‘Don’t Give Up. Keep Creating. Keep Trying. Keep the Faith’
It is, perhaps, fair to say that most of us struggle to get through our to-do list each day, let alone find the space and time to be creative.
And that struggle can be particularly acute for artists, for whom creativity is an essential part of work, rather than a wouldn’t-it-be-nice-to-have-someday luxury. And most area artists, of course, live a full life in addition to their creative work. There are classes to teach. Supplies to buy. Bills to pay. Families to attend to. And, with a few exceptions, being an artist can be a career where money is tight, requiring financial creativity on top of artistic creativity.
With the Shoreline Arts Trail coming up Saturday, Nov. 16 and Sunday, Nov. 17 in Branford, Madison, and Guilford, some of the artists new to the trail this year took time out from their preparations to answer some questions about how they create the physical, mental, and emotional space required to be creative. Many of their answers—ranging from spending time with a cup of coffee in the morning while journaling to getting outside in nature—could apply to parents helping children create a productive and happy life, engineers toiling away at problem-solving, and office workers hoping to accomplish project goals, as well as artists wanting to create a great work of art.
Here’s what they had to say.
A Difficult Decision, a Silver Lining
How do you create the physical, mental, and emotional space needed to be creative?
Branford artist Linda Marino says she finds the question fascinating in light of what transpired recently with her studio space in Branford.
“Unfortunately, just five days prior we made the decision to close the studio space,” she says. “It was a very difficult decision since so much work for the past several months were made in preparation for the upcoming Shoreline Arts Trail Open Studio Event. The decision was made basically for financial reasons.”
But she says there is a silver lining.
“I was able to secure a temporary location right across the street,” she says.
The new space is in the Academy on the Green, which was once a one-room schoolhouse. She’ll be able to display her work and conduct a painting demonstration during the two-day event.
The decision to give up her permanent studio space has helped reaffirm for her the source of her greatest joy, which she says comes from painting en plein air, the French term for painting out in the open. She says the term was “coined by the French Impressionists in the 1800s since the invention of small metal tubes to hold wet paints. This invention allowed artists to travel out of their studio with their paints and portable easel to paint on location, wherever they choose.”
She says it’s a practice that allows artists to become fully immersed in a setting, engaging all of their senses and incorporating them onto the canvas, “from the fields to the hills, harbors to street scenes creating a landscape painting...The artist can smell the salt water, feel the heat radiating from the rocks, the tickle of the grassy meadow on their ankles, the chill in the winter air or the crunch of the fall leaves under their feet.”
Since she loves being out on location, she says a physical space for her becomes a secondary concern.
“As long as the indoor location has plenty of natural lighting and the temperature is comfortable to work in, my needs are fews,” she says.
She says creating mental and emotional space can be even more challenging.
“As a full-time artist and art instructor, the days and weeks can fill up fast with all the duties that encompass being an artist—developing lesson plans for classes, preparing work for upcoming exhibits or creating commissioned paintings, framing work, buying supplies, meeting with clients. There are also marketing tasks, inventory management, and bookkeeping, to name a few,” she says. “So often people don’t seem to make the connection that an artist who is working full time to make this a career and earn a living has to do the same tasks as a small business owner does.”
She creates mental space in a practical way.
“I use a digital calendar on my phone and weekly planner to block in times and days I can work specifically on improving my artistic skills, practicing, developing new painting concepts and even ‘play time’ to experiment with new materials or techniques,” she says. “Organizing my time this way allows me to see progress and growth in my artwork and career.”
She loves a quote by Chuck Close, a contemporary American artist, who said, “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”
When it comes to creating emotional space, she says that can look different for everyone.
“For me this means, starting my day with a cup of coffee and writing in a notebook random thoughts, ideas, feelings, concerns, and joys. I’ve heard it described as a stream of consciousness, introduced by William James in his Principles of Psychology or ‘morning pages’ by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way,” she says. “I’ve adapted my morning ritual to view this practice as both emotional and spiritual by emptying my thoughts on paper so that I’m now ready to receive the guidance, insight, and wisdom from my Creator, and then receiving the love and light that flows through the connection. I choose to create out of the overflow of what I love, admire, or am in awe of its beauty.”
She says she does have advice for other artists based on her experiences.
“Don’t give up. Keep creating. Keep trying. Keep the faith,” she says. “The road can be challenging but it’s worth it.”
She sometimes thinks back to a children’s book she read years ago, Harold and the Purple Crayon.
“Harold is a four year-old boy who with his purple crayon has the power to create a world of his own simply by drawing it,” she says. “Through our choices we can engage our imagination, create something, stretch our mind, connect with others who enjoy similar interests, spend time in nature. Choosing to create space to be creative has the power to transform lives.”
And when the inspiration well runs dry and she’s at a loss for what to create? She seeks out others who are creative.
“One of the quickest ways for me to refresh the well and get the creative waters turning again is to be around other creative people, to tap into their creative energy and be inspired by their creations,” she says, one of the many reasons she participates in the Shoreline Arts Trail. “Take the time over the two-day open studio event to meet the artists, check out their work, and even purchasing original works of art. That can bring that feeling of creative energy back into your life.”
A Room of Her Own
Janine Robertson of Madison is a landscape oil painter and most of her work is inspired by the shoreline, marshlands, and “big-sky vistas of New England.” Most of her work is painted on aluminum or copper, an ultra-smooth surface that, she says, “provides a luminous quality and highlights brush strokes and textures.”
When it comes to creating physical, mental, and emotional space, she has taken a page from an essay by author Virginia Woolf, who wrote that a woman must have a “room of her own” to create. Robertson’s room is in a converted carriage house behind the Bar Bouchée restaurant in Madison.
“I needed a space that would have an excellent light source and enough physical space to accommodate large-scale paintings for commissioned work. The studio was once a garage and has been updated as an office space with plenty of cabinets for storage and most importantly, glass garage doors,” she says. “This provides an excellent source of light and also the ability to open the doors on summer days when I want fresh air and a natural light source.”
She says it’s not a large space, though there is ample shelving and cabinets, enough to store art supplies, books, photos, and a printer.
“I can store my frames and have enough room to assemble and wire as needed. Some of my framed paintings hang on the walls, acting as gallery space, which is especially good for studio visits,” she says. “Since this is a working environment, I have just enough room to have four or five easels set up and can work on several paintings at once. As one dries, I can move onto another. For me, it’s a perfect recipe for creativity.”
Part of the key to creativity for Robertson is that her studio is outside of her home, away from distractions. She says it keeps her focused and productive.
“I look forward to going to my own space and I’m there painting almost every day, easy when you do what you love,” she says.
Taking a Second Look
Dinah Wells works inside and outside, and she says her most inspiring creative spaces include Hammonasset in Madison, Dudley Farm in Guilford, and right outside her own door in North Guilford.
“Natural places are what I’m drawn to and where I find the most interesting visual themes. Living in North Guilford, I have access to an outdoor studio all over the region that is full of incomparable beauty,” she says. “Getting to know a place after years of observation and immersion in it help me produce my most successful paintings.”
Her early work includes a watercolor insect series and then, in 2014, she switched her focus to plein air landscapes and still life. She credits local artist and teacher Eileen Eder with helping her make the difficult transition from watercolor to oil. She also took workshops with Kathleen Dunphy, T.A. Lawson, Deborah Quinn-Munson, Mark Boedges, and Don Demers and says they were invaluable at the beginning of this process and continue to inspire her studies.
She also thrives in the company of creative people, so she is a member of the Lyme Art Association, the Guilford Art League, and the Connecticut Plein Air Painters Society, among other organizations.
She says she also has an indoor studio where she gets work done, but that “inspiration is rarely found there.”
“I bring sketches, and color notes, and studies, detail paintings, into the studio to produce larger works than what I can do in two- to four-hour sessions outside,” she says. “That is about the time you have before the light, and or tide, change too much to proceed on the same painting.”
In terms of her creative process, Wells says her work is informed by what she calls second looks.
“Sometimes a second look reveals what was hidden at first: unusual colors, abstract patterns, tiny details that amaze,” she says. “It takes time to see what is worth painting in a farmyard, the weedy corners of a marsh, an exoskeleton. If there is joy in painting, for me, it comes mostly from the hours spent becoming part of a scene.”
When she walks up to a pond, birds might ascend. Frogs might jump. Maybe a turtle dives.
“But stand there quietly for one hour, two, three...more. Birds return, frogs croak again, dragonflies hover closely by,” she says. “Then I start to see what this place is like without me. And the colors and shapes when translated onto canvas can preserve the essence of that time and place.”