Saturday, September 28, 2013

Start Today with a Clean Page; Enjoy the Moment

"Sponge Docks" in Clearwater, FL
A few days ago, I received a pocket calendar for 2014. I flipped through its blank pages like a “deer panting for water.” The days were glistening white; unmarked by crowded schedules, important appointments, or family birthdays and anniversaries.

My current calendar looks like Graffiti on steroids. Black ink saturates each page with notes, people’s names, important events, telephone numbers, commitments and activities. In addition, medical problems and emergency appointments have filled its pages during this past year. Critical junctures like weddings, flight plans, and vacation dates have recorded important information adding to the chaos.

"Tree-lined street in Gateway Community"
 It’s always gratifying to catch a glimpse of the future, unmarred by what is to what may be. The white calendar pages remind me of blank pages yet to be written.

In the past I did write with a pen; the transition to keyboard was difficult. I also typed manuscripts on an old Smith Corona using carbon paper between the sheets; six copies, to be exact, which had to be erased one by one if I made an error.

Now the spell check on my laptop does the work for me. I have learned to create at the keyboard; the wonders of modern technology. What next? I’ll probably speak my mind into my ipad or droid and the text will appear magically on the screen. Others are doing it, why not me?

"Fort Myers Beach" the perfect way to relax
Next to a blank calendar, a new white canvas excites me just as much. Having a clean virginal surface, spotless and free from brush strokes, gives me “a tingle up my leg,” as Chris Matthews would say.

Each new day should give us that same exhilarating feeling. Yesterday’s mistakes and stresses can give way to hope and the opportunity for a fresh start. As Scarlet O’Hara said in “Gone with the Wind,” “Tomorrow is another day!”

Things always look better on the other side of a good night’s sleep. Once refreshed, we gain objectivity and perspective. We can distance ourselves from yesterday’s pain. Of course, some things take time. But each new day brings us closer to closure. If bitterness doesn’t take off our edge, we become wiser and stronger.

"Bird of Paradise" on the wane
Is it possible to create our future by having a positive vision of ourselves? Can we mold the possibilities and our potential for success by controlling what we write on those blank pages?

Forget about yesterday. Who and what do you want to be? As the saying goes: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life;” shape it as you would a fine sculpture. Mold it, smooth it, work it with your hands, and explore its possibilities. Let go of yesterday and live in the exquisiteness of today.

"Another shot of the Sponge Docks"

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

“Waiting for Godot” is another Means of Procrastination

One of the Newsletter’s I subscribe to comes from the artist, Robert Genn. He suggests that we shouldn’t wait around for “inspiration.” We should just dive into our work and see what happens. Sometimes waiting for the “muse” or that perfect idea is another form of putting off the actual work.

Some people think if they pay enough money for “the perfect web site;” the one that generates “thousands of viewers,” their careers will take off and they will begin to sell.

In actuality, it isn’t how much money you spend, it is how much actual time you spend on marketing and promoting your work. If one site fails, just beginning another won’t necessarily cut it if you’re not putting in the time. Marketing and promoting take as much work as the actual creating and implementing stage. Without promotion your creative work sits around with only one viewer: you!

"Moonshines" Acrylic on canvas
I’ve discussed fear before. Fear is paralyzing. Fear can also be another form of procrastination. The news caster Robin Robins recently dealt with a severe form of cancer. How did she beat it? Robin said: “When fear knocks, let faith answer the door.”

She believed in herself, she believed in the power of God, and she faced her fears courageously and beat them down with the “sword of God’s word.” Fear can be overcome. Human will is powerful, but there is a higher power than ourselves that can help us overcome fear, weakness, and the frailties of human nature.

When fear knocks, we need to rally all the support systems available to us. We need to jump into the pool of the unknown and beat off the sharks with every ounce of strength we can muster. Waiting for Godot or some magical super hero, who can save us from our work, just doesn’t cut it. However, if we do our part and “put in the time,” eventually the powers that be will reward our efforts.

"Sandhill Cranes at Twilight"  mixed media on canvas
Being successful isn’t for the “faint hearted.” We must struggle with our adversaries; some of which are self-inflicted. We battle with physical limitations, spiritual weaknesses and with time.

As an employee, as a wife and mother, I used a “To Do” list every day. I noticed that now that the children are gone and I’m retired, I’ve stopped using one. My days have become loose and unstructured. I think about what needs to be done, but somehow I don’t quite get to them.

I purchased a tablet with bold red letters: “To Do.” The page is divided into two columns; each line ending in a check box. The first column says: “Do it Now.” The second column says: “Do it Later.”

Since I started using this organized way of using my time wisely, I’ve accomplished at least three times as many projects as before. A warning should come with the check list: "Too many items on your Do it Now column will cause exhaustion by day’s end." I need a warning like that. I’m a Type A personality who keeps going so I can check off every box.

"With these Hands -- Love" mixed media on canvas
So I divided the page in half. One page actually lasted me all week as the interruptions of meetings, appointments, and phone calls kept me from doing my tasks on schedule. Being a slave to your list is almost as bad as not doing your tasks at all. Flexibility is mandatory.

Once the jobs were checked off, I was exhilarated. I circled those chores that remained or were more difficult so I wouldn’t forget them. This process turned out to be a great way to define my goals more clearly. It gave me an overview of my week and helped me to hone in on my priorities.

Magically, my To Do list eliminated my fears and procrastinations. I had a clear picture of what needed to be done and I methodically did them without wasting time on “how” or “why” or “when?” I was so focused on checking off those boxes, I followed my list’s directions without even thinking.

"An Open Book" mixed media on canvas
Who said I couldn’t set goals? Who told me I didn’t have time? Where did that voice come from that said I didn’t have enough talent or skill? Oh, I remember. It was the person I was before I started my To Do list. Try it! See if it smacks your fears and self-defeating behavior right out of the park!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Beware! The Seagulls have Landed

In my last blog; I discussed the positives and negatives of different leadership styles. I’m going to continue that discussion. When running a business no matter how large or small, leadership is key to success. Whether your employees are relatives or part time helpers, your leadership provides direction, policy, and consistency.

Small business owners and entrepreneurs develop their own leadership styles. Several years ago, the term “Seagull management” became jargon for a boss who rarely made an appearance, but when he or she did, they “flew in, shit all over everyone, and then flew out.”

I’m sure we’ve all had bosses who fit that description. Rather than being helpful and open to suggestions, they dominate, make an appearance, and criticize and complain about what’s going on, even though they are never around to supervise and keep things on track.

We can laugh at this and appreciate the humor, but we must make sure that this isn’t us. The people we work with deserve to know that they are appreciated and needed for their efforts. It is far better to create a team that works together for the good of the business than an isolated group of people who feel at odds with one another.

Several years ago, I had a boss who was abrasive, domineering, and critical. No matter how hard I tried to be a good employee, he found fault with everything I did. He’d bark if I walked into his office while he was on the telephone, even though the message I quietly laid on his desk was important. He’d question my decisions and my work. I was constantly berated in front of others.

I must admit, I wasn’t singled out by any means. He barked and grumbled at everyone. He was absolutely the most disagreeable and bombastic person for which I had ever worked. After a year, I found another more suitable job. The poor man couldn’t keep employees, and he couldn’t seem to change.

Creative professionals require isolation in order to produce. They become team players in order to further their own self interests knowing that networking is paramount to their success. Even though creatives compete on some level, they also need each other to stay abreast of changing trends, to research information and interview people, to learn about new venues and opportunities, and to retain objectivity in their introverted profession.

We are all leaders. Whenever you represent your business, your product or your style, you become a leader. The traits of good leadership will build lasting relationships, increase sales, and validate your professionalism. Good leaders are also good followers. Flowing easily between the two roles is vital in building a network of friends, clients, and mentors.

Monday, September 16, 2013

What is your Style of Leadership and how does it affect others?

"Strangler fig" climbing up a cabbage palm.
Parasites prey upon other living things. They feed upon the life-giving properties of their host in order to sustain their own life. Some people imitate this behavior by sponging off their friends and relatives or by eating up their precious time.

This can be done overtly through wireless media or in subtle ways that may subvert our efforts to succeed. In either case, we may find our plans sabotaged, our designated time devoured, and our energy sapped.

In my neighborhood, a parasitic plant called a strangler fig can destroy grown trees if allowed to grow unattended. One of their favorite victims is the palm tree, especially cabbage palms. Of course, palms are not really trees at all, but members of the grass family. They are hollow inside, and flexible. When hurricane winds blow, the palms bend and sway. I’ve seen a few palm tops lopped off in a gale, but this rarely happens.

The danger in strangler figs is that they wrap tightly around the trunk and steal nutrients from the host. At the top, they grow a thicket of leaves that hinders the palms flexibility. Instead of weathering hurricane winds, they end up snapping off or being uprooted from the weight of the fig leaves.

Negative thinking is a lot like this. It wraps its pitiful arms around us; makes us feel sorry for ourselves, and then breaks us when we’re most vulnerable.  Like strangler figs, negative thinking chokes off optimism and confidence. If we allow it to get a stronghold on us, we become weak and needy. Not a good position for success.

Sometimes we allow others to do our negative thinking for us in the form of criticism or by allowing them to take over our creative thought processes. Our own ideas are belittled, crushed and blown away by their bombastic arrogance.

Recognizing our friends from our enemies is vital for survival. Having positive influences in our life can curtail the strangling effects of people who use their power to put others down. Positive criticism, on the other hand, focuses on our strengths and encourages growth while minimizing error. It motivates rather than negates.

Recognizing the difference between the two styles of leadership can help us overcome any negative effects, whether we’re on the giving or receiving side of the equation.

Below is the church where my husband and I were married almost 10 years ago.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Frustration and Outrage over Rising Costs

My last foray into an art store for needed supplies gave me “sticker shock!” I was in need of Turpenoid (odorless turpentine) to use as a paint thinner and brush cleaner. The price had escalated by 50% since my last purchase!  I left empty-handed hoping I could find something cheaper elsewhere.

Mineral oil was my next choice, but it too had gone up in price. The end result when mixed with paint and applied to canvas is also less than satisfying; any suggestions?

For the last two years, I’ve been painting with acrylics to relieve my allergy symptoms, save my lungs from toxic odors, and to keep my skin chemical free. I also use acrylic surgical gloves while painting to protect my skin even further.

My latest project required going back to oils for painting an image on glass. I was also eager to use up some of my long-forgotten oils that are beginning to harden in their metal tubes. I was overwhelmed by the fumes. First, my eyes began to water. And even though I vented the room with a fan, the feel of my lungs suggested that irritation was effecting my breathing as well.

As I grumbled at the price increase in Turpenoid, and ranted at the “Environmentalists” and the cost of added regulations on our profession, I had second thoughts as I used these toxic materials. It was too late to change to water-based oils; I had to begin what I’d started.

In the Government’s efforts to protect us from our own stupidity (and theirs), the cost of food is also increasing at a rapid pace because of additional information required on labels. For example, my favorite “Smart Balance” margarine was for sale in brand new packaging. This is code word for increased pricing. Sure enough, they are selling two ounces less product for the same price as two ounces more in their older packaging.

Manufacturers are really selling us packaging. Packaging that is more expensive than the food it contains. We as consumers continue to buy it up pretending it will make our lives easier, happier, and cleaner ignorantly unaware of this new “shell game.”

People who are more familiar with the land and the process of growing things understand this better than anyone; although, many farmers are also being scammed on the other end by being paid less money for their products. Corporate farmers and landowners are having the last laugh because most are subsidized by the government.

Many families would like to return to the land and grow some of their own produce, but neighborhood restrictions sometime make that impossible. Patio gardening is the next logical step. Growing tomatoes and squash in used tires lined with plastic and filled with potting soil or planting in small spaces is one option. My brother-in-law harvested zucchini, cucumbers, and summer squash all from this method.

I hope we don’t end up like people in many socialist countries: waiting in one long line to buy a loaf of expensive bread, and in another for vegetables, and another for coffee, milk or tea. The only way to prevent this scenario is to remain self sustaining and free from government intrusion and control.

The Nanny State cannot provide us with freedom and independence. When supplies run out, the government will not be able to fill our empty gnawing stomachs. In fact, government bureaucrats may very well become hoarders of the goods and services produced by the few for their own selfish purposes.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Who is more Talented (Qualified): The Graduate or the Gifted?

"My great granddaughter, Kayla, looking through a door window. I'm going to turn
this into a painting titled: "Looking Outward" (implying looking toward the future).
A debate is ongoing in "Linked in" about this question: “Do you need a degree to be a successful artist?”

The initiator of that question was not necessarily supporting this idea, but simply generating discussion. She even suggested that perhaps amateurs and those less educated should stay out of the market and away from art shows. She wondered if just anyone who applies paint to canvas should be allowed to call themselves an artist.

This topic got my blood and that of others to boil. For one thing, the insinuation disregards innate talent, self-education obtained through taking classes, and the hours of practice and skill obtained through one’s own efforts.

"A friend gave me an old window I am going to use as a frame. The child will be
painted on the surface of the glass in oils."
Even though a good art education gives you a wonderful foundation and a solid infrastructure of knowledge to hang your hat on, rarely does someone begin a successful career the minute the miter board comes off and the gown is retired.

My journey was long and hard fought. While raising six children, my time was not only limited, but so was the money. Extra funds went into piano lessons and athletic activities for the children. When I had more time, the extra money went into their college educations
I had an insatiable appetite for learning. Since we made many trips to the Public Library in those days, selecting books I could read to my children and those they could read on their own, I checked out books for myself, and read those I couldn’t while we were there.

"I'm going to use this scene as a background; painted separately on canvas that
will be attached from behind, creating depth."
I know from previous experience that in classes at university, your mind may wander, and you may get distracted. You prepare for tests rather than for life. When you’re self-taught, the motivation is a driving force from within. It’s a hunger that propels you from one step to another. To say that this kind of learning is inadequate or invaluable is like saying that life itself is a waste of time.

Every experience we have, every piece of knowledge we retain and remember is valuable and adds to the enormous amount of information a person obtains over a lifetime. Additionally, when the mind is focused on the prize, or on the subjects that are loved, information is hungrily consumed and digested. Skills are developed through diligent practice and painful but revealing error. Time is used wisely because to waste it would corrupt the passion that is a driving force.

To say that we have no right to practice what we’ve worked diligently to achieve is ludicrous, with or without acquired credentials. Someone remarked that in order to call yourself a Doctor, you must have paid the price or you can’t practice medicine. If you don’t have a law degree, you cannot then become an attorney. Does art then fall into this same category?

"This small dog will be included in the background. He
is looking up at the child, wanting to come in."
The detractors have a point, to a point. But in the arts, innate gifts and hard work trump all. There is something to be said for obtaining a degree. It tells the world that you spent time and money to gain knowledge in your field. The diploma allows you to teach with authority.

But a bird doesn’t fly until he flaps his wings and leaves the nest. And what about those child prodigies you see on “America’s got Talent?” How does a 13 year old child sing like a professional without training? How does an artist touch the hearts and minds of viewers without a degree?

The soul is the instrument upon which God plays. Who can explain beauty except from personal perception? Who can measure inborn talent in the quest for perfection? To limit the scope of who has a right to perform and when is to stifle all that we cherish about free speech and self fulfillment.

Since this is a "mixed-media" project, the dog and background will be painted in acrylic on canvas. The child in oil on top of the glass. I also want to add a folding drape over the blanket and onto the frame, to give the whole window a three-dimensional look.

"fabric soaked in Elmer's glue and water will be added as a drape, to create a
three-dimensional matching blanket overflowing onto the frame."

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Singing in the Rain and Re-Living “My Fair Lady”

Creating art becomes a challenge this time of year. In Florida, it is in fall and winter that the art scene comes alive. Finding time to create artwork, on the other hand, is limited. Art Shows, juried competition, and transporting paintings to and from different locations takes precedence.

My last show took place at Hotel Indigo in downtown Fort Myers.
In conjunction with the local “Art Walk,” we tested this location for accessibility and walking traffic. An evening downpour put a real damper on things, but drove traffic into the hotel for cover. This location is a hot spot for wining, dining and dancing. It also draws local artists, art organizations and a sophisticated crowd of theater goers.

I did find the location of the hotel difficult for loading and unloading paintings. After the show, my husband drove around the block ten times in the driving rain before he found a spot where we could load up my paintings for the trip back home. Whether I give Hotel Indigo another shot is up for grabs based on this inconvenience.

Sales were minimal, but it is only September. Season runs from October through March. We used September as a “dress rehearsal” for the formative months. I did enjoy the good food at the Italian Bistro and at Ichiban, both located within the hotel commons
My artwork was on display in an interior room off the main hallway. During down times, I did a sketch, read my Kindle and visited with other artists. The location was excellent for lighting and temperature. We were also located close to the restroom which put a smile on every woman’s face.

 Bumping into the casual crowds, women in spiked heels and evening gowns accompanied good looking men in dark suits and ties headed for the wining and dancing on the third floor. After the downpour, these same patrons hailed a cab or waited for the valet to bring them their car.

People huddled under the portico and under rows of black umbrellas. I was reminded of a scene from My Fair Lady after the theatre on a street in London. Crowds here were equally wet. The melancholy wail of a saxophone drifted outward from the lobby. The mixed crowd that exited gave him tribute by dropping bills in a jar; a knee-jerk reaction for having to leave early.

The evening wasn’t a total loss. Yes, a few of my cards and my biography were ruined by rain drops, but by and large everything else made it without damage. 

A potential buyer showed interest in portraits and one of my paintings. I can only hope this may lead to something. After all, hope is the sustenance that propels artists to keep on painting and participating in shows.

Featured Artist
Our featured artist is Ruslana Lev from Ontario, Canada
Here is a Link to view more of her beautiful paintings: 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Awash in Color; Electric with Energy

'Greeters instruct artists on the procedures"
My blog title perfectly describes “change-out” time at the Art Council of Southwest Florida Cooperative Art Gallery at Coconut Point. On the first Monday of each month, new paintings are brought in and paintings which have not sold are changed out. There is always excitement in the air and congeniality as artists chit chat, get caught up on the new art scene and the latest gossip.

ACSWF is a juried gallery, and each piece must be judged by a reviewing board who determines which paintings will stay and which must go. The criteria are strict and demanding.
Some artists “play it safe” with predictable scenes and styles. Others take risks to see how far they can push the envelope sometimes ending up on the losing side. The disheartened take their heavy burdens home and hope that next month will be different.

"Registration -- in with the old, out with the new"
I am one of those risk takers. I like to experiment. Sometimes I get lucky, and sometimes I’m disappointed. I stretch myself and challenge myself as much as possible. I like to try different techniques and enliven my palette. There is a certain light or glow I seek that emanates from my paintings. Until I have achieved that look and feel, I am not satisfied.

Every artist that submits artwork in any form is hopeful that theirs will qualify. The gallery is filled with amazing pieces awaiting the thumbs up from the judges. It is a learning process. The judging is a combination of objective analysis, based on the skill and knowledge of the judges, and their subjective opinions of style and taste.

I have sold several pieces online that were rejected by a judge at one point or another in my career. Beauty truly is in “the eye of the beholder.”

Critics are everywhere from the “man on the street” to your favorite aunt Mildred. Everyone has an opinion and they’re all too eager to share it with you. “Why did you do this?” someone once asked me. When I said, “I felt like it.” They didn’t know what to say?

Those little stabs hurt just the same. After all, each painting, each creation is your new baby. You’ve conceived it, nurtured it, and given it life. Who are they to question your motives or your creative license? Still we must be willing to learn from those who have more experience than us. It is a slow and painful process.

How does an artist or any professional deal with "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?” We must develop thick skin. We must turn our hurts and sensitivities into tools for learning. This is part of the proverbial “learning curve.” We brush off our hurts and try again. Each time we do this, we become a little tougher, a little less sensitive. We weather the storms of life and we forge on. Not because we have to, but because to stop would be to die. Not literally, of course, but spiritually. If we allow others to deter us from doing what we love, we die a little each day.

Believing in yourself and your ability to learn is the biggest hurdle you will overcome. The Cartoonist for Shoe said it so well: “We have met the enemy and he/she is us.”

Our enemy is not the critics, the judges, or our family and friends, it is us. When we give into fear and disappointment, we are the losers. When we face our enemy and the challenges that come to us, we become strong, weathered, and fierce.