Constructed Realities: Finishing unfinished work

When I started this new mixed-media series, which is based on poetry quotes, I was brimming with excitement and energy. I was on a roll, reading poems, writing notes, making sketches,  and photo collages in Photoshop.  Somehow though, about mid-way through the process, difficulties in composition and drawing issues in my sketches began to rear their ugly heads. In some instances, I got stuck and was unable to move forward. Some works were abandoned, while I took a break and started new works. Now, I have several unfinished pieces in progress, and I am trying to find motivation and energy to bring them to a conclusion. So, my new goal is to complete one painting a week to keep the momentum up, especially focusing on

The Dream of Time travel, with watermark
This artwork was inspired by a  quote from Mary Oliver, “Sometimes the desire to be lost again, as long ago, comes over me like a vapor.” 

those that have been languishing in my art studio. Why is it so easy to begin a new project, but difficult to finish it?

 

To that end, I am featuring a new work this week, focused on the theme of time travel. It has a bit of a surrealist tone to it with the theme of wishing I could go back in time to happier periods in my life, or at least, that is how I remember them. To represent this concept, I have included three self-portraits from different times in my life composed in a winter landscape. Time travel is something I used to be quite interested in as a child, during the 1980s. Popular books and films featured this concept such as Back to the Future, with Michael J. Fox,  Somewhere in Time, featuring Christopher Reeve. I also read books about this topic, such as the book, The Hunky Dory Dairy (1986), written by Anne Lindbergh, in which a young girl is transported from the 1980s to the nineteenth century one Saturday morning on an errand to fetch milk and a newspaper.

Artists: What Should You Do with Unfinished Work?

It all started with a bad day

It was a tough day in the art studio today. I woke up this morning with very little energy; however, I was determined to make time for art regardless of my lethargic state. Several cups of coffee and a long walk around my neighborhood later, I was ready to begin. I set out to start a cat portrait I have wanted to work on for a while from one of my art technique books. I set my timer for 25 minutes and I started drawing from an art demonstration book. Suffice it to say, the drawing did not go well, at all, despite several attempts to get the proportions of the cat’s body correct. Each attempt just brought on more feelings of frustration. After the third attempt, I finally gave up and put my supplies away and went to do something else, probably laundry or reading a book. After working on the cat portrait, I realized that I am really out of practice when it comes to doing animal portraits, as I have been focusing a lot more on floral subjects, which is made up of simpler shapes and less precise in their proportions than animals and people. And I realized that I needed to practice drawing much more often like I did last summer when I completed a drawing challenge, 100 Faces in 100 days, which featured celebrity portraits.

What I observed from the day

I tried not to beat myself up about it, or obsess about what my failure to meet my expectations might mean, but I think that this drawing might end up in the growing pile of unfinished artworks. This observation brings me to today’s topic, which is, what to do with your unfinished artwork. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have several unfinished or unsatisfactory art projects residing in my art studios, such as pastels, drawings, watercolors and some oil paintings that did not turn out as I had envisioned. This makes me wonder, what should I do with this collection of art misfits? Earlier last week, I serendipitously found the article, “50 Ways to Use Your Unfinished Art,” by Carrie, on https://www.artiststrong.com/50-ways-to-use-your-unfinnished-art/.

What I have done in the past with unsatisfactory art

In the past, I have usually tried to resolve issues with unfinished artwork, sometimes starting over from scratch; i.e. creating a brand new drawing on a new substrate and re-surfacing the canvas by sanding it with heavy grit sandpaper so it can be re-gessoed. Other days, when I am more desperate or frustrated, I throw it in the trash, never to be seen again. Unless of course, my husband gets to it before I take out the trash. In which case, he fishes it out and says, ‘Why did you throw this away?” Or, some variation upon that theme usually ensues when he finds my rejected art. Ok, so now on to some information I would like to share with you about the article I read, “50 ways to Use Your Unfinished Art.” Here are a few highlights from the article.

  • Take a photo of the artwork and “”manipulate the photos” to re-design it. Adobe PhotoShop is a good photo editing program to try for this option, with editing tools such as cropping, filters, light and dark balance, and photo filters. The possibilities here are really endless!
  • “Abandoned art project, anyone?” (Source: 50 Ways to Use Your Unfinished Art”)
  • Cut the artwork into pieces to construct a college. For example, the artist and author, Ann Blockley, has an excellent book, which describes this technique called, Experimental Landscapes in Watercolor, and it’s available on Amazon.com.
  • Cut the artwork and create a background for another piece of art.
  • Select a completely different art medium to finish the art. For instance, make it a mixed media piece.Amazon.com or your local library will probably have lots of books on mixed media art from which you can gain inspiration and techniques.
  • Re-use it in a reconditioned item of furniture.
  • Create a tray from your art using epoxy.
  • Throw the painting away-if it makes you feel better.
  • Take a break from it for two weeks or a month, to get some objectivity about your work. After that, re-assess your incomplete work, but only complete the pieces that you feel led to work on, and let go of the ones you aren’t sure how to resolve.
  • Post a photo of your artwork in a community where artists give each other feedback, such as http://www.emptyeasel.com, and ask for help from others.
    Self-Portrait, unfinsihed, flat
    Self-Portrait, pastel on paper, 18 x 24 inches, 2014, Jodie Schmidt.

     

    German Shepherd, pastel, flat, final
    German Shepherd, pastel on paper, 18 x 24 inches, 2018, Jodie Schmidt.
    Lincoln, unfinished, flat
    Abraham Lincoln, oil on canvas, 9 x 12 inches, 2018, Jodie Schmidt.
    Apple Still Life with blue bottle, flat
    Apple Still Life, acrylic on canvas, 11 x 14 inches, 2017, Jodie Schmidt.

    Cows grazing, unfinsihed, flat
    Out to Pasture, oil on canvas, 11 x 14 inches, 2014, Jodie Schmidt.

 

Below are some links to websites that can help you get started with some of the techniques listed in this article, such as collage. Another website to visit for ideas on how to re-invent your art might include, youtube or Pinterest. YouTube is a great way to see techniques demonstrated, it’s almost as good as being in a class. Just be sure to look for art tutorials with narration so you can learn what techniques and materials the artists are using to make their work. It’s harder to figure that out with the speeded up variety called, time lapse. Thanks for stopping by! I hope this article is helpful to someone out there who is struggling to complete their art. I am definitely going to try out some of these techniques myself to try and complete some of my unfinished art, which is posted in this week’s blog! I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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How to Stop Procrastinating and Get Things Done

This week’s topic focuses on a behavior that many can probably relate to, and I include myself in that number. The behavior of which I speak is procrastination. I confess that I seem to have only two settings with regard to task completion, and they are hyper speed and snail speed. At times I am hyper focused and hyper busy on whatever the project at hand may be, such as completing an art project, or writing an artist’s statement, etc.. However, at other times, I start and stop and ultimately avoid the task, if it seems too difficult or unpleasant. At present, I am battling with the dreaded enemy of time, procrastination. I procrastinate on the mundane, such as de-cluttering my studio and organizing hard copy art business files and paper work, to the more critical, like updating my web site, and balancing my checkbook, or finishing a complete body of work that features some sketches and Photoshop collages that illustrate favorite poetry quotes.  As to that later, I have started and stopped the drawings and paintings and Photoshop collages for the poetry illustration project numerous times since I came up with the idea in the summer of 2015.

Lately, I have been trying to finish one work from this series in particular, and it is an acrylic painting, entitled, Waiting: Creative Block. It has been a very challenging art piece to work on in terms of choosing the right composition and color scheme. I am being really stretched beyond my comfort zone with this series, as I have never attempted to illustrate something as ambitious as abstract thoughts and feelings such as creative block, creativity, childhood wonder, overcoming life obstacles, etc.! And though I know the stretching is good for my artistic muscles and that I will be happy with myself for completing the work, I tend to avoid the hard part. And the moment comes when you decide whether to press on despite the difficulty and finish the “run” or you give up.

Other things that I have procrastinated about completing are cataloging and watermarking my art work, getting art work framed and matted for an upcoming art show, writing this blog post, printing out my bookkeeping files for this year’s profit and loss sheet, (what fun!), to name a few. I need to find a balance between procrastination and workaholic tendencies when I don’t take time to rest and regroup. When I am unbalanced, I have very little physical energy or creative energy to finish the art work I start and all the other administrative tasks that I need to do to help support my business and market my art work.  I need to create margin in my schedule so that I can get these things done and set some deadlines for each task so that I am motivated to complete these projects!

One more thing I also need to do now is to not schedule any further art shows, and just take some time to regroup so that there will be time to get these things done, such as finishing the poetry series and updating my web site. To date, I have scheduled 9 art shows this year, and one possible art fair is currently in the works. This leaves me with little time to get these other tasks done, since I often have to get my art ready for distribution by pricing it, framing it, and marketing it on social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, in addition to making print postcards in Photoshop to give out to potential clients, fans, family, and friends. On the other hand, I have gotten to make more sales, more exposure for my art, and have met more people, which is always a good thing!

I wondered what others had to say about procrastination and how to stop doing it, so I listened to a podcast by author and art biz coach, Alyson Stanfield. In a podcast called, Getting Difficult Things Done, Alyson Stanfield and a guest, Cynthia Morris, also a coach, as well as an artist, discussed some strategies to tackle procrastination. Source: Alyson Stanfield, wwww.artbizcoach.com.  One of their main points was to envision how you will feel after you complete a challenging task, rather than settling for feeling good or just having fun.  Another idea that was mentioned in the podcast was the importance of setting deadlines and thinking about how to reward you after completing a difficult task. Alyson shared that one of her dreaded tasks as an art business coach is working on bookkeeping. She tried to start a ritual of doing her books on Monday but found that that was not the way she wanted to start her week. She was helped by some advice that her husband gave her, which was to re-frame her situation by thinking of this task as counting her money. Bookkeeping is definitely not one of my favorite tasks either. On the other hand, I am realizing that by doing my books, I can understand what is working and what isn’t in my business, rather than being in denial about how much spending I am really doing, in relationship to my sales.

In a similar vein, I also looked up goal setting and anti-procrastination strategies on a Google search, and I found an article called, Why Do You Procrastinate, by Margie Warrell, on www.forbes.com. Warell shared that many of us procrastinate on things both large and small, whether it is getting our personal files organized or updating our resume. She discussed the ways in which we avoid doing things that need to get done with excuses such as, “I don’t have the skills for that,” or “It’s too difficult.” I have definitely made those excuses and avoided tackling difficult tasks, like working on my poetry series. But this week, I made the decision to set aside time for creativity and put in some time coming up with solutions to the compositional problems plaguing my Waiting: Creative Block painting. And I could see that this progress from a much-cluttered composition to something more pleasing is going to take time, but that it is well worth the effort. I know it is stretching me as an artist to do more challenging art work that requires different solutions from my older more simple pieces.

In closing, I would like to share some strategies Warrell suggested to avoid the procrastination trap. Here they are in order: 1.) Set a deadline, and write down your goal (s), 2.) Simplify your goal (s) into smaller pieces, 3.) Envision your ideal life, 4.) Get an accountability partner, 5.) Reward your progress, and 6.) Take the first step toward your goal. Source: Why Do You Procrastinate, by Margie Warrell, on www.forbes.com.

In Search of “White Space”

 

I’ve been working at a hectic pace these last two weeks preparing for a one-day art event called Art Pops! At Everedy Square and Shab Row in Frederick, MD.  Last Saturday was the big day to kick off this event and hopefully make some new connections and sales of my art work. The weeks leading up to this event were jam packed with activity and tasks such as weekly social media marketing campaigns, packaging and pricing my art works for sale, creating an inventory list in Excel, researching how to create an art booth display on Pinterest, etc.  And I learned a lot from this show, such as the importance of making in person connections with people to sell my art, how to read people, etc. In fact, I sold more art work in one day at the art show, then I did from months of posting about my art on Instagram, Facebook, and Etsy, and I am thankful for that.  However, all of this activity really took a toll on my energy and motivation to create art.

In all the business of preparing for the art show, I have really struggled to make time to create new art work. I feel that I have reached the end of my creative resources and knowledge, tapped out, so to speak. It’s been several years since I took an art class, and I haven’t read any new art technique books in several months. And this state of affairs is not like me. I am usually restless when I am not making art or coming up with some new ideas for a series of paintings or drawings. The last few days since the show ended, I have made a concerted effort to at least draw one portrait a day for my drawing challenge which I started back in June called, 100 faces in 100 days. Some days I have made some decent portraits, other days I have really struggled or been disappointed with

the results. If you would like to follow my progress with this project, you can view my 100 faces in 100 days drawing challenge on Instagram. I am listed as jsjschmidt2 on Instagram, and I post almost every day. Pictured are some sketches from this week including Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly and Sean Connery.

The paintings I wanted to work on, however, are not coming together. Instead of posting the finished product as I had hoped to do this week, I have to take several steps back and ask myself what isn’t working with the composition, values, colors and the drawings in my art work. For example, in my Creative Block: Waiting, watercolor painting, I feel there are too many elements battling for precedence and not enough quiet spaces to allow the viewer to contemplate the scene. The composition feels cluttered and overwhelming and the message of creative block feels “lost” in the muddle. So yesterday, I painted over several spots in the painting with acrylic gesso. And the Civil War soldiers fared no better. So out with the gesso again. I am struggling with the drawing and the tonal values in these acrylic paintings. I have discovered that the acrylic paint dries much darker than it looks when I mix it up and put it on the brush, which is really throwing off the values. So I may re-do the painting in oils after the gesso has “cured.”

The paintings seem to be a type of metaphor for where my life is these days. Overstuffed and empty all at the same time. I feel I have lost the wonder I used to have about making art that keeps me motivated to get into the art studio ever week to see what new ideas I might “cook up.” Meanwhile, I am realizing that my workaholic tendencies are not conducive to making art work. I must create and seek “white space” to re-fill my creative tank, so that I have something to draw from when I go to make art work.  Meanwhile, I will be be seeking out this “white space” in its various forms, whether it is taking a walk, journaling, going to an art gallery, reading an art technique book, etc., to try and regain my sense of wonder for life, and for making art.

A Day in the Life of an Artist

 

 

A few weeks ago, I was visiting McDonald’s and I noticed an advertisement about artists where the tag line was, “Play like an Artist.” The advertisement featured a picture of a young child with art supplies in its mouth and surrounded by various artwork pieces, wearing, of course, the inevitable beret hat that defines a stereotypical vision of an artist. This advertisement highlights the prevailing beliefs in American culture that one, art is for kids and two that artists just play all day…

And what are some other common artist stereotypes? I did some research online to find out. On one blog called Endpaper, The Paperblanks Blog, the author listed a variety of so-called traits that all artists share in common. For example, all artists are out of touch with reality, perfectionist, a Casanova, moody or flakey.  Source: http://blog.paperblanks.com/2016/04/the-top-20-artist-stereotypes-you-cant-avoid/. Where did these stereotypes come from? My guess is that many of the celebrated artists that we have heard of from books or movies fit this stereotype, like Van Goh, who was mentally ill, or Picasso who was a lady’s man, or Monet who lived an impoverished lifestyle,  (before he was discovered by American art collectors).  And these stereotypes are continually reinforced by popular culture such as the well-known TV sitcom, Friends. For example, in one episode of Friends, the character, Ross, talks to his girlfriend Rachel about baby names and she suggests the name, Rain.  Ross responds with the following comment: “Hi my name is Rain. I have my own kiln and my dress is made of wheat!” Source: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/who-art-thou. So if you are an artist, then you must be eccentric seems to be the message.

While there is some truth that art is an important part of child development and education and that there is some element of play in the life of an artist, it is not all fun.  For instance, according to, author, Grace Hwang Lynch, the art classes teaches children a variety of skills such as “fine motor skills, language development, decision making and visual learning.” Source:http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/music-arts/the-importance-of-art-in-child-development/.   Also, regarding the element of play in art, there are times when art can be considered fun, like that light bulb moment when I get an inspiration for a new art series and feel excited about getting in the studio and making my vision come to life with paper and pencil or oil paint and canvas. However, it is not called art work for nothing. For example, in the case of a hobbyist artist who is trying to imitate a certain style of painting or get into an art show, or a professional artist who is trying to make a living out of their art, or someone who straddles both worlds as a semi-professional artist, who still works a day job to support them, there are many tasks involved in getting your art work ready to be viewed by the outside world in art shows, art festivals, etc. For example, in addition to juggling everyday demands, the artist must contend with a variety of other things such as: bad days in the studio when the artwork is not going well, difficult art clients, rejections for art shows or grants, working the day job, marketing yourself, perfecting your craft, etc., etc.  And if you want to become a professional artist, there are many, many hats to wear.

According to Art Business Coach, Alyson Stanfield, who is the author of, I’d rather be in the Studio! (2008), if you are trying to sell your artwork “You are no longer only an artist. You’re a businessperson as well.” For example, in my experience as a semi professional artist, I have found that there are many other administrative tasks that do not come under the category of “fun”, like accounting, marketing on social media, setting up online commerce sites such as Etsy or Shopify, writing custom art contracts, keeping time sheets, etc.  And with so many demands on my time, making time to actually do the art can be a real challenge.  I personally have struggled to make time to make art every day, and am currently participating in a 100 faces in 100 days challenge, where I am drawing one celebrity portrait a day, for 15 minutes a day and then posting the results on Instagram. I’m hoping this practice will enable me to be a better portrait artist and that it will help me to build the skills of discipline and time management.

By the way, the BBC has created a documentary tv series entitled, What Do Artists Do All Day?, which features several well known artists , such as Norman Ackroyd, and Michael Craig-Martin, which went live in 2014. Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/49j3ZhwyXyPq703lDJzrNfc/what-do-artists-do-all-day. I haven’t seen this series yet, but I am wondering if the series will simply reinforce commonly held stereotypes of artists or hopefully, offer some more balanced insight into all the work that goes into making art.