june is no summer at all

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Or at least it hasn’t been –– just gloom and humidity, with intermissions of wind and rain. An impression of weak sun, here and there. WAKE UP.

Summer is hard on the artist. Rounding the corner into July, which announces itself as SUMMER in the same way that Godzilla enters a room –– no matter what the weather, YOU WILL HAVE FUN, YOU MUST BE HAVING FUN –– one can almost feel the psychic descent that takes place, as all plans go out the window, and the notion of work becomes a mannequin heaved to the sidewalk. All around you, all the time, nothing is getting done.

But art doesn’t like to be picked up and discarded at one’s convenience. Certainly, there are ebbs and flows, but ‘breaks’ have a certain price tag attached –– muscles not used, imagination in decay.

For me, the fact that I have a studio that I pay for exclusively with proceeds from my visual art and writing demands that I use it consistently and effectively. It means discipline. It means going in there regularly and making something from nothing.

I have two weeks coming up where I should get to do a lot of work in a hurry. Wish me luck.

The Poet

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The Poet, IV; mixed media on cradled wood panel, 24 x 24 x 1.75. You can see a fuller description here.

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I took the day off yesterday, and spent it in my studio painting this. I’ve found it difficult to think lately –– specifically in terms of what happens next, creatively, or what I should do next. The things I have the capacity to imagine. How much effort and discipline I will bring to bear. If I am being honest.

There is always the matter of what I want to do versus what I want to do.

And while this is going on I still need to work. So I simplify things, meaning I just make paintings. Not art objects or fussy smaller pieces. I mean big works, on wood: the kind I bind to the easel, and do some violence to with corrupted brushes. The iconic nature of the imagery seems to come easily from that.

It’s summer. We’ll see how this goes, and where I end up.

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Interview with Susan Schwake, author of Art for All Seasons

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Recently I interviewed Susan Schwake about her new book, Art for All Seasons. Besides being an author, Susan is an artist, a gallery owner and an art teacher.

Q) Hi, Susan – how are you? Congratulations on your fourth book in this series! Just in general terms, how have you found the process? How much control have you had over it? It’s so much work – writing, editing, design, publishing and promoting – has it come naturally to you, and do you enjoy it?

Susan: I have found the process exciting and exacting. With writing I find that my flow is best in the morning and keeping a schedule or “date” with myself keeps me on track. I love the process and order it demands.

Q) You have a life as an artist, a gallery owner (and curator), and an art teacher. Tell me how those lives contribute to this book. For example, because I know your work, I can look at Art for All Seasons and immediately see a connection between the lessons inside and your own creative style – light, playful, full of decorative touches and spontaneous juxtapositions – but perhaps for you it’s more about the teaching aspect?

Susan: Perhaps! It would be hard for me to split both my aesthetic and my teaching style as I see them connected deeply in childhood.  My greatest task (in my own mind) is drawing out each person’s individual style while encouraging brave, experimental, spontaneous events in their work.  I do not give models for the lessons in my studio but for the books I do show final outcomes with the disclosure that each person’s work will be different and to celebrate that difference. And to cherish the process most of all.

Q) Tell me why kids should make art. Is art important?

Susan: For children visual art is a way to express most personally, their world. As many adults don’t always listen to children as well as they should – a visual presentation of this can be most important on many levels – from serious to extreme humor!

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Q) I like the seasonal framework for this book. Why did you choose that, and how do you think art activities change by the season? Found objects seems like a good example to start.

Susan: Living in New England we are seriously bombarded with the four seasons. Some years I hear Vivaldi’s violins roaring in my head while the black flies attack or the winter storms on!  I think Nature and her changes are something to celebrate and to pay attention to. Using them as a springboard for inspiration and for materials is a natural fit for kids. Who doesn’t remember their rock collection from the 2nd grade?

Q) I also love the way you link an artist’s work with the lesson at hand, plus the fact that these are all working artists that you know. Tell me about using examples this way, and about finding inspiration in general.

Susan: Thank you DJ for being part of this process and bringing this question forward. It has been a goal of mine since starting my little school 20 years ago to introduce less famous artists to children than what they might learn about in school.  The reasoning behind this is this: everyone may not be inspired by Monet or O’Keefe. Everyone more importantly – might not identify with a famous artist. Perhaps a young student compares their work to a master who’s work doesn’t resonate with them and they feel isolated.  Each student (both young and old) that I have worked with seems to have different opinions on what art they like or identify with.  Having a wide library of art books and a gallery filled with different artists we have been able to teach our students a variety of lessons based on elements of professional artists work.  For example: Last week a newer student was creating a painting of a simple still life. She painted a dark line around all of the elements outlining each one. When I asked her about what she saw she said that it just seemed darker to her around all the elements and naturally painted that in.  I grabbed a book of still life paintings by Cezanne  and showed her his outlining techniques and encouraged her to continue following her style.  It’s an affirmation sometimes for kids and adults alike to see something outside of the traditional realm of art that reasonates with them  – or that they question.

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Q) I have a five year-old, and part of her love for art is the process involved, as if the steps were some kind of magic trick. Do you think that making art is valuable in terms of learning patience? Do you see this at play in your own classroom? Does it work for adults as well?

Susan: The process IS why so many people make art. It is a good deal play and the permission of the teacher is what allows both kids and adults to make the magic happen.  Too much emphasis on product detracts from the act of making and that interferes with learning the patience part – which directly evolves from making a lot of art.  Sorry for the run on sentance but it is a cyclical problem as I see it. Adults and kids alike suffer from the same problem.

Q) Another thing that comes through in the book is how accessible art is – the entry costs are extremely low, all the rules are bendable (if not breakable), and there’s no right answers. Can you talk about a little bit about happy accidents, or the idea of the joy being in the process?

Susan: It’s always my greatest hope that my students know that everything goes, no rules – just physics in some cases – and that there is no cheating, just many solutions to questions. The job at hand is always joy in the process of making and knowing that there are many many art pieces to be made to get to the one you love best – so you might as well have fun on the way!

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Q) If you could give parents one bit of advice when it comes to making art with their child, what would it be?

Susan: Let your child make their own work.  Make something with your own ideas either alongside them or after they have gone to bed. Ask them to tell you about their work instead of asking What Is It?  Let them make art!

Q) So what’s next? Does the series continue?

I have always wanted to make a book which a child could pick  up and look at a series of simple directions and photos and make something on their own.  A book that would cut into their screen time. A book that they would love and be excited to own.   In September we are releasing ART CAMP which I hope will be just that book!

Thank you so much, Susan. If you enjoyed this interview, and would like a chance to win a free copy of Art for All Seasons, please like this post, leave a comment below or send me an email at darryljoelberger@kingston.net. I’ll post the draw results in three days.

You can find Art for All Seasons on Amazon, as well as the other books in the series. You can find Susan’s own work at www.susanschwake.com, and artstream studios here.

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Only art today, but that was yesterday.

Yesterday morning’s status update was simple:

Only art today. No other bullshit.

I’m 1.5 months into my leave-without-pay, and while I’ve worked like a demon, and already accomplished a lot, I still don’t have any sense of getting ahead. Or rather, I don’t have that specific sense of result.

The biggest drag on my enthusiasm these days is my online gallery/shop (does it help when I call it that, when I try to dress it up as something more than a vendor?). If I can get people to go there, I can usually sell them something (I do try to make interesting, affordable things). But getting people to go there is increasingly difficult.

Using Facebook as just one example, I can post links and images ’til I’m blue in the face, and all sorts of people will ‘like’ them, but hardly anybody clicks through. And this clicking-through problem seems pervasive. People want a steady stream of eye candy, but they can’t be bothered with the sugar behind it.

Okay, fine. I don’t want to be yet another writer/artist whining into my boy beard about the noise of the internet. For the record: I am not whining. I am simply positing a problem that has no answer.

Even worse, I’m sure I’ve complained about this before.

Yes, in an alternate reality, I’d love to make a living by just making things –– just putting them online and having people buy them and mailing them out to people and then making more. Nice. We’re all allowed at least one outrageous fantasy.

Anyway: I did what I always do when I have no solutions, which is to just keep making stuff. Yesterday that meant finishing a whole whack of small paintings on cradled wood board that I intend to put in the new Labyrinth Handmade space (along with some mounted drawings and some cigar-tin stories). I think this is the last of my ‘noisy’ paintings –– images built upon successive layers of ruin, these scratched and stratified compositions of exposed roots, all broken thoughts and things crashed in. I certainly enjoy the adding subtracting adding aspect, but with snow and Christmas somewhere in the calendar, I’m feeling something quieter and even muffled is in order.


 

About to start listening to the audio book version of Chang-Rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea. My friend Ariel Gordon  didn’t care for it, which immediately motivated me to go sign it out. Hooray libraries, which facilitate contrary behaviour!

cigar-tin story number 189

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cigar-tin story #189; contains the story “dark all day” – the title story from my book of the same name; a pushing story about hard choices…

At the top of the hill is a thin, wooden, two-storey house. Very old. Looking abandoned. Grey wood. Windows reflecting black. Only the roof has any colour, shingles slick red and seeping.

No path leading up to the house. Do you want to keep going? Do you want to go up to that house?

No Ears warned you that your heart would fail. Do you remember how he laughed, and kept laughing, all the way down, until he was just a speck, an echo, a warning in your head?