creativity

Contentment vs Restlessness

oil painting landscape art

It seems that one of the goals of every world religion, philosophy and self-help guru is the propagation of inner contentment. I love that all too seldom cherished inner quiet. The search for that illusive contentment is why I go hiking as much as I do, but it honestly seems that the world, though preaching the value of contentment, is dead set against us actually experiencing it. I mean really, turn on the TV or listen to the radio or go to the mall and we are constantly and ruthlessly bombarded with the message “you are not content! But…THIS will make you feel content!” The thing is, nearly EVERYTHING is sold with the promise of contentment, and because we’re so desperate for it, we buy “it” (whatever it is). Then we feel a moment of bliss (maybe) and then in moments, “it” gets old and no longer delivers any contentment at all.

In no way do I want to diminish the longing for contentment. I could not do that even if I tried. My faith informs me that every human being was created for absolute contentment, but that the whole system is broken now and humankind currently is cut off from the very source of contentment. And so we long for the very thing we run from. This is the ultimate conundrum.

Restlessness has fueled every quest and exploration and is responsible for all the innovation of our race.

However, I don’t think the concept of restlessness is the opposite of contentment. I think ingratitude, entitlement and greed are the opposite of that inner peace we value and search for, but I don’t really think restlessness qualifies as the opposite. Honestly, my opinion is that restlessness is to an artist what life blood is to a living creature: it feeds and stimulates the creation of something amazing and beautiful and life-giving. What I’m most afraid of is to become too “comfortable” and “complacent”, that I stop longing for something new, dreaming of something better and pursuing something of greater value and beauty. For the most part, I think restlessness has fueled every quest and exploration and is responsible for all the innovation of our race.

So, we may well sit and think of all that we have, all that we’ve achieved (or have been given, depending on your own outlook on such matters) and we can feel a sense of immense gratitude, peace and contentment. And the next moment begin wondering “but I wonder what would happen if I tried THIS?”. Can restlessness and contentment become friends? I believe so. I don’t think one negates the other at all. In fact, I think that true contentment and gratitude creates a quiet place in our minds and in that quiet, dreams are born and imagination can explode.

As an artist, as a painter, I paint mostly landscapes. I love my studio in Asheville’s River Arts District. I love creating artwork in that context, amidst such a great group (over 220) of artists with open studios. It feels tempting to just get comfortable with what I do; to get comfortable with what sells and to become predictable. But then I’d never feel restless, and though comfortable, I’d stop truly creating. And I would more closely resemble an assembly line worker than an artist.

I’m an artist, and I long for contentment. But I am trying to experience contentment in the context of a sublime restlessness that never seems to stop looking around the next turn in the road. What’s there? Is it the same as here? Let’s go and see. That mindset fuels all my creativity and I think compliments the inner quiet I (sometimes) truly experience in life.

"Why Should I Purchase Artwork?"

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As an artist with an open studio, there are lots of questions I get asked from people who are visiting Asheville’s River Arts District. Sometime, I should make a list of the funniest (i.e. strangest!) questions I get asked but that’s for another blog post. :)

There is one question out there that is very rarely asked but is actually a valid question: Why should I purchase artwork? I almost think that if you’re asking that question, you probably shouldn’t be buying artwork. You should just go home to your concrete cube, turn on your single light bulb in the middle of the cube, sit down on your mat and stare at the wall and drink your protein smoothie. What? You have a nice house on a hillside with a nice view? You have a wide screen TV? You have granite countertops in your kitchen? Why? Is that necessary? As far as basic human needs go, we just need shelter (a roof and preferably some walls). Is the rest necessary? As far as basic human needs go, we just need food. Are herbs and spices necessary? Is awesome flavor “necessary”?

Is artwork a good investment? Yes. Absolutely every time.

Why have a nice house? Why have a nice car? Why have anything other than what is absolutely necessary? Simply because those extra things give us joy. Why sprinkle herbs de Provence on your chicken? Those herbs don’t add any nutritional value, so they’re unnecessary, correct? Technically, yes. But we add them because it just really makes the chicken taste awesome, right? Herbs de Provence gives us joy. The nice extras on top of the absolute rock-bottom necessities are added to life because they give us joy.

So, is artwork a good investment? Yes. Absolutely every time. Joy is beyond value. Can’t afford a $100,000 painting by some famous artist? Neither can I. (That’s why I paint my own paintings!) What I’m talking about is not necessarily a huge financial investment in art (unless you have deep pockets and that artwork you would like to purchase gives you joy. If that’s you, please email me at stclaireart@gmail.com or visit my studio at 344 Depot Street, Asheville NC. For the rest of us, what I’m talking about is even small, wise investments into a local artist because he or she is creating things that add joy to this world. When you purchase a painting or glass vase or a ceramic pitcher or piece of hand crafted furniture, you not only invest into something that adds joy to your own life, but you’re investing in another human being, enabling them to continue to create, which gives them joy. Joy goes all around!

So now and then, reach for that nice bottle of wine, sprinkle those herbs on your meat (or veggies) turn on some beautiful music, watch a sunset and sing. Why? Because it’s a necessity? Well actually, yes I think it is.

Of Mountains and Oceans

“Teahupoo Thunder” (36” x 60”)

“Teahupoo Thunder” (36” x 60”)

Last January (over six months ago now), I woke up in the middle of the night with a couple of ideas for two very impractical paintings. As I explained in a previous blog, I don’t usually TRY to paint an impractical subject matter, because impractical ideas are often “hard sells” in Asheville. Because I am a full time painter in the River Arts District, I don’t have the luxury of a “public-opinions-be-damned” sort of attitude. If people don’t like my artwork or can't relate to it, they aren’t going to buy it. Does this make me a “sell out”? I’ll let the reader decide that, but the bank really likes it when I pay my mortgage. Thankfully, most of what I know sells off my walls is an absolute joy to create, so I really am not the “angsty” sort of artist. But every now and then, I just have to paint something whether or not I think it will sell. And thankfully, my wife Joy is wholly supportive of those times because it’s at these points I grow as an artist.

So last winter, I had in my head a view of a crashing wave and a craggy, snow-capped mountain. For the wave, I wanted to depict the violent force of the water slamming into the shoreline. The challenge for the wave was to depict movement and to keep the shapes “soft” and fluid. And I knew I had to apply the white paint LAST because white is a very opaque color of paint and because I’m painting on top of textured metallic leaf, I will ruin a painting if the paint is applied in a manner that blocks the light from penetrating the paint (so it can then bounce back off the metallic background layer). So I worked with varying shades of blues and greens for 90% of the piece, and then finally applied all the white at the very end.

“Top of the World” (48” x 36”)

“Top of the World” (48” x 36”)

For the mountain scene, I combined several photos of the Himalayan mountain peaks because, well…because if you want to do it right, you might as well use the tallest mountains in the world for inspiration, right? This one was a challenge simply because it’s basically shades of just three colors: Blue, black and white.

So…maybe my definition of “impractical” is all washed up.

Both of these pieces are “impractical” as far as my Asheville clientele simply because a couple from Poughkeepsie that are walking down the street to my art studio in Asheville will not talking with each other about “do you think he’ll have any paintings of the ocean or the Himalayas?” People generally want to purchase a painting to remind them of their trip to Asheville, so…these two pieces are in the impractical category.

That’s okay. I can totally live with that. But I have to say, after I hung these on the wall for their grand debut yesterday morning, they got all sorts of really positive attention all day long. So…maybe my definition of “impractical” is all washed up. Honestly, I’d like that very much!

Lessons I've Learned as an Artist

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I love Asheville and I especially love painting in my studio in Asheville in the summer time. Yes, it’s hot and muggy, but there are so many visitors wondering through the River Arts District — it’s really a fun environment to create artwork in! So many people and so many conversations! Some of the questions I’m asked are hysterical, and some are really deep. Last week, I had a couple visiting with me who asked an interesting question. And as I was answering them it occurred to me I should blog about it. The question was “what has being an artist taught you?” That struck me as a really huge (and very personal) question. I could probably write a whole book on that subject, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll condense my thoughts to five points.

  1. Thinking outside the box is what creativity is all about.

When you learn art techniques in school, you study the “masters” of art history and in a sense, you copy their techniques in order to learn them. In a sense, this places each modern artist in a wonderful place...you are standing on the backs of people like Monet, Renoir, Rembrandt, Da Vinci, and on and on back to the first cave painters. You learn the rules (yes, THERE ARE RULES TO ART). Once you learn the techniques and rules, then (the fun part!) you learn how to remix them into something brand new and unique. This is where rules (some of them) are broken. Learning how and when to break the rules...that takes a life time of playing with art and composition.

2. Mistakes are necessary for growth

My whole technique was developed through many (and on-going) experiments. Some of those experiments work out well. Some of them fail completely. How you respond to a mistake is crucial I think, and I would guess this applies to all of life. If you let them crush and discourage you (and I have let mistakes do that), then that's the end of the story. But if the mistake prompts you to ask questions (like, "why did that happen?", "how did that happen?", "how can I make it do this or that?") then a new experiment takes shape. This is play. This is how play works! Very few mistakes in life are utterly crippling. Most of the mistakes we make can and should prompt serious questions, and as we search for answers...play happens and life goes on.

3. Marketing is really important if you want to be a full-time artist

I wish I could paint all day. I wish I didn't have to take the time to work social media (or write blogs :) but that is not possible. If people do not see the work of an artist, they won't appreciate it, and if they don't appreciate it, they won't purchase it, and if they don't purchase it, you can't be a full-time artist (unless you've won the lottery and can blow through the winnings for the rest of your life). Connecting to people and marketing what you do is really important. How to do that best is a complete mystery to me, but I’m learning. I'm not wired that way, but I know people who ARE and I ask for advice or pay them to for their help.


4. Rest and rejuvenation is crucial for creativity

For me, creativity and moments of epiphany happen when I'm quiet. That's why I walk a lot. Almost every day off, we're hiking -- getting out into nature and breathing in the peace and quiet. Being in nature is like a baby being in it's mother's lap. It's just where we belong. Something almost magical happens sometimes when I'm hiking and enjoying the beauty of creation. The experience creates in me a wonder; it takes me back to being like a child. In that place, my own creativity is excited. I have likened all this (quiet time) as "breathing in" and my own creating as "breathing out". One is necessary if you want the other.


5. People are more important than art.

I work in a public forum. People walk into my studio all day long and ask me what I'm working on and inquire about my technique. It's tempting to wish them all away so I can quietly enter "my creative zone" and paint in undistracted peace. But I'm always reminding myself that the people who come into my studio are infinitely more important than any piece of artwork I create. Artwork only lasts so long. People are eternal (that's my belief anyway). And according to my faith system, people are created in the image of God, so if I love God, I should see him in the face of every single person that enters my studio (and treat them accordingly).

"How do you decide what to paint?"

One of the questions I regularly get asked from visitors to my art studio in Asheville is “where do you get all these ideas to paint? Have you been to all these places?” My answer varies but basically, I explain that no, I have not necessarily been to all these places, though I have been to some of them and I’m always taking photos. “Oh,” they’ll respond, “so you work from photos then?” Yes. About half the things I paint are inspired by photos I’ve taken or received from a client. I find I especially lean on a photo if it’s a commissioned piece of art from someone who has something specific in mind. The rest of what I paint basically reflect the happy places in my head.

“Because this is my job, I have to paint

mostly what I think people will purchase…”

Because I’m a full-time artist, I need my work to sell so I’m always listening to the people that visit my studio (even when they’re whispering to each other — yes, I can hear you sometimes!). This is SUPER helpful to me because I know what is really resonating with people. When I paint something new and hang it on the wall and it gets a ton of attention, loud sirens and blinking red lights go off in my head: PAINT MORE LIKE THIS! So I do. Because this is my job, I have to paint mostly what I think people will purchase in my River Arts District art studio by visitors coming to Asheville for a vacation. So most of my paintings are local or generic scenes. That said, I’m most excited right now about two really impractical pieces of art I started thinking about last winter: A 3’ x 6’ single crashing wave and a 3’ x 5’ scene featuring a composition of towering, jagged Himalyan mountain peaks.

What does a crashing wave or jagged mountains have to do with Asheville, North Carolina? Nothing. “Don’t you want these to sell?” you ask. Well, yes I want them to sell but I don’t care if these two sell or not. See, every now and then, I think it’s important that you express something really personal and distinctly “you”, whether or not anyone else ever appreciates it. Maybe these paintings won’t sell, and that’s okay. That said, these two are thankfully getting a ton of attention as I’m working on them, so that’s really encouraging. I’ll post the completion photos here when the time comes.

Close up of silver leaf wave.

Close up of silver leaf wave.

Interior shot of my wave (with the first layer of paint) and the mountain scene.

Interior shot of my wave (with the first layer of paint) and the mountain scene.

"What are you Working on These Days?"

My Happy Mess

My Happy Mess

I had a client come into my art studio last week and he asked what I was working on these days. After I recounted some of the projects I’ve got in process, I thought “Wow, I’m really busy!” Thankfully, this has been a very busy season so far and I have lots on my plate and lots more projects I have in mind. So where to start?

  • I’ve got a three month show coming up in the summer at one of the premier hotel/restaurants in downtown Asheville. This will require 10 to 12 paintings, with more waiting “in the wings” to replace pieces as they sell (thinking positive here). Most of those paintings are completed now and ready for the show.

  • I am finishing up a commission (just completed today actually) for a couple that got married in Maine. The wedding venue had an amazing view of the mountains, so that vista was what I painted for their anniversary present to each other. I love creating a painting that’s not only a nice piece of artwork (hopefully!) but actually means something to the client. This one very definitely means a lot to them. How cool is that?

  • I’m also working on a rather large piece for a client that lives on a mountainside just south of Asheville. The view from their back deck is really spectacular so I’m creating a sunset inspired piece from the viewpoint of their back deck. This one is nearly completed now as well.

  • I just finished up a set of eight new pieces and have started a brand new 8-piece set to get ready for our busy summer season. Most of these paintings are on the smaller size (like 16” x 20” and 18” x 24”) so it’s easier on the wallet (since my prices are determined by the size). Come by this summer and there will be a lot to see!

How boring would life be if the motivation for everything we did was simply because it was practical?”

  • I saved the completely impractical (but really fun) projects for last in this list. This year, I wanted to depict a very large wave crashing on rocks and I just finished the line drawing of that composition on the canvas last week. The other project is a jagged peak of a mountain (up close view). I know…I’m in Asheville and how do I expect to sell a crashing wave (we’re five hours from the ocean and we only get huge waves here when there’s a hurricane) and we’re about a 30 hour drive from the nearest “jagged” mountains. So the reason I’m painting these two is because I want to. I don’t really care if these sell or not. I may end up with these on my own wall and if that’s the case, I’m very much okay with that. How boring would life be if the motivation for everything we did was simply because it was practical?” Seriously, I’d be excited if they don’t sell because I wouldn’t mind ending up with two of my very best pieces (and that’s what I intend to create). That said, if. you like waves and/or mountains, let’s talk. :)

Well, that about sums up the current work load of this Asheville artist. If you’re planning a trip to visit western North Carolina this year, please make sure you include our art studio (in Asheville’s historic River Arts District) in your itinerary. With over 220 artists with open art studios, you could spend a whole day browsing artwork and meeting artists. Cheers!

"Frankenstein-ing" a painting

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One afternoon last autumn, Joy and I had a hankerin’ (Southern for “urge”) to pack a picnic and watch the sunset. So we stopped at the store and grabbed what is now “standard picnic fare”: a roasted chicken, whole wheat rolls, potato salad, a bottle of decent wine and Pim’s (for dessert). It was somewhat cloudy that day but the afternoon seemed clearer than the morning, so this was one of those evenings I wasn’t sure about the weather but it was still worth taking a chance. In short, it was wonderful (but cloudy). We drove up onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and headed south (toward Smoky Mountain National Park). About a half hour drive from Asheville, we found a good west-facing turn out and parked the car and feasted, enjoying the muted sunset and the peace and quiet of the place. I took several photos, always hoping for the sun to break through but alas, that evening the sun was a “no show”.

That’s the really great thing about being an artist: we get to “play God” every now and then…

That’s how it goes sometimes. I had what I thought was a great composition in my photos but just not the perfect lighting because of the clouds. So, in looking at my photos afterwards, I concluded it was the right composition for a painting but the wrong sky. What to do, what to do…

That’s the really great thing about being an artist: we get to “play God” every now and then. It occurred to me that I could use an older photo of a really beautiful sunset I had taken on my walk home from my art studio in Asheville’s River Arts District. The sunset was gorgeous, but the foreground was the French Broad River (nice enough) and the New Belgium brewery (also, nice enough but…uh…not “painting” worthy. So…I decided this was a chance to do a bit of artistic “Frankenstein-ing”: taking a bit of this and a bit of that and combining it into one piece, add 10,000 volts of electricity (just kidding) and VIOLA! IT’S ALIVE! (Just kidding.)

So the photo of the painting you see pictured here is from two very separate experiences I had with nature. One in May of 2017 and one in September 2018. There. Now you know my secrets. I unabashedly (and quite regularly) combine foregrounds, midgrounds and backgrounds of photos I take (or find) and create (with the addition of 10,000 volts of electricity — just kidding) a new and unique piece of art.

That’s how we roll here. That’s how we roll.

The Big Reveal

“Triskele” (approximately 28” x 32”)

“Triskele” (approximately 28” x 32”)

For months now, I’ve been concocting a new type of artwork. I wanted to create a new type of painting that was dynamic rather than static; a painting that billowed out from the wall rather than lie flat against a wall. I’ve shared the earliest experiments here in an earlier post, the early development of those experiments and some problems I had along the way. Now finally, my first “Sails” piece is hanging in my studio and it’s even better than I’d originally planned.

I had thought I’d just create different shapes of “sails” mounted into a hardwood “rail” top and bottom (see photos below). That was where the first experiment ended and I liked them but had yet another idea that sprouted out of this one: What if the sail shapes overlapped each other and were mounted at different angles? Can I do that? How would you mount them? Ahhh…questions to answer and problems to solve!

Experiment #1: “Vele Bianche” Experiment #2: “Vele Azure”

Experiment #1: “Vele Bianche” Experiment #2: “Vele Azure”

As it turned out, mounting them at different angles to each other was somewhat of a simple problem to solve, and the result is something much more dynamic (in my opinion) and much more visually interesting (again, in my opinion). I can imaging this type of artwork running down a 40’ corridor or across the lobby of a hotel or bank. I can also see these in a contemporary home.

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This is the thing I love about creativity. These are made using exactly the same steps as any of my landscape paintings (though you’d never know it). The only difference is that I’m painting on a flexible panel and I’m mounting it to the wall on slotted rails.

What if the sail shapes overlapped each other and were mounted at different angles? Can I do that?

So my first experiment for 2019 is complete. I have two other experiments to tackle this year (as soon as I finish a few more commissions — they come first). So the next time you’re wondering around the streets of Asheville’s awesome River Arts District, please come and visit my studio, take a look at these pieces and let me know what you think! Cheers!



"How do you Decide What to Paint?"

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The other day, I had a really nice couple visit my Asheville art studio from northern Ohio. They spent a good deal of time looking at all my work and were obviously connecting with it. That “connection” makes me feel a sense of accomplishment because this is obviously my goal. After a good while perusing my paintings, they came up to my workstation in the front of my studio and asked, “How do you decide what to paint? I feel like I can just walk into each piece. How do you do that?" Oh gosh, I love questions like that. Usually the questions are nit-picky technical questions inquiring about the precise steps involved in my process (I don’t share those by the way) and addressing those questions all day long can be tiring. But THIS question made me smile. This gets to the heart of the matter. A cool technique might be interesting, but unless a painting “draws you in”, that painting will not sell. And as a professional full-time artist, I sorta need my work to sell and so this issue is something in the forefront of my mind as I’m considering what to paint next.

A cool technique might be interesting, but unless a painting “draws you in”, that painting will not sell.

When I have no idea what to paint next, I browse through all my old photos from various hikes and vacations we’ve taken over the years. The thing is, I some really awesome photos in my files that, while they are really nice photos, would make really boring paintings. One of the key things I look for is whether or not I’m “drawn in” to the composition. If you look through my landscape portfolio on this website, you’ll notice I often employ a pathway of some sort, whether it’s a road or footpath or something in between. I do that because that is such a simple way to invite the viewer into a painting: “Come down this pathway and see what’s around the corner!"

If I want to really accentuate the invitation, I’ll throw in a few sun rays. Sun rays are magical. In a dark, silent forest on a long-forgotten footpath, rays of sunlight up ahead beckon you on.

The other issue is that honestly, every painting I dream up is depicting a place I would personaly like to just go and sit (probably by myself) and listen to the sounds of the place. Maybe for all day. That’s what I’m into. I love being in nature and sensing that call to quiet. I really need more of that. And from what I’ve seen in my art studio, that “call to quiet” resonates with a lot of people who visit me and view my artwork.

So, combine a path and a few sun rays into a quiet space like that, and then you have it: a painting you want to walk into. It sounds really easy, right? It’s not! What I’ve explained in a couple of paragraphs here takes hours and days sometimes. But when I find what I’m looking for, I always save that idea and eventually, that idea gives birth to a painting that (if done right) will carry someone to a quiet place in a very busy world. I like to feel like that’s important.

Making the Most of Mistakes

Step One: Texture Application

Step One: Texture Application

As a full-time artist residing in Asheville, North Carolina with an open art studio in the River Arts District, I am pretty much used to hearing every question about my artwork that I can imagine. That said, one question from a young artist just the other day caught me by surprise: “Do you ever make a mistake with your artwork, and if so, how do you not just get completely discouraged?”

Oh my gosh, my whole technique and process was built on top of mistake after mistake. Even the subject matters I paint are informed by past mistakes. Yes, if you’re a creative person, mistakes can be unnerving. That’s because we want to be perfect. I want something beautiful and brilliant to just flow out of me naturally, with little effort. I also want to fly, but neither scenario is possible. If you are a person who has given yourself to honing your create craft, then you know the little irritating secret: mistakes are our friends. The whole notion that “there are no mistakes with art” is utter nonsense. Progress is built because of mistakes, not in spite of them. (And yes, you may quote me.)

Just yesterday, one such mistake happened with a new idea I’ve been working on. I have upcoming “sail” artwork in the making. I say “upcoming” because I’m still in the experimental stages of developing it. I say “sail” because they will bow out from the wall rather than lay flat against the wall. Why would I do this? Oh, just because I think it could be really cool! But a couple months ago, I applied a flexible medium for texture to my 1/8” flexible panel and yesterday, I unwrapped a set of them (after about six weeks of being wrapped in brown paper to protect it) and realized that the flexible texture is not sticking to the panel. I stared at it with angst (naturally) and immediately went into the problem-solving mode. Either texture material is wrong, or the panel itself is the wrong material. So tomorrow, I will begin another prototype and trash the first one.

…keeping a playful heart when dealing with adversity is the key to ultimate success…

Do I feel frustrated? Depressed? Like a failure? NO! This is exciting. Seriously, I love this because eventually, I’ll figure it out. It’s really not rocket science, it just requires experimenting and playing. And play is fun.

So the moral of this story (which probably applies to everyone (artists and non-artists alike) is this: Getting something right the first time does not matter like you think it does. I think that keeping a playful heart when dealing with adversity is the key to ultimate success with whatever we’re trying to accomplish. And who knows, with enough creativity and playful experimenting, we really WILL fly.