Practical or petrified?

I just finished reading a very good post in my friend’s blog. Last year, she took the bold move to leave the safety of her salaried job behind and pursue a writing career. While she has not yet made enough to eke out a livable wage, she has just recently been given an award for one of her first efforts as an official journalist. She deserves the props, if anyone asks.

So, what does this have to do with me? Nothing, and everything. After reading her thoughts on the subject, I can’t resist drawing lines between our respective circumstances. It makes me ponder my own situation. Basically, she did what I wished I could do, or perhaps more aptly, had the guts to do. There is nothing I’d love better than to leave my accounting job behind and spend at least a third of my day with my art, as opposed to piecemeal—minutes here, an hour there. What stops me? Well, it all centers on money, and the fear of not having it. Love may make the world go around, but money keeps it spinning on its axis.  

Actually, it may be the absence of money that keeps the world going round in circles. What keeps me getting up every morning to do essentially the same thing over and over again is the need to make a living. It is the same routine, the same rat race, the same old same old. I am rotating on the axis of my own making. Aren’t most of us?

So, how do I break the vicious circle lest I end spinning in my grave? I suspect someone will need to come in with a stick and poke at me to stop the madness. With my 42nd birthday looming, I am more and more aware that my time behind me is getting longer than the time ahead. I am past the point that I should be focusing on taking over the reins and controlling this ride and moving forward instead of doing 180’s repeatedly. That should have happened long ago. So, what stops me now? Is it really just money? I even entertained the lottery fantasy, and realized that I would not quit my job. At least, I would not right away. I think it is part nature, part nurture that makes me so cautious and afraid to take risks.

It is the little things that give me pause about this subject. Right after I read my friend’s blog, I spent my lunch hour at a café with the plans to work on my sketchbook. It was not a good day. The sun was too bright, no one would hold a pose, and people would block each other. I lost enough of my mojo that I couldn’t even draw simple objects. Bah! I was so frustrated and unfulfilled that the last thing I wanted to do was go back to work. Getting in some good sketches is very therapeutic and makes it much easier for me to face the rest of the work day. Today, I was left with an annoying itch that I can’t scratch. I think that it would be different if that was what I did with the majority of my day. It would be more palatable to have a bad time of it if I already had many good ones behind me. But, I don’t, because I can’t.

Or maybe I won’t.


A new beginning

A few weeks ago, we were on a late-night walk with our dog. We came upon an antique store, with a window display that stopped me in my tracks. A purple and silver art deco tea set, (spoiler alert) as pictured above set up over our dishes, grabbed my heart and took it hostage. I stood there, gazing longingly at it, and making designs on the many uses I could manufacture for it. I confess that I considered briefly asking my husband to break the glass, grab the goods, and make a run for it. It was late enough and no one was around. Reality set in and I resolved to visit the store the next day possible, with a price in mind that I was willing to pay for it. I couldn’t stop thinking about that purple slice of heaven.

We went in two days later with a canvas bag, fully prepared to go home with that blasted tea set. My hopes and dreams were crushed when I was given the price. It was five times the cap I set for myself. I do not frequent antique stores for the purpose of making purchases, so I have little frame of reference for the value of merchandise. I pulled up my big girl pants, and told the owner it was way more than I could pay and alas, some other lucky bastard will be making their lives brighter with a silver and purple glow. I resigned myself to walking home empty-handed. As I was attempting to take a picture with my cellphone for posterity, my husband walked over and made me an offer that I—could really, if I wanted to, but didn’t—refuse. He suggested that it could be my anniversary, birthday, and Christmas present for the year 2010. I didn’t even look at him as I responded, “Go over there and make a deal.”

Yeah, like this is the mafia or something. Anyway, I passed the time looking at all the things I couldn’t afford, as they wrapped up my new baby and tendered the sale. I happened to see the charge slip—$530! Yes, I did get a sinking feeling, but there was no turning back. It would be rude to pull out, right? As he put his credit card in his wallet, he said, “Hey, since this will be in a painting, you can deduct it.” There’s that.

As the warning of the spoiler alert implied, it’s mine. MINE!

I have just completed a painting (see No luck of the draw) and can move onto the next one, which will contain my awesome purple tea set. Now, what do I do? If you’ve read my other posts, you know that I don’t care to paint fluffy pictures. But, I want to paint this set so badly I can taste the tea that will never be contained in it (it is just too pretty to use for its intended purpose). So, there has to be a story in it, or I’d feel like painting it would be just a glorified academic exercise. I’d rather hone my skills with less ambitious subject matter. As is my inclination, I might go for an idea somewhere between mystery and pathos. Perhaps suggesting or adding part of a figure, such as a hand placement and/or a reflection in the silver or a mirror. What would the expression on the person’s (probably mine) face be? Will she be alone? Did she throw a tea party that nobody showed up for?

I suspect this one will be a challenge to plan. Oh cripes, what have I gotten myself into now?

Bite while it’s hot

Normally, I do not care to be trendy in any aspect of my life. Bandwagons are unsteady and give me motion sickness. However, it is important for an artist to sniff the air from time to time to get a sense for what the public is interested in at any given moment.

This last time, I smelled blood.

Vampires. Creatures of the night are hot to trot of late. We can thank True Blood as well as the perplexing popularity of the Twilight series, along with a plethora of other Vampiresque fiction. The undead are alive with the sounds of cha-chings in theaters and retail establishments across the globe.

So, I dug into my vault of ideas. About ten years ago, I presented a unique premise for a vampire story to my husband. I remember us standing in our kitchen shortly after I got back from work, and shared the idea I cooked up while on my daily commute from the office. His eyes widened and lit up. After he digested what I told him, he confessed that he wished he thought of that one. Score! While it was my idea, my ego is well-fed enough that I realized it begged for my husband’s writing style. Thus, we set out to write it together. We got the whole synopsis, as well as the first scene written. And then, we put it in a folder and set it aside. It rested like its main character in a coffin, collecting dust.

Fast forward to 2010. I realized that this is the time to get this sucker (yes, that was intended) published. We set a goal to finish the story and submit it by this summer. We also inked in a weekly date on Tuesday evenings to work on this. How romantic.

I hope to post more about this resurrected project. Tune in for developments.

No luck of the draw

Detail of playing cards I painted in my current work-in-progress

As you can see from the attached image, I can paint detail. In fact, I think I do it pretty well. Now, ask me if I like doing it.

This belongs to a current work-in-progress. It is part of a still life that my husband set up . . . nine months ago. No, I have not been working on the cards the whole time. I believe that my general lack of direction in 2009 spilled over into this project. With a new year and a new resolve, I’ll finish this painting, dagnabbit. Plus, I am restless and anxious to work on my next idea. My limited studio space does not allow for multi-tasking.

When my husband presented me with this brain-child last summer, my eyes went directly to those playing cards. The cognitive dissonance that I tried to conceal had me vacillating between suggesting to him the cards be removed and realizing the significance of them to the whole scene. He spent a lot of time setting it up, as well, and I didn’t think it should be for naught. Besides, he pre-empted my objections by reminding me of my ability to work in detail. I decided to forge ahead and worry about that later.

Fast-forward about nine months, and tada! The cards are finished. While part of me was hoping that an errant arrow would find its way into my studio and plunge itself into my canvas, thus relieving me of all obligation to finish this painting, I must say, completing those cards did leave me with a fair amount of satisfaction.

I am now left with another quandry: Do I want to work in such detail moving forward? Yes, I can do it and yes, it can add flavor to the work. If not done correctly, it can be the death of a piece. Regardless, does it need it? Is that the direction I want to take? I am not so sure at this point. While I do love and appreciate Impressionistic work, I strive for more of a Representational style, i.e., realism. Sometimes realism requires detail. All I know is that I do feel bogged down when working at such an intricate level. My fear, outside of there not being enough hours in the day to focus on it (or a sneeze coming on while the brush is on the canvas), is that the feeling and passion of the work may be compromised in the process.

I had an instructor who told me to not draw the tattoo. I understood it to be more of a metaphorical lesson than a literal one. But, just for argument’s sake, what if there was a tattoo? To be consistent with my style of painting, I couldn’t just suggest it—a method that can be just as powerful as capturing every detail—but not for my style. It would look like a cop out. What if the tattoo adds another level to the work, allowing the viewer to be drawn even more deeply into the story? What then?

Until I figure this out, I’ll just avoid playing cards for subject matter. They really are annoying.

One Second

One Second

I wrote this song about a dozen years ago. The idea was already on my mind when the incident that propelled me to write the tune occurred. I saw a terrific episode of Homicide where Vincent D’onofrio’s rather belligerent character was pushed during his rushed, morning commute to be pinned between the platform and the train. It took an hour (with commercials) to find enlightenment and peace during conversations with Andre Braugher’s character, then finally die. I was in tears towards the end. Because, it only took one second for someone to decide his fate. It was just so unfair. He was minding his own business, yet didn’t appreciate what he had until it was taken away. The fundamental message of that show stayed with me long after it aired. Life seemed so precarious. It is so easy to be stymied by that realization.

Several weeks later, I was to find out a guitar player I knew was walking out of a convenience store. He was struck in the eye by a BB gun pellet shot from a group of kids that were horsing around. There was a chance that he could lose his eye, but it was definite that he would no longer see out of it. As I rode the train home, I drew parallels between that show and this real life incident. The lyrics just evolved from there as I wrote them in my head. When I got home, I went straight to my guitar and fleshed out an idea I’d already being toying with, then sang along with the chords. The core song was written within an hour, if memory serves. I haven’t had such a fluid and organic songwriting experience since. (The doctors saved his eye, by the way.)

Now, to the recording. I dusted this song off recently and decided that this will be the song I take to the studio this year and sell on iTunes. I recorded this with no editing, so it is rough and lacking needed EQ. No matter for these purposes, as first and foremost, I am working out what I want to do for the final, more professional recording. I also need to work on my vocals, perhaps make them less “pretty,” but definitely stronger and more crisp. The lyrics are an important aspect of the song, and I don’t want to deliver them rife with mondegreen fodder. My voice used to be my strongest instrument, but age, life-long bad singing habits, and a major illness has changed that. Weekly vocal lessons are helping me to take that back.  

I got an ‘A’ in my art marketing and self-promotion class, believe it or not. I like to talk things down so that you’d expect the worst but be pleasantly surprised at the end. Just like doctors do!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy, and feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions about it—good or bad (but be gentle.)

“Why can’t you see one second, as a grain of sand? It weighs so little in the palm of your own hand.”

Ask Again Later

Ask Again Later, Oil on canvas, 18" x 24"

This piece started out as a fairly light-hearted assignment while in art school. My friend and I were given instructions for our next oil painting assignment—bring in random objects, and put them together to create a solid and interesting composition. I brought in a magic eight ball, a hardbound book, the stuffed (baboon? monkey?), an artificial rose, slinky, and green bottle. My friend, of course, brought in the remaining objects. We had a good time setting it up by experimenting with multiple variations to somehow eke out a theme to it all. We settled on what you see here.

I enjoyed painting it for the sheer technique of it all. Nothing pleases me more in painting than to capture the sparkle of metal and the luminosity of glass. It was eminently satisfying to gyrate my hand to suggest the coils in that favorite toy from my childhood. The fluffy fur of the stuffed animal was fun to paint, as well. I had to reel it in a bit lest his hair reach the top of the canvas. With a flick of the wrist—Whoosh whoosh! I’ll admit, the playing card annoyed me a bit. It has also come back to haunt me, as my current piece has two of them in it. That’s the last time—playing cards are dead to me.

I was left with a very interesting painting to gaze at, and based on the response, it is a crowd-pleaser. I struggled with the title, as even after spending hours on it to the point that I could close my eyes and picture all the details and nuances, I could not put my finger on what it meant.

But really, does a painting have to mean anything specifically? I have no desire to paint something pretty, nor do I want my titles to be inapplicable or non-descript. My biggest fear, outside of fading into obscurity, is that a potential buyer’s biggest quandry would be to acquire a swatch of the living room rug to see if the painting complements it. Bah!

So came my husband to the rescue—Ask Again Later. Do you see why he called it that? I don’t even recall how that message came about. Was it there when I set the ball down, or did I decide subconsciously that it was the best answer to put there? Regardless, it is a near perfect title, and I must publicly give him props.

If you are left bewildered by what you see, but want to know the artist’s intent, ask me again later . . .

. . .  and again, and again . . .

12-String Stew

12-String Stew(128Kbps)

I did the attached recording after buying my first 12-string guitar a couple years ago. I wrote the rhythm part in about 10 minutes, recorded it, then improvised on top of that—all in one take. I call it 12-String Stew, partly for lack of a better name, but also, because I got ideas for a few songs from that experiment. Essentially, it was a reverse amalgamation. That may be a made up term, but that is a fairly concise way to explain it.

Since it was a first take and is not edited, it is a bit rough and is far from mistake-free. I am sharing it so that you can get a sense for my writing style until I can record and post more polished work.

“Color of Gray”

 In art school, I took a literature class where we studied art-related fiction e.g., Girl With a Pearl Earring. One of our assignments was to write our own art piece. I came up with a story based on a fictionalized account of my own experiences. It is a tale of an insular artist discovering and dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Considering the readers’ responses, i.e., my classmates, I suspect this story is definitely worth holding onto, and quite possibly, marketable. Now, I have given myself the directive to find the appropriate markets for it. That may be more challenging than writing the story itself.

Here is an excerpt from my story, “Color of Gray”: 

It is very funny the things one thinks of when faced with adversity, mortality. I use the term “funny” quite loosely. Anyone can muse about this superficially, but really, you don’t know until. . . .

I sat on the hard surface of the bed in the emergency room, swinging my legs impatiently. Up, down, right, left, clockwise and counter. From the moment I stepped into the waiting room until I was admitted, I was confident my grotesque appearance was due to an allergic reaction to insomnia medication. The sleepless nights while battling my creative energy were really not as traumatic, considering. Never mind I was on the lowest dosage, and my response was atypical. I was healthy, a vegetarian, and a yoga practitioner. Could it be the paints, the turpenoid, the varnish?

I tried to lie back on the bed. The choking feeling I had become too familiar with during the past two weeks came on full force. I struggled with my newly swollen extremities to sit up once again. Where did my comfort level go? I viewed my faint reflection in the glass wall separating the room from the Ivan Albright-inspired scene of the E.R. A thinly diluted watercolor portrait I did not recognize. The model for my hours of study and practice looked back at me. Where did I go? I was hideous.

The doctor, a tall drink of water with spiky, heavily gelled hair and post-adolescent acne, came in. He looked serious. Does he practice that face in the mirror? “Mass in your chest . . . ten centimeters . . . compressing . . . might be cancer.” What? I haven’t brushed my teeth since this morning. I hope my breath doesn’t smell.

I felt like I was hit with a log. Cancer is something that happens to other people. Not a thoughtful, bright, young person as myself. My God, I will not make it to forty. Overwhelmed at the realization, I fell back onto the bed. The braided cord twisting slowly around my neck was the least of my troubles. As the doctor, no, medical student, came towards me and held my hand, I was reminded of Noah Wylie. He was so damn young. Get your psuedo-sympathetic, taken-from-the-book bedside manner away from me. You have your whole life ahead of you to dry the backs of your ears. My life is behind me. I really did want to do a silverpoint drawing someday.

How will I sleep? If I can make it through the night, I will be able to handle the prognosis the next day. It was a hospital for Christ’s sake; there were plenty of pills to choose from to send me blissfully into oblivion. I became acutely aware of the pain the upper half of my body was in. Three heads long from the top of the head to the navel. That is what I learned in basic anatomy. I knew more about the human structure than the average person. I did not understand what was happening to me, though.

I never conceived myself vomiting green bile. Too much morphine, or not enough. Sap green with a touch of Indian red. Not a lot, the pigment is very transparent. Hmm. Maybe a splash of indigo blue to cool the mixture in places. Make it more interesting to the eye. The colors should sing and dance on the canvas. My head lolled to the right on my pillow. I didn’t have the strength to resist looking at the x-ray of my torso. The gray mass was suspended behind my ribcage. Why is it so difficult to render that part of the body? I wish I practiced that more. The tumor—like a lump of clay. I bet I could mold it into something interesting, beautiful even. Instead of killing me, it would feed me.

I had no idea what day it was. The on-duty nurse pulled my straight, waist-length hair into a loose ponytail. Such a perfunctory action to her was such a welcomed gesture of kindness to me. My hair had not been washed since the morning of the day I came here. Will it fall out?

I had the luxury of free time. If I didn’t have to work, I could paint eight hours every day. I could work out more, clean my apartment, or see more plays. I was left there in bed, watching television. The drama playing out in the little, black box was a welcome escape. I wished I had my sketchbook. It would not matter, as I could barely lift my arms to scratch my face.

The tubes, lines, and wires were finally removed. I was unfettered. I had the freedom to haul my engorged form to the washroom. I stopped at the mirror. What a horrific composition. My face was crimson, bloated, with dried mucus on my philtrum; my soul was black. I could call it “The Four Humours at Play.”

Creative Block series

At least, I suspect this will turn into a series. Although, the title may use some tweaking. I have always been curious what precipitates the proverbial writer’s block, what sustains it, and then allows the artist to eventually break through that concrete wall to enlightenment. Or perhaps, to find a deeper and darker abyss on the other side.

The two oil paintings displayed above— Eine Kleine Nachtschreiben (A Little Night Writing) and Symphony in Abeyance, were created independently of each other, in different years, even. As is common when items live together, similarities are found along with their differences. I recently discovered they are connected by a common thread—in general, writer’s block.  In one, the writer leaves a blank journal in the dark, but not before taking one last draw on the glass of wine that was once inspiration, and has eventually become an escape. In the other, the musician discards glasses and crumpled up musical staff paper, seemingly in frustration and defeat.

At risk of explaining the work too much, I’ll stop there.

As an Accountant, my day job does not allow for too much creativity, yet more times than not, I am left speechless (relatively speaking) when writing e-mails or documenting procedures for a departmental manual of operations. This is not creative writing, per se, but it still requires the skill of creating something from nothing. Of course, it will not serve a purpose beyond assisting to keep the wheels turning of the corporate machine; arguably, it will not bring passion or joy to a person’s life. I guess peripherally, as it can make someone’s job easier, thus easing stress, etc. Regardless, I can still experience a writer’s block.   

This is a working title of the series, lest I limit myself to arts if I choose to cast a wider net. Perhaps it can stand as is and let the viewer connect the dots if desired. I am not blocked on the name, I just haven’t decided yet. Create is usually connected to the arts; Invent to the sciences. I believe they are not mutually exclusive, and are in fact, interchangeable. The thesaurus agrees with me.

Anyway, I’d like to explore this concept more, from painters to writers, accountants to scientists. Maybe it doesn’t need to be that specific, nor does it have to be solely about succumbing to a block. It can be about the whole journey, or parts of it. How can breaking down those walls be depicted, as an example? Will it be literal or symbolic?  

As an aside, the two paintings displayed were titled by my very creative husband. I have no problem with my songs, but when it comes to naming my paintings, I am more times than not, blocked. Is that irony?

What’s in a name?

I should probably explain my URL/signature. Because, I have not encountered anyone who is willing to pick it apart and analyze what it means. I had an art teacher who told me that I always reach for the metaphor first. Guilty. It still doesn’t stop me from doing just that; but as always, I consider how my work comes across before proceeding.

I knew pretty much from the start that I would be interested in making my vocation in several different ways. I get irascible if pigeonholed. Not really irascible, I just like that word. I do get claustrophobic, however. So that I do not digress, I’ll just explain my intent.

One, it was a business decision. The name is AmaranthiArts Studios, i.e., more than one (virtual or veritable) studio exists.

While I do market under my name, the business name will remain, and it is one I fashioned out of some things that are important to me. Many think of “Amaranth” as a grain, which is not incorrect. There are other meanings which I focused on. One is as a fictional, everlasting flower. We all want to be immortalized somehow, preferably in positive ways. What better way for an artist to do that then by creating beautiful work that can sustain and be enjoyed for generations to come? That is my goal, of course. Amaranth is also a mixture of my two favorite colors—purple and red. It chemically dyes pharmaceuticals, food and clothing, but that takes the romance out of it. More to the point, those colors have become inextricably linked to me, as anyone who knows me can attest. Surrounding myself with purple and red makes me happy.

I trust “Arts” needn’t be explained. I used the “i” just to make it flow better in pronunciation. Am-uh-ranth-ee-arts.

So there you go.