeen and surrounded by surrealism, I saw Máxima Velocidad de la Madonna de Rafael. I loved it because it was like I was looking at Raphael's painting, except it had been painted over with some blues and some spheres of other colors. For me, it was the perfect mixture of the realism in Renaissance paintings with something new, bright, and different. I must have looked at that painting for at least ten minutes, trying to absorb every detail and facet of it. I bought a postcard of the painting in the gift shop and tucked it away inside my photo album of memories from that trip to Spain. Every once in a while, I'll pull it out and look at the image again, and I find it as equally mesmerizing as I did then--almost ten years later. 

Salvador Dali, Máxima Velocidad de la Madonna de Rafael

Emi wrote:
I was visiting the Czech Republic where a girlfriend of mine worked for Mitsubishi Steel in Prague in 1994. We went north of Prague into the countryside. The countryside was populated with razed denuded mountains that had been mined but the place we visited was pastural. We visited a former film-maker and his wife who host a sculpture event annually where people gather and created installations that take advantage of the natural landscape. For example, creating sculptures and patterns from the earth and metal sculptures through which through the woods behind could be admired - pieces that integrated natural landscapes and were intended to make a counter statement to the destruction of the nearby exploited natural environment. It was fascinating to walk around and admire these sculptures, some of which were naturally decaying with time. Down the road, we came upon a wonderful glass exhibit in an art gallery, which had formerly been a castle. It seemed amazing to find such a rich exhibit in the middle of an isolated countryside. My mother had just begun working with glass in Japan and I was keen to appreciate the medium better. The gallery was called Klenova Castle and is located in Janovice. It is apparently one of the most famous art galleries in the Czech Republic now. Later that night, we wanted to watch a world soccer cup game but there were few pubs or restaurants in the area and they were closed. We could see a few tv screens in private homes. Instead, we sat with glasses of wine and our host shone film spotlights onto the trees above us, creating beautiful shadows, natural entertainment, and art.

PW wrote:
Seeing Guernica at the Reina Sofia in Madrid made me think differently about the power of art to create cultural touchstones. The painting was constantly surrounded by a crowd about 50, almost all of them Spaniards. People would look on in respectful silence for a few minutes and then move on. They already knew what the painting meant because their parents and grandparents had lived through those terrible times. It was if they weren't looking in order to understand the painting but instead were using it as a reminder of what can happen when we lose our capacity for empathy. I think that this kind of secular worship gives a culture a moral foundation that surpasses any flag waving or anthem singing.

Picasso, Guernica

Some people love to travel and find local artists, then bring home art as a lovely souvenir of their trip. Souvenir in French means to remember, and what better memory of a trip could there be than an artist’s vision and your remembrance of meeting the artist?

Caroline wrote:
Sometimes you can find the most beautiful things where you don't expect them. So my best art experience isn't a famous one. When visiting The Forbidden City I encountered a local artist who spent his days painting there. I was struck by a painting of a detail of a gate, a handle shaped like a dragon head. I ended up buying it. 
I don't travel much unfortunately but whenever I travel and something catches my attention I buy it. On a trip to Wales I bought a lithography which depicts the local beach, by coincidence the one I visited, covered in snow. The first snow that part of Wales had seen in years. They're better memories than pictures to me.

Liz wrote:
Oh this is easy ;). While traveling in Italy years ago I found out there was a little gallery in Vernazza. We ventured upon it after hiking the Cinque Terre and found the owner to be a most charming gentleman. To this day, the paintings that I purchased from him are my favorite reminders of his gorgeous little town and our trip to Italy with our kids years ago. Those are the paintings that I would retrieve first if God forbid my house was burning!

Others found inspiration closer to home, back here in North America.

James wrote:
When I was on duty in Ranklin Inlet in 1983 as a peace officer, I watched Adam Totalik sculpt soapstone carvings. I realize now I should have bought a sculpture but hesitated at the time because they were $90 apiece!
I also remember watching a group of 10-12 men sculpting wood figurines (elephants, giraffes, zebras) for 45 minutes while in Namibia, Africa. They were quietly focussed, occasionally sharing a joke he didn’t understand. I enjoyed the energy of their purposeful work and watching the sculptures take shape.

Eiko wrote:
In 1961, when I first came to the US from Japan, I saw a Thai art exhibit in the Seattle Museum of Art. It was not the exhibit that was significant but who I met. I was introduced to another woman, who was going to go to the same school with her and we hit it off right away. Marion and I fast became best friends and were roommates at Yale School of Design.

Marianne P. wrote:
I have had so many unforgettable art experiences abroad but the one that comes immediately to mind is one I had close to home in Victoria at the Gallery there. I found myself completely alone in the little room devoted to Emily Carr. As I looked at her work and read the information I found myself in a complete state of emotional overwhelm. I was grateful to be alone as if anyone had peered in they would have observed me with tears streaming down my face. I suddenly had this deep feeling of understanding. That's really the only way I can describe the experience. It was so profound. Oddly enough, when I was much younger I was always very uncomfortable around her work as it evoked a feeling of fear and dread in me. Now 35 years later I feel a quiet sense of wonder.

Emily Carr, Dream Picture

Thank you for sharing these lovely and thoughtful answers. From a random draw, the winner is Amy, congratulations.

Destroying work

I just destroyed a large resin painting. First it was sawed in half and then I attacked it with a sledgehammer.  This act was not a cultural protest or a temper tantrum.

Recently I’ve participated in some on-line critiques, and what I’ve noticed is the tendency of mediocre artists to get too attached to their work and fret about small changes. Half the time, I want to suggest that they do 99 drawings and then post the hundredth one, instead of agonizing over the first one. After my latest exasperating experience, I thought about myself. Was I discarding 99 works, or was I clinging to my own work?

Throughout my art career, I have periodically destroyed my artwork. When I work on paper, I cull the weak drawings, roll them up and burn them in the fireplace.  There is something satisfying about the flames, as if getting rid of old work would make better paintings rise like a phoenix from their ashes. Paintings on canvas were even easier, once I decided that I was no longer satisfied with a painting, I would simply gesso over it, completely obliterating the original and creating a new, slightly textured canvas to work on.

However the resin works on panel have been more difficult to destroy. I can paint or resin on top, but not all the works lend themselves well to this. Obviously I’ve already invested a lot of time and money in them as well. Usually I don’t resin a work until I’m completely happy with it, but occasionally show deadlines force me to rush work and I’ve ended up with a few paintings I’m not quite sure about. Luckily, sometimes someone comes in and falls in love with one and takes it home, but the other paintings stay in the studio like sad wallflowers at the dance. So I selected one painting I've never been happy with and sentenced it to death.

Everyone I’ve told about this destruction asks which painting it was, or suggests I should have just given it to them. I won’t even say which one, for fear they will say “I always liked that one,” which would make me feel awful. If it was a painting I really liked, I might consider donating it to a charity, but those paintings I’m not sure about…I think it’s better to destroy them. I don’t want to be an artist who clings to her work, just because she spent time and money on it.

As someone who has done a lot of reading about clutter while avoiding doing anything about it, I am very familiar with the idea that clutter clogs the energy in your room and prevents action. Paintings that hang around too long depress me, and make me question my own abilities. Getting rid of this painting made me feel both sadness and relief, but when I go into the studio the empty space is energizing. I was able to finish three paintings in a project I’ve been ruminating about for four months!

Last night I went for drinks at our neighbour’s place and she said to me, very gently, “Is everything okay? I saw you between our houses, doing something…with a sledgehammer?”

I laughed and told her I had been destroying a painting.

“Ah well,” she said, “It looked like you were getting something out of your system.”

That’s the truth. Getting rid of work can be cathartic for your studio and your mind. Try it and see.