Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas



January 2010

"An ancient tenet in Chinese painting holds that the Master paints not the created thing, but the forces that created it. Likewise, the best writing about art depicts not the finished piece, but the processes that created it."

   David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards of Artmaking, The Image Continuum Press, 1993, page 92.

Beginning at the Beginning

Dear Reader,

January messages are saturated with hopes, new beginnings and promises to improve. In 2010, I will try to be more (careful with money, organized, productive, confident, balanced, successful maintaining a healthy weight) or less (anxious, sensitive, obsessed, depressed, short-tempered, afraid of heights). Well, I murmur a silent "good luck" in accomplishing this litany of self-improvement.

Instead, I will focus on writing about new beginnings that may end up as art, about rituals that I practice when I walk through my studio door. People have asked if I paint seven days a week. No, and I am not sure if I would want to be in the studio that much. Yes, I would like to be in there more than I currently am. In 2009, commitments to projects, big and small, required large amounts of time.

Like many artists I know, I make a planned commitment to be in my studio. That means no meetings, no letters to write, no poem to write, no museum to visit, no phone calls to make or take, no everyday interruptions and "have-to-do's" can interfere with my hallowed block of time. Other artists may have strategies to cope with real life while they are making art, but I am not one of them.

When studio days arrive, I wake up already in a good mood. Breakfast clean-up finds me emotionally, if not physically, in my studio. As Little Red Riding Hood sings in Into the Woods, I am "excited and scared." I have no idea what will happen. And that's what keeps me going back.

These are some rituals that engage me in artmaking:

  • Before I go in the studio, I select a support from the collection stored in the cellar. Will it be a fresh canvas or board? Will I paint over an existing piece? Will it be square or rectangular?
  • Once I am in the studio, I uncover my storage units. This act that reveals a world of materials with which to work. Drawers are filled with acrylic paints, oil paints, oil sticks, pastels, oil pastels, Conté crayons, pencils, charcoal, markers, pens, inks, mediums, soaps, cleaners, solvents, all manner of containers, implements to cut, scratch, and mold wet paint. That's just what's on the right-hand side of my easel! Never mind the boxes of museum brochures, journals, and old shirts on the left. Or the wicker basket full of rags behind me.
  • I take my time deciding what medium to begin with, knowing that I may not stick with it. My underpainting may be in acrylic, but oil paints or collage may be next steps. I have about 100 acrylic colors, so setting them out in groups on top of the storage units is an important part of the ritual. Color, even in the tubes, excites me.
  • I unfold my cloth brush holder. Oil paint brushes are not compatible with acrylic, so I have two sets of brushes to use. Jars with large brushes and about twenty palette knives are on the window sill.
  • Next, I select an art book from the hundreds in four bookcases lining the walls. I sit and look. I smell the paper. I run my fingers across the shapes and colors. Or I may peruse one of my postcard collection books. Or I may grab my sketch book and draw. This is my final move from the verbal to the visual world.
  • I have written before about my next step: selecting music is as crucial as an part of my artmaking process as complete silence is to my writing.
  • Now comes my choice of an acrylic ground color to cover my support. It says something about my mood when I mix the color on the palette paper. Will my mood change as I begin to work? Probably, and in the end there may not one sparkle of ground color showing through.
  • I put on latex gloves and begin.

P.S. Regarding the opening quotation, I would ask Bayles and Orland to defend and define "best" - best for whom? Their use of the word almost made me reject it as an opening quotation. I would substitute the word "helpful" or "enlightening" because it describes why I write Judy's Journal. Although it may not be the lofty "best writing about art," writing gives me a chance to reflect on my process and therefore learn from it. Hopefully, you have connected to some aspects of my journey. Happy New Year.