Do-Overs

I’ve always liked my paintings to take me on some sort of journey-

To imply ‘somewhere’ just beyond, or a pathway to an undisclosed location. When they just appear to be a final destination, I find them less compelling and kind of lifeless.

After living with it for year, I felt I had to redo the large Bunch painting. It was an interesting technical challenge to get all those overlapping and interlocking blades of grass to make sense, and I worked on it for months- but it seemed like a wall that stopped me cold, rather than invited me into a place. (wasn’t ever crazy about all that yellow either)

It was just an image, not an experience. So in keeping with my new strategy of not adding piles of new smaller paintings to my basement racks, I decided to sand it down and revisit the painting.

Bunch 32×60 oil

I am not quite at the point where it feels like the experience I want to have, but it’s getting closer.   Here are some of the steps forward so far….

Watching the Olympics earlier this year we saw incredible athletes who had trained and worked for the past four years in preparation for their one moment, get only one chance to either advance or see the final result. No matter how prepared, a rut in the ice, a patch of soft snow, a moment of distraction or loss of focus could spell disaster – they couldn’t say “do-over”.

How unlike painting, when I am allowed to sand, scrape and repaint over parts or the entirety of an earlier piece that just didn’t seem to express what I wanted. And I get to do it in the privacy of my basement. Maybe this is why we call making art a “practice”. After 30 years, I’m still practicing. And getting lots of “do-overs”.

How to Proceed

When I was younger, just out of grad school … starting a teaching career … and through my 50’s; gallery representation, regular shows, awards, and a bigger public presence were very much in my sights. Building that resume was critical. But now, not so much. Actually, not at all.

In order to proceed, I felt I needed a new road map.

One that made sense for this current period of time in my life and my work.

Part of that map pointed to lightening the load in my personal and studio life- in both literal and less obvious ways.

Here’s how that went……

1.  In the literal sense, I knew there was just a lot of stuff in my environment.  Kids toys and games, sports equipment, extra furniture and clothing we didn’t need, and plenty of frames, shipping crates, art supplies that I no longer would use. I made heavy use of Craigslist, and also donated/gave away lots of items.

2.  I went through completed work and started to edit out some pieces…(rip rip) Lots of work on paper falls in this category, but also a few paintings. I want to keep the best out of a series, or conversely what I would not be embarrassed to have out-live me. (And a digital image can always remind me of the piece.) I’m not a famous artist whose legacy will be left to a museum. More likely it will be my daughter who has to figure out what to do with mom’s artwork. And if you’ve been creating work for thirty years, even with regular sales, you start to have a large collection to think about. I became increasingly aware of what a burden that could be.

3.  I decided to let go of feeling obligated to respond to every event/opening/announcement/call-for-entry email- although I will still go out of my way to see something truly inspiring. I deleted my Facebook account, although at this point still have my art page.  Suddenly I felt even lighter. And I had so much more free time!

4.  I’ve found several other ways to launch my work into the world and people’s homes- using consultants and on-line galleries; selling at local non-profit venues and through open studios. The good thing about this process is that I am truly in control over my “inventory” and the prices I want to charge for it; whether it’s for a corporate or health care environment, or a private home. Now I often find buyers who are perhaps beginning collectors, who appreciate original artwork but are not able to spend huge sums of money. It’s more important to me that these pieces find a good home, rather than placing some arbitrarily high value on them. And because I am no longer painting for commercial solo shows or exhibitions anymore, I’m not obligated to generate a large body of work every couple of years. I’ve kept a spreadsheet that shows when I moved to this model in 2004, and when I look back it’s gratifying to see 134 pieces (!) have been placed using these outlets. And that doesn’t include the notecards and calendars that I made using original linocuts.

5.  Not adding to the load- As I try to find homes for older paintings, I find that I don’t want to add many more to the ones already stored in racks.

IMG_1465
the flat file
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some paintings in rack

I am doing more on paper- charcoal, and pastel drawings- small etchings or monotypes. More easily stored in flat files and can be rolled to ship out if sold. (I keep a stash of heavy duty 4” tubes for this purpose.) I decided last year to stretch up a couple large 46×52” canvases, and have something larger to challenge me for a longer length of time. (more on those next time) Plus I paint in oil so it’s a slower process anyway. Layers can’t be put on in a matter of a few minutes, sometimes you have to pause, let something dry, or scrape it off if you want to alter your approach or change a color.

IMG_1463
 tooobs

So all this is a different way of defining progress, or success if you will.And it feels like a good fit for the long haul.

Not Done – Still Here

drawing of hillside in compressed charcoal by Nanci Erskine
Drawing purely for my own satisfaction- “Hillside” compressed charcoal

I would say that unlike many other professions, visual artists never need to retire in the
traditional sense of the word. Oh, sure….if you have a side career- say teaching or auto mechanics you might encounter a distinct culmination of that job.
But the siren pull of the thing yet-to-be resolved in the studio might continue, the engagement and the process and the challenge of manifesting something out of nothing is still a worthwhile and rewarding way to spend time.
Until you can no longer pick up the tool. And even then, you might find another tool. Paper cutouts anyone?

I’ve usually operated under the assumption that no ultimately no one else needs to care whether I make a painting or drawing….except for me.
Not that I am always my only audience, but that the world outside my basement/studio is not reliant on my continuing. That the only thing that propels me forward now is my own need to engage with my work.

So, skipping into the second half of my 60”s, I often encounter the question about my employment status. Retired? Self-employed? Semi-something or other?
Hard to say how to proceed…

part 2 – coming soon……

Spring Forward! – Studio Tour 2017

As someone who has been a practicing visual artist for about 30 years professionally, there have been many stages in that career.  Some certainly more public than others.

In this part of my art life, I’ve enjoyed participating in the annual Fort Collins studio tour for the last 5 years, (in addition to selling work through art consultants and online).
The FREE tour is a great opportunity to chat with a range of people about my work and process, and often find homes for more affordable work.

You’ll find lots of small framed paintings and other works on paper, all under $100!

linocut notecards, and I’ll have a few discounted 2017 calendars …

 

plus you can have a look at this large painting in progress…..

 

My studio is located at  1507 Welch Street in Fort Collins– (look for the signs on nearby intersections) last weekend in April Friday 28,  4-9  •  Saturday 29  10-5  •   Sunday 30 12-5

There’s a show at the Fort Collins Lincoln Center with pieces from all the participating artists- Regular hours through April are Tuesday through Saturday 12-6.  You can stop by to plan your route and pick up a guide.

One of my latest pastel drawings, “Prairie Requiem” is included in the preview. 

Examples of my other work can be found on the pages of this site.           Hope to see you…Cheers!

Thanks to my studio sponsor the Fort Collins Club
 – check them out for a great place to stay healthy.

a painting evolves

A few years ago, I began a piece on a large, horizontal format.  It seemed appropriate for conveying the sweep of prairie grasses that has been a constant theme in my work for several years. And I wanted a challenge to work much larger- the result was this piece- 

Prairie Lights, 28 x 62 oil on canvas 2013 © Nanci Erskine - SOLD
Prairie Lights, 28 x 62 oil on canvas 2013
© Nanci Erskine – SOLD

I liked being able to create an entire immersive world that could really pull the viewer through a landscape.
And after finishing this one, I embarked on another. But I wanted to move into a more unconventional idea about the color of the environment.

As always, when starting a large format painting, it’s exhilarating to make great loose swipes of thinned out paint, (I often just use a rag to wipe the paint around) to mark the territory and masses of the subject. There’s a lot of energy and not much editing in this stage… it felt wild and dense and someone looking at it might have said it was finished.

early ver. Bunch-Spring

But here’s the issue that comes up in most of my painting.  Creating a picture of something is not the same as having had the experience of living with and questioning and going deeper with a subject than just a surface image.  One of the reasons I need to paint is to have that conversation. The challenge becomes keeping a fresh eye on something that you revisit over and over again- seeing possibility over time, solving technical questions, aiming for a result that doesn’t always reveal itself easily.

I had this one on the wall for a good year, while I was happily side tracked into working on pastel drawings of grasslands nocturnal and otherwise.   The painting was patiently waiting until I had the committed mindset and time to jump back in, uninterrupted.  What I was looking for was more nuance in the color, in the layers of space, more definition of the shaft of the grasses, in their edges, and how they overlapped each other.  So, after a few more weeks, the painting ended up here…

Bunch- Spring, 32x60 oil © 2016 Nanci Erskine
Bunch- Spring, 32×60 oil © 2016 Nanci Erskine

Still gestural, still dense, but now playing with entering and exiting, a play of violet and blue with the dark cool green, and the air around and between the grasses becoming much more defined and intricate.
I don’t dislike the first stage, but the history I have with the finished one means more to me.  And that’s why I paint.
p.s. it’s hanging on my stairwell wall if you come through on the studio tour- June 25 and 26th. More on that subject soon.

 

be nimble….

“tree/house”, 18×28, charcoal ©Nanci Erskine

Recently, I was interviewed for a program called “Support Local Culture” at the local community run radio station. They’ve been talking to arts folks as part of a program sponsored by Noosa yogurt.

(By the way- this is incredible yogurt, made by a dairy that happens to deliver a half gallon of milk right to our porch every week! ) 

anyhoo- here’s the link.  Lots of thoughts condensed into about 5 minutes

http://www.krfcfm.org/nanci-erskine-support-local-culture-featured-artist-july-14/

in the full-length interview we touched on several obvious topics- how did you become an artist, what inspires you, yada yada.

But one of the points I really wanted to make was that as a long time practitioner,  there are trends I’ve seen come and go- changes in the economy, changes in the way people see and buy art, various schemes that have been tried by organizations in my city.

There have been several times in my life when I was associated with ‘artist groups’  They often morph into support groups or built-in cheering sections rather than a way to really look at our situation and motivations, or critically look at the work being done.  The sad thing is- the pattern of devolving into a whining mass of self-pitying humanity is all too common.

It’s the same refrain I heard 30 years ago- “no one appreciates us/me” or some variation on that theme.

So…what if a mythical ‘Creative District”, or some government sponsored Arts Council doesn’t come to your rescue..

I say- be nimble.  Do whatever you gotta do to keep it going.

Don’t wait for approval, validation or the calvary.