Forget the Axeman – It’s Finished When I Say It’s Finished

The holidays are here in full force, but I’ll admit that my head is more in the studio than in wrapping packages.  I’ll get the packages wrapped in time, I know, but it’ll be a last minute rush because something happened – a good thing – in the studio.

Of course, each good thing is balanced by something else, and yesterday it was balanced by knocking over a ceramic mug holding brushes in water.  The mug smashed to bits on my tile floor and I was left mopping up the gray water and shards before I could get back to work.  Well, Mercury is in retrograde and these things happen.

The good thing is that I began reworking the painting I posted last time (Me afraid of the axeman?  Not on your life!), and the result makes me so happy that I’m off today to pick up a couple more 15 x 30 canvases to turn one painting into a triptych.

Although I had not read any of Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit in the last couple of weeks, this book has become my go-to guide, and yesterday – after the reworking – I happened on these words:  “Very technically speaking, thicker paint, a fearlessness in painting over and not being afraid of spoiling in so doing, may be conducive to a development of more solidity…”

Are you listening, axeman?  The painting is finished when I say it’s finished.

The other part of the good thing is that once I finished, I realized that my vertical painting had become horizontal.  Now this is not just a matter of randomly turning it one way or another; this is a matter of the bricks telling Kahn what they wanted to be.

When I work with writers, I tell them to pay attention to the subconscious which often knows more than the writer about what to say and what’s happening in a poem or essay or story – things the writer may not learn for some time to come.  I’ve had the experience myself with writing and now I’m learning to trust it with the art.  I intend to pay attention.

I’ll be on the alert for the axeman, but as confidence builds – along with the layers of paint – and as my trust in the subconscious takes hold, I’ll do just what I do with the writing:  I’ll start with a general idea of what I want to create, a general idea of the palette, a general idea of where I’m headed, but I will always – always – let the paint have the final say.

Here’s the painting I posted last time along with the final result:



I’ll wrap the packages later…

Happy holidays and creating time to all!




Neglect Your Art For One Day And…

Molly Cook, 1993
Molly Cook, 1993

“If you neglect your art for one day, it will neglect you for two.”

I first read this in a statement by a jazz musician about the importance of practice, practice, practice.

At the moment, I’ve neglected my art for the past several days as I find myself in the middle of holiday activities.  I’m not going to make excuses.  But it hasn’t been a total neglect.  I’ve been busy creating things but have, for this week, cleared my workspace (which is another name for the island counter in my tiny apartment) to make room for baking, wrapping gifts, writing cards – the usual.

I did design and print my own Christmas cards. I made ornaments for my grandkids – a family tradition.  I visited The Studio Door in San Diego to see their Holiday Show and Sale. I bought some new art supplies for me and for my artistic granddaughters.  I looked through two books on acrylics and watched a demonstration on DVD.

Perhaps most important, at least where my art is concerned, I reviewed what I’ve done so far in my “body of work” (and before that) to consider where to go when I pick up the brush again in a couple of weeks.  What do I still need to learn?  Where did I do something worth keeping and where did I do something that goes in the “failed experiment” pile?  Where did a happy accident take me to a new place?

“Neglect” is a big word and a visual artist rarely truly neglects his or her work.  Our eyes don’t stop taking in the world and the world is full of ideas.

I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly composing new pieces in my mind’s eye.  Colors, designs, juxtapositions, possibilities keeping in mind the words of Gary Ambrose, my sculpture instructor at Maine College of Art:  “Rich and complex, not complicated and confusing.”

The little watercolor that accompanies this post goes back to 1993, about the time I turned from visual art to writing.  In many ways I regret that turn, but I’m glad some things survive to remind me of what I knew back then and can still use today.  I recognize a sense of play and rule-breaking in the little watercolor that gives me courage to keep going further – to play and break more rules – with what I’m doing today.

Nothing is lost. Or neglected.