After working on last year’s exhibition, my head was exploding with ideas, visuals that I needed to get out and on paper. Things that had to be done. Pronto! But at the same time I realised that my current workflow needs revision and change.
I was a little high I think, on a successful event in December. Understandably so, as I spent a year painting my soul out on these panels, in solitude, with no guidelines or guarantees. Of all the weird jobs I’ve had in life so far, this one rocks my boat more than any other. And afterwards, I was Tired but also hyped on the idea that I Could Do This. My work wasn’t dismissed, my prices not too high and I didn’t run off!
It was perhaps, just the thing I needed to start taking myself a little bit more serious. Taking something serious – in my case – also means showing it more respect. For a while I’ve felt that a more structured, deliberate approach to my art was needed. But I found it very hard to look at my work and skill set and critique it fairly. To judge where I am and where I want to go. And how to get there.
The list of reason why is long, but I’ve never managed to deal with things I wish to improve upon. Whenever I focus on parts of my life that I’d like to improve, I beat myself down. It’s like an auto-reply; I don’t even think about it. I’ve learned through years of treatment, to control the socially unacceptable actions that come with hurting yourself. No alcohol, no drugs, no excessive eating or exercise, no razor blades. But controlling your thoughts is a different party.
This theme – wanting to grow as an artist but not knowing how – keeps coming back. Last year I ran into an array of limitations while painting, and wrestled through them because I had no time or space to deal with that. But this year, I have time. And space. And some vague idea of a method that’s becoming clearer every week. In order to document that method, I’d like to write it down here, in a series of blogs. Writing here forces me to be clear and reasonable. Whereas writing in my personal dairy often opens the doors to talking myself down.
Sketching and sketchbooks
Sketching has started to feel like wading through a swamp. Like many of us, I’m also very sensitive (and weirdly attracted) to the sketchbook journal trend. Sketchbooks that are essentially a collection of completed artworks. I have attempted way too many of those, and (surprise!) cursed myself for not keeping them in theme. I was focussing on all the wrong things and I really need to stop. I mean come on, I’m FOURTY years old now. It needs to stop!
I started this year with a new pile of sketchbooks. They are cheap because cheap works for me and allows me to shamelessly destroy them if I want to, without worrying about the cost. I currently use these (hardcover, softcover) ones, from my favourite sketchbook brand Seawhite. I made a few promises to myself that I try to repeat every day until I don’t have to anymore:
- This is a sketchbook, not an Instagram worthy journal
- Nothing needs to be in one theme, with one medium, in one style, yadiya
- DRAW EVERYTHING that comes to mind. Draw the idea, not the final painting. It doesn’t have to be correct, as long as the idea is clear.
- No one will every have to look at your sketchbook
- When I grow up and become famous, I can burn these sketchbook in a big bonfire to prevent them from ending up in a museum.
A final thing I would like to start doing, is take notes in my sketchbooks. Notes on ideas, on colours, on techniques, on things I learn. Give more context to the visuals, for future reference.
Relating myself to other artists
I didn’t go to art school. I don’t know any full-time artists. The only one I talk shop with in real life is my artist friend Anna. Just like my mother and my grandmother, I tend to work alone and keep everything to myself.
Working like this has become a problem when I decided I wanted to make this a career. The rate of success in art while staying locked up in your studio is about zero. The amount of progress you make comparing your work to whatever you find on Instagram, is also that.
I’d love to go out and join clubs, or lectures in schools, or art fairs or what not. Unfortunately that is not within my abilities, yet. So I got the one thing that has always worked for me; books. I’m especially interested in books that detail an artists process before they became successful. There are artists who documented their journey through journals, and others through letters. When you read the things they struggle with, you are able to relate on a practical level instead of thinking you must be doing something wrong! They wrestle with composition, colour and anatomy. They deal with insecurity, jealousy and critique. They get burned by galleries or buyers. Here are a few things that stuck with me from the few books I’ve read so far:
- Human anatomy is hard and I’ve yet to read about an artist who mastered it coming out of art school.
- Artists are inspired by other styles and try them out in the work they sell.
- Artists change style during their career.
- Artists ask other artists for advice instead of reinventing the same wheel over and over again.
- Works are misplaced, traded, sold for pennies, stolen, lost in fires or floods. Shit happens.
- Production rate is also relevant to success, not just quality.
- Artists struggle with materials, well into their careers.
- All artists have their flaws and strengths. Some have trouble with things (for example, composition) all their lives.
It allows you to look at their work as a product of those efforts, instead of just something magical that appeared. I’m currently reading a gigantic book about Johfra, who kept a diary for decades. It’s gold! It goes all the way back to his study days. (available in Dutch only unfortunately, ISBN 9021589044)
Other artists that wrote a ton of stuff are of course Vincent Van Gogh and John Singer Sargent. I’m looking for a lot more books that have either diary entries or letters, so if you have any recommendations, please share in the comments!
My simple conclusion was that I needed more real and in-depth material, and perhaps less social media. The latter is polished, even when people are ‘real’ about things. I do it myself, and I probably wouldn’t be too happy either if my diary was published before my death lol!
Finally, I’m thinking about applying to my local art club here in Zeist. But I need some more courage for that at the moment, so I’ll keep you updated on that.
January in a nutshell
Just to remind myself what I do, I’d love to do an overview every now and then. So far this month, I’ve prepped (i.e. primed and sanded) nine panels in different formats. I had six left from last year, so I have 15 working panels right now. I’m trying to plan this better because it takes quite a bit of time to prime these di-bond panels and dry them properly.
From those 15 panels, I’ve started up 5 works in progress. What last year has taught me most of all, is to get started. There is no way I can finish an oil painting, before starting a new one. It would result in me finishing four paintings a year haha! So this whole process of starting, putting it away to dry, picking it back up, had to grow on me. And it’s starting to, really, which is a good thing.
I’ve done a livestream for Let’s Face It 2024 this month, which was something I prepared for last year. I joined Dylan Sara’s sketching livestream, which is amazing practice for anyone who does portraits. Highly recommend! You can find his streams on several channels so here they are: Instagram, Youtube, Patreon, Linktree
Life lessons from Koosje
Before we part, here are some words from the Queen. Koosje would like you to know she appreciates your creative spirit. Whether it’s full or part time, occasionally or every evening. We keep the brushes she plays with, and the sketchbooks she scratches her chin on alive. Also, when things don’t work out, don’t beat yourself up. Just rest on the couch and put your feet up, like Koosje. <3
I hope to do another one of these monthly recaps at the end of February, thank you for joining me!