Category Archives: The Business of Being an Artist

Living With An Artist at Crunch Time

mick-stevens-i-think-i-see-your-deadline-approaching-new-yorker-cartoon

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.

-Greg

keep-calm-and-meet-deadlines-9-1ja6dd8

Creating Intentions For Art

 
ginger-burrell-candle

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.

~Ginger

http://www.gingerburrell.com

 

 

 

 

The Art of Art Feedback

Hi everybody, my name is Greg and I’ll be your guest-blogger this evening.  Yes, I’m the husband Greg that Ginger mentions from time to time.  And yes, despite a recent knock on the noggin Ginger is okay and doing well.  She’s busy in the studio and will return to blogging soon enough.  In the meantime, Ging has asked me to write a few words this week.   So I shall follow the advice of my sixth-grade English teacher (shout out to Ms. Fawcett!) and write what I know.  And what I know is how to be married to An Artist.  So buckle up, here we go…

The 2017 Codex is just around the corner and Ginger is hard at work on new books.  Some of them are just in the idea stage while others have advanced to prototypes.  So I frequently hear Ginger ask, “Hey, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind giving me some feedback on this new book..?”   And here is my reaction:

a_deer_in_the_headlights__by_james_the_nose

“Deer In The Headlights” by James-The-Nose on deviantart.com

Ah yes, the art of giving art feedback. Those of us who know an artist or perhaps even live with one have been asked to critique new work.  It is a veritable minefield that I occasionally successfully navigate (the unsuccessful navigations could be their own column not to mention material for marital counseling).  Here are some guidelines that I have learned along the way.

  • If you’re the significant other of an artist then your first thought might be, “Why me?  I’m not an artist!  I’m not qualified to say nothing!”  Ah, but you do know how to have an opinion and that’s the first step.  The next step is to not be intimidated.  Treat the art piece as you would a movie, a ball game, or a business plan.   Objectively evaluate each aspect of the piece.  Say what you think works and what doesn’t.
  • Get yourself in the right frame of mind.  Turn off the TV and put down the phone.  Go to a room away from the kids or pets so they don’t distract.   Be aware of your own feelings, are you tired, hungry, stressed, or cranky?  Sometimes I simply have to tell Ginger “I’m really tired right now, let’s wait until I can give it my full attention.”
  • The artist values your opinion and thinks you have helpful insights.  Being asked to give a critique is an honor.  In fact, I like seeing new work because it’s like seeing a new side of Ginger.  I think it’s very cool that even though I’m not an artist Ginger still thinks I have useful things to say about her work.  In return, I have a responsibility to give an honest assessment.   Don’t just dismiss the work with a “hey, great!” or “yeah, its nice”.  Sure, everybody likes to hear praise but the artist probably wants something more helpful.   Which leads me to…
  • You aren’t doing the artist any favors by watering down your feedback.  My mother used to tell me “if you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all”. (A phrase which Ginger often reminds me in social situations, to little avail.)  It’s a nice sentiment but I don’t believe it’s true.  Sure, honesty can be dangerous.  There are times when I have strong opinions and maybe Ginger isn’t in the right frame of mind to hear them.   I might make an observation or suggestion and Ginger might disagree and push back.  We’re not arguing, we’re having a dialogue.  And that dialogue can help Ginger clarify her thinking about the piece.  She might storm away in anger but, at the end of the day, Ginger realizes I was just being honest and she appreciates my candor.
  • BE SPECIFIC! Saying, “I don’t like it” is vague.  “This font is hard to read” is more specific.  “It’s confusing” is vague.  “I don’t understand the jump from this page to the next” is better.  Specific is helpful because the artist can then re-examine her choice and decide whether to keep or emend it.  (Though sometimes I think that Ginger’s silence means she’s re-examining her choice in a husband).   Specific feedback is actionable.  “I don’t get it” is vague, what’s Ginger supposed to do with that?  Be specific even in your positive feedback, what elements work and why?  What aspects (materials, colors, flow) work well and why?  What stands out to you?   Despite the fact that it might kill me I realize this is a case where more talking and more words are better.
  • Gently play the devil’s advocate and question each element of the work.  Why is this here?  Why did you choose this? Does this element add to a piece or is it just distracting?  Did you do this just because you can or because the work needs it?  Sometimes I sound like a two-year old asking “why?” over and over but I think it’s a question that needs to be asked.
  • Don’t let the artist give a long introduction or explanation before presenting the piece.  I feel the work should speak for itself.  Too much explanation can color my impressions of a new work.  If there’s a lot to be said then say it in the piece.   Don’t try to sell me on the idea.  Let me look and form my own first impressions.
  • Don’t just focus on technical details, how does the work make you feel?  Sure, comments on book structure, material choices, and other technical aspects are good.  But the point of any art work is to communicate with the viewer’s intellect, heart, and soul.  Does the work touch you?  What emotions does it evoke?  Again, be specific.  Some of the best feedback I can give is to tell Ginger how her pieces make me feel (sad, angry, bored, in awe, curious).
  • Don’t take it personally if the artist doesn’t agree with or act on your ideas.  They are just suggestions from one person.  It’s the artist’s work and the artist has the final say.   Don’t be a baby and get exasperated.  Don’t throw up your hands and exclaim, “They why did you ask for my opinion then?!”   Art feedback is no place for sarcasm, belittlement, or condescension.

I hope you found this useful.  If you’re an artist then maybe forward it to the people who get to see your works in progress.  And I hope this gives you some insight into how us non-artists feel, go easy on us.   -Greg

Creating (And Re-Creating) Habits

Squirrel (1 of 1)

I think one of the hardest, and most important, things we can do as artists is create habits and routines to support our art-making. I’ve been creating, trying and ultimately re-creating, trying and often failing, to create habits and routines as an artist for nearly ten years.

Ten years. Wow. It doesn’t feel that long ago that I was truly terrified of calling myself an artist, let alone leaving the office work world to work in a studio and classroom. Along the way I’ve discovered that I am a master of distraction, procrastination and, perhaps worst of all, perfectionism. If you’ve seen the movie, Up, you know what I mean when I say, “Squirrel?!”

I love squirrels. We feed several of them at our bird feeders each day. In fact, I created a squirrel feeder by re-purposing a rabbit… See, there I go. I’ve been meaning to write blog posts for months. I’ve written dozens in my head. But since they’re never as well written as I’d like, and I don’t have exactly the right photo to post, or Ellis wants to play, or the dishes need done or there is an artists’ book I’m avoiding in the studio, no blog posts.

To be fair, and as my dear friend Karen would tell me, to be kind to myself, I have had a bit of a distraction for the last year. Our niece, Marisol, has been living with us and it’s been our responsibility to help her successfully make the transition from junior in high school to college freshman. With any luck we’ve taught Mari some things and she’s definitely taught us. And, next Saturday, our year of homework, worry, taxi service, cajoling, reminding and loving is coming to an end. She’s moving to college. Okay, well the loving and the worrying, that definitely isn’t coming to an end. As we’ve told her we will always do those things!

So I have the opportunity to re-work my schedule and the responsibility to improve it. I need to put into practice all the things I’ve been teaching Marisol. Make and keep a schedule. Keep a calendar. Fulfill responsibilities first. Stay focused. Squirrel?

Step one. I’ve put on my calendar as a recurring event, “Blog Post” on Tuesdays. Oh, I’d love to write them twice a week. Even three times. And I’d like each to be beautifully illustrated and inspire you deeply as an artist. But as my perfectionist self knows, if I try to meet those standards up front, I’ll never post. Instead of one blog a week, I’ll post one blog a month. Or every six months. Or year.

So, one post a week. Here it is. Next week I’ll tell you about the book I’m reading and the other habits I’m trying this time. And how I did my best not to cry when I left Marisol in her dorm room.

~Ginger

www.gingerburrell.com

 

 

 

The Color of Real-World Studios

Have you ever gazed at images of perfect studios? You know the ones in magazines that are impossibly beautiful and organized? I often wonder about the palette (wall colors, not painter’s tool…) chosen and whether it fosters creativity or is distracting. Does it compete with the art making and finished art or highlight it?

One of the most viewed blog posts I’ve ever written was on the color of one’s studio and which colors facilitate creativity. I was building my own studio at the time and doing research. In the end, I went with white walls and a neutral floor color. Everything in my studio is white or natural wood, even the curtains are a natural and restful blue. Except that it isn’t. My studio is a cornucopia of texture, color and projects (or a rampant mess, depending on my mood…)  I’ve got photos, artwork, inspiration, supplies, books, stacks, etc. adding color everywhere. I suppose you could say that my studio is actually every colored.

As an extension of the original post, which you’ll find here: While We’re Talking Paint Colors, I asked artists that I know through the Bay Area Book Artists about their studios and colors they’ve chosen, or not, and why. Here, in no particular order, are their replies.

Lilac

My studio is blue based purple tinted out to a lilac color for walls and trim.  Grey based white ceiling to reflect light back down into space, and flooring a light green.  There are accent colors in all of the colors of the spectrum introduced in art work and assemblage pickings.  Surrounding rooms are a saturated grey because it is wonderful to display artwork on.  – Rhonda L.

white walls

1. My studio, as well as my entire living space, has white walls. I respond to emptiness, which white represents for me. The invitation of emptiness allows me to put up drawings, paintings, pieces of ephemera, words, and photographs that provide stimulation for creativity. 2. I feel that my creativity stems from a quiet center, and in order to have that quiet center, I need an interesting visual space. It’s almost as if the first creative act is to take the white walls, and begin a “room collage” of imagery that appeals to me, and once I’m ensconced in the arms of the imagery, my deepest creative place gets activated. This may look like clutter to others, but there is purpose, movement, order and balance to my eyes, and this is how I journey back to my center.  – Karen K.

green

My studio walls are the color of leaves with a cream ceiling. My studio has windows on two walls and looks out on to the garden.  I like the sense of working in the great outdoors, it makes me happy.  That being said, the walls have lots of art, books and stuff on them, so the true sense is a garden that’s gotten outta control.  It keeps me stimulated. (Raesofsun.com) – Rae T.

black and white

My studio currently has white walls and ceilings, with neutral to black surfaces and furnishings. It’s calming and visually quiet environment so that I can both work and play here. It’s not stark, as there are areas of creative clutter, but the overall space is peaceful and inviting for making art. The best moments are when I turn on some music and put my phone on silent. – Karen C.

tiffany

My studio is Tiffany blue with white trim. I work full-time at a hospital, and this color helps me forget my day. I can think better at my studio. When I sit down to create, it usually never takes longer than 10 mins before ideas start to flow. – Linh D.

multicolor

I don’t really have any colors. Behind me is floor to ceiling shelving with supplies. To my left is a huge cabinet with wood doors, though often they are open showing more supplies. Next to that we have the television sitting in a brick fireplace. In front of  me, is mostly my huge iMac honestly can’t see much beyond it. (It’s new. 🙂 yay) and off to the right is an open area that turns into the kitchen area, again mostly wood cabinets  there’s very little wall in the whole room, what we have is the same white as when we moved in. So I’d have to say my studio is “art supply” colored, mostly vintage paper and books. And the matte aluminum of my epson r2400 and  iMac. I wish it were prettier like those spreads you see of people’s studio. I had Kit come help me organize it, but frankly, I work chaotically, and don’t have lots of energy to tidy up after, so everything is a massive pile of paper I’m working with, loosely held in clear plastic tubs. (Kit pointed out that I like to see what I have or I forget I have it, so clear tubs work great).  I was raised by my Gran who liked need and tidy, so I always feel a bit of shame in regards to my work space. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/violentbloom/10355425414/) – Raven E.

tomato red

My interior studio walls are warm white and with tomato red /orange accent walls and maple shelving with views of trees out my windows. My studio is a relaxing environment which sparks my creative energy. – Bernadette C.

ivory

I painted mine an ivory-white. Warm tone supports good vibes. Also good lighting helps. I have sky lighting plus warm light bulbs for night work. Has been great since 1984! ~ Jone M.

gray

How color affects one’s creativity is a good question. I prefer white walls in a studio. I like to use colors and a placing a painting/print etc, against a white surface gives me the best idea of the true color, i.e. there is minimal color interference. I even prefer a white palette and ink rolling surface for that reason. Also white walls reflect light best. If I had my choice I would have one wall be a pale ‘photo’ grey, neither warm, nor cool, again for minimal interference with true color in a painting, print etc. BUT the best psychological stimulus to my creativity is having plenty of Northern light. Artificial light is a downer for me. – Conni R.

warm white

My last studio had knotty pine walls, very warm but too dark. I couldn’t bring myself to paint them because they were beautiful wood. I like a lot of light, from windows if possible, with no shadows under my hands. My new studio has slightly warm, white walls, our landlord’s choice. But it’s working well. I like the brightness. I feel most colors on the wall would bounce onto whatever I’m working on and have an effect. Later in a different setting my finished art would not be the color I want. My table tops are a light grey, I prefer my grey cutting mat over the dark green one most of the time, too. I think these simple colors create an environment that makes me feel like it’s a good place to be making things. ( judithhoffman.net) – Judy H.

multi 2

My studio walls are white but you can barely see them. The walls are covered with every color possible of artwork and art supplies. This colorful atmosphere is what charges and inspires me. For me “more is more” in every sense of creativity. (http://lifeasafiveringcircus.blogspot.com/http://www.doritelisha.com) – Dorit E.

navajo white

In my studio I keep pretty neutral with color and have a Navajo white which has some warmth to it and grey. It makes a great backdrop for all colors and does not intrude.  It keeps the space clean without being sterile and helps keep the light level up. The color is in all the inspiration pieces I have around. My artwork, objects that inspire, plants, and fabrics hanging on the walls or on shelves. There are a lot of natural items…rocks, wood, dried leaves and pods that warm up the space without effecting other colors. – Karen R.

What color is your studio? Or what color is your dream studio? Have you changed your studio color over time? If so, why? Please share in the comments!

Thank you again to the artists in Bay Area Book Artists. They are a tremendously generous group and always willing to share their thoughts and ideas.

~Ginger

http://www.gingerburrell.com

 

Community Matters at San Jose City Hall, Reception Friday June 6

CommunityMatters_Announcement

 

I was honored to be invited to participate in the Community Matters show at San Jose City hall. This show features SJSU art department alumni and will be open until October 1., 2014. I know several of the participants and am flattered to be included in such a talented group. These are the art students I would come home and tell Greg about. “They’re going to do something big,” I’d tell him and you’ll see by their work exactly what I meant.

Each of us has our own display area an, in addition to several of my better known artist’s books,  you’ll be able to see a work that isn’t even on my website yet. Tentatively titled Elephants, it is a collection of artist’s books about family secrets. When the curator, Robin Treen, visited my studio she was excited about this piece and asked if I could have it finished in time for the show. “Sure!” I told her. And it was done at 2 a.m. the day of the install.

I hope you can join me on Friday, June 6th, between 4:30-6 p.m. for the reception.

~Ginger

http://www.gingerburrell.com

 

Finding Time for Your Art

Ginger Burrell - Time Machine Color

If only there was a machine that could make more time! Many of us find it a challenge to find time to sleep, let alone find time to make art. Do you have strategies to make time for your art?

This has been an ongoing struggle for me. I am sidetracked frequently not only by the many other responsibilities I have, but also by my own tendency to undermine my own creative work. If it isn’t a household responsibility, a kid that needs transported somewhere, or an appointment that needs kept, it is me dragging my feet because I’m not sure I can make my art fit my vision, or I’ve gotten so far in a project that I’m afraid that I’ll screw it up and have to start over, or I’ll be afraid that my audience won’t love it the way I do (even though I tell myself it doesn’t matter…)

Last year I did a year-long project titled “Picturing Dialogue.” Because I had deadlines and a lot of other artists to answer to, it kept me on task and focused all year. So for me, deadlines and people to answer to are a good start. But here I am on January 13th and I’m finding myself in my old patterns.

In an attempt to create better working habits this year (and eating habits, and exercise habits, and… oh wait, here I am getting sidetracked again…) I did some wandering around the web looking for techniques to set aside time for what is most important – Art. (And besides, I got to wander the web and not feel guilty about it!)

In a blog entry by Bet Borgeson, I found the idea of a TIMECARD – “This may seem a quaint thing, but it works, and it has helped others. Why does it work?  Because it is a big part of the structure that surrounds an art life.  Noting the timebegins to work on you mentally. You are noticing your time.  You might find yourself guessing how much you’ll get done.  You’ll have conversations with yourself about your art time.  As time goes on and you are faithful about keeping a record, you’ll likely begin to compete with prior weeks and months–even years.”

On Empty Easel, in an interview with Rice Freeman-Zachery, I found the idea to QUIT WATCHING TV – Now I know an artist who has pretty much done this and her art output, on top of a full-time “regular” job, is amazing. In quality as well as quantity. In fact, Rae  is an inspiration to everyone who knows her. But I like TV and at the end of a long day it’s often the only thing I have the energy for. Although I’m still cross at the story-line for last night’s Downton Abbey.

Mary Baker’s Art Blog may well hit the nail on the head for me – and for many of us… “LEARN TO SAY NO.” My favorite sentence – “‘No’ is a complete sentence.”

In Cathy Johnson’s Tip #33, Making Time for Art, she suggests MAKE AN APPOINTMENT WITH YOURSELF and keep it, just like any other appointment.

Balzer Design’s 5 Ways to Make Time for Art, has two tips that struck a chord for me:  LET THE CROCKPOT DO THE COOKING and Set Limits for Computer Time. Perhaps I can improve my art making habits and my eating habits with one tip! And I love the computer… I love reading the news, looking for recipes, reading email, blogs, Facebook, watching Henri videos… uh oh, and that’s just a small part of the list. I’m beginning to see a problem here.

Do you have strategies to “make time” for your art? Please share in the comments! I’ll try these out and let you know how they work for me.

~Ginger

http://www.gingerburrell.com