Is It Luck?

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I certainly feel lucky when I look around me, look at my life as it unfolds its daily trek to the unknown. I have a beautiful house on a beautiful piece of land, amazing neighbors, wonderful children, friends, a great dog and have made a career doing exactly what I want to do, painting. And very important: it’s not what I have, but how I feel. I feel lucky.

I was talking to a friend the other who said he didn’t believe in luck. It is just hard work that pays off. That you are what you are, that’s a given. What about being in the right place at the right time, or auspicious coincidence?

Let me tell you a little story about what I call luck: I think it was luck that found this piece of land over twenty-five years ago. I had made an offer on a different property on a different lake. But someone had a right of first refusal on it and took it. After that, I looked at the map of the area, picked this piece and walked through the woods by the brook to find it. It hadn’t been surveyed yet, had no road or facilities coming in. I was offered a chance to purchase a different property and exchange it for this one after it was surveyed. Four years later, this was mine. And still is. Maybe that wasn’t luck but I was taking a chance. Maybe it was or wasn’t luck that someone had the right of first refusal to the other property. But I know now that was not the right place for me. This is.

One thing I do feel strongly about is the power of the mind. Unfortunately, the mind is not always working in a straight line. I wish it did! But if I hadn’t believed in finding a good place to live, I might never have pursued this piece of land under such unusual circumstances. Before here, I moved every three years on average. If I didn’t believe I could make good artwork, I would never have kept going all those years when I produced only a few worthy pieces. Probably yes, it is mostly hard work that makes luck happen, but probably that luck could be as much as 25%, the rest effort and preparation.

More than feeling lucky, I feel grateful. Grateful to be where I am and to have the will to keep going.

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October is done

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October was a busy month. Long days and short nights. It was exhilarating and exhausting. I have finally caught up on lost sleep, am settled into my regular life and back to an intense work schedule.

In the early part of the month I was immersed in a week long family visit. Then, shortly after, I went to Truro, NS, for two days and the opening reception at the Visual Voice Gallery. After returning home, I turned around and went to Annapolis Royal to teach a four-day workshop.

This was a group of twelve students. Some had little experience with painting but were proficient in other art forms, so the level of concentration was excellent. I did work them intensively which, of course, is more fun for me! The focus was composition, the backbone of abstract paintings. It is a hard concept to present. Most people return to their usual habitual way of working as soon as possible. I try to break through that pattern. I think everyone came away tired from four days of concentrated study.

Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the aftermath. And the autumn colors which are rapidly being blown away by the hesitantly approaching winter.

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Surprise!

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Some days seem to have a surprise built in somehow. A friend recently mentioned how there are days when he wakes up in the morning but just wants to pull the covers up and stay there all day. Then after a cup of coffee, his energy shifts and he feels eager for whatever the day brings. It feels like a mystery, how the energy can shift so quickly.

For me, getting up in the morning has always been easy. And coffee is not a good friend. If I feel slow, movement helps.

But what does surprise me, what shifts my energy, is when I go into my studio with either no desire to paint, maybe little interest or an intention of doing one thing and find I am doing something completely different, usually something very intense and involved. I become totally absorbed.

Often it is the same with interactions with people. I might think I am really not going to enjoy someone’s company but then, to my surprise, do so. Have a deep communication with the person, or a wonderful time at a party I dreaded going to. Prejudging can be a handicap, no doubt. But sometimes I think I do it to avoid disappointment. If I don’t expect much, then good things will feel wonderful. The tricks we play with our minds!

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“A beautiful trip”

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Yesterday (or maybe the day before, all days running into each other recently) I heard an awesome interview on q (CBC radio arts program) by Tom Power with Sonny Rollins. First, I love jazz and love listening to jazz musicians talk about their music. Second, Sonny Rollins was brilliant. He is 87 now and cannot play his saxophone any more because of his health. But he is still a vibrant living spirit of the music he created.

His confidence was a major impression that came across clearly. He knew from age eight he would be a successful musician. He placed himself where it was happening and he practiced his craft religiously. Both major aspects of being successful. He emphasized that the important part of creating an art is knowing there is always more. There is always something to keep reaching, something more to achieve.

He said every successful artist has a “fingerprint”, a uniqueness that raises him or her above the crowd. When playing music, he went deep inside himself. He said when he is in front of a great painting or listens to great music, any great art form, he feels a connection to a deeper part of himself and that creates a connection to a universal truth. (Well, maybe he didn’t use the word truth, but I think he did and that is a favorite thought of mine.)

He said he feels like a “blessed person”, is deeply grateful for what he has had with his music. Making good music is for him living ethically.

I remember conversations in art school about whether or not an artist is a moral person. Great art has that responsibility of uncovering a deeper truth, connecting us to something we might not otherwise know. But obviously, history has shown us, a great artist is not necessarily a moral person. But it would be nice to think so!

The photo above was taken in Montmartre, Paris, a couple of years ago. Another comment on the power of loving what you do. You know that saying: If you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life!

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What he had to say

RomeoInTheAirAnother challenge I have been thinking about lately is when to stop on a canvas. I usually keep going and going and going, making big and small changes constantly, sometimes over periods of years, sometimes just days. But sometimes I loose the original vitality and feel I have to start again on top of what I have done.

I like the rawness of the beginning process, but it is not enough. Nevertheless, I still long for it as I continue.But if I were to stop trying to “fix” or “improve” on the initial impulse, it would not be, simply put, as much fun.

A while back I had a dream wherein a minor, background figure was a photographer who was lurking in a hallway. When I thought about what he might have to tell me, I heard “leave the mess.” I still think about this when my paintings become too tidy. It’s that need to find a satisfying (to me) balance of rawness and finish. To know when to stop and when to keep going.

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Long ideas

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I started work on a big project: two 3’ x 10’ paintings. It’s a shape I would never have imagined myself using. But a friend was selling the stretchers and I couldn’t resist the challenge. And it is a challenge. I am, and always have been, more comfortable with a vertical imagination. Lines, space, form always added up to a tall image. I want to avoid landscape references. In abstract painting, a landscape format is often used. So these very horizontal canvases are definitely unique for me.

To my surprise, the paintings are evolving much differently than I had expected when I first imagined this project.  I had thought I would be using horizontal lines and expanding the space by the way they moved variously across the canvases. But I am, still, using a more vertical image. The broad expanse feels tall.

I am keeping a running photo log of the process but don’t feel I can share it just yet. Maybe later. The above image is one of two 7″ x 5″ postcards I sent to the Old Lockup Gallery in Cromford, Derbyshire, UK for a fundraiser, September 1. Check it out if you are nearby!

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Alone with all of us

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Last weekend, July 14, 15, 16 that is, I was part of the Peggy’s Cove Festival of the Arts. That meant I had Open Studio Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Long hours; lots of people passing through. The best part was my studio hadn’t been that clean since I moved in! It isn’t so clean anymore, but that’s fine. The visitors and the conversations and seeing my work in a more or less clean space was very inspiring. So my studio is getting messy again. And it feels good.

It did take me a few days to recover. I’m not used to talking to so many people over such a long span of time. It was a good weekend, seeing people I hadn’t seen in a while, seeing other artists, meeting new people, and getting positive feedback on my work. Of course, the people who didn’t like it, didn’t say anything. Three women came in, took a quick look, asked me to sign their page saying they had been here, and left. I said to them, that’s it? Other people stayed, asked question, enjoyed the visit.

Most of the time I have no idea what people are or will think of my paintings. I keep challenging myself to explore and sometimes I find I scare myself with what I dig up. Seems like I have many people inside my head, talking about what to do with my work. I don’t need friends or enemies. I’m busy with my own thoughts. It’s more, who, i.e., which thought, do I follow. Seems like the most bold are getting more attention these days. I will follow through with the discomfort, and listen, and just do it.

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