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Wednesday, July 06, 2011
  productivity

With three exhibits this summer/early fall (currently at Woodwalk Gallery in Egg Harbor, WI, and opening July 22 at Darnell Fine Art in Santa Fe, NM and September 30 at Gormleys Fine Art in Dublin, Ireland) I'm pretty much living in my studio these days. For all three shows the total number of paintings is over 40...of course, one show is already underway and much of the work is either finished or underway for the other two, so although I have my moments of panic, things are actually under control.

With multiple galleries, it's very easy to get into a time crunch with a lot of work required in a short period of time. I know this situation is not uncommon--I've heard some interesting stories over the years from art friends about huge amounts of work being produced in mere weeks, and have certainly had my own experiences too. Whether it's because of deadlines or it just happens in the normal flow of work, times of high productivity with lots of work underway are energizing and exciting--so rather than complain about feeling pressured, however tempting, I'm going to focus here on what I love about this situation.

First, with a large number of paintings in the studio, it is easier to see various threads of ideas all developing at once. Looking around at what is in progress or recently completed, I can recognize several distinct ideas that in times of lower productivity might seem isolated or unrelated to other paintings. When there is enough work underway, series emerge in a strong and recognizable way.

For example, in terms of technique, I've been adding sand into my oil and cold wax mixture on quite a few of my current surfaces. It's something I have tried before, and liked--but now, working with a number of paintings, the effects of sand on the texture and color layers are more obvious to me. I'm learning faster what is possible and how to work with this material--each new shift in technique leads to not just one, but several applications simultaneously, so technical progress is noticeably improved.

Ideas too seem to take off more readily and feed into each other more easily when I am working intensely. By this I don't mean just repeating one solution on everything--I avoid doing that! But a particular idea may find expression in more than one painting when many are in play.

Although I am speaking of having many paintings in progress, within any particular session I do tend to focus on one or two at a time. But I also recognize that in a time crunch, I cannot wander endlessly through a particular painting...if something isn't working, I am likely to put it aside, and by the time I get back to it, something new has opened up. Decisions about where a painting is heading seem more clear with a deadline hovering, and oddly I am more likely to try new ideas when I'm under pressure. I'm not sure why that is--maybe it brings out a more reckless side of me--but in any case, I'd say that deadlines are good for my work.

Finally, there is the emotional aspect and unconscious processing that occurs when I have a lot of work to do, and I am spending so many hours in the studio. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with a solution to a visual problem, or an idea for a new painting comes in a dream. I feel very excited about painting even when I am feeling physically tired or know I should take a break. "Obsessed" might not be too strong a word.

Which is not to say I don't sometimes feel overwhelmed and a bit crabby about not having some down time. This morning, feeling like that, I posted something on my Facebook page about having an intense couple of weeks ahead in the studio, and Barbara Chappelle (who was a student in the first cold wax workshop I ever taught) replied that she knew I'd enjoy that intensity. This post was inspired by her remark, and I thank her for causing me to contemplate how much I do love these times. How fortunate it is that the very situation of needing to produce a lot of paintings leads to work that feels so satisfyingly connected and deeply felt.

The painting above, October #2, 50"x30" is in my current show at Woodwalk Gallery.
 
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