Building a Body of Work

Detail View of original artwork by WA SDA member Peggy O'Heron.

Detail View of original artwork “Don’t burn the Day Away”  by WA SDA member Peggy O’Heron.

In our breakout sessions for the WA State SDA meeting last week, one group, dubbed “The Fabricators” were drawn together by the desire to “build a body of work, prepare for a sale, or have a solo exhibition.”  Here are some thoughts drawn from their session:

When asked “What part of Jane Dunnewold’s presentation (click link to see a write-up of SDA president Jane’s talk_ can you relate to?” there were numerous reactions.  One of the main things that blocks many in this group is what Jane calls “The Committee.”  It’s so easy to be hard on oneself.  The committee resides in our own minds and points out our mistakes and every little shortfall, reducing our confidence.  To overcome this, we need to learn how to play… and then learn by playing.  Rather than being afraid to make mistakes, we need to make more!  We learn a great deal by making mistakes and if we aren’t making any, then we’re not trying hard enough.  Both playing and making mistakes are part of building creative stamina, which is important to develop our artistic muscles.  Some of Jane’s suggestions for gaining creative stamina resonated with this group: free association exercises with a list of words and the image that they conjure; a form of journaling and sketching; taking a photo every day; and the art of intentional noticing.

The next question the group was asked was, “Why did you chose this group?”  Some of the artists are needing some direction or feel they way to learn the logistics of working in a series.  There are those who are interested in developing and preparing a body of work for an exhibit, or working in the direction of putting work in an exhibition.  A few are working to develop the courage to enter a piece in a show and need the confidence to move forward.  Finally, many participants expressed the desire to find their own voice.  They’d like to put some constraints on their body of work.  It was suggested they ask themselves: “Why am I creating this?” and “What is it that I’m trying to say?”

the-first-series-of-time-clocks-30147“What things do you need to further your art?”  Overwhelmingly, Time!  This includes making a commitment, finding ways to stop being non-productive, and coming up with creative ways to stop avoiding the studio.  Another related factor is to be Focused.  Eliminate or ignore distractions… this means “Just say NO to more cleaning!”  Some people discussed needing more confidence and others wanted to set some perimeters or work with the constructs of deadlines, to ensure they’d get their work done.

The interaction and support shared between group members was remarkable.  Some of the tips shared might be things you’d like to try too!

  • Just do it! ENTER a show. Rejection is hard, getting in a show helps validate what you do and instills more confidence, but even when you don’t get in, you learn from the rejection. Even if your piece just didn’t fit the criteria on that given day, within that set of jurors, it may appeal to a juror who remembers your work at a future date and you may be accepted then. Your rejection has then paved the way for future success. Resubmitting your work to a different jury can an often does get a different result. Get your work seen!
  • A good beginning place is to look for themes of upcoming shows to see what appeals to you, or make the choice to enter into a specific show, or a show in a particular place.
  • The first step is the most frightening. The application process might be intimidating but is a confidence builder. Another good entry point is to practice being a juror yourself, it helps you realize that rejection is not to be taken personally. For fun, “google” famous artist rejections.
  • Ask yourself if you are making the act of getting into a show the point, or are you passionate about sharing your work and your message with others. This may reframe the process for you and force you to think about who you are as an artists.
  • Create and keep a “studio log” where the days accomplishments get recorded so you can track what actually does get done in the studio. Log the time you start, end and what you did. Don’t forget to include the time you spend thinking about making art even when you don’t get to work. Adapt as necessary to meet your own needs and style.

    Studio Log book

    Studio Log book

  • The log book can also be a place to record “next steps”, helping to kick start the next session in the studio by taking the element of overwhelm out of the “what should I do today” syndrome we often experience when we finally get into the studio.
  • Have portable projects that can easily be moved to another location outside the studio. There is a lot to be said for a change of venue when looking to be inspired.
  • Establish a regular “work time” but not so rigidly that you kick yourself when you can’t get into the studio. No beating yourself up! The Committee does enough of that.
  • To handle guilt about not finishing the many projects dangling in your studio, donate the pieces you no longer love, give away, throw away or in some other way, part with things you probably never will finish and make you feel like a slouch for not finishing in this lifetime. Someone else may really want to finish.
  • Self-promotion is one of the most important parts of showing your work. Create a self-promotion packet, create an artist’s statement with a professional polish that presents you in the best light. It speaks loudly about who you are.
  • The “Artist’s Trust” is a great resource for the business side of art. and Edmonds Community College has an Artist’s Trust program as well.
  • Set a timer and allow yourself a five minute (or other amount of time) clean-up period each day when you first arrive in the studio. Make it a part of your studio entry ritual if need be. Twyla Tharp in her book, “The Creative Ritual” advocates this sort of thing. (See Below for a couple of great examples from Twyla’s book–a great read if you need to get your creative juices flowing.)
  • If you look at what has lasted through time, art is clearly one of the more valuable things we have to offer. How can we as a group support one another in the future? Create an emailed list of resources and calls for entry.

“You may wonder which came first: the skill or the hard work. But that’s a moot point. The Zen master cleans his own studio. So should you.” The composer Igor Stravinsky did the same thing every morning when he entered his studio to work: He sat at the piano and played a Bach fugue. Perhaps he needed the ritual to feel like a musician, or the playing somehow connected him to musical notes, his vocabulary. Perhaps he was honoring his hero, Bach, and seeking his blessing for the day. Perhaps it was nothing more than a simple method to get his fingers moving, his motor running, his mind thinking music. But repeating the routine each day in the studio induced some click that got him started. ― Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

In the end, there is no ideal condition for creativity. What works for one person is useless for another. The only criterion is this: Make it easy on yourself. Find a working environment where the prospect of wrestling with your muse doesn’t scare you, doesn’t shut you down. It should make you want to be there, and once you find it, stick with it.  To get the creative habit, you need a working environment that’s habit-forming.

Studio of Laurie Kathleen Clark, WA SDA member, artist, and sacred space consultant for "Heartitude: Art + Soul"

Studio of Laurie Kathleen Clark, WA SDA member, artist, and sacred space consultant for “Heartitude: Art + Soul”

All preferred working states, no matter how eccentric, have one thing in common: When you enter into them, they compel you to get started.” ― Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

Thanks so much to Laurie Clark, for taking such comprehensive notes for the Fabricators group session! Laurie will be leading a special retreat and art-making workshop called ‘Honoring Our Ancestors with Art & Prayer” on November 1st.  Please see our SDA WA calendar for more info!