Focus on the Core of the Work

Sometimes, a single word can do more to focus my practice than weeks spent in the studio.

In a recent interview on 99 percent, Francis Ford Coppola talked about some things he has learned about cinema throughout his long career as one of Hollywood’s greatest directors.

“When you make a movie, always try to discover what the theme of the movie is in one or two words. Every time I made a film, I always knew what I thought the theme was, the core, in one word.”

Know the core of the work.
Keep this word in mind while working.
Be able to express the core in a single word when asked.

This was one of those ideas that didn’t really excite me so much as I was reading the interview, but the more I think about it, the more I think that this is a very, very important point.
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Jack of All Trades, Master of None?

I’ve often heard the expression, “jack of all trades, master of none”. The idea behind this phrase is obvious enough: if I spend my time doing a little bit of everything, I may end up being versatile, but I will never, ever be truly great at any one thing. And if I want to be a great painter, I’d better drop the camera, the audio gear, the camping, the website work, the writing, the wood work, the electronics, and everything else, and just paint.

I’ve been told that if I make a business card, I should only put ‘painter’, and leave out the “photo, video, sound” part. If I make a website for my paintings, I should avoid even mentioning that I also do photography. If I really want to pursue photography, then I should make up a fake name and make a new website for just my photography. I shouldn’t let people know that I like to do more than just one thing. I shouldn’t get distracted by doing more than one thing.

But, is this really good advice to follow? Does a wide focus spread across many fields eliminate the possibility of truly mastering any one of them, or does the knowledge gained in one discipline inform the decisions made in another?

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Painting with Light

As someone who is primarily a painter, some aspects of photography can be quite frustrating. In March of 2010, I had an idea for a photo shoot: take a bunch of multi-coloured LEDs, throw them around a snow covered forest, and take a bunch of pictures. The coloured light should bounce off the snow and create some interesting effects. This sounded like a cool idea.

The only problem was that I had this idea in March, after the winter snow had melted. I had to wait for winter to come again before I could try out this idea. When I’m painting, the time of year doesn’t matter so much. Winter scenes in summer, summer scenes in winter; if I can imagine it, I can paint it. This isn’t the case with photography. Photography is all about patience. I had to wait for nature to play along before I could try out this idea.

Two nights ago, I finally had my chance to head out on this photo shoot.

Brad had recently picked up a new camera, so I thought this could be a good opportunity for a ‘Brad vs. Kyle’ thing, introducing some friendly competition into the shoot.
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I’m Making a List, Appending it Twice

OK, I’ve got to admit it, this post has nothing to do with Christmas, its just a lame attempt on my part to use a catchy title to catch your attention.

As I mentioned before, in “Personal Development Time”, I’m taking some time off from painting to push myself further, to experiment, to explore, and hopefully, to come back with some new work that really blows away what has come before it.

This is a tricky time for an artist, because it is very easy to let this time off turn into a wasteful period where nothing gets accomplished. This happened to me once before. After Graduating University, I wanted to keep pushing my work further, even though it was in a really good place where it was. I pushed it quite far -in the wrong direction. It took nearly two years before I was able to get myself back on track. I don’t want to get derailed like that again.

One massive pitfall that must be avoided at all costs is getting yourself stuck in research mode. Research mode is a very easy place to get stuck, because research is easy, it’s safe; there is no risk of failure, and no end in sight. There is always something else to read; always another idea to absorb; always something new to learn. It feels like real work, so it’s very easy to stay in research mode and feel like you are not wasting time.

But you are.

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Staying Critical and Selling Stories

I find that artists are often drawn towards some very bad ideas; ideas that might seem beautiful or inspiring on the surface, but upon closer inspection are just a load of B.S.
For this reason, I try to stay critical of the new ideas I come across until I see some sort of real-world evidence to back it up. Anyone can have an idea. Any idea can be true or false.
In casual conversation, and in the art circles, some ideas are very popular, or easy to write about, or lead to good-sounding grant applications; but I don’t see popularity as a good reason to hold on to an idea. Testing an idea against nature, and having that idea confirmed by evidence is the only method I know of which ensures that a idea is not wrong.

“Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled” -Richard Feynman

The new idea that I have been mulling over in my head lately is from Seth Godin, and his ideas on marketing. The man is very charismatic, very entertaining. He has a way of explaining things simply and directly, with a certain irreverence towards the traditional way of doing things (sort of like the attitude Kevin Smith has when he describes his interactions with people in the movie industry). It’s the story of the beloved outsider who comes in, challenges the good old boys, and changes everything. He makes it all sound so easy, once you accept that you are going to have to do the work yourself.

This, of course, has my warning flags raised.
“Anyone who is this easy to like has to be wrong”, says the alarm bells in my head.
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It’s Time for Some Personal Development

It’s been a while Since I’ve posted anything up here. Sorry about that. I’m really not making good on my promise to post something new here every single week.

The only excuse I can offer is busyness.
I’ve been busy. Very busy.
Lots of prep work, lots of new paintings, and lots of shows.
I hung my ninth show of the year the other day. That’s a new personal record for me. Nine shows and over 100 new paintings in one year, and I’ve still got 1 full month to go.

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Lightning Talks at Site3

I just got back from a series of lightning talks hosted by Site3 CoLaboratory.

What is a lightning talk?

Think of it as a TED talk in fast-forward.

Toronto has a lot of very cool people doing a lot of very cool things. The problem is that most of these people don’t know each other; they don’t know about each other’s work. Wouldn’t it be great if all these interesting people got together one night, gave a 5 minute presentation introducing the work they are passionate about, then they all stuck around for an after party where they could all talk to each other, and actually share ideas and contact information? Well, that is exactly what a lightning talk is. Get cool people together, make them talk to each other.
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Finding Creative Solutions

I was recently given a pair of broken headphones. The damage was nothing serious, the right ear had just snapped off. They still worked perfectly fine, so long as I didn’t need my right arm for anything; I needed that to hold the dangling phone up to my ear. The TV station that the headphones originally belonged to has no need for gear that only half-works, so they gave them away.

The design of these headphones makes for a very difficult repair. I’ve had the same problem with this particular brand before. They make great sounding headphones, and great looking headphones, but the ears break off far too easily. I’ve had many broken pares sent my way, and I’ve always tried to fix them the same way; by collecting the broken parts and trying to reassemble the phones from these parts. To reassemble the headphones, I’ve tried epoxy, elastic bands, resin bond, contact cement, melting the plastic parts back together with a soldering iron, and duct tape.

Duct tape works very well – for a day, then they fall apart and I’m back where I started, only now everything is coated in a good layer of duct tape goo.
Elastic bands work for a few weeks, then fall apart.
Epoxy lasts about a month before the flexibility in the plastic causes it to pop off.
Resin bond and contact cement do nothing-there is simply not enough surface area to stick properly.
Melting the plastic back together just gives off fumes that are probably very bad for me, then snaps apart as soon as put them on my head.

In short, all of these methods have failed miserably, and none of these were creative solutions.
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How I Started Listening to Audiobooks While Painting

It’s amazing how quickly an idea can spread though a community or subculture. One particularly aggressive meme that is working it’s way though the Toronto artist community is audio books. Listening to an audio book while working seems to be a rapidly growing trend.

I had always heard of audio books, but I never had the slightest bit of interest in them. In 2005, While talking to Nicholas Di Genova in his studio space in Toronto, he happened to mention that his latest audio book had arrived in the mail. He was a member of some sort of audio book club. Based on his description, it worked like Netflix, only with audio books instead of movies. He paid a monthly fee, and they sent him a book. When he returned it, they sent him the next one on the list. At the time, I was still blaring Nine Inch Nails and Skinny Puppy while working, and the idea of listening to a dry, boring audio book did not seem at all appealing. I was an expressionist painter who worked long hours, and I needed fast and interesting music to keep me going. I couldn’t imagine enjoying listening to someone read a book. But this conversation with Nik successfully planted a seed in the back of my mind. It just needed some time to sprout.

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Perfect vs. Good Enough

After watching a series of recorded talks and presentations, I have become a fan of Seth Godin. Like his talks, his blog is an explosion of ideas, and each idea is worth spending some time with and giving some serious thought. They are the type of ideas that even if they all turn out to be wrong, a person is still better off for having thought about them. The ideas are fresh. One idea that is stressed more than once is the importance of abandoning the idea of perfection, and shipping a product that is good enough.

At first, this didn’t sit very well with me. “Good enough” is a phrase I use very often. I am by no means a perfectionist with every detail in my life. The only area where I do strive for perfection is my art, because the arts are one area where I strongly believe that “good enough” is never good enough. Only the very best that I am capable of producing is ever good enough. This must be an area where business advice does not apply to the art world.

But this might be too literal of an interpretation on my part.
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