Thursday, March 24, 2011

Follow Your Passion

            Consumers of art respond to the maker's passion.  That is why there are books, poems, songs, and paintings that take on a life of their own, outside of discovery by critics that deem a work "good."  Because I am also a writer, I know things about books that many do not, that, for instance, a best seller is a best seller before it's even written.  The reason that is so is because publishers budget advertising and promotion to back the author's work.  Alas, the average books sells 2,500 copies.  Publishers make money on their bestsellers.  Readers on the other hand know what they like and if they read something original and fresh, they recommend it to their reading friends.  No matter how many books are published, readers are always looking for something good to read. What I love about the digital age is that the old gates and doors that gave entry to writers, painters, poets, singers, and dancers can now be opened by anyone with a computer. 
            Now back to passion.  I am passionate about art.  What I usually say is that I love making art but that is shorthand for I am passionate about art.  I sleep, drink, eat, and think about art, literature, poetry, painting, and even music, although I have not a drop of musical talent.  I see around me thousands of ideas to make into paintings and poems.  I've learned to be selective, that I can't make them all, or write them all.  I select ideas I feel an artistic urgency to create. 
            About five years ago, I saw a description for a poetry contest that had as its theme "anything about a car."  Out of my subconscious came a first line, "My '63 Plymouth Belvidere was already old but it ran".  It was not just a thought but a driving need to write that line down and see the poetry that followed.  I sat down at my computer and a few minutes later I had a poem called "My '63 Plymouth Belvidere".  There were decades of pent-up passion in that poem.  Even though I'd written a ground-breaking book on healing from domestic violence (Healing Your Life:  Recovery from Domestic Abuse), that sold thousands and thousands of copies in every U.S. state and several foreign countries, there was much I'd left unsaid.  I rewrote the poem, but not much.  I had been given the poem in one piece.  When I submitted it to the contest, I won.  Someone who read it and liked it included my poem in an essay about poetry being relevant.  Before I knew it, the poem was popping up all over, including a website for a publisher specializing in books on abuse.  My poem, so close to the bone, so authentic, so passionate, took on a life of its own.  I couldn't call it back, only follow it on its journey.  Ultimately I ended up reading it to an audience of more than five hundred in Madison, WI.  After the first line, the audience became so still I could have heard a pin drop.  As I read the poem, and looked into the audience, I understood for the first time how powerful words are but not just words, passionate words.
            Whatever your medium, art, poetry, music, architecture, or fashion design, aim to tap into your passion.  Don't second guess what people will buy.  Tap into your feelings and dig down into your emotions and create something that funnels those out into the world.  That is the key that unlocks your artistry for the rest of the world to enjoy.  Sooner or later, that artistry will be discovered and appreciated. 
            Before I leave you, I'll give you the poem I discussed in this blog posting.

My ’63 Plymouth Belvidere

Candace A. Hennekens

In 1978, that ’63 Plymouth Belvidere
was already old but it ran.  Your mother
had gifted the car to me on her death bed.
Two years later, I drove away, the back seat
piled with clothes, our daughter in her car seat.
I forgot shoes, winter coats.
You mailed those and anything else
you could find that was mine
in an enormous box--my grandmother’s wall vase,

college papers, cut crystal, all mixed up.
I vomited in my mother’s basement toilet,
knowing you had touched all my things.
The night we escaped, I decapitated a goose
on some dark country road; the state patrol
ticketed me for speeding.  I pulled into my
mother’s driveway, my eyes dilated, panting,
reeling, like a prisoner released after a long sentence.
My mother touched your hand prints on my neck

and wept.  The Belvidere had a 318 engine.
I knew how to change oil, replace spark plugs.
I pushed buttons on the dash to make her go.
Painted bright yellow I never drove anonymously.
Sometimes I search for that car in the classifieds.
If I find her, I’ll buy her back, restore her
to mint condition, and keep her as a memorial
to my freedom that all these years later
is still precious, a gift from your mother to me.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Artistic Role Models

 Because art purchases are very personal decisions, I can't imagine trying to market myself without an artist's statement.  When I wrote my first Artist's Statement, one of the questions I asked was who do I admire as an artist? At the top of my list are three names.  You'll recognize them but you may wonder why I have a musician and writer mixed in with an artist.  My top three are Bob Dylan, Henry Miller, and Georgia O'Keeffe. 
"Cure for the Common Sweet Tooth", a joyous experimentation
Bob Dylan paints and even has had shows but when I chose him as an artistic role model I didn't know about his art.  I chose him because he did not allow his fans to define his music.  He followed his own artistic vision even when his fans booed him for doing so.  Georgia O'Keeffe became a role model when I discovered her work.  I have since read her published letters to friends and biographies about her.  What I got from her is her independence and courage to carve out a life that met her needs.  Henry Miller was a controversial writer.  It is not his writings that flaunted censorship that drew me to him but rather his writing about creating art.  He was a watercolorist and he painted with childish glee.  He let passion overtake him and simply loved painting.
            My rules about art are simple.  I feel free to do whatever I want, however I want, whenever I want.  Now that is complete freedom!  If I love doing it, then I should do it.  If I don't, then I shouldn't.  I've combined qualities from all of my role models into my passion and pleasure for making art. 
            I'm not through finding role models.  There are some local artists I greatly admire.  Patricia Mayhew Hamm from Chetek, WI, is one of them. ( )I have taken three classes from her.  She is free and easy when she paints.  She combines symbols with abstract images.  She has greatly influenced my love of experimenting with technique not to mention that her classes were the most fun I have ever had in an art class. 
Another role model that is emerging for me is Michael Jackson.  When MJ was at his artistic peak, I didn't have time to sit back and enjoy him, I was busy working and raising my family but now I have time to watch DVD's of his performances.  In the DVD "This Is It" made after his death, he speaks to the cast and crew after rehearsals have finished before the tour --which never happened because of his death--and says, "Relax and enjoy yourself.  This is supposed to be a great adventure."  I loved that.  I am going to be reading and watching more of MJ in the future (not to mention my love of his clothing style, but that's another story).
"Three Zinnias"  I created a series of zinnia paintings using watercolors and thread stitching.  It was great fun to play with my favorite flower.
            I think it is important to think about who you love and why and how you want to be.  Of course, you're not going to be exactly like role model, you're going to put your own special spin on your work, but it's nice to have guideposts. 
            I'm loving every minute of my art career.  I decided when I began painting and discovered the magic and power of painting that I could do just that.  I could love it, love it, love it.  I didn't have to be serious.  I didn't have to paint a certain way.  I could move freely through mediums and style.  I put in my time being responsible in corporate America.  I worked very hard to be a good mother to my two beautiful daughters.  Now is my time.  I am going to have as much fun making art as I possibly can.  Each of my role models gave me a piece of that philosophy.  Much to my surprise, I've learned that when I paint with all of my heart and soul, totally immersed in the pleasure, people respond.  I no longer own many of those pieces that came from that place of light.  Someone else has them in their home and hopefully they are soaking up all that energy as they look at my art. 
"Sumac"  Here I played with a real sumac leaf.  I also used thread stitching.
I hope you take the time to figure out whom your role model are.  It is a powerful tool to help you find the path that is right for you.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Favorite Henry Miller Quotes

"It is up to each of us to discover the rules of the game."  Henry Miller, Paint as You Like and Die Happy

"It doesn't matter what route one travels--every route brings you eventually to the goal.  All roads lead to Heaven is the Chinese proberb.  If one accepted that fully, one would get there so much more quickly.  One should not be worrying about the degree of 'sucess' obtained by each and every effort, but only concentrate on maintaining the vision, keeping it pure and steady." Henry Miller, The Waters Reglitterized

Friday, March 11, 2011

How to engage creativity

 I began making art eleven years ago, following the promptings of my mother who was an artist in the last part of her life.  Both my daughters painted with her when they were young.  Truthfully, I thought that they were talented artists but did not feel that I was or could be a visual artist.  I pursued sewing and various crafts and of course, writing.  My artistic drive was with words.  I wrote professionally as well as in my spare time. 

When my mother told me that she thought I was an artist, I laughed.  But she persisted so I bought some watercolors, brushes and paper and went to her house one day for my first lesson.  As soon as I applied luscious Winston and Newton pigments to the delicious creamy white Arches paper, I was hooked.  It was like a bolt of electricity shooting through my entire body.  Then I joined a watercolor group, took lessons, and began to advance.  Back in those days, I either painted from a photograph I'd taken or a scene I liked from my environment.  I worried and fretted when I painted.  A very loud voice repeatedly told me that I was not good.  However, now and then, I would lose myself in the process.  I would get so caught up in capturing the feelings behind the image that I would forget myself.

For a little while, I would just paint, not thinking about what I was doing so much as letting myself do whatever my eyes and hands wanted to do.  The more I painted, the more that began to happen.  As I began to migrate towards my own artistic vision, turning away from purely realistic to more abstract renderings, and then moving into mixed media, I began to cultivate certain aspects of the process of making art.  I began to select subject matter that I loved.  I played, experimented, and listened to my own intuition.  My inner critic was still talking to me, like some foul-mouthed heckler on the sidelines, trying to ruin my fun, but I was ignoring that heckler and sometimes telling the nasty fellow to go away and leave me alone.  The more I worked everyday in my art studio (by then I had confiscated a very nice little building on my farm, the former milk house, as my domain), the more ideas I had.  I learned to fertilize the fields of my mind by maintaining a fairly regular schedule. This phenomenon I had already experienced in my writing.  Inspiration comes from perspiration. 
How to be An Artist

Today what I love most about being an artist is that each time I sit down to work, I feel like I am going on a great adventure, one that is surely going to give me great happiness and joy and a good time as well as a surprise or two or three.  Whether or not the piece of art I create is a masterpiece is beside the point.  I am there for the feeling of being in tune with the universe, flowing into it so to speak, with my inner vision of something I want to make.  Usually I can't even see that inner vision all that clearly.  It's a feeling in my fingertips, almost like an itch to play the piano.  It's a glimmer in my eye.  It's a reflection in my soul.  All I know is that I need to go to my studio and play awhile and see what comes out.  I don't hear anything in the outside world around me.  Often I play music on my ipod, and I get lost in the music.  I don't feel hungry, I don't feel tired, I don't feel worried or unhappy.  I am hovering in the air above the piece of paper, acting and reacting to what is coming out.  This feeling of flow is so intense that to sustain it for more than a couple of hours is difficult.

Repeatedly following this road map has allowed me to develop great trust in the process I use to make art.  It's not that I feel invincible or pompous about the final produce.  No, I remain humble.  But I do believe that whatever I created was produced from a deep creative center and because of that, I trust that I made the best I possibly could.

Maybe you don't work the way I do, and that's okay.  Everyone is different.  I have a tendency to live very deep inside myself.  It's not something I choose to be.  I was made that way.  But no matter how you make your art, I do believe that art making should be a joyous, affirming experience.  Go for it as much as you can, as much as your life and your responsibilities allow.   Silence your inner critic and instead let your inner child come out to play. 

In my artistic opinion, the point of art is process.  Each creation changes the artist.  Doing what you love, working no matter what, and learning to trust your inner eye strengthens your core being.  Art  from that kind of experience is authentic, truthful, and real.  Art springing from authenticity changes the world. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

No Mistakes in Art

I call this mixed media piece "Don Quixote."  I used a watercolor that didn't quite work out as the base, applied pattern tissues, melted crayon, bees wax, charcoal, and applied pieces of other watercolors to the melted wax.  One of my gallery visitors viewed this piece and told me that it was brilliant.  I merely smiled and thanked her.  But later I did tell her the story of how it came to be (when she was relating to me how she couldn't write a good poem).  "Don Quixote" would not have come into being if the watercolor was successful.  The fact that I wasn't happy with the watercolor was the inspiration for what came after it. 

So did the watercolor really fail?  No, emphatically no.  What happened was that it migrated into an even better piece.  I let myself go with creative flow. 

I think failure comes about when you have an idea in your head and won't let it go even when something else appears.  Art is a process.  Remaining open to process is full of thrills, delights, risks, and rewards. 

I've found the same to be true of writing.  My idea of how a poem is going to go is often usurped by how the poem goes.  Suddenly it's like a river that has changed its path.  When you learn to follow the process, let go of your expectations and open yourself to possibilities, then I believe art starts to happen. 

Swallow Nest Art Gallery Collection on Etsy