Studio Questions / Part 2
Part 2 of the questions you all sent in. I divided them up, and this month I am answering the questions that are specific to my practice, and the subject matter. I also included some images from my research I did for the pieces that are in my show that opens on the 22nd of June at Big Pictures Los Angeles. I hope you enjoy and find this helpful.
If you missed last months questions you can find them here.
What do you use for mixing mineral paints? Tools etc…
I use all the tools that were used historically for paint mixing. A sifter, glass muller, glass palette, watercolor medium, binders, preservatives, and then the pigment color.
How do you develop a body of work?
I keep a running list of ideas. Things I want to make. Things that inspire me. I can trace ideas I am thinking about now to things I was making 17 years ago in undergrad. Things have a way of circling, and never leaving. My work evolves as I do, but there are threads, I feel I am making work about a set of these ideas. It’s always a mix of personal experiences that relate to formal concerns in painting.
All of my paintings are done from photos I have taken, so I snap a lot of photos on my phone. Sometimes I know it will be for a painting, sometimes I remember it later and have to go back and look for it because it fits perfectly with what I am working on.
I am always looking at the world through the lens of my work.
When I am working on a show and I have to edit and pick a set of pieces to make a few ideas seem to emerge from the pack (sometimes like the Matrix, or a scene from A Beautiful Mind hahaha). And I start researching, reading, making lists, looking at a lot of art, pulling images together, making sketches, writing, talking to people about my ideas… When I am working on a show, like I am now, I think about how the work is installed and experienced in the gallery is really important to me. That can determine what and how things are made. Some ideas get left behind in the middle of working on a show. And for whatever reason, there is always a piece (that I don’t fully yet understand) that is thrown in at the last minute. Usually this is the piece that points me in the direction I will go next.
Think about the things you care about.
What matters to you?
What do you have to say?
What do you want to see in the world?
These are the most important questions you can be asking yourself as an artist.
Once you are clear about the answers you can make choices based on them. Should I use red? Does red support the overall idea? Yes. Then, yes, use red. No… then find another color. Should this be a painting or a photo? A painting. Why a painting? If you don’t know what you care about or why it’s important it’s really hard to make choices.
Advice for someone who wants to start on a new project but can’t get started?
Resistance is part of the creative process. I still have it. It’s a myth that artists are making work fueled by constant creative juices and continual inspiration. The beginning is sometimes the hardest. Part of being an artist is learning about how you make work, it’s also learning how to work with your resistance, how to outsmart it, how to get ahead of it. See if you can slowly chip away at it, little by little. Think of ways you can trick yourself into working. If I am having a hard time starting I will mark it on my calendar, tell a friend that I am accountable to, take some time to clean my studio and get it ready. Take a walk - think about what it is that is really making it hard to start: are you lazy, out of practice, afraid, judgmental, too many critical voices, too “busy”? You can’t expect resistance to go away, but most importantly you can’t let it stop you.
Are there others in your life who support your practice? Are there people you reach out to?
Yes! I think this is one of the benefits of art school and graduate school. You leave those programs with a group of peers who know your work and who you can do studio visits with. I have a few close friends I talk to regularly about my work, and have maintained a few relationships with teachers I had that I also still talk to about my work. We all need to bounce ideas off someone, and sometimes it’s not until someone asks me just the right question that helps me understand something about my work I hadn’t before. Also, I had a really influential teacher who I can still hear in my head, I often ask myself the questions he would have asked me: What’s at stake? What turns you on?
Do you ever struggle with a need of “intellectualizing” your work?
After being in graduate school I tend to need to intellectualize it less! Haha. Graduate school is tough. You really have to defend your work, support it with theory, and understand how it is in dialogue with other work being made and in the canon of art history. It’s very academic, or at least the school I went to is. I tend to need to balance this with intentions of creating a certain feeling in a painting or in a show, or leaving room for making something that I don’t totally understand. I think both are essential and important. For me it’s about bouncing back and forth from my head to my body.
How do you avoid harness the fear of failure during your creative process?
Fear is an energy like anything else. It’s like resistance in some ways. You have to learn to work alongside it, just like you do in life, and not let it stop you. I went through a period of being so intimidated by the blank page, this beautiful pristine white piece of paper. It was too precious in my mind. This was when I was making new work to apply to grad school with. It wasn’t about the paper and how nice it was, it was really about me being scared I wouldn’t get accepted into school. I had to learn to make some bad work to get to the good work. Now I see it as a good thing when I make a painting and know it’s bad and have to throw it in the trash. It’s ok to make some bad work. And move on - keep making more and more work.
Ask yourself what you are really afraid of.
Any advice on how to establish a field of practice / interest for your art? Like your mineral pigments - how did you come to that?
Two questions I would ask: What do you want to see in the world? What are you interested in? For me it’s always about setting up a space where in the work I am making I am asking myself certain questions, questions I am trying to answer by making the work, or things I am pointing to for the viewer to think about. Along with ideas and experiences that come from my personal life, mixed with formal questions that are intrinsic in my chosen medium (painting). It has to be interesting to you, you have to care about your subject matter (maybe even love it), because you will be spending a lot of hours with it, if you’re lucky you’ll spend a lifetime.
The mineral paintings came out of a few places. In graduate school I had a teacher who kept encouraging me to mix my own pigments, but you have to make work so fast in school I didn’t have time then to explore this. Once I was out of school I started to teach myself how. It is also inspired by of my interest in metaphysical ideas and also tied to the historical medium of painting. The paints I am making are how paints use to be made before synthetic pigments existed (the paints we use today). In the 1600’s they didn’t have most of the colors we do now. They were making paints out of raw material from the earth, like lapis, ocher and malachite. You can read more about the inspiration for those paintings on my website, here.
Also - read the writings of your favorite artists - read reviews of shows - essays on artists or art movements. Here is a great one by Agnes Martin to get you started : Agnes Martin on How to be an Artist
Top photo by Elliot Bergman