A few days ago a fellow artist sent me a message on Instagram about a post he had saw that he thought I might be curious to see. In the message was a video clip of a person creating a drawing with an electric stippling pen. I don’t know if anyone has seen these pens (watch video below if you’re curious) but basically they’re an electric charged pen with a nib that rapidly goes up and down while releasing ink onto your drawing surface much in the same way you would use a regular pen in traditional stippling. It looks like a pretty cool, convenient and time saving art tool. But after watching the video, I was reminded of an MIT article that I read about teaching machines how to make art and I couldn’t help but wonder, exactly when and where do we draw the line between convenience and technology and express of the human spirit? As I thought about it more I couldn’t help but feel that the electric stippling pen was like cheating a bit artistically. To me, it’s akin to you grandma baking buttermilk biscuits from scratch compared to popping open a can of Pillsbury. Okay, maybe that’s comparing apples to oranges, anyways Pillsbury’s Grands are good as hell but I digress. At least with the electric pen, you’re still controlling the movement of the pen, so it’s not like it’s creating a drawing all by itself and you’re also still employing your own imagination to the artwork. But maybe it’s just me that’s haunted by this nagging, creepy feeling that gadgets and machines are taking over our lives and that in the process we’re losing something. What that something is, I can’t really put my finger on it but I’m sure two or three decades from now we’ll start to see reports and research papers coming out pinpointing what it is but it will be too late to correct the course.
Art has always been a form of human expression, so if we’re striving to teach machines how to be creative and make art, something that was once solely a human endeavor, can we still say that it’s art? When you take the humanness out of the equation of creativity is it still creativity or is it just an algorithm mimicking human creativity?
Needless to say, you won’t see me drawing with an electric stippling pen partly because I’m a traditionalist in that respect but also because stippling is my form of meditation that allows my mind and soul to slow down, which in this data driven, high tech, high speed, constantly connected, modern life we’re living, slowing down is something the human spirit sorely needs . And I don’t want some gadget taking that away from me.
“You won’t always feel enthusiastic or passionate about your craft.”
That’s a little tidbit I don’t recall any of my art instructors informing me or any of my fellow art students. Neither can I recall ever reading about it in the countless articles of advice I’ve read for artists over the years. Yet it’s what I’ve come to learn. The truth is the artist’s path isn’t an easy one and some days you won’t feel passionate or enthusiastic about it.
I’ve noticed that some of the people I know personally have a rather romanticize idea about what I do. Just recently I was talking to a long time friend of mine who said to me “You’re lucky, you’re doing what you love to do.” I don’t know about the luck but I could tell he was under the impression assuming that I probably wake up ever morning beaming with joy that I get to draw everyday. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Overall, yes, I do experience a sense of satisfaction at the thought that I’m making a life doing what I enjoy doing but that satisfaction varies from day to day. Some days I’m happy and content especially when sales are steady and I’m not worried about getting my bills paid. Some days I don’t feel anything either way. Then some days I’m thoroughly frustrated and have to push through to get anything creative done. But then there are those days were I give serious thought to saying to hell with it all to go get me a desk job. These fluctuations in my passion for my craft have often left me feeling conflicted and baffled. With the plethora of self development information out there, I’ve always been under the impression that if you have the opportunity to spend your life doing something you love you will wake up every morning beaming with enthusiasm and ready to take on the world. Truth is, most of the time I’m on an emotional roller coaster with constant highs and lows. …and that’s okay. But nobody tells you that. You see, for the longest I’ve been under the impression that I’m doing something wrong because I’m not a walking ball of sunshine everyday. I get conflicted inside and wonder if I should be doing it at all. But one day I realized that the problem wasn’t that some days I lack enthusiasm and passion, the problem was that I thought it was problem. There’s nothing wrong with having bad days because trust me, you will have them. You will have days where you’re bored. You’ll have days where you can’t think of anything to create. There will be projects where you will be all excited about in the beginning only to have that excitement dissipate halfway through. And there will be days where you just end up vegged out on the couch with junk food and Netflix. And all of that is perfectly normal. A trick I’ve learned to get through these ups and downs is to make sure I set some non-negotiables at the foundation of my craft. These are key commitments that I keep above all else. For me there are three of them:
1. To do a little bit of something pertaining to my craft each day. That can be working on a drawing for 30 minutes, writing up a blog post or promoting my work, so long as I do something everyday. It’s easy to get wrapped up in other aspects of our lives and put your craft off until the next day. But I’ve seen how putting your craft off can easily become a habit. The only way to counter that is to develop the habit of working on your craft everyday.
2. To always finish at least 85% of my projects. Now if it’s a commission it must be completed but on personal projects sometimes they just don’t turn out or somewhere along the way I lose interest. Most of the time I push through it but every once in a while there are some piece I just can’t bring myself to complete. In this case I just let it go and move on to something I’m more interested in but only if I’ve been consistent in finishing at least nine of my previous projects.
3. No matter what, always do my best. I’ve learned that I can’t let my day to day feelings dictate how I approach my craft, so I need some guiding principles to get me through the ups and downs.
Being an artist isn’t some never ending purgatory but it’s not always glorious either. It just is what it is. Some days your creative energy just flows, your work turns out far better than you imagine and you make a few good sales. And then some days you find yourself on your living room floor throwing a temper tantrum, crying to the heavens wondering why you were cursed to be an artist. Okay, maybe that’s just me but no matter what, always do your best. 😊
For some time now I’ve had this bag of beads just sitting on my shelf collecting dust and taking up space. I can’t recall how I obtained this bag of beads, all I know is that it was there and so, I figured I should probably do something with them. Departing from my usual activities to unwind, (listening to music or watching Netflix), I took the bag of beads off the shelf, sat in the middle of my floor and spent the next five hours beading. I had nothing particular in mind but with a few internet searches and some color coordination, I pulled together a few designs that were to my liking. It was nice to just sit and create something without being concerned about profit or productivity. Oddly enough, my husband popped his head into my room, saw what I was making, thought they were cool and reflexively asked, “Are you selling those?” (He asks this whenever I make something.) “No. That hadn’t crossed my mind.” I replied. “You should.” he responded before disappearing back into the hall while closing the door behind him. I thought about for a minute, maybe I should but after finishing the six pieces I created, I realized that deep down I just wanted to create something for myself for a change, something that I had no intentions on selling. Creativity doesn’t always have to offered to the gods of profit.
The saying is true, time flies when you’re having fun. Last week around this time I was packing for a mini vacation to the Lone Star State and now I’m back. Actually I’ve been back for a few days now and I’m struggling to get back into the swing of things. The trip itself wasn’t anything spectacular, I mean, it wasn’t like we went to Paris or anywhere nearly as exotic yet I feel different and a bit detached from my life before I left. My hubby and I have a friend whose been in theater for 10 years now and on our first night there we went to go see him perform in “Penny Candy” at the Dallas Theater Center. It was the first time I’ve gone to a play that wasn’t part of some class assignment and I have to say, it was a completely engrossing experience. I found myself wondering, why haven’t I done this before now? I thoroughly enjoyed the play and hope that in the future I will remember to get out from behind my drawing board and go see some of the plays going on in my local area.
The second day, which was the 4th, we spent the day in the backyard with friends doing what most of all Americans do on the 4th; grilling. It was a warm, relaxing day, spent by the pool where I had one too many ciders and dined on nothing but meat and pound cake. I definitely paid for that the next day but it was worth it.
On our last day we took a road trip to the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, where we got the chance to not only see, but feed and touch (so long as we stayed in our vehicle) a number of animals like zebras, emus, rhinoceros, giraffes, antelopes, cheetahs and much more. I spent most of my time filming but it was an enjoyable experience none the less. On the trip back we passed through Frisco where I discovered that Texas had a soccer team. Confession: I’m an American who prefers soccer, much to my friends bewilderment. Unfortunately it’s not something that’s widely broadcasted, in comparison to the likes of football or baseball, so keeping up with MLS is a bit challenging here, especially when you live in a state that lost a bid for an expansion team. Texas may get two new residents just for the soccer team alone but I digress.
Anyhoo, when I packed for the trip I took with me a sketchbook and some pens and pencils. Needless to say I didn’t get any drawing done. Nor have I gotten any drawing done since I’ve been back but I did get some pretty cool memory shots of some of the wildlife from Fossil Rim. Sometime this week I’ll get back into the swing of things but for now my mind is still on vacation.
Sometimes you have those moments where your mind wanders and you look back over your life and you ask yourself, “If I could go back in time, knowing what I know now, what would I do differently?” It’s one of those questions that many people are sure to ask themselves, I know I have. But for me that wondering would be in a more general sense where I always concluded that I wouldn’t do anything differently. In comparison to where I started from, I feel my life has turned out pretty okay. It could use some improvements in some ways but according to statistics and social scientists, my life should have turned out far worse. So I don’t regret how things have panned out so far. But then I got to thinking, is there anything I would do differently as an artist? And that’s when I started to feel some pangs of regret. While I’m proud of how far I’ve come, I can’t help but think at times how much further I could possibly be if I had of done a few things differently. Here are five things, that if I had a time machine, I would go back and do differently.
1. Own being an artist early on. In all honesty, I wasn’t too proud of having a creative spirit. I had sensed from the environment around me that being an artist didn’t have the same prestige in the community as being a principal, a social worker, teacher or foreman. I mean, people thought it was “cute” that I could draw but it wasn’t something that anyone encouraged me to pursue or praised me for. Even when I confided in a teacher that I was thinking about going to art school, I was immediately forewarned not to go and instead encouraged to go to a university with a diverse curriculum. So, I started off my academic career as a psychology major at the local community college only to later change it to Fine Arts, which required me to put in three years to obtain an Associates degree.
2. Take a few creative writing classes. I’ve always wanted to write and illustrate my own stories. Actually I wrote a 50 page short story back when I was 14 years old that I still have ’til this day. Since then I’ve only written two more that I’ve kept to myself. But once in a while I’ll do a drawing based off of a story that I’ve kept in my head. I’ve always imagined my art being coupled with stories or poetry and sometimes even songs. But to write and to draw, especially with the type of drawing that I do, seems to be a tall order. The time it would take to write the story and write it well along with the time it would take to do the drawing sounds exhausting. And with technology seemly shortening my attention span, I’m not sure if it would even be worth the effort. There is this thing called “Flash Fiction” that’s known for it’s brevity. I’ve entertained getting into that from of writing but it’s only a thought. Who knows, maybe I’ll find some way to weave writing into my art in the future.
3. Stayed in a smaller city. I moved from a small town to a big college city and I have to say getting my foot into the art scene here is much more challenging compared to when I was staying in a small town. In the town I was living in it was easier for me to develop a personal relationship with people. The manager at the local gallery was approachable and I could talk to her without having to make a pitch or bring a portfolio just to get her attention. Yearly there was a local art fair. Applications were $25 and a table was $50. But I was young and thought a bigger city was the place to be. So I didn’t invest too much energy into trying to get known as a local artist since I was going off to a university after I finished community college. To my surprise the art scene where I live now is nationally known. People from all over the country come to the yearly art fair and for a local artist just to have a table can run you up to $1500 but first you have to serve on the art jury for a year before you can get your own table.
4. Don’t underestimate the value of a community college education. Everything I learned that has been useful to me ’til this day, I learned at community college. From drawing, to web coding and graphic design. It was practical, useful and industry based. When I transferred to university, everything became based not on practicality but theory. Even the art classes. Out of my five years there and changing majors three times, the only courses I took that are still useful to me ’til this day were Economic Botany and Traditional Cartography. Looking back I feel that much of university education is more hype than anything else. So don’t look down on community college. I’m glad I attended both and was able to experience the difference. Don’t get me wrong, going to university was great for the experience and networking but looking back I probably could have done just fine without it and not have the debt I acquired. (I was able to pay for community college with my part-time job)
5. Invest in myself. Some people seem to have this unwavering belief in themselves and what they are doing. Me on the other had, I’v always had a tendency to second guessed myself and because of that I always put more value on the opinion of others rather than upon my own hopes and dreams. I always assumed everyone else knew better than me what was the best course for me. So for some time I followed the status quo until I found out the hard way that there’s no guaranteed security in the status quo just as much as there’s no security in carving out your own path in life. It’s eye opening when all that you thought was secure gets pulled out from under you due to corporate down sizing. In the process I’ve gradually learned how to live with uncertainty and developed more confidence in my ability to handle things.
So those are the five things I would do differently as an artist if I could go back in time. How about you? What are some things you would do differently as an artist or creative if you had a time machine?