Friday, June 24, 2011

Keep The Economy Out Of Your Head and Off Your Paper

     The Economy.... As I approach each day in the studio, it’s the single most recurring thought that pervades my mind.  And I’ve had to learn how to keep a handle on it.  Whether it’s the stock market, Bernanke, the Dollar, or all the less-than-professional idiots running this country, they all contribute to distracting factors in my day.
Cortés scuttling his fleet
     But I have a responsibility to wade these dangerous waters.  Pam and I have worked hard for our little piece of life that we enjoy so much.  And much like Hernán Cortés, upon his expedition into Mexico, we have scuttled our fleet and there is no turning back.  We must press on and defeat the discouraging rumors about the relevancy of art in today’s economy.
     We firmly believe we are on God’s path for us and are determined to remain faithful, which means trusting and using the gifts He has given us.  I dare say it’s no different for you.  This world has been in turmoil since the beginning of time, and it will remain in turmoil.  So at some point you need to make up your mind to get on with life and achieve your goals.
     I’ve found that talking with other artists can be good, BUT be careful about putting too much stock in the “downers”.  You know whom I’m talking about.  Some of my friends might think that describes me.  However I consider myself a realist; I discern the situation as it is and prepare to deal with it accordingly, and get on with things---like painting.
     One technique that consistently works for me is to maintain the image of my finished work in my head.  Visualizing how I want my final work to look is the single most powerful tool I have for focusing my painting efforts.
Waiting to Start the Night Guard
     Generally if I can keep that image in the forefront of my thoughts, and deliberately slow down my painting process, I can raise my proficiency level, and thereby produce more and better work.
     Call it Zen or Yang or some other neo-harmonic crap, if that works for you, but put your brain into your painting game. 
     The so-called experts say we only use 10% of our brain, and the other 90% remains untapped, which I don’t necessarily subscribe to.  But if I can keep my meager 10 clear and uncluttered with the world’s intrusions, I find that every now and then something good happens.
     Good painting!


Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Quiet One

     Ben Kimble is a good and humble man.  I could stop right there with this perfect, succinct summation of my friend and superb cowboy.  Ben is a longtime permanent fixture in northern Arizona, and Beano, as he is known in the cowboy circle, is the quiet type.
     He is solid and gets his work done with the competence of a top hand.  Beano has worked on most of the big ranches in Arizona, including the Diamond As, O RO, 7-Up, and the Old C.V.  Beano has grabbed hold of all the cowboy life has to offer and carries the traditions of the working cowboy right there on his sleeve for all to see.  And he makes no apologies for it.
     My favorite recollection of Beano is the special care he doted on the older cowhands at a branding several years ago.  His respect for those who have gone before him; those who refuse to give up the lifestyle they love, was most admirable.
Arizona Fast Loop
     Beano has a strong connection to the men and country of northern Arizona.  The long highway keeps our friendship at bay, but we only need one handshake to pick up where our relationship was cut short.  I realized that I have been painting him for nearly 10 years now, and nothing has changed.  The saddle leather and trappings come and go, but the man remains steady and true.     

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lessons From A Fighter Pilot

     During my high school years I shot skeet competitively, and I had a coach who clarified something for me, and this piece of advice has stuck firmly to this day.  His name was Art Sideras and he was an Air Force Colonel, fighter pilot, competitive shooter, as well as first-class mentor.
     He has passed away, but not before (like most good men) leaving a positive mark on the world that continues to bear good fruit.   My youthful problem originated on Station 2 High House, also known as High 2 in “Skeet Speak”.  This particular station had never really given me a problem, but after losing a 4-H match in Dallas by one target, I had let the shot into my head.  Art saw me struggling with the target and came over with his low key and patient manner to help me with my problem. 
     “Mark, you’re taking yourself out of the moment.  Don’t recruit your brain to the wrong thing.”  He reminded me of a shooter we both knew who was constantly throwing temper tantrums when he missed targets.  He explained to me that top shooters don’t do this.  When a top shooter misses, he goes on without incident; no whining, no verbal excuses, and no tantrums.  He doesn’t take himself out of the moment.
     As a former fighter pilot, he explained that in a dogfight, if you take yourself out of the moment, it would get you killed.  He pointed out that I was recruiting much of my brainpower to worry about the shot, or how it could affect my score, instead of directing that power to making the shot. 
     Earlier this week I was doing much the same thing with one of my paintings.  I had let an unresolved issue get in my head and shut me down.  The white noise of the studio was getting in my head and made it hard for me to even start the painting.  What if I mess up this $10 sheet of paper?……what if I waste three days on this, and it doesn’t work?......what if, what if…..
     Painting is much like competitive shooting.  A series of mental exercises combined with fine motor skills.  Painting watercolors demands that you be in the moment. 
     Watercolor, unlike oil painting, suffers no haphazard fools.  Any mistake you make can’t be covered over, and excuses or whining will only impact your efforts in a negative manner.
     We all have our artistic Station 2 High Houses to deal with.  It will eventually come, but make your studio a haven, clear your mind of all the white noise, and get in the moment.  You all have great watercolors in you----so get started!

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Strength of MOLON LABE

     “MOLON LABE!” – These are the words spoken vociferously by the Spartan leader Leonidas to the Persian invaders and their leader, Xerxes.  Now, Xerxes had asked Leonidas, quite politely as a matter of fact, to surrender his weapons at Thermopylae. 
     The defiant Spartan king, with the moxie to back it up, made his position quite clear.  “Come and Take Them!”  Xerxes eventually made Leonidas eat his words, but not before the 300 Spartans exemplified what it meant to be Spartan. 

     The Greek historian, Herodotus, guessed the number of Persians at 2,000,000, while most scholars today put it at 300,000.  Somewhere between 20-25,000 Persians were run through by Leonidas and his men.
     Just this last week, I read that the Spartans were one of the few cultures that refused to build a wall around their city.  Quite frankly, they just didn’t need it.  Their reputation and training preceded them, and that dedication and pursuit of perfection made invaders really weigh the consequences of their actions.
     While this same dedication can be tied to your training as an artist, it can also serve in any aspect of life.  This is where I go back to my old fallback position, exemplified best in The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield:

A Professional is Prepared.  “I’m not talking about craft; that goes without saying.  The professional is prepared at a deeper level.  He is prepared, each day, to confront his own self-sabotage.
     The professional understands that Resistance is fertile and ingenious.  It will throw stuff at him that he’s never seen before.
     The professional prepares mentally to absorb blows and to deliver them.  His aim is to take what the day gives him.  He is prepared to be prudent and prepared to be reckless, to take a beating when he has to, and to go for the throat when he can.  He understands that the field alters every day.  His goal is not victory (success will come by itself when it wants to) but to handle himself, his insides, as sturdily and steadily as he can.

A Professional Dedicates Himself To Mastering Technique.  The professional respects his craft.  He does not consider himself superior to it.  He recognizes the contributions of those who have gone before him.  He apprentices himself to them.
     The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come.  The professional is sly.  He knows that by toiling beside the front door of technique, he leaves room for genius to enter by the back.

     Whether it’s art, or life, or shooting, or cooking, or any other endeavor, we can learn from the Spartans.  Being Prepared and Mastering Technique are the roots of success.  Add Persistence to these two and you’re bordering on unstoppable.