One artist's journey: Trying to live a creative life with grace, grit, gratitude...and a border collie.
(or perhaps I should say: greys, grit and gratitude)

29 May 2013

Drawing on Karma

by Lyn StClair

The first piece pictured here is the latest in a new series of works exploring an entirely different (and experimental) medium.

While I was absolutely captivated by Karma's amazing use of her personal airspace...to me, this piece (titled "Touch the Sky") is more than just a drawing of a horse.  It is about reaching for the stars and being willing to leave the security of the ground.

As artists we HAVE to try to go where the muse sends us.  That is how we grow...and, hopefully, what makes "art".  When we choose to spread our wings and reach for something new, it can be like stepping into the void.  This new series of "paintings" (sparked by one I did of Karma this past Winter) is a long leap from the work that I have become "known" for.  That alone is scary...wondering how they will be received...and if they will sell...

The first show where I showed these pieces helped a little...an "Award of Excellence" for the first one of Karma and a great response, even a couple of sales.  Then a rejection from a museum show for another.  Neither awards nor rejection mean anything in the long run, though...what matters is the originality you strive for and the soul that goes into your work.

Exploring a new direction is more than trying a new "style":  it is about finding your voice all over again in a completely different key.  It is about re-inventing yourself.  These new "paintings" (I am still not quite sure what to call them) have swung from fairly representational...to wildly loose and contemporary.  Each one brings its own set of challenges to the table as I not only experiment with design...but with surface and media in a way that has not been done (to my knowledge).

Once again, I have fallen in love with black and white...with contrast and line and negative space and value.  Subject-wise, I have tried some of the usual "charismatic megafauna"...in part because they are subjects I love...in part because I want to worry less about "subject" and more about style, comopsition, design, etc.  Again and again, I come back to Karma, though.

It is hard NOT to be inspired by Karma (Karmelita).  She is big, gorgeous and has a personality that, in itself, is a work of art.  She is grey...like a charcoal come to life.  She plays like no other horse I know...she seems to be as much a part of the air as the earth sometimes.  In a way, she is the personification (horsification?) of what I am trying to do with my work.  Not to mention...she is fun to watch AND draw...and there lies another factor in making art...it should be fun.

In my opinion...artists themselves are a work in progress.  We should be constantly trying to explore, to experiment, to raise that bar ever higher.  Along the way there will be some wonderful highs, some brutal crashes and some seemingly endless plateaus.  But if you constantly push yourself and your work beyond what you are comfortable with...you cannot help but become a better artist.

There is no getting "there" in the life of an artist...there is always a better way to try, a different way to express, a new thing to explore.  As with anything, it is easy to get stuck in a rut (especially if the "rut" means sales).  For me, it is vital to create for the sake of art, not just the market.  When I catch myself feeling restless or "working" too hard on stuff that is "easy" to sell...I know it is time to try a new direction.

That period of transition is always scary...and yet also exhilarating.  There are few things harder than feeling yourself not growing in your work...and few things as delicious as finding joy in your work once again.

When you can hardly sleep after finishing a piece because you cannot stop thinking about the next one...you might be on to something,

10 May 2013

Changing Reins (Part 1)

You never know who or what will be the spark that sets your life on a different course.

Sometimes it is a person...sometimes an event...sometimes a chance decision to take a different route home...and sometimes...
it is a horse.

In honor of his birthday, here is the story of one such horse...

Dunny originally came into my family as part of my Dad's dream.  He was the cutting horse Dad bought shortly before he got his dream ranch.  I remember how excited and proud Dad was when I first met "Dunny"...he grinned like a little kid.

Not that things were always perfect between them...
When Dad moved from the place in Monte Vista, CO to his dream ranch a few miles away in Del Norte, he thought it would be an adventure to ride Dunny cross country to the new place. Late that night, he still hadn't shown up and my step mom was worried...Dad finally arrived, without Dunny, and furious. Unfortunately, Dunny had issues about crossing water and they had come to a little stream that Dunny had flat out refused to cross. There was a battle, Dad would not have given up without a fight...but Dunny won this one. Dad had to turn around and ride all the way back to the house, leave Dunny there and drive to the ranch. Things like that were few and far between, though...and Dunny was something special even then.

After an art show in California in May of 2003...I felt the sudden strong urge to take a rather big detour to go to Dad's ranch for a couple of days. While I was there, Dad and I went in a little antique store and I fell in love...with a saddle. It was a beautiful high cantled, wide swelled C.P. Shipley, probably made in the twenties or thirties. A saddle was an odd thing to want so badly...since I didn't have a horse of my own at the time (not to mention, I couldn't afford it)...but for some reason, it spoke to me. The store owner offered to let me take it for a test ride. Dad said he'd buy it if I didn't and joked that either way it would be mine since I'd inherit it. So we took this old saddle, went to the co-op for billets and a latigo, rigged it to ride and then caught the horses.

It was Spring and the horses were feeling
pretty frisky...plus they hadn't been ridden since the previous Fall. Dad tied Dunny to a fencepost while I saddled him.  A tumbleweed shifted and Dunny went in reverse with such power that he pulled the fencepost completely out of the ground. With the added trouble of a brisk wind...this could be an interesting ride. The horses were looking for anything to spook at...jumpy, crowhopping, little rears...generally just goofy and silly, nothing that didn't just make us laugh.

Dad and I were having a ball just riding together. Finally the horses settled down and it was a fine ride on a gorgeous day. I decided that I wanted this saddle...but once more across the wide, open pasture...just to be sure. After handing Dad my camera, I took off at a trot...then a lope...then all heck broke loose. The saddle shifted sideways and Dunny went for some spontaneous levitation. (Dad later said this was no crowhoppin', but all four feet off the ground serious bucking.) I stayed on for a bit, but the saddle didn't...it slid sideways and I hit the ground. Remarkably, I landed on my feet...with one rein tightly gripped in my hand.

Knowing that if he got away, he'd buck til the saddle came off...I was determined that this horse was NOT going to get loose and destroy "my" saddle...so I dug my heels in. Unfortunately, 115 pounds of girl is no match for 16 hands and 1200 pounds of quarter horse. Still, I refused to "give"...Dad said Dunny pulled me face down in the dirt then drug me for about twenty feet before I lost the rein. All we could do then was watch in dismay as Dunny bucked until the offending saddle was left in the dirt on the far side of the pasture.

It was a long walk to get that saddle. The leather that had gleamed only a few minutes ago was now dusty, scarred and pulled back from the tree. Three of the silver "longhorn" conchos and the saddle strings were gone. The billet had broken...probably what had sent the saddle sideways in the first place. I carried it back and then walked the pasture until I recovered all the bits and pieces. We put the saddle in the truck and headed to the antique dealer. I told him "Well, I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is I want the saddle. The bad news is that we had a little wreck and I need you to fix it."

Thanks to Dunny, I had to return a few weeks later to pick up my saddle.  Dad and I got to ride another time...this one was much less eventful.

We had another great visit...it was, in fact, one of the best times I'd ever had with Dad since I was a kid. Then I headed back home and Dad headed to Scotland to follow another dream. Within days of his return, he was whisked away from his beloved Southern Colorado ranch to a Denver hospital and diagnosed with double pneumonia, septic shock and respiratory distress syndrome.  He was given a 20% chance of surviving that first night.

My family doesn't quit without a fight...and Dad fought for six months. At one point while I was visiting, he took a pad of paper (a trach had robbed him of his voice) and wrote a note that he handed to my stepmom. It read: "Tell Lyn to take Dunny". I protested and told him we'd be riding together again soon.

I'd been to visit often while he was in the hospital and had just finished a monumental traveling art project...so, when Christmas came near, since my brothers thought they would be going to visit him and Dad was due to leave the hospital in a couple of weeks, I decided to stay home. But Christmas Eve morning, another overwhelming feeling hit and I packed up the old dog and drove the 10 hours to Denver. During his hospital stay, Dad kept saying he wanted to be home for Christmas...on Christmas Day he took matters into his own hands and passed away.  My brothers had both had to cancel their visit...but thanks again to paying attention to my gut...I was there to sing him cowboy songs for his last hours.

For the longest time after Dad died, I would tell people that that second ride together was the last time I saw him. Then catch myself...I saw him many times over his six months in the hospital. Guess that's how I remember him, though...smiling and laughing as we rode, talking about antique saddles, horses, art and life.

Dad left no will...but my stepmom honored that scrawled note and Dunny became mine.

Dunny is an incredibly special horse in his own right...but he is more so because of the connection to my Dad. Every ride on Dunny has been like time with my Dad...and, where ever he is, I am sure that Dad smiles every time I look at the world through Dunny's ears.

By the way, Dunny and I worked out the 'crossing water' thing, too.

To be continued...

09 May 2013

Are You "In" or are You "Out"?

Today hundreds of artists are turning on their computers and checking email with a mix of anticipation and dread. The jury results for the Leigh Yawkey Museum's "Birds in Art" are in and the email notifications have been sent out.

Rejection is one of the most difficult things artists face. 

What we create is deeply personal...it comes from our hearts, our minds and our souls…the true artist creates work as unique as they are.

Beyond the ability to draw/paint/sculpt...artists
must have the willingness to expose themselves to criticism, mockery, judgement, rejection and a public that sometimes simply might not "get" what it is we do.

Being an artist is not so simple as having "talent".  It means having fortitude, grace, determination, compassion, an open mind and a very thick skin.

The rest of the world views our work from their own perspective.  They look at it through eyes that see things differently than we do…maybe a little differently, maybe a lot.

Still, we strive to create something that describes what we want to say about our world...because that is who we ARE.

It is important for artists to remember that art is subjective...
everyone sees something different in a piece based on their own set of life experiences.

Try not to let a jury decision (bad OR good) carry too much weight...

Though it is tempting to try to fit into the niche you want to be a part of….being an artist means being true to that uniqueness within your own soul.

Sometimes it is brutally difficult to "own" your individuality…ask any high school kid!
Regardless of the endless work, the pain, the hard knocks, the string of rejections…nothing matters more than pouring your heart completely into what you do and being true to your own perfectly unique vision.

It is worth it...and soulful intent will shine through in the work you do.

The technical end is relatively easy…most anyone can learn the craftsmanship of making art.  Most anyone can copy a style or a photo and create something that someone somewhere would be happy to have in their home.

The hard part, what separates the wheat from the chaff, is being willing to step outside the box, out of your safety zone…and choosing to leap boldly off the edge without looking for a net.

As Agnes DeMille said:
"The artist never entirely knows.  We guess.  We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark."

THAT is what makes the truest of artists:  no matter what style they embrace, from abstract to impressionist to representational...
they honor their unique way of expressing themselves through their art.

And no matter how many times they fall...they keep leaping!

Living your creativity in such a way means finding a delicate balance between being true to your vision and learning to find the positive in criticism and rejection.  This is how we become better artists.

One of the things I love most about art is that you never get "there"...
there is always something new to try and there is always room for improvement.
In hindsight, I wish I'd saved the plethora of rejections that have landed in my mailbox (it would be an impressive stack of "no"!)…but it would also be a reminder of the sheer determination that is a big part of my foundation as an artist.
Over the years I have won over 90 awards for my art and my work hangs in museums and collections all over the world...

Along the way, I have also been rejected from more shows than I can count.

If I miss out on an award or get a rejection...I work harder to push that envelope next time.

If I win an award or get "in"...I work harder to push the envelope next time.
Ribbons or rejections...either way, it changes nothing.  I am an artist...and no jury decision can change that.

No matter how many rejections come my way...I will continue to try to break free of my comfort zone and make art straight from the heart.

This is a journey, my friends.  The true artist's path is no yellow brick road…it is fraught with washouts, thorny patches, ruts and blind curves.

Choose your steps carefully, trust your heart, listen to your muse and find joy in the fact that there could be something wonderful to learn just around the next bend.  

"In" or "out", I am grateful for shows like Birds in Art that give us reason to raise the bar and take flight as artists.

Heartfelt thanks go out to the fabulous staff of the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum for, to paraphrase Pooh, giving us something that is so hard to not get into!

Congratulations to ALL of the artists who spread their wings to even TRY for this show...

as far as I am concerned...every one of you is "in"!

By the way...
ALL of the paintings that illustrate this post represent just SOME of my Birds in Art "rejects" over the 20 years I have applied...(and, yes, there were some others that DID get in!)  :-)