Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My Two Jobs

When I first started painting, many years ago, people would ask me if my dream was to be a full-time artist. At the time, painting was a huge struggle. It wasn't that I lacked the skills to become a full-time artist, but what I did lack was the inspiration and motivation to have art as my main career. I couldn't imagine doing painting all the time. I didn't think I could come up with enough ideas for paintings to make a living off of them. I also thought I would be completely bored, isolated, and generally unhappy. 

"Three Surfers", 16"x16", available at JoAnne Artman Gallery.
Fast forward to 2009. I now have a new series that really inspires me. I am painting on a regular basis, and feel like I am ready to make art my career. At this time I was teaching middle school math and while it was a good job, I didn't really want to make it my main career. I worked pretty hard at refining my series, saving money, and really pushing my to get my work out and into galleries. I was ready to quit my job. 

I quit my teaching job and was living the dream. I was a full-time artist, making a living off of my art. During this time, many things happened. I got married and my husband quit his job and was working free-lance. Here we were, two people without health insurance, trying to make a living do what we loved. It worked for about 9 months, when I got the call from the principal from the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts. A math teacher was taking a leave of absence in January and he had heard that I was a math teacher/ artist and currently not teaching. After some negotiating, I decided to take the job since I would only be working until 12:30 (academics are taught in the morning so that the afternoons are free for the arts) and I would have health insurance for both my husband and I. I also thought it would be a temporary job and I would be able to go back to painting full-time.

A painting I was commissioned to do. 
Things never really work out the way we plan though. The school and students liked me so much they wanted to offer me a permanent position. I had a hard decision to make. After much debate, I decided to take the job since I would still have most of my day free to paint. After all, there are very few full-time jobs where I only have to work from 8-12:30 and the thought of health benefits sounded great. It was a good thing that I did take the job because a few months later, my husband was diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer. He is fine now, but without health insurance we could have had a very different outcome.

Fast forward to 2013 and I am still teaching at the school of the arts. A friend recently asked me when I thought I could quit my job again and just do art. It's a question I often get asked. It seems natural to think that an artist would want to just do their art, free from any day job. In fact, if you ask most artists, they would love to quit their multiple day jobs and make their living making art. I am no longer one of them.

While I still want plenty of time to create art (which I get since I am done teaching at 12:30), I also learned that I need some mental stimulation that can't be provided through painting. I love math and I am good at it. I am good at translating this foreign language and explaining it to students in a way they can understand. Because I struggled in math in high school, and I am a visual learner, I can relate to my students, what they are going through, and teach them well. I love the challenge of doing pre-calculus and calculus (the subjects I teach) problems and can get absorbed in solving them. It's actually fun to me. I enjoy the fact that I am an artist who teaches math at a school of the arts. (You should see the shock on people's faces when I tell them this!). I like my day job. I like my day job enough that I don't mind having two careers, art and teaching. So when people ask when can I quit my day job and just paint, I tell them I actually don't want to quit my day job. I am an artist AND a math teacher and I love both jobs.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Chickens, Surfers, and Freaking Out

This week has been crazy busy for me. Teaching has been a bit hectic with all of these three day weekends (last weekend and this weekend) plus Valentine's day, which is always disruptive to a classroom environment. Since we have block scheduling, I am only seeing some kids four times in two weeks and others six times, which just throws off my timing of the curriculum. Trying to keep up and make sure everyone is learning the same thing has been hectic. I also need to create my calculus curriculum, since this my first year teaching it, which includes a lot of deciphering, note-taking, and math solving lately. Math is hard enough and trying to translate calculus into a language my kids can understand is no easy task.

The surfer painting is almost done. Good thing
I don't have to worry about this one selling!
In addition to this, I have been trying to get some pieces finished by March first so they can be shown at the Affordable Art Fair with JoAnne Artman Gallery. I had two finished and was working on a diptych as my final piece. Well, fortunately the diptych sold before it was even finished (yay!) but now that means I still need to finish the piece AND come up with two new pieces to replace the sold one for the art fair. I also have a 12"x12" piece that is due soon for an upcoming invitational show and I have yet to figure out what I will paint. Throw in an interview for a Barcelona magazine, where they are featuring my art,  that still needs to be completed and you have an overwhelmed girl. But wait! There's more! The California College of Art wants to feature my artwork in their upcoming arts/ literature journal, which is awesome! I now need to get high res images to them. This isn't too hard to do, but when everything else is feeling overwhelming, this is just one more thing to do. I haven't even mentioned the three 16"x16" pieces that were commissioned but not started. It's for my brother, and since he's family, it just keeps being put on the back burner. Sorry Albert!

Detail of painting. The panel is two 16"x16" panels. Since the panels are so
small and there are 8 surfers, painting these tiny faces and still have
discernable expressions has not been easy.
So right now, instead of doing some much needed calculus planning, I am writing a blog post and making a list of what needs to get done by me personally and what can I get my art assistant to do. I am a list maker and I find that this calms down the anxiety and feeling of being overwhelmedness. Unfortunately, first I have to freak out about all that I have to do before I can calm down enough to write my lists. Now that I am calming down, it's time to get working on that list.

Another detail.

Oh, and did I mention the chicken I am painting? This was commissioned by a
friend many months ago and I am finally finishing it. Unfortunately commissions
by friends and family can take awhile for me to get to.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Subtle Color

I just finished two paintings that, along with more, is bound for the JoAnne Artman Gallery and the New York Affordable Art Fair in April. The piece with the "flying" man has a thin dark strip at the bottom of the piece, done in powdered graphite. It's the first time I have used this on one of my own pieces and I like the subtle, yet shininess of the color. I didn't want to add too much in terms of color on this one since I like the light feeling of this one, as if the guy is flying into nothingness. I think if there was color or a thicker bar, it would have weighed the piece down. I am letting the pieces dictate what they need in terms of color and blocking. What I want to avoid is a formulaic look to my pieces. I hope you like this piece!

"Flying High" 16"x16", oil, encaustic wax, and graphite.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

To Wax or Not to Wax?

Today I finished two new pieces and my hands HURT. They usually hurt after using my blow torch to fuse the layers of wax on my painting, but now they hurt even more. With this new series I have been applying the layers of wax, fusing in between each layer, then taking a straight razor and scraping back the wax so that I can smooth out any bumps, but more importantly, I can add scratches into the wax.  I want to rough up the wax so that when I rub raw umber oil paint over it, then wipe it off, the paint stays in the crevices and create a warm sepia color. The painting then looks like an old, worn photograph, much like a precious photo that gets wrinkled from overuse and constant holding. I like the way that it looks...and trust me, it's one of those surfaces that you need to see in person to really appreciate. The problem is, n addition to wearing out my hands by holding a "heavy" blow torch for long periods of time, I'm also hurting them by scraping the wax, and even worse, rubbing the oil vigorously on then off the surface. For someone who has tendonitis in both wrists, elbows, and shoulders this is not a good thing.

I know we are supposed to suffer for our art, but how much suffering is too much? I am seriously starting to rethink the whole wax and oil step of my new series. Would the work still look good with the whites stark white? I like the way the wax makes everything yellowed and hazy, but it is such a pain to do. So what do you think? Do my paintings look better waxed or unwaxed?

In other news, it looks like Bizzarre Magazine in Barcelona will be doing an interview with me and featuring my work in one of their upcoming issues! I love how the internet allows people outside of my immediate area to see my work and contact me. Last year my work was in LOLA Magazine, which is distributed in Brazil. I don't think any of this would be possible ten years ago. I don't think I even had a website back then... Isn't technology wonderful?

"The View From Below" 36"x36"
This will be available at Forre Fine Art in Aspen.

"Into the Distance", 36"x36"
This will be available at Forre Fine Art in Aspen, CO.

Here are the unwaxed versions:

The blue line is missing since it was added over the wax.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Nothing is too Precious

Have you ever worked on a painting where there was one section that you totally fall in love with but the rest of the piece just doesn't work? If you are like most people, you spend many hours trying to make the rest of the painting work around your favorite part. If you are lucky, it works and you have a great painting to show for your effort. If your are not so lucky, you waste many hours trying to make it work, but no matter what you do, it just won't and you either leave it as it, an unresolved painting that you try and convince yourself "works", or it sits in your studio with the hopes of coming back to it later. Sound familiar?

One thing we need to realize as artists is that nothing is too precious. In other words, we have to be willing to just "wipe out" an area, no matter how much we like it, if it doesn't work with the rest of the painting. My very first Forgotten Memories painting, before I realized it was the start of a series, was of a little girl in her communion dress. I painted the face so well I was estatic. Painting children, and have them look like actual children, not short adults, is not easy. This was my first attempt and I nailed it. The crowd in my head was cheering! Then I looked at the painting as a whole and wouldn't you know it; the head was too big. CRAP! I was so upset and actually tried to find a way to work the painting around that beautiful head. In the end, it was easier to wipe out the whole head. I hated doing it, but sometimes you have to do the hard thing and get rid of your favorite part for the sake of the whole painting.

Recently I had to do this again. I started a painting and when it was mostly completed, I realized that it didn't really work in the direction of the new series I was starting. There were elements I liked, and some that I REALLY liked, but it didn't feel right. I decided that the whole piece had to go. When I showed it to some fellow artists, they wanted me to try and make it work since there were parts that looked so good. I kept repeating "Nothing is too precious that it can't be erased." After much arguement, I decided to give it one more shot to see if I could make it work. Nope, I still didn't like it. It wasn't going to fit into my series which meant it had to go.

I haven't started on the new painting on this panel yet, but not having to look at the old part and knowing that I have a completely clean board to work with already makes me feel better about the piece. So what's the moral of this story? Nothing is too precious that it can't be erased. Be willing to get rid of your favorite part of a painting for the sake of the whole painting. Make any sense?

This is the offending painting. It's not a bad painting. I like components of this piece but it just didn't seem to fit in with the other pieces I had completed. Part of it was the "bar" with the tree branches. I really liked the branches but the division of space and how it divided the figures below didn't make sense to me anymore. I tried making the top bar white, light blue, and then finally brown but none of these seemed to resolve the piece for me. Now it is a completely blank panel...RIP painting...