Thursday, June 19, 2008

This morning I managed to wake up on time, which meant 15-20 minutes for writing my “morning pages” which I’ve been pretty lax about the last few weeks. Now, on the far side of the morning, I can definitely feel the difference that getting those 3 pages written has on my energy levels. Starting the day on the right foot has a profound effect on my mental processes. The same way that lean protein for breakfast has me craving healthier stuff all day, focusing my attention on writing when I first wake up makes me feel more in control for the rest of the day. I’m now in week 10 of Walking in this World (from now on: WitW), Julia Cameron’s follow-up to The Artist’s Way (TAW), which means morning pages have been in my life for almost 6 months(!). Along the way I’ve added in the weekly “artist date”, regular long walks, and now the end of day “Ta-da list”.

I’ve always been a bit of a creativity manual glutton. I eat them up. I love reading about artists’ processes – Ray Bradbury writing out a list of random words every day and then doing a story about each, Stephen King putting out 2000 words a day no matter how long it takes until he has a finished book to edit, Robert B. Parker managing to be more prolific than King by writing 10 pages every morning and leaving the read-through to his wife. I always wonder how much experimentation went into arriving at those numbers. Does Stephen King get cranky if he has to sit down and write 2500 words? Does Robert Parker lose steam at 11? Being a writer is like being a word factory, so I love to see the leading manufacturers releasing their corporate manuals to the public. The machinery and end results may differ, but the raw materials and the process look remarkably the same.

I’m still figuring out the best conditions for my writing machine. Last week’s WitW called for a start to finish perfect day. At first I was thinking “Okay win Nobel Prize, swim in the ocean, deep dish pizza with Oprah for dinner...” but in truth the best possible day for me has all cylinders warmed up and running at their best. It likely would look something like this:

-Early am: wake up, write 3 pages
-Big breakfast – eggs, fake bacon, multigrain toast, coffee, fruit, milk
-Read and respond to mail/ emails (mail in the am? I’m dreaming big…)
-Walk to gym along bike path
-work out, with tv on Biggest Loser or SYTYCD
-Long walk home, catching up with family by phone
-Writing for 2 or 3 hours
-Dinner someplace I’ve never been and walk around different neighborhood

Not so tricky, huh? And I could put it into practice this weekend if only the mailman and TV stations would oblige.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

so far

As promised, a few pictures of my painting in progress:

This is my model, taken from a calendar of Maine scenery...

...and here's how the painting looked after the first day. It's a little hard to see with the lighting, but the water and sky are both overly green.

Here it is after yesterday's work. A little bluer....

And now I'm taking tonight off to let things dry before I add some detail.

Surprise - I need better supplies

Yesterday afternoon at work, there was a knock on the “door” to my cubicle – Elsa, a long term temp in the legal department, had stopped by to get a signature from my boss. It was a nice surprise to see her, since she’s always pleasant and upbeat, but her temp status means I’m never sure whether I’m seeing her for the last time. She’s been with the company practically as long as I have, but whereas I decided to push for a permanent position, Elsa seems to prefer to stay on a temporary basis while she devotes most of her energy outside the office to her painting career.

This morning she came by again to pick up the signed document and it occurred to me that fate might be doing me a favor in reminding me I know a genuine working oil paint artist who I can ask about the proper materials. So I asked her what she uses to clean her brushes and sure enough she had a list of provisions and stores to get them.

Over the past few nights as I’ve been working on my painting, it’s becoming increasingly clear that I haven’t chosen the best options for cleaning my brushes. I have a little glass jar of turpenoid with a kind of rough spongy thing in the bottom for rubbing excess paint onto. The sponge has two parts, which I’d hoped meant the bottom part would absorb the paint particles and clean the turpenoid solution for the next use. Where did I ever get this crazy idea? Instead, the first paint I brushed onto the sponge clung to it, and now any time I dip my brush in the jar the mixture gets a little darker and my brush stays dirty. Instead of cleaning my brush, I feel like I’m very slowly painting the inside of a jar.

It seems to me that the problem is the jar and sponge – I need something a little rougher to rub the brush on, but something that won’t hang onto the paint. In high school we had these big plastic tubs with built in ridges, which would be perfect, except that one of those tubs would take up too much real estate on my work space (nee coffee table), and increase the likelihood of things getting knocked over and ruined. As Quick and Simple would say – What to do?

Elsa’s first point of advice – before I can even finish explaining my situation actually – is don’t use turpentine.

Oops. Not for anything?

Not for anything. Painters today don’t use turpentine for anything except stripping paint off a canvas. I need to clean my brushes with a substance specifically created for that, and should use a separate oil thinner for thinning my paint.

Elsa was kind (and thorough) enough to make me a full list of cleaners, thinners, and a quality comparison of the different brands of oil paints (she recommends Winsor-Newton professional for value --I have Winton which I think is made by them. She says Old Holland is the best of the best for quality, but twice as expensive as others). Plus, a description of the process she follows for keeping her workspace clean (after cleaning brushes she wipes them onto a paper towel, which goes into a plastic bag in a clean, empty paint can).

I guess I’ll be stopping by another art store on my way home tonight. But what to do with all this foul smelling turpenoid…?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Oil Painting

Last night I finally opened up the oil paints Greg gave me eons ago, and got to work on a new painting. It’s nothing too spectacular, just a Maine landscape taken from a calendar we had at the apartment.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve done any painting, especially in oils, and last weekend Danielle and I made a trip to Michaels so I could pick up all the assorted tools necessary (and so Danielle could get a few goodies of her own). I love painting in oils because it’s such a forgiving medium. My general creative strategy – in writing and visual arts - is to just get a bunch of stuff down on paper and then go back and refine things once there’s a good mess to work with. This tactic doesn’t lend itself to a medium like watercolor paints, but with oils, and to a limited degree acrylics, it gives me a chance to play around with the paints and try out new effects. Sort of a self-taught course.

I’ll see if I can post some pictures to this blog as I go.