Just Let it Go

The DeWalt Sander – one of my most valuable studio tools!

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Quang Ho give a demo. He was painting from a model at the OPA national show with a huge audience, and when he was about 45 minutes into the painting, he decided that he wasn’t quite happy with the eyes and wiped the whole thing down to canvas and started over. The entire audience gasped in horror (it looked great to us!), and he proceeded to tell everyone that the biggest mistake you can make in painting is to get too attached.

It made a huge impression on me because at the time I was the poster child for getting too attached to my paintings. If I painted a scene and liked one little thing in it (the color! the sky! that tiny brushstroke in the corner!), I would get all invested in it. I just couldn’t let go. And even if everything else in the painting went wrong, I couldn’t bring myself to scrape it or set it aside. And so I ended up with a LOT of mediocre paintings. A lot of mediocre paintings with a couple of small parts that worked, and a whole lot of big parts that didn’t work at all.

Since then, I’ve learned to let go. When something isn’t working, I’ll scrape it and start again. When a finished painting doesn’t do it for me, I’ll trash it, no matter how many hours of studio time it took me to paint it. And if a painting has been floating around my galleries for a few years without selling, I have no problem getting rid of it.

I still can’t paint like Quang Ho, but being able to let go has made me a better painter. It allows me to move on, and leave failures in the past.

When you get too attached to your work, you are subconsciously embracing failure. It’s difficult to improve when you’re surrounded by things that didn’t quite work.

I spent three hours this morning sanding down a pile of rejected paintings that has been growing in the corner of my studio for three years. There’s something amazingly cathartic about watching hours of struggle disappear into a ghost of an image. Without that pile of bad paintings on the floor, I can go into my studio without seeing failure blinking at me from the corner of the room. I can move on, get better.

And I’m not gonna lie, it’s nice to have a fresh stack of panels to paint on without having to spend hundreds of dollars on new ones. I’m cheap!

Do you get too attached?

Studio Music

“Willow Creek Reflections”
Oil on Panel
12×16″
2008

Most artists I know are pretty particular about what they listen to when they paint, and I’m no exception. Unless I’m outdoors, I have a hard time painting unless I have good music playing. I can’t listen to the radio because commercials and talking just kill any flow of creativity/thought that I might have. I have to be listening to music I’m fairly familiar with – I love finding new music, but when I’m painting I like to listen to tunes that I know. I can’t listen to anything that’s distracting at all, even if it’s distracting in a good way. For instance, I can’t listen to classical music, because I used to play the piano and when I listen to classical music I find myself thinking about it too much. And I have to make sure that whatever I’m listening to won’t end in the middle of a complex painting passage, which means that most of the time I just have iTunes playing in continuous shuffle mode on my computer.

When I’m working on something difficult, I’ll switch over to my “Studio Tunes” playlist, which is basically a bunch of songs that I love that I know won’t annoy me while I’m trying to problem solve. A lot of them are favorite songs from the past – songs that make me happy by association with good memories. A few of them are newer songs that get me moving. Some of them are mellow songs that help me reflect and think. I change the list every few weeks to keep up with my mood – here’s what it looks like right now:

“See the World” by Gomez was my favorite song when I was pregnant with Aspen. “Let it be Me” by Ray LaMontagne is a more recent mellow favorite. “Rain” by George Winston gets me thinking, and reminds me of being outdoors. “Rock and Roll” by Eric Hutchinson gets me moving and excited. They all have a purpose.

I love to hear about other artist’s working habits – I know one artist who listens to books on tape (I could never paint at the same time!!) and another who listens to NPR only, and another who always has the TV or a movie playing in the background.

So, what do you listen to in your studio, and why?

My Latest Studio

I almost have my studio put together – yay!! I waffled back and forth about what to do for a studio in this new house. It’s only three bedrooms, so I wasn’t sure whether I should take up a whole room for myself or squeeze into the corner of what would be the guest bedroom. In the end I realized that A) I have way too much stuff to NOT have a whole room and B) I work much better in a dedicated, peaceful space.

Two weeks ago, this is what my studio looked like – a big mess!!


I hate white walls, so I decided to paint the room a neutral green color to darken it up. Here’s a view of the room after I painted and organized a bit (those are Aspen’s first watercolors on her easel to the right!):


Right now I have my palette on a table that Nate threw together in five minutes with some scrap wood. I’ll eventually replace it with something that has some shelves underneath and doors so I can store all my extra paint/mineral spirits/brushes somewhere out of sight:


This house has 10 foot ceilings, so I can extend my easel enough to do a 30×40″ painting without having to adjust any knobs (I still love my easel, by the way), which is really nice.


My frames are stuffed in the closet and leaning up against the wall, along with finished paintings that I’m getting ready to send out to galleries and shows. This is the part of my studio that I hate – I’m not a big fan of clutter. I’d love to have a studio someday that has a separate room for framing!!


I recently bought some vertical organizers at the office supply store to put small finished paintings in. I stole this idea from another artist who had these in a studio picture, and while I don’t remember who the arist was, I’m really grateful! They’re a good cheap way to keep plein air studies organized while they dry.


I keep one up on a table that I put wet panels in as I finish them – the great thing about these plastic ones is that they don’t touch the panels anywhere where they’re wet.


Anyhow, that’s my studio. Here’s the view from the window – lots of big, blue sky!


I’m thrilled to have a studio inside the house again! Working in the garage at the condo was functional, but a little bit demotivating (who wants to spend the day in a garage with no windows?).

Finally Moved!

Well, the month of May was completely insane. We went to Texas, moved, and also managed to spend about a week and a half up in Steamboat Springs finishing one of the houses that Nate was building so it would be ready for closing on May 31st.

Now that it’s June and things are a bit slower, I’ve managed to get my studio in working order and actually PAINT!! That’s not to say that my studio is completely organized and ready to go, but I have in place my easel and workbench, so it’s enough for now.

The cool thing is that instead of being forced to hang out by myself in the basement, I now get to paint inside the house like a real human being. My studio is in a loft space on the second floor of the house, which is nice and out of the way, but also close to everything. Now I can paint when Aspen is napping, which is a big deal, and I don’t have to worry about freezing in the winter and keeping bugs out of the studio in the summer.

Here are a couple of pictures of what I’ve got so far. It’s a bit smaller than my old space, but I can still back up a good 14 feet from my paintings to look at them, which is my only real space requirement. It has a big window that lets in almost North facing light during the day, which is nice. I’m still working on lighting for evening – luckily it’s summer and the days are long, so I’m not too worried about it yet.


Everytime I walk into the room I have an overpowering urge to push my easel into the corner where it can be diagonal and not look so enormous and out of place, but it’s positioned where it is so that I don’t get glare on my canvas, so there it will stay. I’m planning to eventually install some track lighting and a hanging system on the big blank wall above my workbench, so I can preview my paintings before I finish and frame them.


The painting on the easel is a 24×36″ commission of the Mt. of the Holy Cross for a guy who has climbed the mountain numerous times. I’m trying to make it look rugged, so he can use it to brag about his climbing experiences – a “pretty” picture just wouldn’t do it in this case.

Anyhow, all that’s left to do is organize my enormous pile of unused frames (not shown),and get all of my blank canvases and panels organized into their slots underneath the workbench. I realized in the move that I have a huge pile of gold frames. They’re all beautiful frames, but remain unused because my paintings tend to look terrible in gold. I usually use dark frames with a gold liner, and my paintings actually look best in a “silver” metal leaf finish (which isn’t actually silver at all – it looks quite a lot like my gold wedding band – but doesn’t have the bright yellow-y gold tone of a lot of metal leaf frames). I try to avoid the silver frames because the gallery doesn’t love them, and I’m always trying new gold frames to try and find something that works. So far, I just have this pile of gold frames to show for it. Anyways, that can be a whole post for another day, so I’ll stop rambling now.

Finally Moved!

Well, the month of May was completely insane. We went to Texas, moved, and also managed to spend about a week and a half up in Steamboat Springs finishing one of the houses that Nate was building so it would be ready for closing on May 31st.

Now that it’s June and things are a bit slower, I’ve managed to get my studio in working order and actually PAINT!! That’s not to say that my studio is completely organized and ready to go, but I have in place my easel and workbench, so it’s enough for now.

The cool thing is that instead of being forced to hang out by myself in the basement, I now get to paint inside the house like a real human being. My studio is in a loft space on the second floor of the house, which is nice and out of the way, but also close to everything. Now I can paint when Aspen is napping, which is a big deal, and I don’t have to worry about freezing in the winter and keeping bugs out of the studio in the summer.

Here are a couple of pictures of what I’ve got so far. It’s a bit smaller than my old space, but I can still back up a good 14 feet from my paintings to look at them, which is my only real space requirement. It has a big window that lets in almost North facing light during the day, which is nice. I’m still working on lighting for evening – luckily it’s summer and the days are long, so I’m not too worried about it yet.


Everytime I walk into the room I have an overpowering urge to push my easel into the corner where it can be diagonal and not look so enormous and out of place, but it’s positioned where it is so that I don’t get glare on my canvas, so there it will stay. I’m planning to eventually install some track lighting and a hanging system on the big blank wall above my workbench, so I can preview my paintings before I finish and frame them.


The painting on the easel is a 24×36″ commission of the Mt. of the Holy Cross for a guy who has climbed the mountain numerous times. I’m trying to make it look rugged, so he can use it to brag about his climbing experiences – a “pretty” picture just wouldn’t do it in this case.

Anyhow, all that’s left to do is organize my enormous pile of unused frames (not shown),and get all of my blank canvases and panels organized into their slots underneath the workbench. I realized in the move that I have a huge pile of gold frames. They’re all beautiful frames, but remain unused because my paintings tend to look terrible in gold. I usually use dark frames with a gold liner, and my paintings actually look best in a “silver” metal leaf finish (which isn’t actually silver at all – it looks quite a lot like my gold wedding band – but doesn’t have the bright yellow-y gold tone of a lot of metal leaf frames). I try to avoid the silver frames because the gallery doesn’t love them, and I’m always trying new gold frames to try and find something that works. So far, I just have this pile of gold frames to show for it. Anyways, that can be a whole post for another day, so I’ll stop rambling now.