My Nuit Blanche Adventure: The Storm before the Storm

In the days leading up to Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2010, and during the day of the event itself, I was making random notes to capture my thoughts and experiences during the lead up to, the actual event, and the aftermath of Nuit Blanche. Although these entries are are going to be typed up and posted after the event took place, they are based on notes made in the heat of the moment.

My Nuit Blanche Adventure: Part 2: The Storm Before the Storm.

I had been asleep for about 20 minutes when the phone rang. It looks like I’m going to be a little late getting to the venue for the final touches of our set up. It’s a good thing I did most of my packing the night before. Breakfast consists of an apple that is starting to go soft from sitting too long, and a cup of what I call a ‘triple instant’. A triple instant is 3 cups of instant coffee in one cup. It’s far from tasty, but very much needed this morning.

The brisk walk isn’t enough to jump start my body, but I do manage to arrive in a reasonable amount of time, 5 minutes faster than expected. We get to work. The wires are being cut to size, and I have Brad replace every single one of them with speaker wire. it is a needless cosmetic change, but I think it’s one of those subtle extras that will make a difference. Brad doesn’t put up much of an argument, and in the end, he agrees with me. Usually, I’m the one saying “it’s good enough” while Brad is demanding more unnecessary cosmetic changes. I guess he realized that if I’m the one saying it needs to be changed to look good, then it must really need to be changed to look good. So, Brad starts doing his thing, and it’s time for me to start doing mine…only my exhausted mind never thought to pack my tools last night. All those tools are still at home, on the table by the door. So, less than an hour after walking to the venue, I have to walk the 2.4km back to my house, pick up my tools, then walk another 2.4km back to the venue, and get to work.
Continue reading My Nuit Blanche Adventure: The Storm before the Storm

My Nuit Blanche Adventure: The Calm Before the Storm

In the days leading up to Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2010, and during the day of the event itself, I was making random notes to capture my thoughts and experiences during the lead up to, the actual event, and the aftermath of Nuit Blanche. Although these entries are are going to be typed up and posted after the event took place, they are based on notes made in the heat of the moment.

Part One: The Calm Before The Storm

3:41am
October 2nd, 2010

(Yea, I know that is a clichéd expression, but I’m a painter, not a poet, and that phrase captures the mood I’m in, so it stays.)

The lead up to this day has been intense. Weeks of steady 14-hour workdays have given way to a roller coaster oscillating between periods of insane last-minute busyness, followed by hours of empty free time.
In the mad rush to get everything done, there was little time for anxiety, for nervousness, anticipation, or for excitement. My attention was so focused on the work in front of me that I didn’t have room to worry about anything else. The small windows of free time that have opened up during these past few days have allowed all those previously ignored emotions to flood my senses. Throughly unhelpful worries and worst-case-scenario situations have overtaken my mind.
Continue reading My Nuit Blanche Adventure: The Calm Before the Storm

Take a Picture: Promo

Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2010 is coming up in less than a week now, and it’s getting harder for me to contain my excitement.

If you haven’t been to the Take a Picture video page, you might have missed the two promo videos Brad and I have released for the Take a Picture project. Not to worry, I’m not going to send you on an internet scavenger hunt. I have included both of the videos with this post!
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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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How Much Practice Does it Take to Make Perfect?

How many times have you heard the phrase, “practice makes perfect”?
      Does it really?
      What about talent and genius?
      Is practice really all it takes?

When I was five, my family moved to a new neighbourhood. Unfortunately, a bully lived next door. I couldn’t go outside without having someone twice my size beat me up. To ensure that my teeth stayed in my mouth, I stayed in the house. I stayed in my room and I drew. I drew a lot. I would lock myself in there for hours at a time, where I would draw until one of the parents came up and got me; then they would make me stop for a bit and eat dinner. Afterwards, I would go back upstairs and draw some more. I did this until I was 15. That was when I discovered ‘QBASIC’ on the old IBM PS/2 386, and computer programming started to dominate my attention and free time for the next 3 years.

For 10 years, from the age of 5 to 15, I drew nearly everyday for about five hours.

            300 days X 5 hours X 10 years = 15,000 hours of practice.

Fifteen thousand hours of drawing.
Continue reading How Much Practice Does it Take to Make Perfect?

Expanding on ‘Take a Picture’

In the last entry, I introduced you to the reason for my recent focus on taking pictures of art: My next art project is about this very topic. These are the ideas that have been dominating my thoughts lately. It’s what I’ve been thinking about; it’s what I’ve been talking about; therefore, it’s what I’ve been writing about.

When I’m working on something, I like to completely immerse myself in ideas surrounding the topic I’m dealing with in the artwork. I usually start with a very clear and focused thought that I want to develop. I work out the basics, and create a rough sketch or guide to work with. That rough plan must be very flexible, because I find that the ideas I develop throughout production are far more interesting than the initial thought that started the whole thing. I’ve got to anticipate some unexpected turns on my journey to completion. Countless little choices pop up during the process of actually making a finished piece, and I believe that having the right ideas floating around in my head can inform the decisions that I make, and the result is a much stronger finished product.
Well, that’s the idea at least.

The final paragraph of the last entry listed some of the points I wish to raise with “Take a Picture”, but I didn’t actually talk about how I was approaching those issues.

In this entry, I will break down that final paragraph, and expand on each of those points.
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Take a Picture

From reading my entries so far, it may seem that I have a one-track mind: my only interest is photographing art. There is a reason for this singular focus up to this point. Over the past several months, I have been working on a project that is specifically about photographing art. The issues of art, photography, copyright, digital technologies, and social media have been dominating my thoughts and conversations for a very long time now. It seems only natural that those ideas would spill into this blog as well.

This project has grown out of my interest in free culture. This interest began with an angry museum guard yelling at me for taking some pictures. It grew as I began teaching myself some basic computer programming, where I quickly discovered how wonderful it is to have access to a body of free knowledge, ideas, and materials. Working with electronics, and having a constant need for datasheets and schematics only strengthened this opinion. But, it was Windows Vista that finally provided me with that final push to fully embrace the world of open source. What I found was a world where just about any small tool was freely available with just a few keystrokes (provided I could get the damn wireless connection to work) As a user, the benefits of this mindset, this ecosystem of permissive sharing is very appealing. But I’m not just a content consumer, I’m also an artist; I am a content creator. It’s only fair that as a producer, I should try to pass on the same benefits that I enjoy as a consumer.

The art world that I learned about back in art school was one that prides itself on being part of the cultural avant garde. My experience in the art business leaves me thinking that the culture surrounding free software is several decades ahead of the culture surrounding the arts.

The prohibition of museum photography is something that I believe turns art from a shared cultural artifact into a private commodity. This restriction turns a painting into an object where permission must be sought to do what comes naturally to myself and many of my peers: taking pictures of the cool things we see, and sharing the details online. Realizing that these private commodities live in publicly-funded museums only adds insult to injury. I can’t photograph what I paid for? The objects that are said to represent culture are locked out of the shared attitudes and practices that actually characterize our culture.

I am interested in culture, not commodities. Preventing images from being shared removes them from our shared cultural experience. To quote Cory Doctorow, “It’s not culture if you’re not allowed to talk about it.” Sending pictures back and forth and posting them online is how my generation talks about things.
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Keep a Schedule and Work Hard

I would like to start this post by pointing out how long it has been since my last update.

One of the reasons for starting this blog was to provide myself with a way of working more discipline into my schedule. Part of being a full-time artist is making your own hours, and setting your own work schedule. Having that much flexibility has the potential to lead to a very unproductive lifestyle. One way of preventing this is by keeping regular hours. Wake up at a set time each day, go though a set morning routine, then enter the studio, and work away for 8 hours, then clock out and go home.

It would be a bit dishonest to say that I stick to this schedule rigidly. I must admit that on occasion, I do show up late, sneak out early, and take some extended breaks. The important thing is to at least try to maintain some sort of regular schedule. Oscillating between 0-hour work weeks and 100+ hour work weeks is not a good way to live your life. I know too many artists who regularly do nothing until they have an upcoming show, which kicks them into high production mode, where they produce artwork nonstop, they have their show, then they burn out and take some time off to recover, waiting for inspiration to re-enter their practice. I have found that lazing about, waiting for inspiration to enter my life is a shortcut to a creative dead end. I can’t remember who first said it, but being a professional is about doing the thing you love most on the days you don’t feel like doing it.
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Wasted Time? Business Advice from Art Blogs.

          Lately, I have been spending a lot of time trying to focus on the business end of my art career. I feel like the creating art side of my life is in a very good place right now. I’ve been working on paintings more or less non-stop for over a year now, and with every brush stroke I make, I can feel the difference that my constant practice has made possible. I would imagine that I am really close to my 10,000 hours by now, or maybe I’m already past it, I honestly don’t really keep track of my hours in the studio. All I know for sure is that this past year has done wonderful things for my art making skills, both in technical ability, and in problem solving abilities. When a painting just doesn’t work, I used to feel stuck, and I would either work myself into a creative rut, or I’d give up on it for the time being, with every intention of coming back to it later. Those aren’t problems any more, I’ve developed techniques for dealing with those situations, and I get the feeling that something wonderful could begin to come together in my work at any time now.
          But the whole marketing and business side of my life has been at a standstill. Other than the occasional website update, which I don’t do nearly often enough, or mass mailing, which I never do (How can I spam people, then expect to sleep at night?) I really haven’t done much of anything to keep up with or expand upon the business side of things.
          After the solo show at Open Gallery, and the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition and Nathan Phillips Square, I took 2 weeks off to read up on a bunch of art business stuff. I wanted to know more about branding, marketing, and presenting a more professional image to the world.
          I’ve always been the type of person to research something quite heavily before getting started in it myself. I like to know what I’m getting myself into, what to expect, and how to handle unexpected situations that might pop up along the way. I like to make sure that I’m not getting ripped off, screwed over, and most importantly, I like to be sure that I’m not making a huge mistake that I will regret for years to come.

          So, like any curious person who wants to know about something, I turned to Google. After a few keyword searches, I discovered a glut of art blogs; and much to my (initial) excitement, most of them paid a lot of attention to marketing and selling art online, and had a lot of ideas about getting noticed.
          “Perfect, thats exactly what I want!” I said aloud, without any concern for what the neighbours must think of this strange fellow talking to himself at 4 in the morning.
          I began clicking on every link that looked remotely interesting. Over 50 tabs were opened in my browser, and the next 2 weeks were spent reading, jotting down notes, and adding them to the wall of crazy that lives beside my computer. After I had taken all the information in, I began sorting through it, organizing it, comparing it, and I slowly began to realize something.
Continue reading Wasted Time? Business Advice from Art Blogs.

Throat Clearing

          I have noticed that quite often, before getting to the meat of the discussion, authors will start with a few hundred (or thousand) pages of what is called ‘throat-clearing’. This means that they spend a whole lot of time being really boring before getting to the point. But, it seems like a necessary part of making sure that the audience is on the same page as the author when that point is being made, so I’m going to have to do a little bit of that here.

          I am a visual artist. My primarily focus is painting, but I also do some photography, video, sound, and new media projects on the side. I also spend a lot of time with other artists; and, surprise surprise, the topic of our discussion is, you guessed it – art.

          I have noticed that a lot of artists claim to be very conceptual in their practice, even if that conceptualism doesn’t seem to show in the final work. They can sit down and have endless discussions over the finer points of, well, just about anything.
          Then, when asked to present their work, they will reach into their pocket, pull out a card, and proudly show off their highly conceptual art. A quick glance at the image reveals…some brown rectangles. Brown rectangles? With colour choices that look like they were based on the curtains available in this month’s Sears catalog.
          The artist will try to explain to me how their art explores some deep concept. This part of their work represents one thing, while another part represents something else. As I look at those brown rectangles, I strain to find the connection between what they are talking about, and what is actually present in their work. More often than not, I just don’t see it. The more this happens, the more I get the impression that those explanations are just thrown together after the fact. Why bother with these post-hoc explanations? Well, We do need something to write about, after all.

“What happened to those concepts while you were in the studio?” I often wonder.
Continue reading Throat Clearing