Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"We Are What We Repeatedly Do."

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle.

I've been thinking a lot about habits lately. I just finished reading The Power of Habit  by Charles Duhigg. The book will give you lots of ideas if you want to get rid of bad habits or install some new and better ones. A habit is something that we do over and over again, sometimes without our full realization of it. The important thing to remember is that we get some kind of reward from a particular habit, or else we wouldn't do them. The habit is the trigger that results in a certain behavior that gives us a reward.

Personally, I've always had better luck adding new good habits than attacking my bad habits head-on. Say, for example, you're in the habit of snarfing a bag of caramels when you get home from work, not that I would ever do anything so shameful. If you simply make yourself a mug of virtuous green tea and enjoy that before you attack the caramels, you might forgo the caramels or maybe eat fewer of them. Or then again, you could end up finding yourself with a green-tea-and-bag-of-caramels habit.

Incidentally,the artist Paul Foxton has set up a website, Creative Triggers, which encourages art practice based on cultivating habits. I highly recommend it  if you're trying to squeeze a lot of things into your day and have trouble finding time to teach yourself how to create art.    

Many artists have a series of habits, or procedures, to help them get into (and through) their work day. I don't have a problem getting to the easel, but I sometimes have to settle myself down before I can concentrate, especially if I'm feeling pressured or anxious or I think a painting is starting to fizzle. My studio habits are just simple daily routines that convince my brain that I am in fact going to do something wonderful today; they help me get focused. I'll bet that most artists have some version of what I'm writing about in this post. A lot of people seem to think that artists only work when they are inspired. It's the other way around; I go to work on a regular basis and then the inspiration hits (if I'm lucky).

The first thing I do is change into my standing shoes (thick rubber soled clogs). They make a big difference when you stand for hours at a time; I'm told that surgeons and chefs wear clogs too. You can't really dance in them, though.
Next, I fill up the electric teakettle and make a pot of tea. I try to drink at least half of it during the day and I often drink the whole thing. I'm partial to rustic, earthy teas but I'll try anything once. This Australian tea, Bushells, is nice; so is Billy Tea and Yorkshire Gold.
I put a tea cozy over the pot to keep it warm for hours after you take out the tea leaves. This tea cozy is made out of an old sweater my mother made me when I was little; I took off the sleeves, doubled up the body and put in some fiberfill stuffing to help retain the heat. I've been known to wear this on my head when the temperature drops and I don't want to turn the heat on, but mostly it's a nice daily reminder of my mom.

Putting the paint out on the palette is a thoughtful routine for many artists as they begin their work sessions (see my prior post on my palette). I either keep my paint covered with plastic wrap at the end of the day or put it in the freezer.

Next, I put on an apron; I have at least three of them. I also have a home apron for when I'm done in the studio and need to do things around the house. This helps me change gears psychologically from art-maker to care-giver, which was important when my kids were little and it was critical to be present for them and not brooding about what next to do with my artwork.

Finally, I decide whether to put on some music. I probably get more done with silence, but if the neighbor's dog starts barking endlessly I put something on. I like ambient and classical music and the occasional audiobook.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Colors on my Palette

I don't always use exactly the same colors, for a number of reasons.  For example, I often leave out the pale colors next to the whites because they take up too much room. I was using a more limited palette for a while, but the photo below is what I'm working with right now. Sometimes I'll play with various brands and put new colors in there also (for example, I often use a deeper green than Viridian). These are small blobs of paint in the photo - I'll put on more of some paint than others, depending on what area I'm working on.

From left to right:
Titanium Dioxide
Flake White
Brilliant Yellow Light
Kings Blue Extra Pale Light
Radiant Violet (first time I've used this, not sure I'll keep it)
Yellow Ochre
Genuine Naples Yellow Light (I'm not sure this is made anymore)
Pyrrolo Red
Dioxazine Purple
Cobalt Blue
Ultramarine Blue Deep
Green-Gold ( sort of a Cinnabar Green)
Capucine Red Light
Transparent Oxide Red
Ivory Black

The palette itself doesn't usually look quite this bad. I need to sand it down and re-finish it. It's a hand-held palette but I frequently clamp it to things when I'm working so I don't have to hold it the whole time. A few years ago I woke up one morning and couldn't lift my arm up higher than my shoulder - my arm was frozen in the holding-a-palette-position, which was fine if you're a painter or if you don't need to hail taxis very often, but embarrassing since I needed help getting dressed or, say, brushing my hair. Physical therapy fixes this issue, by the way, but much better to prevent these sorts of problems in the first place.

And here's a photo of the brands I'm using at the moment:

The white is an alkyd white (I don't know why the flake white isn't up there on the table, sorry about that. I'm not seeing the purple either). I was having some problems with the flake white on my current painting since it wasn't drying fast enough for my taste so I'm using more titanium in the flesh than I usually do. I work in layers without a grisalle underpainting, so I don't know how I would describe my style of painting, not quite alla prima but not classical technique, either.

I'm also oiling out with the Gamblin solvent free gel - this is the first time I'm using it and I like it a lot. I've got a self-tubed tube of Oleogel also (if you're self-tubing, try to find the tubes with big black caps, don't buy the tubes with white caps like I have shown here). My brushes are piled up in the middle - maybe I'll do a post later on my favorite brushes.