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?

A Close Call

“Red Rock View”
Oil on Panel
Everyone reading this blog do yourself a big favor and back up your computer files ASAP if you don’t already do it on a regular basis!! Just a little reminder from a moron who didn’t and almost lost everything two nights ago…

You would think I would know better than this. I’ve lost hard drives before, and it’s never pretty. I’ve been saying for months that I need to backup my files, and when my computer started acting suspicious a week ago, I knew that I really needed to get on it. I kept having certain songs freeze up in itunes, and I suspected that the files were corrupted. I had Nate get me an external hard drive when he was in Denver on Wednesday, and planned to back everything up that night.

Unfortunately, by the time I got the drive my computer was not recognizing any of my USB ports, so I couldn’t download anything to the drive. I decided to go with plan B and burn DVDs of all my data, but that didn’t work either since my computer got hung up everytime it found a corrupted file, and apparently there were a lot of them! So, there I was finding photo after photo that were corrupted, and panicking because I couldn’t get any of them onto another disk – not good at all.

It was at this point that I realized how dependent I, an artist, am on my computer. I have 3,000 photos from this year alone, categorized on my computer as possible reference material for paintings. I have another 2 GB of photographed paintings from this year alone, which are the only visual record I have of my paintings, other than the photos on my website. I have a database with information on every painting I’ve ever done, in addition to collector contact information and notes. I have multiple spreadsheets of my financials, including the one I keep up-to-date for my taxes. Some of this could be replaced, but the photos could not. And so I spent Wednesday in a state of panic – I hadn’t backed up my files in over a year – eek!!

Luckily my Dad was here for Thanksgiving (yay for computer expert Dad!!), and he reminded me that I could run Windows check disk to find and mark all of the corrupted files. I bit my nails for 5 hours while it ran (and while I watched it flag photo after photo as corrupted), and said a prayer as it rebooted. Luckily, it had removed the bad files so was able to burn DVDs of everything left, and also back everything up to external drive. I spent Thanksgiving breathing a gigantic sigh of relief (and ordering a new hard drive).

So, if you don’t have backup of images of your paintings, database files, contacts, or anything important, DO IT NOW!

Studio Music

“Willow Creek Reflections”
Oil on Panel

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?

New Portfolio Book

2008 Portfolio
By Stacey Peterson

I’ve been wanting to print a small portfolio for a while now, mainly to give to potential collectors or those who buy my work. I did some research, decided that Blurb seemed like the easiest way to put together a small book, and went ahead and put together a book of what I think are the strongest paintings I’ve done this year. I wanted to keep it small, since I plan to include it when I ship out paintings, and Blurb’s 7×7″ format is just perfect. I got my first printed copy today, and I think it turned out pretty well – it looks professional, and the photos inside are fairly accurate.

If any of you are looking to self-publish anything, and need a quick and easy way to do it, I’d highly recommend Blurb. The software is easy to use, and the product is professional

For anyone who wants to check it out, use the link above or the one I’ve added to my blog sidebar. Thanks for looking!

Working from Photos

“Last Light on the Pass”
Oil on Panel

I really wish I could paint on location more often than I do, but having a toddler makes it necessary to work from photo references in the studio. The problem is that even a good camera can’t see as well as the human eye, especially in the light conditions that tend to make for good paintings. I try to remedy this by spending a lot of time outdoors just observing things, and taking notes about scenes that I think might make good paintings.

This particular painting is one I just finished, and I worked from a pretty terrible photo so I thought it might be a good example. We were driving down from Rollins Pass at dusk last week when I saw these trees on the side of the road with alpenglow on the continental divide behind them. I didn’t have my painting stuff with me, and Aspen needed to get home and go to bed, so I had to settle for snapping a bad photo from the window and driving home. Here’s the photo:

It’s blurry and washed out, and no amount of photoshopping would bring the colors back to how saturated they were in real life. When I shot the photo, I made some notes about the colors on the mountain and trees, and tried to make a mental picture of the mood of the scene. Then I made sure that I started the painting within a couple of days so that I wouldn’t forget.

When I did the painting, I used the photo as reference mainly for the composition, but pushed the color based on my memory and my notes. I also defined the shape of the mountains in the background better, since they’re fuzzy in the photo. I look at these particular hills every day, so I know every nook and cranny and could paint them from memory if I had to. I also took the liberty of adding some knots to the aspen tree to make it clearly the center of interest.

One risk I took here was putting the center of interest almost directly in the center of the painting. I wasn’t sure about it, but I think it works?

On a totally unrelated note, I apologize in advance for the fact that my blog posts are probably going to be fewer and shorter for the next six months. I’m officially getting my butt whipped into shape with the mentorship program I’m doing, and keeping up the business and learning as much as I can in the next six months are my priority. I’ll still post here, but I’ll probably be less wordy (might be a good thing!). In the end, I’m hoping I’ll have more to say, and that my paintings will be that much better – in the meantime, I’ve got my head down and it’s time for hard work!