I am asked a lot about themes in my work and one of my themes is faces and masks. I use both words interchangeably since your face can be a mask and a mask can become your face.
The first thing we see when we meet each other is a face. How that face is presented to us depends on how the person is feeling. You may see a happy face, a sad face or an angry face etc. Most people put their best face forward. If they are having unpleasant feelings, they’ll put the mask on, the face that is just a presentation to the world, so the face becomes a mask, and the mask, their face.
It’s a survival mechanism that we all use. We don’t necessarily want everyone in the world to know how we are feeling. Sometimes we don’t even want people close to us to know.
But how effective is it to wear the mask. Sometimes it is very effective, and feelings are well disguised. Sometimes not so much and the true feelings come piercing through the armour – a momentary flash of weakness or just a vibe that something is not quite right.
Coping with the Holes in My Head, 2014
It is a literal and figurative thing. We wear our faces as masks to hide our true feelings. We wear masks to hide our true selves like at Halloween and costume parties. I often wonder what is going on behind the exterior presented. Are people dealing with “Holes in their Heads” or feeling “Off-kiltered?”
All this is of interest to me. Mostly we are chameleons, changing to suit our environment. Like the lizards I grew up with that can camouflage to the colours of trees. I am not sure why, but I am always interested in the internal workings of my fellow humans.
Everybody experiences self doubt about one thing or another at some point in their lives. For creative people, self doubt is always lurking around somewhere, waiting to pounce at a moment’s weakness.
As artists, we ask ourselves, is our work good enough, will people like it, do our work represent our best selves, is our work improving? These are not necessarily bad questions. We need to take stock ever so often. However, if we allow these questions to seep into our souls and undermine our progress or actions, and cripple us, then self doubt is taking over.
What I along with other artists need to remember is that art is subjective. As good as the work may be, not everyone is going to like or appreciate it. Also, we are all worthy, so we just need to step into who we are and stop doubting ourselves. No one is worthier than you.
Do not change what you do because a certain kind of art is selling. Your art is worthy and needs to be seen. Be true to you. Know that self doubt is natural especially in a creative environment where there will be varying views on what you do.
We should not allow doubt to conquer us. We should be the conquerors of doubt. How do we do this? We replace all negative thoughts with positive ones. We call upon past successes to remind ourselves that we are stars or at the very least, we have accomplished some good things. We should remember that our talents are divine gifts. It’s our right and responsibility to bring what we have to the world. In an uncertain world, the one person you want to be sure of is yourself.
There are times when I receive an opportunity that is so good that I cannot pass it up. However, this opportunity may be on a tight deadline. There are a few things I do to help myself in this situation.
Firstly, I choose a theme that I build my works around. Building a theme for an art show is like writing a story. Each work is like a paragraph that expands and fleshes out the topic. Having a theme gives me focus – a train of thought that zeroes in on a very specific path.
Know the size of the space. This will determine the number of pieces and sizes of works I’ll create. I’ll also go to see the space if I can.
Stay focused. It’s easy to get off track so I stay on course especially with the theme. I eliminate distractions and temptations that will take me away from my work. Just surfing the internet is a big distraction.
I make a list of each work that I have completed so I can see my progress and check what I have done against my target dates. This will let me know how much harder or faster I need to work. This list helps keep me motivated.
Breaks are my best friends. I take lots of them to rejuvenate myself physically and mentally.
The audience is very important, so I am mindful of their needs. I wouldn’t take my paintings to a show where they were expecting pop art. Another way to be mindful of the audience is to know my pieces so that I can have great discussions with viewers at the opening of the show.
At the end of the creation process, I take stock. Is the theme together and well thought out? Do I have enough pieces? Do I know the pieces? Am I ready?
What are some of the things that you do to meet deadlines and stay focused?
Being an artist is literally a hands on job. Using my hands to create something useful and valuable is one of the best things ever. The creative process of placing my hands on the work has taught me a few things.
It has taught me about my own power and limitlessness. If I can take a blank canvas and turn it into a product of value, then I have a certain kind of power. This reminds me that my only limit is myself. My hands are tools that engages my mind to my vast potential. The possibilities are endless.
The mastery of anything comes with practice. The repetitive motion of my hands connects with my brain and brings a synergy that nothing else can. There is power in action; in sitting down and getting the work done time and time again. After doing this for a while the process becomes intuitive. My hands know what to do; my brain tells me where to go.
Working with my hands have also taught me patience. Practice has taught me not to rush the process; to enjoy it step by step. I have waited for paint to dry, for colours to take root, and for my mind to distill an idea. Practice and patience go hand in hand and both assist in mastery.
I become close to my projects. I have touched them; and they have touched me. It is impossible to create art without becoming affected by what you are creating. In the final analysis, my work and I will be touching and connecting with someone else as well. At least, that is what I hope for.
There are many people who feel that they do not know art or the world in which it exists. Maybe this is true. You may not know art terminology, you may not know what piece sold at Christie’s or Sotheby’s or for what price, you may not know a lot of art stuff but the one thing that I am sure of is that you know what you like. And isn’t that all that matters. Buy what you are emotional about. Buy the piece that pulls you in; that you feel a connection to.
Carrying the Light
You should own some art even if you are not rich enough to buy a Picasso. Art is not only for the rich. Start where you are. There is a lot of good art out there at many different price points. Art is made for everyone’s soul so here are four fantastic reasons to start looking for art.
It enhances the feel of your space, giving that room character. There is nothing like a piece of art to transform cold, stark walls into a warm, interesting and aesthetically pleasing space. You will literally feel the difference in the space and in your own persona. This can extend to your mental state as well. Your mood is enhanced and we know that colour can affect mood positively. This is something you should want for the space that you occupy.
Art can start conversations. The right piece of art can start interesting and thought-provoking conversations. You invite friends, from time to time, into your space for food, drinks and of course, conversation. You want your get togethers to go well and that really depends on the conversation. The art you have purchased can be a great way to start and sustain the conversation. There are lots of issues and current affairs topics that we all have our opinions on. The discussion brought about by art can produce additional information, a different viewpoint, and possibly a change of heart. Art can be a force for change through conversations.
Art appreciates. Unlike a car that depreciates in value as soon as you drive it off the lot, art appreciates in value as time passes. Wouldn’t that be something you want? What other thing that you own and have in your space does that? You could be enhancing your space while making an investment. It’s a good, passive way to make money and a good legacy for your children or grand children.
Art can be a special legacy. It can capture the changing times, a great occasion, a person of note, just about anything. What if the art work you bought and are leaving behind was not only valuable in terms of money but in terms of your own culture – a legacy of cultural significance? To own and a Basquiat or a Kehinde Wiley would be more important to me than passing down a beautiful piece of jewelry or anything else because it speaks to black achievement and artistry. You may not be able to afford any of the artists mentioned but you can afford other good artists who have not yet made a name. Basquiat was not always famous. Go out there; buy some art and create a special legacy.
If anyone has bought any new art, let me know. What was it about the piece that pulled you in and held you?
If you have ever wondered how you can help the artist in your life (or any other artist) succeed, here are a few things. Chances are you may be doing some of these things already but maybe I will be able to put something new in the mix.
.Attend their art shows/Exhibition openings. We would all like you to attend our art show openings. This is where the art is presented and you get to speak one on one with the artists about the pieces. It can also be an impactful event because the opening is often indicative of how successful the overall show will be. If you cannot attend the opening, attend the show and let the artist know. He or she will appreciate it.
If you are ever going to purchase a gift for an artist, buy them art supplies. If buying art supplies is not your forte, ask the artists what to get. They will be happy and grateful to tell you. Art can be a very expensive venture; your gift will not go to waste.
Purchase a piece of art. It enhances the aesthetics of your space, spare your eyes from a blank wall and lift your spirits. In addition, the work you bought may increase in value. Who knows, in the future you may be able to make a profit from it. If you can’t afford the original, buy a print. Or commission the artist to do a piece for you that is within your budget.
Spread the word about the artist work within your circle, in person or on social media. There is nothing like word of mouth marketing. A positive endorsement from someone else goes a long way in influencing prospective art buyers and collectors. The endorsement may also open up other opportunities for the artists.
Show support on social media and by liking the work and following the artist. More than just clicking like and moving on, make a comment about the work. This shows that you really looked at the work and appreciate the value it brings to the world or just your community. Your comments may assist the artist with future projects in terms of giving people more of what they like and less of what they don’t.
As an artist, I am asked questions about inspiration all the time. What inspires you? Are you inspired all the time? What happens if you are not inspired? I will use this post to talk about two different kinds of inspiration.
Inspiration can come like a bolt of lightning. Its those moments when an idea is crystal clear and so fantastic that it can easily be transferred to canvas – or whatever your medium is. These moments are genius and can feel especially great. We all love these moments because everything flows. It all comes together perfectly.
Waiting in Vain, 2016
But inspiration does not work that way all the time. Inspiration can also be found within the grind. In the lightning bolt scenario, inspiration comes, then you create. With the grind, you must do the work for inspiration to appear.
If you do not have that bolt every time you want to create a work of art, what will you do? I cannot sit and wait for the next bolt to come or I would have significantly fewer pieces in my portfolio. What I do in times when lightning does not strike, is approach the canvas, my paints, my brushes, my thoughts. I stand face to face with my creative nemesis, I sketch, I design, I begin painting to see what comes, struggling through. In the process of creating, I am also chasing inspiration and I know that I will find it. The evidence will be in the finished product.
Finding inspiration in the grind is not just about artists or creative people, its for anyone who wants to accomplish anything. I am a creative so I use creative references. If you are a writer, you will have to sit down in front of a computer even if you have no clue what you will write. You will have to hit those keys. Write a line. Delete it. Write another. Starting your process is an invitation to inspiration to come in. It wants to come in. Sometimes it is reluctant but if you stick with the process long enough it will come.
Today I wish for you all the lightning bolts of inspiration you can get. However, when those fade, I wish for you the patience and tenacity to sit down and start working so that inspiration may come.
To Leave the Beaten Path. Art allows me to leave the usual path. I could paint what everybody else is painting, I can do the popular thing. But how will I make my mark as an imitator? How will I be different? Leaving the beaten path allows me to discover new ways to create, allows me to take risks and to learn new things about myself. When I am on the road not travelled, I am alone and have only my own creative thoughts to depend on.
To have an open mind. To leave the well travelled road, forces me to have an open mind. I carve out my own style. I paint the subjects I want to paint. I experiment with different paints and use various found objects in my work. Opening my mind leaves me available and open to new things which will enrich my mind, my art and my life.
To let go. If I am going to have an open mind, I have to let go. It’s much easier to do this in art than in life. But as I said, I am using one to inform the other. We all have perceptions that we hold dear; we are slaves to our culture, our family, our friends, our ancestors and we could go on. We are all colouring within the line but what if we coloured outside of it? What would we discover within ourselves and within our world?
All I need to do is start. I don’t need to be intimidated by a blank canvas. The empty space is waiting on me to make my mark. The canvas is yearning for me to use it to bring a story to life. I don’t always know what I will paint but I stand before the canvas and I think about what I can create that will be impactful. As soon as I start, the path starts to reveal itself. The reveal is not always quick but if I persist it becomes sure.
There is always another way. If I start and I realize that my creation is not going the way I envisioned it, I can change midstream. I have created works that I did not like. I gesso them over and create something new. These paintings are always the better ones because they have been through the fire of failure and came out popping. There are many ways to fill an empty canvas – different colours, different textures, more pop. This is the reason we should not be afraid to start. We have the ability to adjust.
To surround myself with people who understand my dreams and encourage it. This is the final one and it is a big one. The business of art is already challenging so I do not surround myself with naysayers who sap my energy and diminish my creativity with negative thoughts. I sever any cord that would tie me to discord, to anything that will let me lose focus, to anyone that feed self doubt. Self doubt can mean death to a creative. I surround myself with light; with people who encourage and help me to find my path. This is a very important life lesson – hold fast to dream builders; let go of dream killers. Light in; darkness out.
There is no perfection. There is only the best I can do in this moment. Every piece of art that I have ever done could have been done in many different ways. Perfection is really just a prerequisite for procrastination. We know where procrastination leads – nowhere. We must do all we can with the skills that we have and then let it go.
Silence and alone time is the best time for new ideas. We live in a very noisy world with so many things pushing and pulling us that it can be hard to think. It can be hard to hear our own thoughts and separate trivialities from substance. Alone time is precious and can lead to our best ideas. I come up with some of my best ideas when I am alone and there are no distractions.
Patience is indeed a virtue. A piece of work may not always take the direction I want it to but I work through it and persevere until I have something I can be proud of. Patience is a sort of waiting game and sometimes waiting is not a bad thing.
Art has taught me to be more observant; to see more. I see spaces, lines, colours depth and how they are used and how they relate to each other. I have come to appreciate the spaces between as much as the focal point itself. I take this into other aspects of my life to listen more, to observe more and to be more present. Awareness enhances life.
Details matter. It is the details that make the big picture. Every shadow, every line, every colour, every space, everything matters to the whole.
I usually explain my artworks to interested people by telling them my thoughts and intentions when I was creating the pieces. I tend not to definitively state that this is what it is because I want room for other views. My works for the most part have been described as contemplative and interpretive. In light of this, the work is really left up to the viewer’s interpretation and that is how I like it.