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Super Snags

life as an artist Feb 13, 2024

A month ago my life turned sharply onto an unexpected path, one that has led me through a tunnel of brambles, snagging my body, heart and spirit, yet opening up on occasion to offer glimpses of amazing landscapes of possibility, new areas to explore and a world of creative flow I've only dreamt of before. The 20 yard dumpster filled almost to the brim with contents from my studio ... all of my framed exhibition pieces, much of my teaching reference materials, sketches, sketchbooks, my children's artwork, precious art materials, rolls and reams of expensive watercolor paper, linen canvas, matboard, art books ...  was hauled away three days ago.  My studio is now wide open, ready for the body of work that will be created moving forward.  As I sift through what has remained undamaged, I'm amazed at the multitude of beginnings that remained undeveloped over four decades as I continued to be obsessively focused on gathering as many new experiences an ideas as possible.  Perhaps I thought that I had another two hundred years during which I could develop those inspired beginnings.

It took this past month of Super Snags for me to awaken to a more grounded reality of my lifespan.  I realize I may be overly optimistic to assume that I have thirty years of healthy and productive years ahead of me.  That will bring me to the age of 102.  That's not totally unrealistic.  Mr. and Mrs. Egan, my second set of parents (being the mother and father of my my very dear friend Kathleen whom I've known now for seventy years) both lived to the age of 101. They were both remarkably active and sharp until the very end.  There's no harm in being optimistic. Being optimistic has served me well in the past.  At least I'm no longer thinking I have sixty more years of creative productivity.  Reality is such a bitter pill to swallow when living an artistic life.

Far too many analogies have passed through my thoughts as I've experienced the ups and downs of disposing of a lifetime of art and memorabilia.  I'll attempt to stick to the analogy of the path bordered by brambles.  The flooded studio forced me off the open hiking trails and onto a challenging path of brambles where I'm now bushwhacking my way toward an unknown destination. The brambles block my way and snag at me to slow me down, forcing me to eliminate work, tools, idea, supplies, and even relationships that no longer serve my growth as the artist, creating the work I'm capable of creating. I've been made painfully aware that I was stuck at the stage of gathering and collecting skills and inspiration.  Not often enough did I slow down enough to move to the stage of processing my experiences of life, daily life as well as various stages of life.  My experiences were shelved to process later like the multitude of books I plan to read when I have time.

The latest snag occurred yesterday morning when I realized that I was not going to be able to get to the airport to catch my plane to Jacksonville, Florida where I'll be teaching a three day workshop on February 22nd, 23rd and 24th.  An excessive amount of snow was predicted to fall, most likely preventing any options I might have for reaching Newark airport in time to board the plane.  I had options.  Every option had a fair chance of falling through at the last minute, too late to change my flight and still be able to grab a seat that didn't cost me three times the amount I originally paid.  I went ahead, grabbed one of the last basic economy seats on a plane to fly out in two days when the roads should be clear and the weather report doesn't predict more snow until next week.  Even if the weather prediction were to be wrong and no snow fell, I felt better about getting to Florida in time to teach the workshop.  

The weather prediction was right.  Snow began to fall late in the night and it continues to fall.  I enjoyed a lovely morning of automatic drawing, colour mapping and creating an intentionally dreary colour palette at my drafting table watching the beautiful blizzard-like conditions.  I also discovered, while sorting through an unharmed box of stuff that I'ld stashed away to sort through later, that some of the work I thought had perished and been carried away in the dumpster, was safely nestled in the plastic box.  Seeing the work triggered another dimension that I will add to the upcoming workshop, a new workshop that I'm teaching next week in Florida and in Wales in April, 15 Ways to Use Your Sketchbook.

Right now, the biggest challenge when teaching is that my emphasis can no longer be the same as it's been in the past. My focus in my own work is now primarily expressing the feelings, emotions and thoughts of experiences rather than the narrative of an experience.  Everything I normally teach regarding lines, shapes, values, colours, temperature, textures, patterns, design and composition ... is no longer as significant as it was before.  Of course, all of those elements are important ... very important.  However, they are not that which is most important to me.  They are not what makes a drawing, sketch or painting successful.  They are merely the vocabulary of the language used visually to express experiences and feelings, experiences and feelings that are most often universal in one way or another.  If and when I'm able to use my visual language well, I'm succeeding in my attempt to share my existence with others and connect with others as I've always wanted my work to do.

P.S. the reason I'm working on developing a dreary palette is because the recent experience of finding myself unable to escape a mental world of grayness for three full days is an experiences I've had only once before in my life, in my early thirties.  Since I've now experienced this twice, I feel that it might be something that others have also experienced. I'm going to attempt to express some part of that experience and I'm not sure where this exploration will lead.  Perhaps it will lead to a dead end.  At least this time, I'll allow myself to reach that dead end and not leave the idea unprocessed.




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