Archive for the ‘Motivation’ Category

Hokusai’s Dot

At seventy-three I learned a little about the real structure of animals, plants, birds, fishes and insects. Consequently when I am eighty I’ll have made more progress. At ninety I’ll have penetrated the mystery of things. At a hundred I shall have reached something marvelous, but when I am a hundred and ten everything I do, the smallest dot, will be alive.

Katsushika Hokusai


I really like the bit of wisdom above from the great Hokusai, both for his optimism on aging as well as the idea that as he continues to progress his work will reach a point where everything he paints– even something as simple as a dot– has a life force within it.

Attaining that life force, where the painting transcends what you have put into it, in any one piece is a rare and difficult thing for any artist to achieve. But that idea that you might one day reach a point where your work has moved from a product of thought and craft to a transcendent expression of the spirit is something that seems beyond our reach or even our aim.

But perhaps we should keep it as an aim in our mind, along with the idea that we will continue to progress as we age, even if it is stored in rarely visited corner.  If we hold on to it perhaps we will subconsciously find our way to that goal. And when we are a hundred and ten, the dots we paint will have that same life force as those created by Hokusai.

It’s something to hope for…

I’ve included a few of Hokusai’s paintings beyond his famed wave and landscapes. I love his fish pieces and the raven is wonderful. Enjoy!


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Max Ernst- Found Objects

Max Ernst- The Entire City

Every normal human being (and not merely the ‘artist’) has an inexhaustible store of buried images in his subconscious, it is merely a matter of courage or liberating procedures … of voyages into the unconscious, to bring pure and unadulterated found objects to light.

Max Ernst

Max Ernst- Nature at Dawn Evensong

Max Ernst- Temptation of St. Anthony

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Consistency, Again

Sometimes when I speak to schoolkids, they show me their work. There is an interesting mix of pride and embarrassment in these kids which sometimes has them telling me that they don’t think their drawings or paintings are very good. I know that feeling well. I was those kids once, with an aim that far exceeded my ability at that point. A friend sent me an image from a 6th grade newsletter that had a drawing of mine from that time in it that had me gasping at how poorly I drew at that time. I think it was supposed to be Dr. J dunking a basketball but who could tell? 

It was cringeworthy but it helped me in being able to tell these kids that where they are now is now where they will end up so long as they continue to practice and take small steps forward. You can’t judge a journey by the first steps on the path.

I thought I would share this post from about four years back that deals with this idea of development and growth. Plus, it’s just a great way to share some good work from Georges Seurat.

George Seurat -Paysage Avec ChevalI subscribe to a service that provides information such as auction results for artists, both living and dead. It is always interesting to scan the auction results for my favorite artists, to see how they are currently viewed by buyers. For example, anything by Vincent Van Gogh always draws huge money, even the work that doesn’t possess the signature brushwork and color of his better known works. Those pieces that do, go for astronomical sums. His popularity with the public is as strong as ever. I guess that is no surprise.

A_Sunday_on_La_Grande_Jatte,_Georges_Seurat,_1884.It’s also interesting to scan the results to see work from artists other than their more famous paintings that hang in museums.  We tend to think of artists by their best work and seldom see the complete chain of work that runs through their career, never really seeing their weak links or  the developmental work that led to their signature style or voice.

The image at the top, Paysage Avec Cheval,  a painting that recently went up for auction at Christie’s London, is a good example of this. It’s a lovely piece but you might not guess the artist.  This is from George Seurat whose work, such as his most famous work shown just above, is forever tied to pointillism. But scanning through his records, you can get a better sense of the evolution of his work. [ Note: This painting, small at about 6″ x 9″in size, sold in 2014 for over $1.8 million]

I am also looking for consistency in the artists whose work I am scanning through. Again, we always think of the artists in terms of their best known works and are often unaware of the totality of their body of work. Some artists are incredibly consistent, even in their early formative years. Others have high peaks and deep valleys, with a huge disparity between their best and not-so-best work. I am always encouraged by both types of artists.

I strive for consistency in my own work but have had dips and valleys in my work, particularly in the formative days early on. In those days, I thought of the great artists only in terms of their best  works that hung in the great museums of the world, thinking that they simply got up each day and turned out incredible work. I could not fathom the possibility that they had swings and misses. It’s encouraging to see that those icons whose work I revere often struggled in the same way as me and that the great works we know them for were not created in a vacuum. They came with great effort and day after day of moving ahead in often small increments.

I think any aspiring artist should take a few minutes to look through the whole of the works of their heroes. They might be encouraged, as I often have been, to know that the path they are on is not so much different.

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I think as an artist it’s very easy to [equate self-worth with artistic success] because of the nature of the work. If you think of art as a job, then your product is so much more than hours invested. The product is a piece of yourself, so of course if the reception is not the greatest, then it can feel like a direct hit to who you are as a person. I think this happened a lot more when I was younger and still finding my way around. I would doubt my direction when a viewer wasn’t thrilled. The trick for me is not to put more distance between my work and myself, but to close that gap completely. I can see myself in the art that I create, and that builds a wall of confidence.

–Hollie Chastain


I was reading a bit this morning on one of my favorite websites, Brain Pickings, when I came across this quote from contemporary artist Hollie Chastain, a Tennessee based artist who works in paper art and collage. The quote was included in an article about creative blocks and her words really spoke to me.

I liked the idea that at some point there is no gap between the artist and their work. The artist is the work and vice versa. But that term she employed, wall of confidence, really hit home. I see ias being t something that comes with continuing to stick with what you know is true to who you are as an artist and not being swayed by momentary lapses in confidence. It’s a wall that protects you from the peaks and valleys that come in the course of a career, that shield you from those times when you are not the flavor of the month.

It’s a wall that allows you to fight off creative blocks, knowing that you are secure in your own vision and the work that flows from it.

When that wall is there, you– actually, I should be saying I here–just have to get to work. And that is what I am going to do.

Thanks for the good words, Hollie.

You should check out Hollie Chastain‘s work. Good stuff. You can get to her site by clicking here.

I Came to Get Down-Hollie Chastain

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The power of imagination makes us infinite.

John Muir


The image above was taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft of the tops of the clouds surrounding Jupiter. I find myself constantly staring into it this morning with a mix of awe and dejection.

Awe at the sheer beauty and power of it. It is spectacular on a visual level in so many ways, at least to my eyes. The force of its rhythm is immense and the enhanced colors capture an emotional tone that rivals the work of the greatest painters. Looking at it, I see the ghosts of Van Gogh– I mean, this image is Starry Night taken up to the next several levels— Picasso, Goya, Chagall, Bosch and so many more.  With my last glimpse I saw Munch and Dali and an image of the Minotaur. And Thomas Hart Benton. I think any of these painters would look at this and find inspiration, would see that intangible force in it that begs to be painted.

I know that I feel that way but that is where the dejection enters the picture. It inspires but in a way that seems far beyond my meager talents and my simple mind. It’s like being a Golden Retriever watching his master, let’s say it’s Einstein, pondering the Theory of Relativity at his chalkboard. I know there’s something there because it seems so important to my master and I want to help but all I can do is bark and wonder what the hell I am looking at.

I am like a frustrated dog trying to describe the power of the universe.

But it’s early. I’ve only been looking at this for forty minutes or so. Maybe the dejection will pass and the longer I look, the more I will move myself into those swirls of cloud and color to find a rhythm, or even a trace of one, that aligns itself with the simpler ones that run within myself.

And maybe something will come of it. You can never tell what the end product, if any, will be from any point of inspiration. Maybe it will set off a series of thoughts and ideas that takes you galaxies away from the original inspiration. But an image like this has an effect in some way, even if it does show up right away.

I feel the need to look a little more. Take a deeper look for yourself.

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Some days reveal their moods pretty quickly. Today is one of those days– bone cold with a slate gray sky, the first dusting of this winter’s snow on the ground. Feels somber and a little sad, even mournful, just to look out the studio window. There is a group of deer milling around out there, moving with a slowness that makes me think they feel that same somberness, sensing that the good times of summer and fall are past and that ice and snow will soon be a constant for them.

One of the first songs I clicked on this morning fell right into this mode of feeling. It’s Down By the River from Neil Young. Released in 1969, it’s a song that has been covered by a lot of people and I was close to using a live performance of it by Norah Jones and Young but the original just has the right amount of anguished beauty for this morning.

The paintings I am including here are from back in 2009 and doesn’t really adhere exactly to the mode of this post or the song but something about it seems to fit. It’s   a small group of work that dealt with tightly clusters of red roofed structures hugging a a river or canal, often with no sky visible, just a jumble of roofs and buildings. It was work that I really liked and looking at it this morning while listening to this song brought forward a whole slew of concepts that I would like to soon pursue in this same vein, perhaps on a larger scale.

Anyway, give a listen and have a good day…

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Get yourself to a vantage point of seclusion and view the world with your eyes alone. Think of the infinite spaces of the skies and the world beneath.

Charles Burchfield


Good words for a painter. Or any other human, for that matter.

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