Muddy Letters

Purple Coneflower, miniature

“I think all great innovations are built on rejections.” Louis-Ferdinand Celine, (from The Painter’s Keys)

 

All artists face rejection at sometime or other. It is inevitable. For many artists, myself included, our art can feel somewhat like our child. Art comes from the depths of our souls, our hearts. A piece of who we are is in each artwork. To put it out there for others to enjoy is what we create for. Each time we do, we face the possibility that others will not respond with the same love and acceptance that we feel for our art. It is a hazard of the job.

 

Every artist is admonished to “not take it personally.” Hearing that statement over and over does not make it so. But each rejection can become a learning experience. The majority of rejections are likely due to the simple fact that a particular artist’s work does not fit with the vision of the venue. On other occasions, the rejecter may feel it necessary to explain the rejection in terms the artist may find hurtful or discouraging. Other rejections can be deliberately demeaning. Unfortunately, it happens. And sometimes a rejecter attempts to provide constructive criticism. Daniel Grant writing for The Huffington Post states, “Part of the job of being an artist is determining which one applies, and there is not a Website as yet to help with that.”

 

Grant’s words can be taken to heart, as I recently found. While applying to a number of juried venue’s this summer, I encountered some success but not without the inevitable rejections, as well. Most rejections were of the variety, “We have XY applications for only X number of places, …” followed by some explanation. But one such rejection was of the hurtful type. The rejection included the scoring by each of the 5 jurors with comments. Four of the five scored me as a one (the worst) while the fifth scored me as a five (the best). What could be made of that?? Was the fifth one a genius or an idiot? Were the four a mean little clique or a group of learned critics? And no one was in the middle. There were no scores of three.

 

The first reaction was hurt. The four had been explicit in their criticisms. The second reaction was puzzlement. Why was number five an outlier? And why no middle ground? Either the art was terrible or great, not mediocre. That was the first glimmer of hope. No one scored mediocre! After running through all the emotions, a sober look back at each comment produced the final enlightenment. I could remain hurt or look for what was constructive in each comment. What did number five like and what did each of the four dislike. Surprisingly, I found some truth to work on.

 

Rejection has been written on over and over, sometimes helpfully and sometimes not. Some artists just want to stay stuck and grumble, others want to take positive action. Taking positive action requires Courage. For some encouraging ideas, Artpromotivate offers, “How Can Artists Deal With Rejection When Promoting Art?” On her website, Maria Brophy offers additional encouragement in an article titled, “The Illusion of Rejection and How to Deal with it.”

 

Artists can take positive action to overcome rejection or they can treat rejection as an illusion. Either way is better than wallowing in the rejection mud, unless you are a mudwrestler. In that case…nevermind, wallow all you want. For the rest it is worth remembering that Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime and we all know what his paintings are going for now. Not that we are all budding Van Goghs, but you never know! Someone out there reading his/her latest rejection letter may be sitting in the studio staring at a multi-million dollar masterpiece that is awaiting discovery. No rejection letter is so muddy that a little soap and water can’t do the trick. Time to wash the mud off and move on.

Eyes of the Heart

Reelfoot-Afternoon Shadows2

 

“I shut my eyes in order to see.” Paul Gauguin (from Skinnyartist.com)

How can one create with eyes shut? Gauguin’s statement would seem to not make any sense. Does he mean painting with a blindfold on? Many paintings out there look as though they have been painted with a blindfold on. Many more look like they need to have been painted with a blindfold on. But is this to be taken literally?

Gauguin, in my opinion, is talking about the heart. Let the heart see with the heart’s eyes. That is a difficult thing to do when the brain’s eyes want to remain in control. There is the natural inclination to recreate in exact detail what is physically present.   It may be necessary to actually close the eyes to get the right visual. It may take practice. It may take concentration to let go of one set of eyes to allow the others to open.

The art of opening the heart’s eyes and allowing them to take over does not necessarily mean losing realism. The heart’s eyes are eyes of feeling, eyes of emotion. Emotion is the spark that lifts realism out of simple recreation and gives it life. Emotion is the spark of any form of art that lifts it out of boredom and lights a fire.

A blindfold is not required to paint with the eyes shut. It just takes getting in touch with the heart’s eyes. Of course, painting with a blindfold may make for new and interesting art. It could even start a new movement in “blindfold painting.” Who knows, it may become all the rage. Anything can happen when the physical eyes are closed and the heart’s eyes are open.

Feeling the Rain

Slide1

“Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.” Bob Marley (from Skinnyartist.com)

At the first sign of raindrops splattering on the windowpanes, most people run for cover. Or they unfurl an umbrella and search for the nearest shelter hoping not to get too wet. Still others stay indoors and refuse to come out until the rain stops. What if, instead of running, seeking shelter or staying indoors, people looked up to the dark overcast, forbidding sky and followed Gene Kelly’s example, and began to sing and dance. Instead of running for cover, throw hands up to the sky and let the rain pound down. What if, when the rains pound down on creativity, creative people jumped up and started to dance and sing.

It’s inevitable that the creative spirit will get drowned by daily life at some time or other. How long the drowning lasts, depends on the circumstances. Creative people, like any other group, hunker down and ride out the storm, hoping it won’t wash away too much creativity at the same time. A choice is made to hunker down. Nobody is forced to run for cover or unfurl an umbrella. They just do it because nobody wants to get wet. When it’s raining on the creativity parade, artists console each other and say sweet little nothings like, “don’t worry, the rain can’t last for ever.” What if the rain does last forever? What then?

How about refusing to hunker down? How about leaving the umbrella behind?   How about getting wet? Raining on creativity may be a signal that the artist has not being doing enough singing in the rain. The artist is so busy running for cover that the thought of stopping to sing and dance has never occurred. The next time the creativity parade gets rained on, turn toward the rain and check out what it feels like. Does it taste? Or smell? Tune in. It could be the rain is just watering the next creative idea. Jump in. Play Gene Kelly. And pity the souls who prefer to hunker down while artists are singing, dancing and a lot more than just getting wet. There’s no telling what creation may come from feeling the rain instead of running for cover.

 

Weekend Inspiration–Zentangle

Doodling for meditation and relaxation is becoming popular as way to release the stresses of the day.  And its fun!  Everybody likes to doodle in some way even if its just scribbles.  The Zentangle craze is about using doodling as a form of meditation.  Just watching the video is enough to bring on some relaxation.  If you’d like to give it a try and don’t know how to get started, the video below is simple and easy to follow.  Go ahead!  Jump in if you haven’t already.

Colorful Fridays–Moldy, Oily, Creepy Brown

Slide1 “I cannot pretend to be impartial about colors.  I rejoice with the brilliant ones and am genuinely sorry for the poor browns” Winston Churchill (from Sensationalcolor.com)

Warning to fans of Burnt Umber: this will not be pretty.  Treatises on Burnt Umber tend to be generally polite and seldom stoop to name calling, however unflattering they may be.  Occasionally, a fan may make a positive statement on the warmth of browns made with Burnt Umber.  The most prolific use appears to be in under-painting.  But there in lies the problem.  Burnt Umber’s negative qualities can have a profound effect on an overall painting if used in the under-painting without proper precautions.

The name derives either from the Italian region of Umbria where the clay for the browns known as Raw Umber and Burnt Umber was first extracted or for the Latin word for shade, Umbra.  Burnt Umber is the same pigment as Raw Umber that has been fired to achieve the darker brown.  Sources describe Burnt Umber as a warm brown with reddish purple undertones. For watercolorists, burnt umber is hydroscopic and will hold water, according to Real Colorwheel, which can allow mold to set in.  Yuck!  Who wants a moldy painting?  Well, maybe someone might but I can’t imagine why.  Proper precautions with sealants will prevent this problem.

One paint maker advises oil painters that burnt umber be used in thin layers because of high oil content.  Instead of moldy, the painting is now oily. Oily may be marginally better than moldy, maybe. The best overall take down of burnt umber comes from The Painter’s Log of Timothy Joseph Allen at American Artist in Rome.com.  Allen’s post is titled, “Is Burnt Umber Evil?  Allen spoke with pigment supplier, Kremer Pigmente and others about the problem of Burnt Umber.  From Kremer he received the advisement, paraphrased by Allen, not to use burnt umbers because they “creep to the surface.” After researching the issue and discussing it with other authorities, Allen chooses not to make the final judgment that Burnt Umber is actually evil but has decided to experiment with mixing new browns anyway.

Essential Vermeer.com has a more positive description of Burnt Umber.  Essential Vermeer says the pigment is derived from manganese oxide and iron hydroxide, the basic elements of clay.  The website states burnt Umber became the favored paint for the creating the shadows in flesh tones by Vermeer, Rembrandt and Rubens replacing the green previously used.  Nothing evil in those Masters.  They evidently knew how to tame the evilness.

Burnt Umber is a rich warm dark brown.  Its uses are many when armed with the necessary knowledge.  Some may choose to go that route.  Others may tame the oily problem for oil painters and the moldy problem for watercolorists.  No word on taming the creepiness.  If not interested in dealing with the mold, oil, or creepiness, just go for Van Dyke brown or mix a new brown.  Or go for no brown at all.