Category: Creative Process

Getting Your First Art Show

Flow Arte Exhibition at Archibald et Alistair Montreal

Snow fell for the most part of the day. That soft, fluffy thing. The kind I love. It wasn’t cold. Just a perfect, memorable day. I wasn’t necessarily nervous until about 4:30 when I realized that I was doing my first art show IRL.

Flow Arte exhibition

You may have felt the same at one point: something that seems momentous is happening, maybe a speaking engagement, a feature in a magazine or blog. Maybe your graduation or your wedding or an exhibition, for example.

All those things bring the spotlight towards you and it seems for a brief moment, you’ve achieved something grand.

I may have a strange philosophy which I’m reluctant to share, but I’ll do it anyway because it’s helpful to me and maybe it will be helpful for someone else.

Low expectations always.

This doesn’t mean to shatter dreams or self-deprecate or undervalue things. What I mean is that if you put too much weight on something, it will probably never meet those high expectations. If you have low expectations, the result will always surprise you and even if it doesn’t go well, you won’t feel crushed.

This philosophy has helped me manage levels of disappointment. Of course, when I’ve secretly wanted something very badly and it doesn’t happen, I am indeed crushed and it takes me a while to get over it. Usually it’s something I’ve left to chance and superstition, but when an event is set and I walk into it with curiosity and low expectations I am 97% of the time happily surprised.

There was an art show.

FlowArte Exhibition

Have you ever come across someone who is doing what you want to do and wonder, hey, how did they get there? It happens to me often. And up until last year, I thought it was truly a case of “build it and they will come”. But in reality, every event, from tiny to grand, has so many steps. Not least, saying YES.

I live in a neighbourhood in Montreal that is not well known. In fact when people arrived they were joking that it was the first time they rode the Green line to the very end.

Archibald & Alistair is a lovely café near my house. The first time I went there I got so excited I texted my husband: we have a café!! And a million emojis. We used to live on the Plateau, so I was missing my weekly coffee crawl.

I  went a few times, followed them on Instagram and Facebook and genuinely interacted with them. At one point I went and offered them some greeting cards on consignment and they said yes. Part of their mission is to promote local artists. They exhibit a different artist each month.

After my 100 day project, I focused more and more on watercolour and at the end of 2017 they asked if I’d like to exhibit my work. A first art show!

Getting your first art show, despite your introvert self.

Two weeks before the exhibition I was about to balk. I didn’t know how to frame things, how they would look, if my work was good enough (always the question…) what would people say?

But little by little, overcoming my fear and my procrastination, I purchased frames, cleaned them, did last minute touch-ups to some paintings. Made a list, wrote a bio, made the little cards that go with each painting. And I promoted the show. This was by far the hardest. And yes, we all know that it shouldn’t feel awkward or yucky but it does.

FlowArte Portraits

I showed three portraits. Which I haven’t shared on social media. These portraits are very personal. This one for example, is one of my dearest friends. A woman with a personality unlike any other, so intelligent and cultured, so authentic and yet mysterious. She’s not on social media. She’s out there living her life. Touching other’s lives with her unique way of teaching. Nobody can ever forget her.

Camille Claudel Portrait by FlowArte

And this, a portrait of Camille Claudel.

My very first attempt at a portrait was in 2014, precisely Camille. The horror! I still have it. It’s a reminder to keep practicing, keep experimenting, keep going towards the aesthetic you want to achieve. (The photos aren’t quite clear because it was getting dark)

Camille’s story fascinates me. The movie with Isabelle Adjani is one of my favourites.

I’m also showing a series of mono prints that I made using glass and watercolor. After failing to get prints I liked on the Gelli plate, I looked for ways to do printing with watercolor. Five of the best results are on display. Two sold!

Mono Prints FlowArte

So, low expectations?

It was a lovely, casual, friendly evening. I was able to relax and talk a little about my work. I happily took compliments and enjoyed the moment.

Sometimes small events are the best for dipping your toes, especially if you’re an introvert. Simply take the opportunities that feel right for you.  I usually feel I have to take every opportunity that comes my way and there have been times when the stress of it has not been worth it.

If I’d been in a frenzy treating this as a live or die situation, like opportunities sometimes feel, it might have been a very different experience. If I’d expected sales, amazing contacts, partnerships and all that business stuff, I would not have savoured it. Instead, I enjoyed hearing about upcoming marriages, babies, travel plans. Gather recommendations for our upcoming trip to France, discuss a favourite topic of mine: handbags!

So if you’re an artist, small business owner, freelancer, be on the low-expectation spectrum, take the opportunities that feel good and enjoy the moment. It’s cliché, I know, but it’s also a great place to be.

Practicing one thing at a time

Today I felt like drawing.

It’s January 15 and I’m already overwhelmed. There is not much to be done about that. Except to recognize when things are not flowing, take a little break and do something else.

Since I started drawing and painting, I’ve practiced each thing separately. I learned how to draw faces, then I tried to draw full figures, gesture drawing, watercolor, florals and botanicals, abstracts. Each little thing by  itself.

There are a couple of disadvantages with this approach:

  1. When you want to bring all the elements together it becomes a little chaotic. There are important “nuts and bolts” that are missing such as design principles, story telling , layout and such. These things are not taught anywhere outside University. To your enquiry “learning to draw”, Google will send you down a rabbit hole of online classes. All of them quite valuable on their own but once you need to create a final piece of work, you need those nuts and bolts or it will fall flat.
  2. Drawing is different from illustrating  You can make stick figures or seriously “ugly drawings” and communicate more than the most accomplished artist. Where is the secret? When you learn to do lettering plus drawing one is still missing a very important piece: a message. Again, this piece, I believe, is obtained in that (lately) despised institution that is College or University.

Right now, I’m satisfied with my watercolor as artistic expression, I’m also satisfied with my technique although there is much room for improvement. I’m just happy that my colors are vibrant and you can tell what I’m painting. But I still want to be able to communicate something and I’m missing the nuts and bolts.

Where are they? How do you connect the different acquired skills and put them together into something that makes a person stop their feed and be unexplainably moved.

I don’t know.

I’m at an impasse, do I continue with watercolor or do I work on finding the nuts and bolts? I could improve my drawing skills, keep creating variations of what I’ve already done to arrive to that elusive “personal style”.

I know it’s there. I just need some more hours in a day.

Skip the recap but get a Free Printable 2018 Calendar

FlowArte Calendar 2018

Did you do everything you wanted to do this 2017?

No? That’s great.

It means you did other things that you probably need to acknowledge now and they probably will surprise you.

Free 2018 printable watercolor calendar

My friend and I have tried to do several end-of-year recaps using the Year Compass. We felt compelled to do it and like everything else that happens in mass sometimes we don’t even know why. Same thing for planning the next year.

Some people are born with a very structured-oriented brain. They can plan, execute and recap like it’s their second nature. Artists rarely operate this way but if we want to support ourselves with our work we need some of that structure; however, we need to discover it within ourselves instead of trying to adapt someone else’s methods to us.

I won’t pull out last year’s compass and compare what I said I’d do and what I actually did. Instead I will examine the themes that came up more often.

  1. What we want vs what we think we want.
  2. Finding true creativity and what does true mean.
  3. Ethics and values that guide my art making
  4. Learning resources
  5. Being a small business owner.
  6. Organizational skills
  7. Focusing on one thing vs. doing many.

So over the next few days I will examine each one of these themes and try to come up with answers that will guide me into 2018.

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Evolving Artistic Style

Changing watercolor style

A package arrived to my workplace last week. In fact, several packages arrived but I had been waiting for one in particular. A brush. A brush I’d heard so much about I really thought it would be a game changer. I waited for a month because I couldn’t find it here in Montreal. Ordering from Amazon and having to wait a month is not fun, it’s the severest form of “first world pain”.

Finally it arrived. I unpackaged it carefully just to be able to admire the thing in all its glory. All my faith was in this magical wand.

I still had to work four more hours before I could get home and dip it in water and in my lovely White Nights watercolor paints.   In my mind I went through all the things that had to happen before that moment: a 30 minute subway ride, eating dinner, cleaning the kitchen, walking Boris, unearthing my watercolor pad, the paints, changing the dirty water of the previous painting session and then, only then I would be able to experience the joy and the fabulousness of this brush.

The strange phenomenon of the “fine materials” is relentless. But this time I was convinced that after my incomplete #100daysofwcpostcards I had tamed it. In fact, I thought I was on to something, I loved making my postcards and I loved each and every one, even those I ended up tossing. In my head, with this brush I would be able to paint a-mai-zing-ly.

But I didn’t know what to paint.

“Should I paint another postcard?” It was dark and the artificial light changes colors. “Do I want to paint something figurative? Do color swatches?” I ended waisting a sheet of paper just doodling. I put the brush away.

Ignoring what is already there

Weeks go by so fast and I paint so much. It’s like a race to get somewhere, only I don’t really know where. I love painting with watercolor but I’ve been focusing on certain principles and rules and I didn’t totally love what I was painting. I love the immediacy of watercolor, but there are some styles that require long, painstaking processes, like layering, glazing. Precise, realistic, delicate. Other styles are very illustrative, almost like coloring. You do a sketch and then you fill it with color. The style I’m mostly drawn to and the one that has been emerging this year is the fluid, poetic, brush-strokey (sorry, this isn’t a word), but it’s the style where watercolor blends almost in a messy way.

Virginia Woolf's Garden

In this style you sketch directly with the brush. It’s a risky undertaking because you have to work so quickly. The painting above is one of the very first sketches I did. It’s inspired by Virginia Woolf’s garden. My palette was a real pile of mud afterwards but I was quite happy with this very first result.

This was another sketch, of which I did two versions, one with gouache and the front one in watercolor.

This one I did on a different type of paper:

The thing is, I did these paintings with my old brushes, not with the magical “new one”. So why order a brush that “I heard” was exceptional? Because somewhere along the line there is still a lot of doubt. I still believe that all those artists using this particular brush are so much better than I could ever be (and they ARE great!) but I have to force myself to recognize that all the practice, all the seeking, all the art book carrying from the library studying different artists has amounted to something.

Today I stepped out into my backyard to try to capture some of the (delayed) autumn colors. There is no fiery red anywhere yet. More dark browns, greens and occasional burgundy reds. I took the magical brush and tried it at last.

Autum Watercolors Flow Arte

Now, do you see a difference?

Autumn Watercolors Flow Arte
Our vine and my bike surrounded by more vines.

I don’t really. I could easily keep evolving without any more brushes. I’m happy about the looseness and this comes from the paint, the water and a medium-quality watercolor brush.

If you are considering those fantastic materials that an artist on Instagram is being sponsored for because you believe your art will improve BECAUSE of it, I urge you to step back and look at the work you’ve produced until now. Ask your work: do you need it?

Look at some of the pieces you’ve made, what did you use? What did you like? Compare to earlier work, do you prefer it now? Chances are that all the work you’ve done until now has been the result of just that: YOUR WORK and your evolving artistic style.

Now, if you suffer from brush addiction, I can’t really help you. I’m currently in withdrawal 😉