Monday, February 13, 2017

311: Paradoxical Surrender

–ONE of the worst creative blocks I ever had was when I contracted to complete a 112-page graphic novel. I had already completed the first 32 pages, and the publisher loved the arc of the story. I reassured him I could easily produce eighty more pages. Euphoric, I returned to my studio and began trying to write the remaining chapters. Despite my enthusiasm, I found I couldn’t rise to the challenge.

My inability to move forward was agonizing. I tried and failed with many attempts to come up with a reasonable solution. I wrote out drafts. I did sketches. I dove into the final rendering of pages. I discussed possible plots with my wife. Nothing worked–everything I tried was less than what I expected.

Finally, in total desperation I scribbled some sketches on tissues and began, panel by panel, to render the story, making up each frame and dialog balloon as I went. My goal became, not to create an amazing comic as originally intended, but to simply deliver 112 pages to the publisher. I gave up on creating a quality product. With great disappointment I told myself I would have to satisfy myself with just delivering the pages I promised.

But a strange thing happened. The less I tried, the better the pages looked. Most amazingly, a story began to appear. Soon I found myself imagining a complex and satisfying tale. It was a strange story to be sure (the San Jose Metro later described one chapter as Griffin and Sabine on acid). But ultimately the book had an internal logic I found deeply satisfying.

The phenomenon of chucking expectations and proceeding with a project regardless of imposed standards became a frequent solution over the years. I came to regard it as Paradoxical Surrender–the less I tried, the more I succeeded.

There are many expectations we deal with. Some are self-generated. Some are projected onto us by others. Shirking expectations and plowing ahead with total disregard for quality is admittedly an odd solution. And it won't work unless you have one essential ingredient working for you–the actual ability to create such a project.

Do the following assessment the next time you have a creative block; how would you rate your ability to complete the project? Have you ever completed such a project in the past even if to a lesser degree? If you have the ability to repeat that success, can you muster the confidence to give it another try? These two factors, your level of ability and confidence, will give you an idea why you are choking with this particular project. If you've had a reasonable amount of success in the past, and in your best moments have summoned the confidence necessary to complete such tasks, you can assume that you can replicate that experience.

Your next challenge is to get out of your way. Turn the project over to your subconscious mind. Press forward with as much haste as you can muster. Shirk off all expectations! Commit yourself to doing a mediocre job. In fact, challenge yourself to do the job with as much mediocrity as possible. If you are so obsessive/compulsive you don't know how to be mediocre use the steps James Altucher, in his book Choose Yourself, calls The 7 Steps of Highly Mediocre People. If you surrender to mediocrity, you will find you suddenly have the chops and your work will improve as if by magic.

I know this process seems counterintuitive. But I've tested it many times. I forget to use paradoxical surrender at my peril. Although I occasionally forget to use it, it is one of my most cherished super powers. Give it a try.

Brad Teare –February 2017

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

310: How to Scrape a Canvas

–ONE obstacle to painting thickly is the limit of one alla prima painting session. Once the highly textured paint has dried, it is no longer as easy to add more paint. The solution is to scrape off the texture. This isn’t as damaging to the overall look as you might imagine–the illusion of texture often persists as do most of the scintillating shards of random color mixed into the strokes. I have salvaged many paintings that otherwise would have ended up in the reject pile. It doesn’t always work, but often much of the composition, values, and hues only need minor adjustments to arrive at a masterful painting. Because of this ability to fine tune, it’s a technique well worth exploring. At the very least you will be able to explore why the painting failed and how to correct it next time. Many of these experiments become roughs for future paintings.

Below I list the tools I use in the accompanying video. In addition to using the 3M wet-and-dry sanding blocks as sharpening tools, I also use them to sand the final surface of my scraped canvas (just be sure that any exposed paint is completely dry). I always have a set of these blocks in the studio.

3M Sanding blocks: extra-finefine, medium, course, for sharpening tools and sanding canvas.
Hole Cutters: for scraping off paint from tools and plucking off knobs of dried paint.
Ceramic loop tools: when sharpened the large loop tool is my main scraping tool.
Stropping compound: for getting a fine edge on the knives and ceramic tools.
Canvas knives: for general, all-purpose scraping. Knife shaped and lozenge shaped.

I hope this technique works well for you. Let me know if you have found other tools that work well.

Brad Teare –January 2017

Monday, January 16, 2017

309: Add More Joy

–WHEN we are unhappy, we fixate on what is wrong. It becomes difficult to focus on the positive. Our current unhappy state casts a shadow over our present reality, and our prime goal becomes to escape current problems. But assigning unhappiness to current conditions is an illusion and worsens unhappiness. In the book Fail Fast, Fail Often, by Ryan Babineaux and John Krumboltz, the authors describe how adapting to our current mental state, and moving forward despite being less than happy, is a superior strategy. Waiting for an ideal moment postpones happiness and is described as the "not yet" view of life.

Such a view allows people to procrastinate their success–the economy isn't doing well, they need to take more workshops, they don't have proper leave-behind materials, they haven't gotten into the right galleries, and so on–the list becomes interminable.

Babineaux and Krumboltz say it's better to simply push forward, with a Panglossian attitude if possible. It is better to side-step solving personal problems and take steps forward. No matter how trapped you feel in your life there are steps you can take that will allow you to move forward. The only limit is your creativity. Move forward at all costs, and keep moving.

I like Babineaux and Krumboltz's practical approach to maintaining momentum, and it syncs with my experience of learning to paint. It is better to move forward, to keep painting, despite setbacks. There is a growing body of work that proves that when we are in a happy state, we can process complex information more effectively. When you are painting, you are judging value, mixing color, deciding on textural applications, adjusting edges, and modifying composition. You can juggle such complexity best when adopting a generous frame of mind rather than obsessing about the difficulties of the process.

Work done for the joy of it increases creativity. Work done for money, prestige, of other external rewards, inhibits creativity. As the authors write, "when you are feeling good, it encourages you to think more flexibly and engage in playful, exploratory actions."

Think of the places and activities that give you joy. The photo above shows one of my favorite locations, where I'm writing this now. It's the sunroom adjacent to my new studio. In addition to being wonderfully comfortable, on a sunny day, I can sit and soak up the rays. The room's design, comfort, and beauty give me joy. My studio, usually another place that gives me joy, is currently quite a mess after a long stretch preparing for two shows. I've decided to bite the bullet and spend the time getting it back to its joy-inducing state.

Painting isn't an easy profession, but if you want to paint better consider adding more joy to your life.

Brad Teare –January 2017

Saturday, January 14, 2017

308: Overcoming Creative Block

–I DON'T struggle with creative block often–but when I do it is overwhelmingly painful. It usually happens when the stakes are high, and I need to accomplish a task on a nearly impossible deadline. Due to an upcoming gallery search in Santa Fe and my largest show ever in May, I recently experienced my worst creative block yet.

To remedy the situation I decided to try Carrot.FM, an online consulting service. I recently was invited to be a consultant with Carrot but never experienced the service as an end user. Looking for a suitable consultant, I browsed the list and chose Dr. Lindsay Bira, a psychologist and life coach. I was impressed with her resume, and her background seemed right to deal with creative block.

I contacted her via the chat feature on her Carrot home page and set up a call time. At the designated hour I hit the Call button and immediately connected to Dr. Bira. The technology works great and the audio and video was flawless. 

I briefly described my situation. She acknowledged that blocks occur as a natural rhythm of the creative process. I told her my current stress was more than the usual flux. She suggested that artists get creative block when our position between the poles of boredom and stress get skewed too far toward stress. I told her about the upcoming opportunity in Santa Fe, and we agreed that it was upping my anxiety.

Dr. Bira inquired if my motivation had recently dropped and I admitted it had basically disappeared. She suggested finding anchors to the present moment. I told her I was incorporating meditation as a part of my process, but it had failed to calm my nerves. She asked if I was experiencing an inability to envision a positive future and if I had experienced a past negative event similar to the one I feared might happen in Santa Fe. I admitted I had a negative experience with a gallery that potentially resembled the upcoming event. She suggested I was projecting the past negative event onto the future event.

She asked if there was a positive event in the past that gave me the feeling of success I would like to experience in Santa Fe. I told her how I had an agent in New York that believed in my illustration career and provided the confidence I lacked. She suggested I find ways to replicate that experience with the upcoming event. I liked the idea, and the gears immediately began turning. She suggested a variety of solutions including forming a meet-up group and broadening social connections.

While I work on social relationships she suggested I remain in the moment by lowering expectations and mentally escaping from stress via mindfulness. She also suggested using paradoxical intention–the restructuring of my painting ritual–to break out of my excessive expectations.

Overall I found the coaching/consultation session not only productive but enjoyable. I had overcome creative block on my own in the past but this consultation was a time-saving jumpstart. Dr. Bira is a gifted coach and consultant, and I found myself wishing I had more time to spend. Previous to the call, I wondered if I would engage at the level necessary to have a productive exchange of ideas. But the interaction far surpassed a simple telephone conversation. The added input of body language and facial expressions was very helpful to establish a solid rapport. I can now say without equivocation that such internet consultations are equivalent to a personal visit.

Carrot.FM will be an awesome resource for those in the consulting professions. However, they do need to tweak a few things. They need to add a wish list to their app. They also need to add additional pages to the homepages for more space to describe why users should use our services (being able to add images would be nice, as well as a rating system). Above all, they need to add more categories. I'm listed as a Tutor and Life Coach, neither of which describe my services very well. They should add Creative Consultant and Painting Instructor, as well as many other categories (such as Social Media Consultant).

If you missed Carrot's free consulting day, I will keep you informed should another opportunity arise.

Brad Teare –January 2017

Watch Dr. Bira's TEDx talk here:

Thursday, January 12, 2017

307: Live Consult Via Carrot

CARROT.FM is an online service that lets you consult with a wide variety of experts via mobile phone video. This Friday (tomorrow, Jan 13, 2017) they are providing free consults from 10 am to 6 pm MST (12 to 8 EST).  If you have ever wanted answers about painting tomorrow will be a great opportunity to pose those questions. To consult download the Carrot app to your phone and browse for Brad Teare. Use the Chat button to schedule your call, then use the Call button at the scheduled time.

It works from anywhere on the globe. I have a chat request to call another consulting artist tomorrow via Carrot to try the service from the user's perspective. I will report on how it works. If you have questions for me, or even if you just want to say hello, I hope you will give it a try. Please add your comments below about the quality of your Carrot experience.

Talk to you tomorrow.

Brad Teare –January 2017

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

306: Intuitive Composition

–AS a contrast to abstract elements in my new, looser painting style I thought I should improve my linear composition skills. (For a discussion of other aspects of composition go here and here).

I searched my library and found a book on the golden mean I bought decades ago but never read. I dove into the book with enthusiasm remembering that a few of my favorite painters, such as Wilson Hurley, were enthusiasts of the theories surrounding the theory.

I was just a few chapters into the book when I began to question the soundness of the argument. The book had vellum overlays purportedly proving that artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Durer were devotees of sacred geometry. But the analysis began to look like intuitive design with an overlay of imaginary patterns. Such a phenomenon manifests when we approach a painting with an expectation and project that expectation onto the art.

Due to my disappointment in the approach, I was delighted to discover five essays about the golden mean on James Gurney's blog. His reasoning is excellent, and his sources are compelling. Read the five articles here: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4, and Part 5.

As Gurney insists if you enjoy using the discipline of any aspect of the golden mean, by all means, use it. I certainly feel it was useful in Wilson Hurley's work. It is certainly good to know about the principles. Some aspects, such as the Fibonacci sequence, are useful concepts. Sometimes it is enough for the viewer to perceive intention in a painting regardless of the means that intention is expressed.

The reason so many like the golden mean, its mathematical precision, makes it less useful for my purposes. Especially since I like to maintain a lively sense of rhythm dependent on the unexpected placement of hierarchical focal points. Making such focal points conform to a precise geometrical arrangement is just too constricting for my purposes. For me, it is much better to study compositional theories but rely on intuition.

Brad Teare, — December 2016

Saturday, December 10, 2016

305: Painting as a Discipline

– WHEN I worked in the animation business, the sentiment was expressed that if you weren't drawing enough to need an electric pencil sharpener you weren't drawing fast enough. You needed to push yourself so hard you were sharpening your pencil every few seconds. I often heard the expression putting miles on the pencil. I bought an electric pencil sharpener and put the ideas into practice.

Lately, I've expanded on the concept and decided that if I wasn't painting enough to need a can of Titanium White I wasn't painting fast enough. If you have ever purchased oil paint in a can you know it's difficult to keep the top layer from drying. The dried flecks then get into the painting (which drives me crazy). Paint in cans is much cheaper, but unless you are painting fast, the only alternative is to tube the paint.

As I move into the next phase of my painting project, I plan to paint so fast that Titanium White will have zero chance of drying in the can. My new motto is if I'm not painting fast enough to keep my can of white from drying out, I'm not painting fast enough.

Incidentally, if you've never tried Gamblin's Flake White Replacement, a substitute for Lead White, you should check it out here. It is a thick, yet creamy alternative if you prefer not to use lead.

My prime method of keeping paint fresh in the can will be to use it fast. However, it is a good practice to use a blunt tipped paint scraper to get paint out of the can. With a little practice, this will create a flat surface rather than the bumpy one a round-ended palette knife will produce. Oil dries by oxidation, so the less surface exposed to the air the less it will dry. If you aren't going to be using the paint for a while, the best idea is to store the can upside down. In addition to painting like a maniac, these tips will help you keep the paint drying on your canvas and not in the can.

 Brad Teare — December 2016

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

304: A Massive Thank You

–I'M coming to the end of an incredibly productive period. I want to thank everyone who gave me a boost via social media. Even though I didn’t have time to respond to every like and comment I deeply appreciate the energy you generated on my behalf. I wish you all could have been in the studio as I prepared for the Zions Artist Reception and the abstract show at Alpine Art. I was totally in the zone and painted up a storm. Your kind words were gratefully noted and added to the final results.

The painting included here was the painting I painted on during my gallery stroll demo (Yellow Arc, 60" x 48", acrylic on canvas). I think it turned out great and I didn’t add anything after the initial painting session. I thought I might have to sand a bit but the texture turned out exactly as I hoped. Many thanks to all those who came. (See a video of the demo here).

The next project, after resting during the Thanksgiving holiday, will be to prepare a series of oil landscapes in the vein of the oils I presented at the Zions Art Show. I hope to work a little bigger and connect with a gallery in Park City. If that goes well I will expand my gallery connections to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

I'm grateful for all of your help. Have a great Thanksgiving.

Brad Teare –November 2016

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

303: Frontiers of Internet Connectivity

AS you know I love experimenting with new and innovative online opportunities. I was recently contacted by Carrot.FM to be a consultant with their newly minted enterprise. Their app (download here) allows for contact with a variety of professionals, from engineering to legal assistence, via video chat. Their slogan is connect with people who have the expertise you need right now.

 After downloading the app my first impression wasn’t good, as the first category listed is astrology. I question the advisability of having my online efforts associated with fortune tellers. To be frank, I’m inclined to drop the service based on that unfortunate category alone. Another category is Flirt–not really conducive to fostering a professional environment. My advise would be to create a different app for those involved in more social, less professional endeavors. Another tweak they need to make are expanded categories. I'm listed as Life Coach and Tutor–not exactly the categories I would pick. My categories should be Artist and Painter. Key in Brad Teare in Carrot's search box to see the specifics of my Carrot page.

But caché destroying marketing aside, I do think the idea is a good one. It provides a resource where struggling professionals can get quick fixes for specific problems. It could also be used as an online mentoring program. Mentors often want to help but simply can’t based on the often taxing requirements of those being mentored.

Charges for consultation vary and are made via Stripe, a service I had never heard of before (I would have preferred PayPal). My account is currently charging $.25 a minute. Carrot takes 15%. I decided on $.25 a minute as a way to experiment with the service and see if it is something useful for me as well as fellow painters who might call.

At any rate, it will be yet another experiment in the intriguing new world of internet connectivity. I’m flattered Carrot asked me to participate. We’ll see how it goes.

Brad Teare –November 2016

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

302: Neither a Conformist nor a Rebel

–FOR years I resisted using a palette knife simply because a famous local artist used the knife exclusively and I didn't want to be viewed as a follower of his style. I described the effect I wanted to a fellow painter, and he suggested I use a palette knife. I resisted his suggestion. I remember a quizzical expression passing over his face as he no doubt internally dismissed my objections. Again, my main objection was I didn't want to appear to imitate another painter's technique.

This reflexive non-conformity continued as I repeatedly dismissed the palette knife as a principle tool of painting. Additionally, it was easy to get a facile, almost mechanical mark–a look I wanted to avoid at all costs. Along with the use of the palette knife, I also dismissed using cloisonnism telling the aforementioned friend that I didn't mind a linear look if the paint was showing through the top layer. But I didn't like to add paint in a line surrounding shapes. Again I got the same quizzical look. I rejected cloisonnism because it was used by many post-impressionists and I didn't want to be seen as conforming to that convention.

Looking back on these conversations I have no doubt my friend thought I had an obsession with making things hard for myself. In fact, I held a subconscious, counterproductive view of conformity and non-conformity. Both modes are out of harmony with an artistic state of mind because they use outward cues to determine inward attitudes. If I adopt a technique because someone I admire uses that technique that is conformity. But if I reject a style because I want to be a non-conformist that is equally restricting. I need to embrace techniques and styles totally independent of my need to conform–or rebel. Both are reactive, dependent ways of responding to the world.

Such awareness of one's motivations takes a lot of conscious review. It might be beyond many people's ability at certain stages of life. Teenagers have a reflexive need to rebel and ironically end up collectively conforming to identical expectations of how to look, talk, and act.

Artists need to actively resist such reflexive behavior because it slows down the time it takes to get to where we need to be. Equally problematic is that, before we arrive, we have no idea where we are arriving, and what techniques we need in our toolkit when that time comes.

It would have been extremely productive to freely explore the use of the palette knife and the advantages of cloisonnism without regard to whether it appeared I was conforming to some perceived vogue.

I was recently watching a video of Louisa McElwain and at 3:02 I noticed she loaded her right-hand palette knife just like I load my brush, that is, she used her left-hand palette knife to add the appropriate colors onto the palette knife in her right hand. This revelation hit me like a thunderbolt, and I immediately filled my palette with color, grabbed two large palette knives, and began mixing and adding paint to a new canvas. I was amazed at how much control I could get over the applications of broken color.

I still went back and modified edges with a bristle fan brush and an extra long filbert, something McElwain would not have done. What I learned is that we have a right to borrow freely–and neither conform nor rebel to any artistic convention.

Brad Teare –November 2016


Saturday, October 8, 2016

301: Savage Virtuosity–Tribute to Louisa McElwain

A gallery I follow recently asked the question, “Can you name five women artists?” In the comments section I typed Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’Keefe, Lee Krasner, Louisa McElwain, and Debra Teare. The last name was a bit of promotion, but I justified it by being satisfied that I included two living artists. Curious about McElwain I searched for recent work and was saddened to learn that she passed away in 2013. I had never met McElwain, nor really known much about her except that her work incorporated a rare and savage virtuosity.

As I browsed for images of her paintings I saw many masterpieces from previous decades. I became increasingly interested in her methods when I stumbled on a photo of her posed in front of a canvas with two spear-like sticks with palette knives duct-taped to the business end. The impression was of an artist who had a cultured disdain for over-civilized technique–instead embracing a visceral, almost primitive energy.

There are many images of her paintings online and I’ve seen a few videos where she demonstrates her technique. But like all great artists she makes it look easy and, in the end, what she does seems more like magic than art. But I do connect with her instinct to distance herself from the surface of the canvas by using brushes and palette knives on the ends of sticks. I intend to give that technique a try. On several occasions she likens painting to dance, incorporating the motion of arms and body as an essential factor of painting. With my larger paintings I've felt there is an aspect of motion and rhythm that projects onto these large, new acrylic paintings a quality lacking in my smaller, less spontaneous works.

I’m grateful for the contribution artists like Louisa McElwain bequeath and the legacy she left us. I only wish she could have created many more decades of vibrant, beautiful, and savage art. Rest in peace.

Brad Teare –October 


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