Creating paintings that resonate with viewers, paintings that hold the viewers attention and bring them back again for another look, is a major goal of every painter. I spent the winter months this year buried in my Iowa studio creating a new body of work and now I’ve started to share it publicly. I’m two art shows in for the year. In the last month I’ve been to my first show in St. Louis, MO at the Laumeier Sculpture Park and participated in a show on the downtown streets of Iowa City, IA.
One of the major benefits to artists exhibiting at an art fair is getting direct feedback from your audience and customers. I’ve learned to observe my visitors and listen closely to their feedback. I’ve also started to jot down some of their comments and observations for me to reflect on later. They are teaching me about my own work. They ask inquisitive questions and as I answer their questions they help me to become more articulate about my work and techniques. Creating a painting is much more of a solitary pursuit, interacting with the general public in my art booth is not.
Observations, Questions and Comments from the road so far this year…
“I feel like you are inside my head.”
“There is so much depth here.”
“You’re my kind of painter.”
“Looks like lots of spontaneity there- I like that…to see surprises.”
“Calming and soothing, yet full of life bubbling up.”
“It’s just like free… so free.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“I love your stuff. It’s so vibrant!”
From a trio of college friends… “Groovy!” “It’s crazy stuff!” “Rad!”
“What is the name of your method? What about the ‘Van Zee Free Method’?”
And, lots of questions about technique…
“Is it glue?”
“Is it Elmer’s?”
“Is it wax?”
“Is it encaustic?”
To which I answer… “No, it is all acrylic mediums and paints”.
“Really??? Cause I didn’t even know acrylic could do anything like this?”
And, then I start to notice which paintings people are gravitating toward and which paintings they look at for a long time and which paintings they point out and talk about to their friends or family.
This year I’ve noticed there is one painting that consistently gets feedback. It is the painting titled “Unraveled Fears”.
Some comments about “Unraveled Fears”…
“It looks like a tornado of love.”
“I think it is an elephant.”
“Looks like female anatomy parts to me.”
“It’s a tornado. I know it’s a tornado!”
“Have you ever in your life stood in front of a painting for such a long time?” From two college age musicians who spent a good half hour studying the painting
And, an interchange between a mom and her high school age son…(which so appropriately happened on Mother’s Day)
Son: “I think it is going up.”
Mom: “No, it is going down.”
Son: “No, I am sure it is going up.”
Mom: “No. I am positive it is going down and I’m the mom so I am right!”
“Unraveled Fears” may be the painting that I wrestled with the most this winter. I spent so much time adding more layers to this painting and and it was the work I was the most hesitant to share. This seems to be a reoccurring experience for me- the paintings that resonate deeply with me, the ones that feel the most deeply personal, the pieces I’m concerned about sharing…end up being the paintings that elicit the most in-depth concentration and conversations. They draw people in for a longer look.
The work that resonates deeply with me, also resonates deeply with others.
And, once again, I am reminded and challenged of what I know to be true…that when artists create from that which is within, when they create from that which is authentic, when they allow their heart and soul to flow into the work, the work will resonate and the real conversations will begin and continue long into the future.
My dearest creative hearts,
I’m sitting at my computer desk gazing out of my window on a gorgeous fall afternoon- it is an unbelievable 72 degrees on Nov. 4. (I am born and raised in Iowa and we are long trained to start most any conversation with a comment on the weather!) And, now that the gorgeous weather conversation has got us going…what’s really on my heart and mind is a recent artistic challenge I’ve been wrestling with.
One question I have been frequently asked is “Do you have any paintings in neutral colors?” Now to be honest- I’ve met these requests to paint with more neutrals with a variety of responses…down right ignoring them, laughing them off, feigning interest while internally shouting “But I DON’T paint neutrals, they are boring”, followed by a crossing my arms pose while internally staking my claim “I paint COLOR!” Occasionally I would let myself wonder, maybe I could try it, but then a whole other host of excuses and fears would rise up. I would worry that in light of my earlier work with bright colors, I “shouldn’t paint neutrals” because it might dilute the signature colors I usually put on my palette. Artists are trained by professionals and gallery owners to do consistent work in a recognizable palette and style so that people can easily recognize the work-deviating from the known can create marketing challenges. But, underneath all the mental gymnastics, what I think was really going on was fear- fears I wouldn’t figure out the technical difficulties of switching to a new color palette, fears the paintings wouldn’t be beautiful (what if people don’t like them?), fears that maybe people would think maybe I was “going through a hard time” if I starting painting gray paintings. Oh- the power of fear to block our creative experiments!
I wish I could tell you that I was so self aware that right away I just started painting neutral paintings. But the reality is that I had to personally do the steps to the creative process that I have taught in my classes so many times throughout the years. One benefit of having painted for many years is that I am becoming more knowledgable about my own resistance patterns to creativity. Sometimes I can’t or don’t take the time to step back and figure out what is going on internally, to really digest what truly is getting in the way.
What finally helped to break my creative roadblock was taking a walk to one of my favorite places-Lake Red Rock. I explored again old territory by doing a slow walk across the remaining section of Horn’s Ferry Bridge that still rises above the Des Moines River.
I allowed myself to go and hang out at a place I have been hundreds of times before, but this time I saw it with fresh eyes. I walked the planks searching for inspiration and sure enough I found it-under my feet.
The weathered boards…
The creative cycle going full circle- a problem to solve, making something new from something old, letting the past speak into my future, letting my specific place in this world inform my art and inspire new creative leaps. A settling of my spirit in knowing that this series of work is authentic to me and my story and my places. And, that the seemingly simple requests for more paintings in a neutral color palette took me on a creative ride back to pieces of my own story.
You have the opportunity to purchase one of the new “Horns Ferry Bridge” series at any one of these three upcoming shows in central Iowa or by contacting me directly at the studio- just send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are interested.
2016 Art Show Schedule
I’m also working on a collaborative painting with artist Chris Vance for the upcoming Paintpushers show “Collision”. Painting in progress now- make plans to see the collaborative piece and meet all the Paintpusher artists at the opening reception on Dec. 2 at the Des Moines Social Club!
2016 Art Exhibits
Dear Creative Heart,
What are your creative influences?
Are you influenced by…
No matter what type of creative activities you pursue, whether that is creative thinking on the job, creative parenting, creative pursuits such as painting, writing, sculpting, photography, you are using your creative muscles multiple times a day as you solve the problems you encounter in the many aspects of your life both personally and professionally.
I’ve been thinking lately about what are the key things that influence my own creative work. I find some things are easier to discern and recognize in my own work than other things. I also am keenly aware that sometimes we are so close to our own influences and personal stories that it is easy to underestimate the ways that they seep into our work and creative solutions. I know I’m influenced by where I live-I am a creative living in the heart of the prairie in central Iowa. I know my relationships with the people who surround me in my personal life show up in the emotions and colors I create with on canvas. I’m becoming more aware of how my past experiences as a professional educator color the way I approach my creative work and the business of being a creative. I am certain that my love of reading and books challenges and grows the way I think and experience the world.
In a recent painting I was surprised to find one of my past explorations into the world of science creep into my work. When I was in college I was faced with the decision to choose a science class and studying the stars seemed a better choice than all the other options, so I signed up for a year of astronomy. I had no idea the amount of actual math and science (!?!!!) that would be involved in the course, but lab time spent gazing through the huge telescope in the observatory at our professor’s house more than captured my active imagination. And so at random interactions in my life, my interest in astronomy is peeked-a visit to NASA in Florida, solar eclipses, red moons, and now… gravitational waves. I’ve been a bit mesmerized by the recent scientific news this year scientists have been able to measure gravitational waves, which are ripples in the fabric of space time that are created when black holes collide. Predicted by Einstein in 1915-1916, studied for decades and now the year 2016 will be going down in history as the year that successful detection of gravitational waves occurred. I really am the farthest thing from a science junky, but thoughts like “What would it be like to experience the energy created when black holes collide?” and “What would the collision of black holes really look like?” have fascinated my mind.
And, as these thoughts and random scientific articles floated through my mind, I designed a painting. When I looked back at the line work several weeks later-I wondered if this might be a mere imperfect impression-a bit of intuitive artistic imagination on my part colliding with my scientific reading…I’m still pondering about it, but I do know that this painting experience stirred something deep within me.
Dear Creative Heart, my encouragement for you to today is to reflect on your unique life and study how these influences maybe showing up in your creative work. Repeat again and again…