Cranberry Lake Ice / Slump Resistance

Aha! Look at this! A painting!

It’s been a while, right? Yes, I detoured into strange dungeons for a time drawing trees in my sketchbooks, but I’m back to painting once again and there’s things to be said about it.

Before I do that, however, let’s have a look at the thing I painted last.

Cranberry Lake

This was something I put together over the course of a week back in the Winter – I can’t remember exactly when. I had been wandering around the edge of Cranberry lake one afternoon and saw children skating and playing hockey on it under the crown of a fiery hillside. An old rowboat stood poised on the shore as though ready to be launched by ghostly fishermen onto the ice, while across the way, purple and blue shade had begun to creep up out of the lake and over the houses like a tide.

I snapped a few reference photos and committed the rest to memory, then walked back to my studio to get started.

This one was a big struggle to work on, and to my eye, I can see the scratches of unnecessarily added labour all over it. Beset with more equipment failures, I had to go further than usual for each brush-stroke. I had to wait constantly for the software to catch up on every move, and often had to stop to chase down and eliminate unintended lines generated from skipping across the screen like a needle on a record. Reboots and battery failures at random intervals set me hours behind when they rolled through.

I think because of the technical challenges presented by this piece, I was left feeling like it was a bit of a mess when I was done. I didn’t like it, and because I didn’t like it, I sort of pushed it into the digital equivalent of the attic and hadn’t given it so much as a glance since.

I was also kind of terrified that I might be facing a final equipment failure which might take me out of painting altogether for months. These glitches were getting more frequent, and I could tell my operation was hanging by a thread.

The value of this painting and everything associated with it was steadily decreasing in my mind the longer I didn’t look at it, and the longer I put that off, the longer I put off wanting to try painting another landscape.

Or anything, come to think of it.

Why bother, right? Fighting with a dying computer to produce an ugly painting which might also result in losing my ability to paint at all? And Winter sucks and blahblahblahblahself-loathingblaaahhh.

Oh yes, the Winter had me now. All solitude, self doubt, and elaborate procrastination spirals piled onto the melancholy compost with the rest. Expenses carried on being expenses, but there were no art sales for Christmas after I went deep out of pocket for stock; my paintings weren’t generating much interest; and my funding was just coming to an end.

These are not conditions I historically tend to thrive under. I don’t think anyone does.

Welcome to the bottom curve of the slump; where all thy dread chickens come home to roost.

Spin ahead a few months, and I’ve climbed out and picked up my brush once again (with a nicely filled sketchbook of new, original work to boot). I’ve given this icy painting a second look, and it is not at all the boring outhouse deposit I thought it was. It’s messy, sure – but in a fun way; like weeds that look like flowers anyway. I’ve painted a new landscape since, and I feel confident in my abilities and where I’m going next with my projects – something unimaginable to myself a few months ago.

Which brings me to why I chose to write about it. This was a pretty major slump, and I really, reaaaallly don’t want to fall into it again. Now that it’s passed, I’ll be better prepared to react to the conditions that might cause another.  There’s reefs here worth marking down on the chart; for myself and for anyone else in the pursuit of making stuff. If you’re feeling stuck, blocked, or otherwise underwater, give these a try:

Read the signs: If you’re feeling defeated in your pursuit, have a look around at your circumstances and see what little adjustments you can make.

A sense of being shipwrecked might just due in part to your environment – physically, mentally, and socially. If Winter’s closing in, make sure you’re getting the nutrition, light, and positive social contact you need to balance out the difference. Get out in public spaces. Make sure you’re sleeping well and keeping hours that maximize daylight. Don’t let the household clutter of Winter gather too deep.

It’s the little things, and they add up in both directions.

Money isn’t everything (even though it kind of is): Unless you’re a retiree or have some kind of patron, you’re likely working directly toward a financial goal, or at least keeping a weather-eye on money with your creative pursuit.

While it’s important to pay your bills however you can, it’s not absolutely everything.

I mean it is. But it isn’t.

In times when the work isn’t there, make sure you are. Stay busy. Stay active. Stay loud. Keep making improvements to your craft and keep producing work. Do it in front of other people and make sure they see you do it.

If you bail out on making new things, you’ll only get rusty, lose confidence, and ultimately take yourself out of the spotlight.

Can’t get hired? Hire yourself.

No really. Go ahead and write yourself a contract to produce that dream idea you’ve been keeping on the back-burner. You can’t just spend your day looking for work and being mad and yourself that you can’t find it. It’s bad for you.

Just do that for part of the day, then go to work for yourself.

Even if you’re self employed with playing cards and Japanese pocket change (I paid myself with the King of Diamonds and a 500 yen piece) you’re still getting better at what you do, your portfolio is increasing, and you’re giving someone who may love your work the opportunity to find you.

Looking back over a month, you’ll feel much happier and more accomplished for working on that pet project during the hours you might otherwise have spent banging your head against the wall. Where there might have been a string of solid defeats, you can carve out your own victories and rise a little higher each time.

Get a second opinion: You may think you’ve got it all figured out. You know your situation. You know your habits, your mind, the particular quirks of your process. You’re the expert, right? You know it all, and you’re certain that this is how it is, and how it must be.

Yeah, no. Not even.

You might pride yourself on keeping a healthy, balanced view of the world and of yourself, but that’s something that’s going to be challenged with some regularity – particularly in stressful times. It might erode quicker than you think when adversity’s been hanging around long enough.

If you find yourself full of self doubt and anxiety about your situation, your work, or who you are, your opinion is probably already compromised. Get an outside view from people you trust. Chances are, half the worries circling over your head will be shot right out of the sky, freeing up room for the positive activity you want to get back to. If you leave it only to yourself – particularly when you’re not at your best – you’ll end up with only the most cynical, limited, and prejudiced version of the truth.

Nobody has ever agreed with Eeyore except Eeyore.

Analysis is good; action is better: Once you’ve got your second opinions and you’ve straightened out all the tendrils of the problem, the next part is doing something about it. The trouble is that this can be an incredibly difficult thing to do if you’ve been wrestling with it for a while. You might feel burnt out, or fear that you’ve become dull or incapable.

The solution that I’ve found in these instances is to set up a practice of something related to your craft; one that involves being in a particular place outside of your usual routine and includes a specific, limited set of supplies. A sketchbook in at the beach, say, or a pad of writing paper in the garden. Once you’ve put yourself bodily in the space you’ve set out with the supplies you’ve brought, you might find it much easier to dip your toe back into the water than you think.

I mean, you’re already there. Just inches away.

Put yourself there without any expectation and eventually, you’ll start to associate that place and those tools with a positive, productive task. Over time, these practices become habits that stay with you regardless of what your head-space is. Repeated use brings confidence and diminishes fear regardless of the size of the thing you’re doing. You might find paintings less terrifying, for example, if you keep drawing weird trees in your sketchbook every day.

 

The conditions that produce a bad slump time in dump town are common and easy to see coming. It’s when they start hunting in packs over the winter that you’ve got to watch out. Once they pile on together, they’re harder than ever to shake.

Take them on one at a time, and go on the offensive. Go look at the work you’re proud of; go see another human from time to time (my apologies if you’re not human – go see a wolf or an eel); go take a long, long walk; keep your media diet positive (skip the Smiths and cable news); and stay busy doing the next thing – even if it’s tinier than anything you’ve ever done.

Make it small and simple. Stay busy with it.

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Intolerable Wanderlust

I’m a writer and a painter by trade, and though I’m often just making it up off the top of my head for fun and profit, working from the things I see around me is a much needed grounding experience. It’s the pleasurable study of the present – which I sometimes forget to enjoy. It keeps my feet on solid earth when I’ve had too much time kicking around the backcountry of my own head, and it keeps motivation and inspiration continually flowing. Without the inspiration that comes with travel, I stagnate terribly.

Working from the inspiration I pick up on the road feels as though it gives my memory extra layers, and lets me spend a little more time with my best hours before they go back on the shelf.

If I could have my way right now, I’d happily throw my painting gear in the back of an air-stream or some other kind of humble caravan and roam about the pacific northwest, picking up stories to write and landscapes to paint. I’d publish this stuff immediately for the world to see as I make it, then pick up stakes and find some other horizon to chase.

That sounds like the dream, right there. Wander by day, write and paint by night.

For now, I’ll have to satisfy my thirst for travel by combing through my back-catalogue and producing works based on previous adventures. I’ll have to get out there again soon, because believe me, the roads are calling me like sirens. I’ve been in one place for far too long – longer than any other time before – and it’s honestly starting to kill me.

My plan is to be some wandering amalgam of George Bellows and Ernest Hemingway – recording every day scenery in the cities, the hills, and on the sea as words and pictures both. That’s the plan anyway. Until then, I’ve got to suffer with this intolerable wanderlust until I’m back on my feet again.

The road ahead waits.

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Art: Shady Island – Steveston BC

Before ever exploring anything beyond Steveston Village (which I had visited on one occasion previously – in a kilt, tie, and frock coat, no less), I had heard about and seen photos of shady island. A soon-to-be girlfriend of mine at the time lived nearby, and her running path took her past the breakwater that stretched between the shores of shady island and lulu island (upon which Steveston sits).

In conversation from afar, I had light-heartedly suggested we cross that breakwater at low-tide with a picnic or with camping gear, and spend the tide interval there in the sun and the forest. Of course we’d never gotten around to it, and I’m not even sure if it was a serious idea, but I thought about it every time I saw the island. It was on our “someday list”.

Shady Island - Steveston BC

Shady Island – Steveston BC

On perhaps my last visit to Steveston, I heard news that my father had passed away. I had always known I’d hear that news sooner rather than later given his lifestyle, but it came as a soul-deflating shock nonetheless. It’s a sad truth we’ve all got to face sooner or later, but my relationship with my father was a strange one, and with it came strange and mixed feelings that quite suddenly needed to be unpacked and examined. I chose to do this difficult thing (as I often did with difficult things) while taking a long walk.

I walked from my girlfriend’s apartment through Britannia Shipyards, through the village, and off into Garry Point park – then reaching the ocean I turned back and walked all the way to Finn Slough. I don’t think I’d even begun to sort anything out, but being busy and tired was what I needed.

I stopped for a while across from shady island and took a few pictures, which became the basis of this painting. In compiling reference for my landscape series, I picked this image out because it was striking. It wasn’t until I started painting it that I had remembered its context.

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Art: Rockaway Beach

In the summer of 2013, I had been on a holiday along the coast of Oregon, and in search of warm sandy beaches we stopped in at a little town called Rockaway Beach. We arrived just in time to watch an old steam-train stop right in the middle of town, like something out of a western.

My remembered impression of the area was that it was a sort of a resort town. Or a series of them, perhaps, all along the coast; the kind of places you might take the kids during Summer Break. It was July, so it was hot and sunny, but the breeze and mist rolling in from the ocean created a flux of dry heat and cool damp.

Crossing beyond the rows of resort motels, condos, shops, and quirky tourist traps, the long stretches of sandy golden beach spread out as far as the eye could see running north and south into the far off mist. Where I live, our beaches are sheltered by islands, but here it was just the great tumbling walls of the pacific before us and nothing else.

Rockaway Beach

Rockaway Beach

The twin rocks were quite a striking sight, even at a distance. I remember feeling a sense of awe as I studied them, as though I’d wandered into a dream. I had at times painted landscapes as concept art for video games, and in doing that you can get away with dashing out the strangest landmarks as throwaway scenery (mile high pillars and floating islands are a common cliche). Seeing something like that with my own eyes, however, was entirely mesmerizing. It felt like it couldn’t possibly be real.

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Art: Finn Slough

Picture, if you will, a sleepy fishing village lost amidst the tall grasses and trees of the Fraser River estuary. The houses there stand on stilts or float on the water next to their moored boats; each one a unique patchwork of the old, the homespun, and the odd.

At first it sounds like a movie set, or the home of domestic swamp pirates. In actual fact, it’s a settlement founded in the late 19th century by Finnish immigrants looking to escape the oppression of Russian occupation back home; here now to carve out a new life for themselves as farmers and fishermen on the west coast of Canada.

Some of the houses there are home to the descendants of the original settlers to this day. Others mere shells rotting in the swamp. As if the whole village wasn’t enchanting enough on its own, the residents have taken to decorating them with wild skulls, folk art, old bicycles and other junky oddments.

Finn Slough at Sunset. Late Fall.

Finn Slough at Sunset. Late Fall.

Expect to see tin-can robots, and funny signs painted on bits of shingle if ever you decide to pay it a visit (and yes, you should).

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