Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Art Mentoring/Art Coaching Program

With Naomi Gerrard in Winnipeg, Manitoba

Over the past couple of years in my workshops, students have asked about getting one-on-one feedback or doing private critiques with me.  But one artist in a workshop this past summer, Jill Segal, suggested that I do an art mentoring program.  Thanks to her encouragement, I'm just launching it.

The Art Mentoring Program is intended as a distance mentoring program, to provide one-on-one guidance to artists no matter where they live.  The goal is to give artists feedback on their artwork and help them develop a cohesive body of work. There are few opportunities for artists to receive clear feedback and guidance about their work.  Our artists friends are generally reluctant to offer anything other than encouragement, even though they may think differently about certain of our paintings.  Encouragement is definitely helpful.  We all need that. But where do we get clear feedback?  Hard to find.  In workshops, we can get feedback for the work that is produced in the workshop.  But how does that tie together with the other work we like to do?  How can we create a body of work that is more unified?  The Art Mentoring Program will aim to address those issues.

It is intended as an ongoing process.  The artist will send me several images of their work by email.  I will spend some time with the images and we follow that with a telephone conversation to discuss the work.  Our conversation might focus on the process, the direction, the techniques, the elements of art, the body of work, etc.  There are many possible areas to focus our discussion.  The idea is to determine what the goals of the artist are and begin there.

I ask the artist to send me an artist's statement, a CV, their website if they have one, and to write out their short term goals for their work.  They are asked to commit to a minimum of 4 Art Mentoring sessions at a time.

I have had a couple of people ask me how this process would work if I don't actually see the work in person.  I remind them that when you submit work to a juried show, it is in a digital format.  The exhibition is juried by digital images.  When you apply to a gallery for representation, they want to see your images on your website.  If you apply for grants or artist residencies, you submit digital images. The original works are only seen when they are accepted into an exhibition.  It's your images that lead the way.

To find out more about the program and to register, please contact me at:

Friday, September 13, 2013

Where Do Creative Ideas Come From?

Fragile (1370)  30x30"  Oil/cold wax on panel © 2013 Janice Mason Steeves

 In the film, "With My Back to the World",  the artist Agnes Martin talks about how the ideas for her paintings come to her in a flash of inspiration.  In fact, she painted directly from those visions, carefully working out the mathematical division of space.  When she finished a painting, she would simply wait until the next 'inspiration' came to her and didn't paint until it did. Once she had to wait 7 months, she said. My own ideas seem to come to me in  various ways.  Sometimes, like Agnes, I get a picture in my head of a painting.  I never can paint the exact image because I see it only vaguely. It's rather like an idea for a painting or an idea for a series of paintings. 

I find that ideas keep coming the more I work.  So many artists and musicians have said that.  Twyla Tharp said that in her book, "The Creative Habit", as did the composer, John Adams in "Hallelujah Junction".  Just begin.  Just get into the studio and begin. Start dancing.  Start playing the piano.  If I haven't been painting for more than a couple of weeks, I sometimes lose confidence and don't know where to begin.  When that happens, I might work on small paper pieces, knowing that they are completely disposable and unimportant.  Sometimes this playful work will lead into a body of work and reveal it's meaning only after I have completed a number of paintings.

I'm also influenced by place. I love to travel and am always excited to sort of devour the places I visit. When I am on an artist residency, I find I can't just jump into work, but have to walk, look and feel the place and incorporate it into my body. I travelled a couple of times with the famous Canadian landscape artist, Doris McCarthy, who painted and exhibited her work until she was in her mid-90's.  Once we went on an expedition to the Queen Charlotte Islands off the west coast of Canada.  She was in her 80's at the time.  We were on a sailboat that went from one island and Haida village to another.  Doris would jump off the dingy that took us to shore, set up her  gear and immediately begin painting.  That was her routine.  Her ideas came directly from the landscape and she painted what she saw.  I had to learn that my ideas didn't come that way.  They came more indirectly, through the body, from walking, looking and sensing.  And sometimes they don't come right away, on demand.  They have their own timing.   I think that Twyla Tharp and John Adams are right in saying to just begin.  But I think they are also saying that their ideas come through the body.
 Robert MacFarlane in his book The Old Ways, a Journey on Foot,  quotes Rousseau as saying, "I can only meditate when I am walking, when I stop I cease to think; my mind works only with my legs." Kierkegaard speculated that the mind might function optimally at the pedestrian pace of three miles per hour and in a journal entry describes going out for a wander and finding himself 'so overwhelmed with ideas' that he 'could scarcely walk'. 
"Nothing like a nighttime stroll to give you ideas."-Mad-eye Moody