For Everything, A Season

It’s been a difficult year. I guess I’m now at a point where I can finally write it down, but based on the June date of my last real blog post,😳 (aside from the occasional quick announcement) maybe it was already evident. June was when the reality settled in for me and my siblings that it was time to say goodbye (for now) to our beautiful, sweet, smart, creative mother, who had struggled with her illness in an acute form for over a year. I thought I was prepared, but no matter how well you understand the “reality” in front of you, there’s nothing that really prepares you for such a loss. With a little distance and time, I am still realizing how much it knocked the wind out of my sails, and I’ll admit that I am struggling to get my energy and my painting “mojo” back.

If you, yourself, are a creative of any kind, I’m sure you know that feeling of creative flow. It’s so great when it’s present and really kind of miserable when it isn’t. That’s not to say that I haven’t painted at all. In fact, the paintings I’m sharing in this post are from commissions and projects I worked on over the past few months. But it’s been hard to get that momentum going where gears are all greased and the ideas and inspiration just keep flowing and I’m chomping at the bit with my next idea.

I suppose there are art marketing gurus out there that say that you should never admit such things and always put your most successful foot forward. “Fake it ‘til you make it,” so to speak, and only share your successes and never the struggle. That can sometimes be helpful, but it’s not particularly authentic. Let’s face it, the struggle can be real and I would venture to say I am not the only artist who has been in this place.

If you are in this place also, my advice is to be gentle on yourself. Do the work that is in front of you, do what you can, but don’t beat yourself up that it’s just “not happening” for you every time you step in front of the easel (or the potter’s wheel or the computer). Celebrate the moments of inspiration in whatever form and for however long they come. This too will pass, but in the meantime, the only way past it is to get through it the best way you know how.

For me, I’m reorganizing my studio, working on an new inventory management system, and cleaning up the office as a way to clear out both the mental and physical clutter. As a result, I’m holding a holiday sale of smaller (mostly plein air) paintings with some great savings in hopes that I can manage my limited storage space and also hopefully send a few more pieces out into the world. I’m also working on a series of still life paintings, as they are less dependent on time of day and weather. More about that in future posts.

Change is Good (Part II)

In my last post I explained how I go about making changes to a previously completed painting that may need some minor tweaking to improve it. Today’s post deals with more drastic measures. This still life isn’t really that old, but almost since its completion I felt I wanted to do something different to the background. Both the shawl on the left and the angles on the right bothered me, as did the color combinations as they related to the foreground. All of these elements served to distract more than enhance the still life arrangement. 

Still life, version I

Still life, version I

So, after sanding, scraping and oiling out (as described in my previous post) my first thought was to create a very simple dark background, which is a classical approach to still life painting employed by a lot of painters through the ages. I also got rid of the awkward angle in the lower right portion of the table cloth, and carried the horizon line straight across.

Still life, version II

Still life, version II

I actually liked these changes, though without the background distractions it really brought out how evenly divided the painting was by the bottle of forsythias, making for not-so-interesting negative space on either side, only accentuated by the plain dark ground. The dark color also really brought out the remaining texture underneath, even when the paint layer was built up. So, I decided to play with it a bit, knowing I could always come back to the simple dark background if I really wanted to.

“Forsythia and Delft Blue”, Oil on linen, 20x24" ©Jennifer E Young (click the image for details)

“Forsythia and Delft Blue”, Oil on linen, 20x24" ©Jennifer E Young (click the image for details)

What I arrived upon felt to me to be both whimsical and old world at once. It almost reminds me of an antique screen or stage set of a decorative painted sky. The “clouds” served to break up the background space, and the softer, happier palette made me feel happier too. It can be a little scary to make these kind of changes but I’ve come around to the idea that  if the painting is nagging on me, the benefit of change can outweigh the risk. Have I ever “ruined” a painting doing this? Yes indeed. Occasionally my over-zealous scraping can poke a hole straight through the painting. Other times my changes may fail to satisfy me and I end up scrapping the whole thing entirely. But if I’m not satisfied with the painting as it is, it’s probably worth risking it. In any case, if I’m lucky, I have miles of canvas to go before I’m done. 

To begin anew

Happy New Year! Yes, I know I'm about a week late with that, and it's even likely that hearing that phrase for the millionth time has the same effect as being presented with a fruitcake after (or even during) the holidays. But 2015 kind of went out for me with a crash and a bang ( health-wise) and a flare up of an old autoimmune condition as well as a possible fun new one too. So I'm kind of in reset mode, attempting to restore health through diet and lifestyle changes. It can all be a bit time consuming and maddening, especially thrown in on top of the usual mayhem of the holiday season. So, order to restore my sanity, and  since nobody seems to know what exactly is causing all of this mischief at the moment, welp, I might as well get back to painting! 


This is a work in progress, and the second version of this subject I started over the holidays.  I never posted the first because it didn't live up to what I had in my head. So far this second one is closer, but still so far away. I have had a lot of stops and starts, so that may be part of the problem. I actually hesitated to post this one too, as I'm not sure if I will finish it or just start on something else altogether. I will keep going further with it to see where I can take it, but sometimes it can get pretty frustrating when your insides don't quite match up with your outsides ( I guess life imitates art after all!) 

Some while back, there was a video floating around on YouTube that featured a short talk by Ira Glass, public radio host of "This American Life", about this anxiety and discomfort that can accompany the Creative Process. He summed it up so perfectly I will share it here, as this seems to be a recurrent theme in my own creative life.   

While Glass talks about these pitfalls as a beginner problem, I am here to tell you that it is something most creatives contend with periodically even if they've been at it a while. While what he says feels somewhat comforting, at times it can also feel like a curse. But deep down I know that I've been blessed by what art has given me, and that often the expansion of growth doesn't happen without some pain of contraction. It's just you can't stay there. As Glass says, the antidote is to fight your way through, make the art, and make a lot of it. In art as in life, there is ebb and flow, ebb and flow. And if we can weather the storms, there is the chance to begin anew.



My studio featured on Houzz

A few weeks ago Houzz posted a discussion asking artists to share their hardworking studios. I participated in the forum with a few pics of my own studio space. A couple of weeks later an editor followed up with me directly and asked if I'd be interested in being included in another article. I was pretty flattered, and of course I said yes! If you are an artist looking for ideas for your own space, or even if you just enjoy looking at others' creative spaces, check out this article!

14 Home Studios That Nurture Creativity and Art