Who here has a favourite movie soundtrack that they have listened to over and over again until it gets to the point where that song/those songs no longer exist separately from the film. It’s kind of like reading a book and then seeing the film adaptation for the first time. Your initial interpretation somehow vanishes and all you’re left with is someone else’s visualization of a narrative you fell in love with. I mean, if you remember what your vision of paperback Harry Potter was before Daniel Radcliffe came around and eradicated it, good for you! I don’t know how you do it. Like adaptations, soundtracks become so attached to films (and television shows- The O.C.!!) that it is almost impossible to imagine their existence beforehand.
Personally, most of the songs on the Save the Last Dance soundtrack have this impression on my mind. What makes this soundtrack, and many MANY others, so magical is how they are fused together with the soundtracks of our own lives. If you hear Ice Cube’s “You Can Do It” without thinking of Save the Last Dance plus how OLD you were (11) and WHERE you were (basketball team sleepover) when you watched that life changing dance scene (maybe not life changing, but memorable nonetheless), then, well, I’m sorry you missed out! But if it’s not this movie, then it’s another film or television show and another soundtrack that transports you back to that particular time and place in your life where you felt something. I feel the same way about the soundtrack for The Shawshank Redemption. I actually spent some of my birthday money one year (happy 15th birthday to me!) on buying that soundtrack so I could listen to the opening score (on repeat) that takes us on a journey into the Shawshank prison for the first time. Plus Hank Williams and the opera number by Edith Mathis and Gundula Janowitz. These songs take me back to watching the movie for the first time with my dad as a kid as well as my high school art room where I listened to this soundtrack during our work periods in my Walkman (ha!). I still listen to it and I’m automatically inspired. Same goes for “Moon River” sung by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. These sounds have made up part of my life soundtrack, which by default seeps into my art soundtrack.
There are so many moods I paint through before I reach my paintings final emotional state, whether on paper or a canvas, and reconnecting with the songs that take me to a variety of times and places in my life helps me to recreate those emotions in a different way, altering and abstracting the memories slightly to create a new interpretation .
The journey is rich, and the sounds are beautiful.
You know how when we're kids we're encouraged to eat dirt to build up our immune system, making it stronger so it can fight back against all of the sickness inducing bacterium? Our immune systems are dramatically influenced and shaped by exposure to microbes throughout life and we kind of adapt as we go along. Don't worry, this is about as scientific as I'm ever going to be, but I found a neat correlation between this whole Let Them Eat Dirt! phenomenon and our individual pursuit of our dreams.
The other day I received an email from my dad with a quote from the astute Winston Churchill, tagging it as words his young sprogs should live by: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
In essence: Eat dirt! Then you'll be stronger to tackle what comes next.
I know that these words came to Mr. Churchill during a time of national and global distress, but they also carry a certain weight when applied to our individual struggles. Sometimes we are too scared to get messy, to really let ourselves be vulnerable, opting instead to live passively simply because of this invisible lingering fear of failure. What if we put all of ourselves into something, and we fail? Ah, the adverse effect of what if, a question that loads negativity and propels insecurity forward.
Creative ideas and businesses tend to grow in familiar soil - the dirt of failure. We all get a little messy sometimes and stumble (eat pavement) on the way to our dreams. Accepting that no one is immune to failure pushes us to create solutions to our problems and challenges us to hold onto those positive specs of scattered hope. Just know that when all else seems lost, there are still things to hold on to, like the other people who are equally confused and feeling out of place. We are all right where we are supposed to be. I like to believe that this initial disorder, which at first glance highlights our own inhibitions, will later reveal a new perspective and pave the way for new dreams. Just keep creating. Keep feeding your soul with your passion each day.
However, what if we have the opposite problem. What if we’re paralyzed by our fear of failure that we don’t even have the courage to start? How do we summon that inner strength and fortitude required to pursue our ambitions?
A lot of the time we are introduced to our true selves when we're gasping for air while we’re floundering, kicking desperately to make it to shore. That’s where our desires for something true and authentic starts. Surrounded by dark waves waiting for those bits of light to reflect off of our souls, not just the water, illuminating something that was always there, it just took a while to wash away the dirt.
Keep kicking. Life wants you to fight back. Find the courage to continue. Don't be scared to eat dirt.
This week was all about Banks (go download everything you can!) After hearing her song “Crowded Places” in an episode of Girls I was hooked. Her entire album “The Altar” is beyond my limited vocabulary, which is why I did a lot of painting this week. Can't say it? Paint it! Guided by the words from title tracks “Gemini Feed” and “Trainwreck” I reached a new space in my pursuit for emotional expression. These songs transported me to all of these different times in my life where I felt out of control and unworthy, a time where my voice didn’t feel valued and so I tried to make myself smaller, invisible even. I imagine many people can relate this, which is unfortunate, but there are ways to grow back into our bodies and recover what was once lost.
Certain lines gripped me deeply. I thought I’d share them because sometimes when we’re listening to songs the lyrics can get away from us as we’re swept up in the rhythmic notes and palpable beats. Or maybe that’s just me. I struggle to make out words clearly and am much better at feeling the sounds.
Open up your eyes
There's nothing on my body left to see
I tried a thousand times
I tried to say "I love you", but you didn't hear me
And you're passive-aggressive
Convinced me other people didn't care about me
Talking to ears that have been deaf for as long as I can remember
A self-medicated handicap so I speak to myself
And I try so hard to get his stupid deaf ears to hear
That have become illiterate, I've become dumb
Hey, hey, hey
Deep, am I right? They summed up so succinctly what it is I felt for so long, that is until I found my paint brush. Thankfully, I no longer feel small and insignificant. Instead, I’ve transformed my vulnerabilities into my greatest strength. I want you to do the same. Our unique voices are a gift to this world and there isn’t a day that goes by that I do not feel incredibly grateful for finding my words in colours.
This week, since my work space is rather limited these days, I channeled all of my emotional energy into smaller paper pieces. These surfaces felt more fitting for the wide range of feelings I was trudging my way through. I couldn’t possibly get everything into a singular canvas. This way each piece could explore a new song and sentiment.
So, how do you express your voice? The world wants to hear it!
When it comes to art, I’m a big fan of invading the personal space of a piece of work. To fight to urge to touch all of the details, I will put my face as close to the canvas as is socially acceptable, sometimes hoping I’ll be able to smell the varnish. Maybe you’ll disagree with me when I say this, but I believe that the true aesthetic pleasure of an artwork rests confidently in the minute details.
Impressionist artwork holds these tiny features in the highest esteem, to the point where my enjoyment of the larger image is somewhat distracted by each little brush stroke and colour choice that were all somehow placed to create this grand illusion of a complete picture. Of course when you get up close it resembles a piece of abstract work with the seemingly chaotic splattering of colour, though it is very much under control. I think this sort of artwork is reflective of our culture these days. We are moving so quickly, running through the (forgive me) museum of life that we seldom pause to see what is actually making up the landscape and our aesthetic experience each day. All of these brush strokes that go underappreciated because we are too focused on desperately catching a glimpse of that mythical bigger picture.
It’s one of the reasons why I like to get up close and personal with my own work and photograph tiny sections. Sometimes these images have been confused for larger paintings when in reality they make up an area of (at most) 5 by 6 cm. At times even smaller if my camera will stay focused. I guess I just don’t want these details to go unnoticed. They’re too important. These little flecks of colour, line work, shapes, and everything else in between contribute to the unity and cohesion of a piece of art. Like a piece of writing where each word serves a purpose, these details are there for a reason, and are not to be overlooked. Not only do details prompt us to pause and be present, but it affords us the opportunity to reflect and connect to what we might be feeling. I’m a strong believer in art’s ability to move us emotionally, whether it’s photography, painting, music, film, fashion, even food, our emotions are strong indicators of whether a piece of art resonates and is successful, or not.
Take pause every now and then to soak up the details. Notice them. Focus on them. Let them simmer. Connect and feel what they have to offer to your soul. Everything has reason and purpose - it’s up to you to pay attention and determine what it means to you.
Well here is my latest venture into documenting my artistic process. I still struggle photographing all of the steps, which is especially visible at the end when I suddenly flipped a switch and decided I hated what I painted, leading me to completely revamping the canvas in one fell swoop.
Eventually I arrived at my newest piece that I've appropriately titled "Reverse Faults" and it was my first time working on a 36 x 36 canvas. I wasn't quite sure what to make of this size at first or how I could express what I was feeling, other than pure frustration (which is definitely visible at times). That being said, I also like the idea of challenging myself and switching up sizes. You know, getting outside of that comfort zone, which is something we all love to do.
Sometimes I'll just sit on the ground and stare until inspiration strikes. It could take minutes or hours (perhaps a few days) until I feel a need throw on some acrylic, but that's okay. It's important to acknowledge this time because I don't like the idea of inspiration being forced. I'm all about natural and organic artistry.
As you can see, I'm obviously questioning what direction to even go in at this point. I only knew that I wanted to focus on cool colours and have white areas breaking through. I'm really fond of this concept of breaking through. There are so many visible and invisible barriers that we are constantly on the cusp of overcoming in our daily lives, yet we (maybe just me) feel held back by some intangible force that doesn't want us to breakthrough. What it is exactly that we're trying to get to is subjective, but we're all on that journey together.
I think that I changed my direction because I wanted some more colour. I was feeling a little more inspired by the spring weather and the longer day light hours during this process, so I didn't want to feel trapped in my dark moody winter headspace. Orange and gold are now my go-to colours when I need an immediate emotional pick me up. They bring clarity to what it is I'm trying to articulate and instigate that aha! moment.
This is what happens when I decide I hate something so much that I just need to completely eradicate everything that came before it (for the most part). What I love about reaching this point though is that I know my canvas, and myself, have gone through this unique journey together and bits of the past are peeking through the top layers. That's the beauty of the process. You can't completely erase what came before, but you can modify and build. Each layer is a stepping stone towards the final product and I can't undervalue that time spent on it. No time was wasted, maybe some paint, but it all adds up. I'm happy with the outcome and feel very inspired by the results of this particular process.
“Lend your ears to music, open your eyes to painting, and stop thinking!"
Wassily Kandinsky is famously known as the artist who painted music. Sounds inspired abstract shapes and colour combinations, all in an effort to express what he was seeing and feeling. You can see it in his work - the music that is. Music, or at least the idea of it, appears in each brush stroke. The movement, the rhythm, it’s all there. While I was doing a art teaching placement for school, I designed an activity where students would just listen to instrumental music and simply draw (using pencil crayons) what they were feeling. It's not as simple as it sounds. Listen to music and draw? A monkey could do that, right? But I like to think there is a little more skill applied to it because it's not just the movement and the rhythm we're trying to abstractly get down on paper, it's the feeling behind it. Feel it!
I'm constantly updating my playlist (thanks to one of my very musically inclined friends - I made her do all of the heavy lifting in putting together an assortment of songs for me). My favourite songs are the ones that pull me in with the first few notes, the ones that take me on a journey in the way they cling to my heartstrings. When I feel it in my chest and see it in my mind, the inspiration flows smoothly.
This week was inspired by a handful of songs by one artist:
These raw beats and honest lyrics worked their way into my paintbrush in new ways and I’m not mad about it! I read an article interviewing the band and the lead singer, Kelly Zutrau, openly discussed how she gets terrible stage fright and to prevent her anxiety from getting the best of her, she needs to keep as many things the same as possible, mainly her low key dressing. There is this fear for her (and many others I know, myself personally) of not dressing in a way that would appeal to more people. She'll try hyping herself up to be more 'feminine' on stage by wearing a pattern, but then she’ll fall back on an old familiar black t-shirt at the last minute. Comfort is sometimes the key to creating your own unique brand and aesthetically there is no value in representing a distorted version of ourselves if we don't feel good about it.
Anxiety sometimes leads to revealing our most authentic selves and this fear of being someone we’re not isn’t a bad thing. In fact, we should all embrace it. I carried this mentality into my painting this week because I often feel like I’m just not good enough, that I didn’t go to art school so I have no business trying to paint for a living. I wake up feeling like a fraud, or as Holden Caulfield would say, a phony. Why? Because we live in an age where we constantly compare ourselves to others and getting caught up in the work of other individuals tends to make us feel inferior by comparison. I guess the message I’m getting at is that we are all our own imperfect idiosyncratic selves, so don't waste a second thinking that someone else has it better. The second I stopped comparing my work to others, I felt like I flourished, because the comparison is futile. Liberate yourself from this incessant need to liken yourself to someone else and you’ll find you’re a whole lot better than you think.
It all starts with a dot. A simple mark that turns into a line that morphs into a shape that fills up with a spectrum of colours.
More dots means more lines and shapes and a plethora of hues. These then open opportunities for expression, chances to voice honest, innovative ideas, and paves roads to somewhere new, a place where fear of making a mark doesn’t prevail.
Fear used to control most of my choices and ruled my life in an painful way. That's not to say that I currently live without fear. Sometimes fear is a good motivator and can really push us to limits we were not aware we had. But when it postpones living...that's another thing entirely. When new challenges and opportunities presented themselves, I chose to go down the road most traveled, the one I was comfortable on and felt confident in my abilities. Fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of judgment, these fears fastened themselves to my psyche, infiltrated my muscles, and penetrated my bones. I could not move. In the past I excused myself from attempting too many things, and I won’t say I regret it, but I mourn for those missed opportunities and am now doing everything I can to never let life slip by me the way it has. Fear is no longer a revolving door.
So, how do we liberate ourselves from these invisible shackles that hold us back, that chain us to restricted living and lock us into our comfort zones? Just know this. Everything starts from a dot. One step. One mark. One brick. Kind of like the age old, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. If you don’t try, or if you don’t at least start, then there is no way to succeed.
How do you handle fear?
I’ve found that the process writing is quite similar to that of abstract painting.
I start with this seed of an idea (a feeling) and expand from there. Where it goes, I’m not quite sure, until I’ve reached the end at least.
So how do you know when a painting is done? How do you know when the final brush stroke has been made? I find that the same questions pertain to writing. Is a piece ever really done? I guess, in essence, no. It’s never really done, because being “done” implies an absoluteness, something complete to the point where no changes can ever be made. Changes can always be made. There are always areas that we’ll want to improve on or maybe you didn’t get the colours or words just right the first time around. But sometimes you have to throw insecurity to the wind and release your work to the world.
After battling with these unsure feelings, sometimes as artists we will reach that point where we believe in our hearts that nothing else needs to be done. Once a piece of art or writing has reached the final draft, where I am confident in the clarity of its message and the feelings being conveyed, it’s time to step back. Maybe you know the feeling too? When you’ve come to the end of something and you just know that you’ve reached its absolute.
In philosophy, the concept of the Absolute is that it is the truest reality, but its place in the arts is sporadic. Art is the act of creating something that is inexpressible, or maybe even unthinkable. The absolute is inflexible, it’s fixed. So I guess the only absolutes in art are things like there is never a round square, or that orange, purple, and green are not primary colours. It’s a fixed reality. Needless to say, there aren’t many absolutes in the art world, especially with the creative process. Perhaps there will never be a complete absolute, but we are always in the pursuit of it, are we not? We’re constantly seeking to complete ourselves as humans, to make ourselves whole, to express ourselves honestly, through whatever means possible. We are searching for our place in reality, our purpose, our absolute. A reality that goes beyond breathing. Each painting is a representation of my reality and I’m happily existing in it.
Personally, there are few things that I find to be more calming or beautiful than a clean, blank canvas. I always walk home from the store feeling this sense of urgency and excitement, trying to anticipate what my white slate will eventually look like. But then this excitement is followed by panic and I question everything. I can't do this. What if I mess up? Where do I start? What colour do I start with? I suck at painting. Then if I settle on a colour the questions become, What shade of purple? Should I start light or dark? What colour do I want to transition to? Where do I start? Someone just do this for me! I hate purple! Then finally I will feel so wound up that I just dip my brush in paint and GO. Because we all have to start somewhere. The beauty of paint is that I can always go back and cover up the areas I'm no longer in favour of and make alterations as I move along. Thankfully, nothing is set in stone. And so the panic transforms into something a little more peaceful and, as the incorrigible Elsa says in Disney's Frozen, I just LET IT GO!
I thought I’d document the painting process of a recent painting to show just how different it looks from beginning to end. I attempted to illustrate just how many changes occur before I settle on a final product. Even then, is it ever really done? I’m sure tomorrow I’ll look at it with contempt and feel the urge to white it all out.
With each break between layers of paint my mood seems to be very consistent in that it is never the same when I return. What I felt during that first layer is usually not indicative of how I’ll feel during those final brush strokes. Maybe you can see it? I was feeling (initially) like a phoenix rising from the ashes (as I was coming off of a week of illness) and wanted the painting to reflect that. But, as you can see it kind of went in a different direction with each rest break (nap).
It was an interesting process to reflect on the various steps it takes to reach the end. But what I find to be the most intriguing is how much I didn't document. I tried my best to capture each stage and my shifting feelings, but even then, each pause to take a photograph disrupts the flow of painting and can somewhat inhibit inspiration.
So enjoy your process and when you're really feeling it, don't stop to take a picture. Keep with the momentum because that's when the magic happens.
Maybe you remember this, but my beloved YTV used to air a show called “What-A-Mess” in the mid 1990s, based on British children’s books of the same title (episodes can be conveniently found on YouTube!). At the time my parents were trying to monitor our television consumption, so my sister and I were allotted 30 minutes a day to ensure we didn't transform into the mythical couch potato, which meant only one show. HOW DOES ONE MAKE SUCH A DECISION?! Ultimately, I settled on “What-A-Mess” and now looking back it seems like an oddly prophetic choice. What-a-Mess is an accident-prone dog who loves to eat and run around outside, overly dirtying his clean coat and getting blamed for things out of his control, so naturally I related. At the time I felt like I was just a mess waiting to happen, like trouble was was some sort of invisible badge that pinned itself to my chest without my permission. I hated anything that had to do with cleaning up, but loved the process of making the mess, much to my parents chagrin. It wasn’t just about getting my hands dirty: my face, hair, and clothing also had to confront the wrath of my self-indulgent disorder.
In essence, What-a-mess was my childhood spirit animal, not just was he so true to himself and owned his natural tendency to get a little mucky, but he was SO HAPPY to just throw himself freely into life and that meant making a mess along the way. Pure joy was found in the filth and I connected to this informal chaos, which has translated into my studio life today. Ah, the simple pleasures. It’s by no means a glamorous or romantic space, but it is my tiny little piece of the world where my imagination can thrive and I don’t have to clean up for anyone. In a way, I find that the constant set-up and take down breaks the fluidity of the artistic process. Maybe you can relate? It feels less natural and requires more effort, which means that by the time I get things set up, the desire to create fades a little. And so I keep the mess present, and What-a-Beautiful-Mess it is.
Sorry I didn’t clean up for you! My cat doesn't seem to mind.