Today is one of those days. The kind of day that I need to bootstrap myself into looking for the next thing I should do, do what needs to be done, attend to what should be attended to. I don’t have to tell you how difficult it is during the Time of Covid because we’re all in it together, but I will. I will because I am certain you’ll understand, because you are going through your own Covid times too.
Being an artist has certain rhythms, long and short cycles. Just like any other thing you love, you primp it, touch it, admire it, or fix it up where it needs help. In this case, it is my current work, my studio, and my tools and paints. Plus I am on the verge of losing my studio and I need to find a new one. It’s in the name of a good cause. I am turning my studio into a bedroom and the storage area into a bathroom for my mother, my 91-year old mother. It’s probably not what you imagine. She’s on top of her game, drives, shops, does everything she’s always done. She just needs a safe place to live, so I offered up my studio space thinking I’ll move into one of the art studios around the area or use an industrial clean storage space, but there’s nothing available. Nothing. In fact there isn’t even any regular storage space available to store my art due to the huge firestorms swirling around the San Francisco Bay Area. So now I have to get creative - pull canvases off frames and roll them together? Have a massive moving sale? Build a storage shed? Just wait for divine providence to send something my way?
There’s a non-definitive timeline intricately entwined here. That is the plans I submitted to the county building department are clocking against wet boards sequestered in my studio-soon-to-be bedroom. I don’t think I told you yet, but I am planning a performance art reception in Menlo Park on Friday 13 in November. Normally, my muse and I would be all amped up, cranking out new pieces like a maniac, painting until 3am only sleeping 4 hours. Instead I am feeling dragged down by the imminent move.
But there’s a bigger problem buried in my disappearing studio problem. There are massive materials failures on a very cool, 3x3-foot triptych I’ve been working on for the last 6 weeks. Normally I’d be done a week ago and have started three more pieces for the show, but … a few weeks ago, one of the layers on all three boards bubbled up tiny water blisters, like they had small pox or something. It’s unheard of. Why? I asked myself and the fine art paint manufacturer. I didn’t change my paint or medium, so they figured it had to be a bad batch. I scraped off what I could and readjusted the image to fit the new texture, turning the original landscape idea into an underwater giant kelp scene. Then I did another pour over my new painting. However, this time the surfaces crackled.
I bet that if that happened to you, you’d heave them out in spite, or cry, or do both. I actually did want to do all those things. I groaned loud enough my husband walked over to ask what happened. I couldn’t talk about it. It was just too painful. I got a headache. I went outside and practiced calming breathing. I had plans for that art to be the centerpiece of the November art reception. I couldn’t do anything about it that night. I had to sleep on it. The next day an artist friend of mine came by. She looked at it and said she thought there was promise. I nodded and together we said in unison, “There are no mistakes in art, only opportunities!”
I started material tests on 5x9-inch art boards to see what is the real culprit. I can’t believe that a trusted fine art paint maker would send out two bad batches of material. And I don’t want to throw away gallons of media. So far, except for one, the test boards are looking good. I narrowed it down to one bottle that produces a water blister layer. I think that once that layer is on, you can’t add anything on top or it will react badly. So now I have a situation to contemplate. I can’t present a cracked finish, even if it looks good, like a cracked ice scene. I have to seal up the cracks for archival purposes, so it will last a long time without flaking our getting dust and dirt in the spaces. I think I have a solution, but I need a big needle like device. I will pour gold and silver paint into every crevice and it will look stunning.
I’ll give the studio and art storage solutions a bit of time to resolve. I am putting it out there and let the law of attraction find a place for me and my work. It’s worked that way many times before and fretting about it doesn’t help. It only makes me glum and sleep deprived. Next time, I’ll post a picture of the gold and silver threaded giant kelp paintings and let you know where my new studio is located (knock on wood).
As I was in my studio, just minutes ago, finishing two of the three long, thin canvas boards of a triptych, I was struck by how alike this process is to the many hours, days, months, years I spent alone in some isolated research lab. However, sometimes I also liken it to getting ready for a date. When I am deciding what and how to paint something, or accepting the date, then prepping the canvas and setting up my palette, or deciding what to wear and then the act of painting, especially this new style—this pouring technique—is like the sex part at the end of the date. That’s the time I am 100% absorbed in the act of painting. No interruptions, nothing but me and the moving paint making it happen.
The first time I blurted out that analogy at an artist’s meeting, I was met with averted eyes and giggles and a few, “Oh Susan!” so I decided not to trot out that imagery of doing my art. Maybe if I lived in France I could, but not here in America. Not even in California, or in a women’s art meeting in Northern California, where I was when I made that pronouncement.
What I do want to tell you today is how I found it utterly fascinating that my early adulthood laser-focussed interest and work in the field of geophysics has an incredible overlap with my current art life. Honestly, I would have written you off as a nut job if you had told my utterly devoted scientist-self that 30 years later, I can see a strong merger in what I am exploring as an artist with what I studied and researched back then; that my interests would come full circle with my intentional flow artwork and is connected to my early research and studies in geophysics.
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Studio Blog #2
Giving of my authentic self is a relief and the truest gift I can offer.
I've always been an artist, but admitting to yourself and embracing the fact you're but an educated and trained vessel here on Earth to express a message in color and form is a humbling moment.
Imagine how at first, you're the local school celeb because you can draw and paint. Then you find this special talent is coupled to your core so that if you're not creating something you suffocate. Eventually you learn your best work happens when you let yourself go and succumb to your Muse, your special connection to the Universe, through color and form. It's like an addiction except it's not because this is spiritually uplifting, not a spiritual stagnation. And if you go deep enough into it and express your feelings when you create, you can eventually look back at the trail of art you made and you see it's your biography.
Many years ago, maybe 15 or 20, I opened my arms wide and looked up to the sky and said, "I'll do whatever it is you want! I give up trying to think my way into the best situation. I'll stay open and pay attention to inspired thought or an answer to a question."
Planning and hard work; trying to figure stuff out works only takes you so far. There's always some unexpected block or twist that weighs things down, derails the train, shows you a truth you weren't expecting. But when your plan is one of Inspiration and you step into the flow where all you have to do is pay attention for the next step, the ride is fast, smooth, and goes somewhere you could not have imagined.
That's the lesson I keep repeating. When I think I know what's going on, beyond the technical aspects, is the times when everything slows down and may even grind to a halt. I now know those are the times to step back, take a breath, and let my Muse, Spirit, the Universe come back into the front because I can't see what's next anyway. I simply wait for the call and be ready to grab on and take the next ride.
- May 17, 2020
Studio Blog #1
After I finished morning meditation with my husband, we were talking about what came up during the 10 or 15 minutes of sitting in the sun, trying to, or not trying to, quiet our minds, taking deep breaths and letting thoughts float through and not find an anchor. He is working on a book and he had realized the train in one character’s bedroom was a premonition of the abandoned underground Nazi railway the main character would find in the first action sequence.
I said, “Sure! That’s what the creative inner voice does, it knows all the parts and puts them in place before you can consciously see the connections. Your cerebral cortex thinks it’s running the show, but it isn’t. Of course it has important things to do, like planning for resources and setting aside time, but it’s really better if you trust your creative part, your Muse, or higher consciousness, or whatever you want to call it.
He made a rumbly noise and shook his head. I pressed on, “When fans comb through their favorite author’s books looking for hidden messages or connecting threads, the author often says they didn’t purposely put those connections in. But I think some part of them did - just not the thing that you can see and hear.” I touched my forehead and waved my hands in front of my face.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “There is not that great of range of human behaviors and activities to represent something plus the readers always projecting their own personal stories into the stories they read.
“Maybe,” I paused. “In some cases, I agree, but what I am talking about is the part of us we, whatever that is, don’t control from here.” I tapped my forehead again. “Like how our white blood cells roam throughout our bodies chasing down and eating things that don’t belong inside us. You don’t control those, but they are you, part of you. Are all parts you? Is there only one thing that is you?”
Understanding there is a greater force, a higher consciousness is part of an understanding, an awakening, I made over the past 20 years. What stands out is an emphatic statement I made to my good my friend, my psychic friend, June sometime during the ART21 gallery days. She told me my father wanted to paint with me. I was taken aback and was feeling quite greedy about my creative process at the time. I remember a warmth flaring up in my solar plexus. I said, “Absolutely not! If he wants to paint, he can reincarnate and do it himself.” Part of my incensed reaction is that I was still harboring anger at him for disappearing in the middle of the night. I never got to say good-bye and it took decades for me to properly grieve.
It happened during a hot summer in July when I was 14 years old. I had come home while I was still coming down from a quarter dose of 4-way window pane. I went straight to my room, skipping dinner with my mom and dad. I am not sure what time I fell asleep. Since I took the hit during the early afternoon, I wouldn't have stayed up all night. However, I am exactly sure when I woke up. The yellow wall phone with the 8-foot long curly cord, rang from the kitchen wall at precisely 6am. My mom picked up after just a couple of rings. Walking down the hall, I heard her say thank you, put the phone back in the cradle and heave a dry sob. My dad, my first art teacher, my buddy had died of a cerebral hemorrhage at 4:15am.
See what I mean? When I started this page, there’s no way I sat down to tell you about my father’s death and I never told anyone before, except my husband, I was tripping on LSD during his last night on earth. That detail alone is a piece of really sour-juicy Secret Guilt I carried in my top pocket for years, and years, and years.
What I am saying is I started the blog with my conscious thoughts but it didn’t take long for my Muse (maybe even my dad?) to bring you back in time with me to my first step out of childhood on that tragic day.
- Susan Kraft, spiritual artist