Hello again. It’s been a long time. I have been blogging in fits and starts and, for almost a year, not at all. I think about it all the time. I’ve got dozens of blog posts written in my head. But none of them made it to the computer or your inbox.
One of my biggest challenges, and I suspect yours as well, is being able to say, “No.” I enjoy helping people and making people happy and I am quite good at over committing myself out of the best intentions. Unfortunately I often fall short and feel sad/frustrated/guilty for not living up to my own expectations or promises.
After more than a year of falling short in too many places, I’m in the process of re-balancing my time as an artist and teacher (and wife, daughter, sister…). One of my priorities is to get back to regular blog writing. I’ll share more about that soon. And more about my work. And tools I can’t live without. And events of note. Looking forward to chatting with you soon.
by Mick Stevens in The New Yorker
Hi everybody. Its me, Greg, your guest blogger here again. The 2017 Codex book fair is just around the corner and Ginger’s work is coming together nicely but she’s swamped right now. Which is why you get me. I shall continue my previous theme and discuss Codex prep from my perspective. Specifically, I see Ginger is super busy and stressed so what can I do to help alleviate that (without making more work for her)? We’ve been through this a number of times preparing for various art shows and here’s a few things I’ve learned that will help.
- Volunteer to be a studio assistant. Your first reaction may be, “I’m not an artist, how can I possibly help in the studio?” True, I don’t know much about art but I do know how to measure paper and use a bone folder. I can even work a Kutrimmer. In fact, I quite enjoy putting on the headphones and cranking through a stack of paper or davey board. I don’t know anything about book bindings but I can run to the store for more art supplies. I often tell Ginger, “Pretend I’m a small child (not a stretch) and give me specific and clear instructions, I won’t be offended.” Even taking on small menial tasks can be a help to her.
- Encourage your artist to take breaks. There are natural stopping points in Ginger’s work such as waiting for paint or glue to dry. Or when transitioning from one book to the next. That’s a good time to suggest a break. Sometimes we go for ice cream and other times we just lie in bed and pet the cats. A walk is always a good option. Sometimes Ginger wants to talk about her work and other times she doesn’t even want to think about it. We might take a dinner break and watch half hour of mindless TV. Laughing together is always a good stress reliever.
- Don’t take it personally if your artist is always busy or distracted. This is not the time to stamp my foot and say “but what about me?! Pay attention to me!” During crunch time the artist is always thinking about his or her art. We might be doing something completely non-art (including sleeping) but part of her brain is still working on art problems. So I don’t take it personally if I’m talking to Ginger and she gets that faraway look in her eyes before jumping up and rushing off to the studio.
- Make sure your artist doesn’t neglect his or her health. One of the best ways to do this is to encourage your artist to get more sleep. It sounds contradictory but more sleep can actually be more productive. I’ve seen Ginger get into the bad pattern of working eighteen hours one day but then dragging for the next two days before giving in to a long sleep to catch up. The net result is less productivity. And more stress because then she feels like, “Oh no, I’ve been dragging and sleeping too much, I need to work even harder!” I realize that Ginger will laugh at this because normally I’m one of those “Five hours is enough for anybody!” kind of guys but I realize that everybody is different and during crunch time you have to do what works best for you.
- Be ready to give tough feedback. This is a difficult one because I see Ginger working so hard and I see she’s stressed and fragile and my instinct is to tell her that everything she does is great. After all, I want to be encouraging and I want to help her soldier on. But I would be doing her a disservice. We both agree that just because there’s a deadline looming it’s no reason to lower standards. There are plenty of times in life where I’ll say, “It’s good enough, just get it done” but not when it comes to Ginger’s art. So continue to give the tough feedback but be prepared to deliver it with an extra dose of kindness. See my previous post on “The Art of Art Feedback”.
- Don’t add extra pressure to your artist. Yeah, this isn’t the time to remind her about her looming deadline. It’s also not a good time to say, “Wow, you must be so stressed!” Believe me, she’s acutely aware of it. It’s also not the time to burden her with issues that aren’t urgent. Do we really need to plan our 2018 vacation right now or can it wait a few weeks? I find it’s helpful to jointly map out our week in advance so that Ginger knows which tasks or events I have covered and doesn’t have to worry about how non-art tasks are going to get done.
- Remove distractions from your artist’s daily life. This goes hand-in-hand with the above point. Make or bring dinner. Do extra household chores. Offer to take the pet to the vet. Attend the family function by yourself so she can keep working. In fact, guess what? You yourself might be a distraction. The question to ask myself is, “Does Ginger really need to be interrupted or is this just a needy attempt to get attention?”
- Give meaningful and specific encouragement. Right now Ginger is very focused on a huge to-do list and what’s not going well. Those unsolved problems are weighing heavily on her mind. This is when she needs encouragement but not that general encouragement which, while true (“hey, at least you get to make art, isn’t that great?”), isn’t very helpful. One of the best ways to encourage is to point out what I like about each new work. What really pops out and how does it make me feel. Sometimes Ginger gets to a point where she only sees what’s wrong with a piece. It helps to have a fresh pair of eyes tell her what’s right and how well the piece works.
I hope you find these suggestions helpful. They’ve definitely worked for me. If you’re an artist then show this list to the people living with you. And identify those people whom you can really depend on and allow yourself to lean on them a little.
Today I received an email from my dear cousin Cindi. She is a therapist and one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. Just being with her makes me feel more calm and gentle and centered.
What struck me about her email was the idea that we should pause and reflect on all of the experiences of the last year, both good and bad, happy or sad, exciting or depressing and that “most likely your 2016 was quite a mixture of many rich moments that make up daily living.” Isn’t that true? In our every day lives as humans and in our practices as artists. We have successes and failures, ups and downs, moments of creative genius and moments of frustrating blockage. It’s very easy to focus on the negatives. On what we didn’t do, or on what we did wrong. More productive, I think, to look at every aspect and go from there.
She went on to encourage the idea of intentions, rather than resolutions for the New Year. Here is Cindi’s description of the difference: ” Intentions come from the heart and are gentler ways of getting yourself to live the life that matters to you. Setting intentions is more about connecting with your values rather than some wished for outcome. Intentions help you to align your daily living practices with what’s most important, and they don’t set you up for failure the way resolutions do… How many years have you made the same resolutions, only to fall off the path before February? …When you set an intention, you are creating a scaffolding that always helps you to go in the right direction.”
So, I’d like to propose that you take some time to set intentions for your practice as an artist. Again, following Cindi’s lead, here are some questions that you might ask yourself in setting your intentions for 2017.
- Why do I make art?
- Who do I make art for?
- What is it about making art that I value?
- What do I wish for in my art making?
- How can I support myself in being an artist?
- What do I need to change in my life to make more time for art?
Answering these questions will help guide you towards intentions.
Here are some sample intentions that I created based on my answers to the above questions. Yours may be similar, or very different.
- May I use my day to create art and help others make art.
- May I remember that making art is more important than making art perfectly.
- May I be aware when I am using other activities as an excuse to avoid a difficult part of making art.
- May I be kind to myself when I make mistakes.
- May I remember that it is okay to say “no” to others to make time for my art.
In my case, I’ve printed these out and I’m putting them on the back of my studio door. The idea being that I’ll see them each morning as I enter the studio and close the door. They are meant as a reminder to help me refocus and set the tone for my studio time.
I’d love to hear about your intentions for 2017. Please feel free to post them in the comments.