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Since the day in mid-December when my son decided I needed an assistant and offered up a friend of his for the job, my studio has entered a new phase. With Kara's help, new shelves have replaced the rambling counters and piles of the past, and my smeared and dripped end wall has been freshly painted. Now workshop materials, various drawing and painting media, and printmaking supplies all have their places. Best of all, the floor space has opened up and the working area feels much more spacious. When I first considered hiring Kara, I wasn't sure I'd have enough for her to do. Now I wonder how I did without her--there are plenty of chores as well as larger projects to take on. Since she started working here, she has been putting in about six hours a week at various jobs--she's taped and gessoed lots of panels, sorted out all of my powdered pigments, helped prepare for my shows in January (attaching hanging hardware, wires, and wrapping panels for transport), and organized supplies for my workshop in Tucson in February. Next week she'll help me set up for a studio workshop. Usually when she is busy with these things, I'm painting, and being able to hand off so many chores and turn to my work seems an amazing luxury. Besides being a hard worker, Kara is also a smart problem-solver, and I find her input and energy very valuable when it comes to organizing. For example, when my paintings were returned from a recent solo show,and there was nowhere in my stuffed storage racks to put them, she took the initiative in dealing with this one remaining area of chaos in the studio. (In the past I'd have just piled them in some corner.) Organizing my inventory--both the paintings and the related data--is a project I have had in mind for years to conquer. Now every painting in the studio is photographed, wrapped and labeled, and Kara is about halfway through entering all data on all of my work that we can account for in Artwork Archive, a web-based platform that is easy to use for storing images and information.
As I experience now the difference it makes to have this help, I'm more aware than ever how much there is to do--always, every day--for those of us who rely on our art for a living. Like most artists in my position, I've done everything myself for years. I'm fortunate that my husband and son have also been able to pitch in with certain needs (such as transporting panels, crate-building, trash removal, and heating in winter.) But the list of tasks and responsibilities needed for making a living from art work and teaching is immense, and also so varied it can leave one feeling quite scattered. Perhaps the most challenging aspect is to always give painting due time, with the demands of business in its many guises. Once a friend of mine told me that she imagined my life as an artist to be very relaxed and idyllic, lots of sipping tea and gazing at sunsets...to which I laughed out loud. It is deeply satisfying, rewarding, and exciting--yes! And there are indeed many lovely times, quiet and focused, alone with my work. But there's also stress, overload, and exhaustion. As hard as I work, as full as the days are with trying to keep everything going, there are forever loose ends fraying, follow-ups forgotten, and urgent emails buried in the inbox. It's easy to fall into a frustrated mind set in which the undone tasks loom large and seem crucial to moving forward, gaining more income and recognition. At these times, "que sera, sera" is a soothing thought. Of course, I am wary of whining or complaining-- I love my work and my life, and am grateful even for the busyness and overload, since it means that things are happening and my career is growing. It is wonderful to be in charge of my own time, to shape my goals and feel pride and accomplishment in what I do. But I'm also feeling the urge to tell it like it is, to talk a little about the demands, the stress, and the more tedious aspects of keeping things going--not just for myself but in support of everyone living this crazy art life. People often ask me how I do everything I do, and the simple answer is that I'm almost always working. To be able to spend a little more time painting and a little less on the more practical tasks of studio practice is a tremendous gift.
Rebecca, I am so happy for you in finding an assistant that is much needed. Kara sound fabulous and much needed to help keep things organized so you can paint and teach. You have a good son to recognize the need as well. So proud of you and your accomplishments.