The following guest blog post is contributed by Huron River Art Collective member Mary A. Lewison. Mary’s painting Glowing Dandelion Field was accepted by Juror John Gutosky into the Collective’s Fall Juried Exhibit, 2022.
Artists are dazzled by the possibilities every blank piece of paper represents. Each one has the potential to be an artist’s magnum opus – their best work yet and a “masterpiece”. I have a large supply of paper in my studio and stashed around the house and barn. I have potentially hundreds of masterpieces waiting to materialize into reality.
Each piece of paper’s destiny is determined with the first few marks made on it. It is no longer full of infinite possibilities. It has been set on a specific course as a graphite drawing or a watercolor or a pastel. That is what makes a blank piece of paper rather intimidating. With the first mark and each succeeding mark, it’s possibilities are reduced. All artists are full of hope for each piece of paper, or we could not make that first mark.
An artist knows that if we don’t connect with the Infinite inside of ourselves, if we stay on the surface of our consciousness, in our heads, our efforts will not produce anything that surpasses the sum of our skills. Artists think of being connected with this Infinite Source within ourselves as being “in the Flow” or as being “in the Zone”. We only get there when we let go of ourselves. Often for me, it’s when I realize the drawing or painting is rather awful! That’s when I give up control and allow the Infinite to take over.
The best works an artist produces come from this Infinite source. We stare at a painting or drawing that seems to be way beyond our capabilities, and we wonder how we got there – how it came into existence by our hand. And it’s wanting this connection with the Infinite that pushes an artist to get out another clean piece of paper and make another first mark.
Mary is a 7th generation Ann Arborite and an artist for more than a half century. Mary Lewison is currently self-employed at Open Waters Studio in her barn and home just west of Ann Arbor. https://openwatersstudio.com/To inquire about purchasing this painting or other artwork by Mary A. Lewison, email: email@example.com
Huron River Art Collective’s Fall Juried Exhibit can be seen at the Ann Arbor District Library (lower level) through the Reception on November 13th, 2-4p. Artwork is available for purchase directly from the artists with no commission. Join us at the reception to hear from the Juror, John Gutosky, and for awards.
I was surrounded by sequins, furiously stitching away to meet my class deadline in the 5th grade. Mrs. Codner assigned us a project to create a paper or fabric carp. Mom showed me how I could use sequins to make beautiful, sparkly fish scales. It excited me so much I jumped right in.
There was, however, a problem. There was NO way I could finish the assignment by the deadline. The technique was too time consuming. I’d never been late for a homework assignment, let alone for a project. I was terrified.
Today I can call myself a recovering perfectionist. As a child, perfectionism was already in full bloom. I attended school that day, despite my best attempts to convince Mom otherwise, eyes filled to the brim with tears. And when I told my teacher it would be late because the technique I was using was so time consuming, all I could see (and still acutely remember) was her disappointment.
I went home that day determined to bring my finished carp to school the next day. I knew it was something special.
And when Mrs. Codner saw my project, her eyes popped out of her head. I felt redeemed. It affirmed that the work I put in was worth it. And she hung my carp at the front of the class.
Today I embroider and find other ways to embellish my art.
Childhood is a powerful part of our lives. For better and for worse. Connecting to the child we once were, either through material or giving ourselves permission to play, can be a wonderful way to access and channel the creative voice we seek.
Tip Two: Stop Forcing Success
Picasso is often quoted as saying, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”
We start to develop ideas in our head about what we should be doing with our art, what are the correct ways to make, share, sell, display art…
And internalized rules dealing with definitions of success can easily drive our artistic decisions.
And yet, for me, it was returning to a place where there was nothing to give and no more rules to care about that helped me receive the very accolade or recognition I’d sought.
I was teaching high school art when I got these headaches that wouldn’t quit. The CT scans and MRIs had some bad news, too: it was a mass on my pituitary gland. They didn’t know what it was, or if it was cancerous. We’d know more after they went in.
I was in my mid to early twenties and here I was signing a waiver that told me I could go blind, be on lifelong hormone replacement therapy, or die.
In the days that led up to my surgery all I wanted to do was paint. So paint I did (and perhaps for the first time without a plan or a goal). I painted because I wanted to and knew it could be the last time I painted.
It was the first time in my life, since early childhood, that I had painted purely because I could.
Thankfully the surgery was a success and my health returned quickly. Shortly thereafter I found a group call for young artists facing health issues and disability. The work I had painted before the surgery was a good fit for the exhibition so I entered the work.
Those two pieces purchased my first laptop and went on a two year tour of the US which included stops at the Smithsonian and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Before that I’d been accepted to, backed out of, then completely rejected from probably half a dozen masters programs.
As soon as I let go, as soon as I stopped trying so hard, I won.
Tip Three: Reflect Regularly
Finding a way to let go and return to creative flow honors the voice already within us. And yet, there are also systems and behaviors we can use to build our skill and develop our unique artist voice.
“I’m bad at math.”
“Artists are disorganized.”
There are A LOT of definitions and cultural assumptions about what it means to be a creative person. We are labeled with chronic mental health problems, as unreliable or inconsistent professionally, bad with money, and I’m sure we could add to this list.
How could these notions NOT impact us?
We internalize beliefs like these and take them on as personal definitions of artistic value and success without even knowing it. Which is why it’s so important to take time periodically to check in with ourselves to ask:
How do I define “artist?”
What does being a successful creative mean to me?
And, how do I get there?
Being strategic with how we use our time, and ensuring it’s aligned with our values and personal definitions will help us get there (wherever there is) faster.
Taking the time to address our limiting beliefs (H/T to Gay Hendricks The Big Leap) can ensure the artistic choices we make come from a place of curiosity and play. And when we make from a place of true flow, honoring the path before us rather than forcing it, we can confidently develop and refine our unique artist voice.
Carrie Brummer is an artist and professional educator who taught for years around the world before creating Artist Strong, an online artists’ community and school. Her personal artist practice is about elevating women, highlighting and addressing gender norms, and perfectionism. Her work has been exhibited across the United States, in Canada, United Arab Emirates, and Oman. You can learn how she supports self-taught artists at www.ArtistStrong.com and view her original art at www.CarrieBrummer.com.
The following post is contributed by Victoria J. Fry, artist, educator, and founder of the Visionary Art Collective. She was the speaker for the Empowering Women Artists program this past September.
After graduating from art school in 2012 I was at a loss. I attended one of the most prestigious art institutions in the country and I didn’t know the first thing about setting myself up to have a successful art career. I had worked with amazing professors, took informative courses, and was exposed to the incredible, highly coveted NYC art scene. That said, I left school without any practical skills or knowledge, and becoming a successful artist felt like an abstract idea. I did not know how to submit to, or even find, opportunities to showcase my work. I also did not fully understand how to write a strong artist statement or how to create a professional website. Selling work without help from a gallery seemed like something only other artists knew how to do, and I felt ill-equipped. So, I jumped ship.
I always knew that in addition to making art I loved teaching, and I had a passion for connecting with young artists to help them actualize their own potential. I followed that passion to graduate school where I received a Master’s in Art Education. Although I loved teaching, and it gave me a deep sense of joy and fulfilment, I was constantly reminded of my own love for creating art. Balancing these two passions seemed nearly impossible to me for years. Visiting galleries and museums inspired me, but it also made me think that I abandoned my own art practice to become a full-time educator. I knew I wanted to find a way back into my art practice, but didn’t know how to ease back in. I asked myself, where do I go from here?
About three years after graduating from art school, I finally picked up the paintbrush and started painting again. At first it was solely for enjoyment, and I was happy to be back in the practice of creating art. I kept on like this for a few more years until the pandemic hit, and then everything changed. I was released from my school early and suddenly had an abundance of time. I knew that I wanted to use this newfound time to focus on my art in a much more serious way than I ever had before. Not only did I hit the studio every day to create a new body of work, I set time aside to learn about the skills and tools I would need to advance my art career. Through research and determination, I learned how to write a powerful artist statement, create a professional website and develop a strong body of work. I began submitting to opportunities for the first time in years, and finally I started to make headway. It was encouraging to be selected for shows, and it gave the confidence I needed to continue pushing forward.
I also invested in a mentorship program that helped me to gain clarity in regards to my overarching vision as an artist. I quickly realized that not only did I want to pursue an art career, I wanted to create a community that celebrated my two biggest passions: art and education. After several months of studio time and engaging in deep self-reflection, I launched Visionary Art Collective. Through Visionary Art Collective, I began to connect with artists and educators around the world and engage in meaningful conversations that further inspired my practice. I began to feel fulfilled in ways that I had never experienced, and realized that I had an underlying passion for community-building. As I experienced this creative metamorphosis, I also began to study qualities that successful artists and entrepreneurs possessed. The number one trait that I noticed among successful artists and entrepreneurs was showing up – showing up to make the work, showing up to post and share the work, showing up to sell work and submit to opportunities, and showing up to share about the beautiful but challenging journey and reality of being an artist. I began to open up even more on social media and I allowed myself to be vulnerable with fellow artists and educators. The more I shared about my journey, the more empowered I became. Sharing the process, even the messy parts, helped me to further connect with my community on a much deeper level.
At this point, I was making strides in my art career and had launched Visionary Art Collective, which was growing and expanding quickly. I came to realize that I was a multi-passionate person and I finally began to embrace this. For years I felt like I had to fit in the box of either being an artist or an educator, and I was always trying to choose the best path. I started celebrating the fact that I had many passions, despite what society conditions us to believe – which is that we have to choose a single, linear path and commit to it for life. Over the past year and a half, I have learned so much about myself and the kind of life that I want to lead. More importantly, I have begun to create a life that fulfills and excites me. Through the work that I’m doing as an artist, educator, and now founder of Visionary Art Collective, I hope to inspire, support, and empower fellow artists.
My advice for any artists, educators, or entrepreneurs who are reading this is to carve out time to reflect on how you want to live your life, and how you can push past your own boundaries to grow. Write down your big, hairy, audacious goals and try not to fear them or cast them aside for being unrealistic. Instead, sit with them, meditate on them, visualize them, and then get practical and write down everything you think you need to do in order to accomplish these goals. Although it can be challenging, do not shy away from putting yourself out there.
If we want to reach our goals and increase our own visibility, then we must learn to shamelessly promote ourselves and the work that we create. Otherwise, who else will do it for us? The key to achieving our goals is to first find clarity and then to get specific about what we want to do. Lastly, take inspired action. I encourage you to take the first leap today!
The Empowering Women Artists program is a collaboration between Huron River Art Collective, Women’s Caucus for Art Michigan Chapter, and the Detroit Society of Women Painters and Sculptors. This program offers an invited speaker event every other month. On alternate months we will host a casual discussion and networking event. Together, we support and empower women in their pursuit to gain equity in the arts, assure diversity, equity, and inclusion with a special interest in supporting women of color and all persons who identify as women.