Finding Your Subject: Just Keep Making Stuff

Butter Tart

Finding your style, your subject, as an artist is something artists are encouraged to do, but most are resistant to, though many hope to arrive at something naturally. Why is that? Branding mainly I suppose. It is easier to be known for something, and to build a market for something, if that something has a consistent look to it. As creative types who are trained to push boundaries and break norms, settling in to one style or subject is like choosing to encase yourself in a plastic suit that looks like you but can’t move, or grow, or express all the interesting weird parts of yourself. I was once told that based on the range of my work (I had brought three paintings to a critique), I came across as three completely distinct personalities! However I think eventually, as an artist follows his/her own interests and learns more about what truly motivates him/her, certain fascinations will emerge and make themselves clear without the need to plasticize.

Right now I believe I see this happening with my food paintings. Certainly the subject matter is not going to win any awards for its revolutionary content, however the fascination is authentic to me and my lived experience as a member of my society. So perhaps this is how finding your authentic voice as an artist happens:

It all started with an innocent request from my husband Uncle. Actually, I think it all started with a 90 pound weight loss. It’s known that when you are depriving your body of sufficient calories, your body has a tendency to suggest solutions to you. Suddenly you can’t get that craving out of your mind. It develops into a fixation on high quality home made versions of your old favourites. I love Christmas fruitcake, and decided if I was going to indulge in the seasonal treat I would make my own brandy drenched home made cake. One cake was all it took and I was hooked. So back to my husband’s Uncles request. My husband suggested I make one for his father and uncle, since as his mother had passed away her custom of making them was gone. The following year I made one for Harry, and offered to make one for Bob. However as the fruitcakes are a weighty cake that cost twice as much to ship as to make, Bob asked if I would please paint him a fruitcake and send that instead. And so I did, for four straight Christmases. Bob now has a set of four fruitcake paintings.

Then I was looking for a novel approach to participate in Calgary’s premier event of every summer since long before I was born, the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede. The Stampede hosts the Western Showcase Artist’s Studios and Art Gallery each year, a themed juried commercial art show which has distinctly shaped the arts in Calgary. I was thinking about what my favourite part of Stampede was growing up in Calgary, and for me it had to be the citywide free pancake breakfasts. Whatever your economic status, political, cultural or social affiliation, you are always welcome to enjoy a free pancake breakfast at any one of the many events hosted across the city during the 10 days of Stampede. So I decided to do a series of paintings combining my love of art history with my love of pancake breakfasts.

And now I am happily working away on a series of still life paintings depicting Canadian heritage treats such as Butter tarts, Saskatoon Jam and Nanaimo Bars.

Here is where the innocent request meets my own natural interest. Significant weight loss is one of those events that permanently changes ones metabolism. There are as yet no numbers on when one returns to ‘normal,’ as though one had never had the extra weight in the first place. I may never lose this interest in good food, as my subconscious seeks to assist me to return to my former size. So as strange as it may seem these coincidentally arrived at paintings of food may be a long term authentic subject matter, one I didn’t realize I had been developing. In fact, the further back I look, the more I find I was engaging with food in my work without realizing it as part of my own personal visual language.

Security oil on canvas 20″ x 40″ Debbie.lee Miszaniec

My advice to you if you are struggling against the advice to narrow down your style, your subject and your interests, as I do, is to let it happen naturally. What gives you the most joy? It may not be what you think it should be, or what others think is a worthy subject matter, or a profitable one. However if you let it, your voice will emerge on its own anyhow, without your intention. Just keep making.

Back to 2018: New/Old Video

2020 Revisits 2018

I discovered that I still had some footage from a 30 day vlog project I was recording in 2018, testing if I wanted to do this video thing. It turned out that I had way too much going on at that time to juggle a regular vlog, and so I shelved the footage. In between then and now two thirds of the footage went missing, but what remained was still an interesting look back for me as I reflected on what happened to those projects and involvements, and how they affected 2019. Now that I have decided to work on my Youtube Channel for 2020, I thought it might be fun to do a rewind and update video based on that test project. One thing I realized watching the footage, I love that haircut! It might be time to book a visit with a hairdresser.

10 Places To Look For Arts Opportunities in Calgary.

This piece was commissioned for one Call I responded to, and was also used for another later unrelated Call I responded to!

I was talking to another artist at a gallery opening one day (ironically an artist who has gallery representation, something I have yet to find) about the 100 Rejections project, its inspiration, and how it has helped me to not take rejection so personally, make my rejections constructive, and look at my response rate analytically.

If you want to learn about the original project you can read about it on my blog by clicking here.

So this other artist, whom I presume relies on her dealer to direct opportunities her way (oh in a perfect world), asked me where I find the opportunities to apply for.

None of my sources are a secret, they just take a little regular web crawling a couple times a month, subscribing to a few email lists, and letting your network know that you are interested in new opportunities.

If you are interested in embarking on a rejections project of your own, and you happen to reside in my geographic context (Calgary), here are my top picks for sourcing opportunities to apply for:

Email Lists to Subscribe to:

Website Classified Listings:

Other Places to Watch:

  • Facebook & Twitter – like and follow organization pages, and ask your friends to forward you interesting opportunities.

And there you go!

If you are not located in my area, there are other networks and organizations local to you. Share who you consult in your area and I will make a specific post for those areas.

If you have any other suggestions for places to watch for opportunities, let me know and I will update the list.

And if you know of a gallery that would just love to represent the type of work I do, let me know!

One Life Fine Art Studio Channel UP NOW:

My Youtube Channel is up and I have a favour to ask: I have polls on each of my first 3 video’s to ask what you would like to see in future videos? Please go to the channel, watch a video and answer the poll when it pops up. If you don’t have a youtube account that’s Ok, you can leave your comments here for me instead. Thanks a bunch for helping! Here is a “time lapse” from the Sunflower Project:

The One Life Fine Art Studio Youtube Channel is Finally a Thing!

So January 17th I will be going live with my first public video uploads on the all new One Life Fine Art Studio Channel. Why do I say finally? Well I actually created the channel several years ago to share videos for another project. That project never went anywhere (after much work and investment) so I let the channel lapse while I focused on new projects. However I have wanted to create and share videos about my work and the work of being an artist for a while now. I just haven’t had time to plan, schedule, record, edit and upload videos on a regular basis; or so I thought. Turns out I already have a fair bit of footage recorded that I would like to get out there. After putting together a video with existing footage and a voice over recorded on my phone I saw that process is far less involved than the art videos I created during my undergrad days. So this is the year I jump in and get started. I want to start slow, with one or two videos a month, at least until I get my sea-legs under me and know I can maintain a schedule. The first videos on the channel will include an introduction to the channel, time lapse videos of painting, and a video from footage of my working life as an artist during a challenging year in my career. I will be posting a link to the channel when it goes live, so stay tuned for that special blog post on January 17th.

Happy New Year! Looking Back and Forward:

I have been setting up my shiny new bullet journal for the new year. Taking time to reflect on the last year and what one would like to do more of in the new year is something everyone should do, regardless of their stance on resolutions. So before setting up calendars and collections pages for the new journal I flipped through the pages of last year’s journal looking at what worked and didn’t, what I would like to do more of or do differently. Below is a summary of my progress and my art goals for 2020.

Transitioning journals for the new year is a perfect time to revisit my art goals.

100 rejections: 2018 was such a busy year that I just needed a bit of a slowdown in 2019, and so I resolved that based on a historical 16 – 17% acceptance rate, I would apply for 42 opportunities, estimating 6 acceptances. I actually only got 38 applications submitted however my acceptance rate improved to 21% in 2019. Based on those numbers and a goal of 12 projects for 2020, I’ll be aiming for 58 proposals this year.

Studio Work: 26 paintings in 2019. The majority of my work this year revolved around showing the Canada West and Currency paintings, as well as the creation and distribution of the Sunflower Project paintings. For 2020 I will be working on building a community and supports for the Sunflower Project, as well as 24 new Sunflower Seed paintings. I will also be continuing with the creation of five new Canada West paintings which explore some of Canada’s early immigrant experience. In the past few years, perhaps as a result of my weight loss journey, I have developed an affinity for painting food! So I will be working on 10 new Canadiana food paintings in the first months of this new year. Finally, I love the energy of Rumble House’s live art events, and the challenge of thinking (painting) on my feet as it were, so I have resolved to attend more Rumble House this year.

Shows: In 2019 I was honoured to have my work shown at both the Women’s Art Museum of Canada and in CARFAC’s Shaping Alberta. For over a year now Medium of Exchange has been working on collaborative and individual works for our 2020 reunion show. So this year the focus will be on finding a venue for this exhibition. Additionally I will be working on developing a show exploring Calgary’s past, present and future with fellow artist Scott Clark.

Digital Presence: My goal this year is to reintroduce a regular Blogging schedule by posting once per week. I am also going to be working on starting a VLOG this year.

Travel: In 2019 I saw more opportunities to show across Alberta, so for 2020 I will be looking at opportunities to show outside Alberta.

So that sums up most of what I will be working on this year, how about you, what will your professional goals be for the next year, and how do you decide them?

Did I Mention? New Painted City Utility Box.


It appears I am so behind on keeping the blog up to date!

SO last spring I was given the opportunity to participate in a program bringing a suite of new painted utility boxes to the Marlborough Community in Calgary. I jumped at the chance, having spent nearly a decade of my formative years in the neighbourhood. Each artist created a design concept responding to the overall theme of home,  and to information gathered during an extensive phase of community engagement.

Here was my contribution to the Curb appeal in the Marlborough Community:

Painted Utility Box
City of Calgary
Marlborough Community
Debbie.lee Miszaniec

Painted Utility Box
City of Calgary
Marlborough Community
Debbie.lee Miszaniec

Painted Utility Box
City of Calgary
Marlborough Community
Debbie.lee Miszaniec

Painted Utility Box
City of Calgary
Marlborough Community
Debbie.lee Miszaniec

You may notice the retro colour scheme and styling. Marlborough is a 1970’s community and in talking to residents it impressed me how many people had bought when Marlborough was new and still lived there. It was also impressive to me how many people said it was their community and their neighbours that meant the most to them when they thought about their experience of living in Marlborough.  So I decided to create a design that was an ode to the 70’s roots of the area, and that focused on the points in our homes where we interact with our neighbours.  The theme of community was also a natural fit for the sunflower project, and you will see that I included copious references to it in the design.

Art In Transit: Installed! (plus bonus Inglewood art)

You may recall I posted last spring that the City of Calgary was interested in reproducing my little painting,  Pancake Breakfast, in the large, on glass for the 17th Avenue BRT project. Well here is the finished project!

Pancake Breakfast, Reproduction of glass, Installed

I really like where it was situated, close to the Blackfoot Diner in Inglewood. When the former owner, Edna, was alive, she was known to give free meals to the homeless on occasion, so the placement of this symbol of Calgary hospitality seems appropriate. What do you think?

Speaking of Inglewood and the Blackfoot Diner, (two, or rather one in another, places which meant a lot to me growing up in Calgary,) here are a couple paintings I did a few years ago expressing my love of Inglewood:

Blackfoot Diner
10″ x 11″
Acrylic on canvas and repurposed candy box.
Debbie.lee Miszaniec

Inglewood Food Mart
10″ x 11″
Acrylic on canvas and repurposed candy box
Debbie.lee Miszaniec

Both of these paintings were shown at the Edge Gallery YYC in the I Love Inglewood show.

2018: School’s out Party’s over.

Hi again. I know, I know, 2 posts in one week? Madness!

On New Years Day I like to look back over the past year and think about what has worked, what has not, where things seem to be going and what new things I would like to explore in the coming year. Sometimes sacrifices must be made to allow other things to grow.

So, in order to put more energy into the studio, including some interesting projects that showed great potential for growth in the last year, for 2018 I am discontinuing offering Art Parties,  Art Lessons and Artist’s on a Mission programs.

I guess I’ll have to get new business cards made soon then.

Public Art

Why is public art such an easy target for outrage?

Everyone seems to feel they have the right to sound off on it without knowing anything about the art, the artist, the selection process, budgetary considerations, or even anything about art in general. Case in point, Bowfort Towers. So here I am sounding off on it too. Well, not on the art, or its cultural associations or significance, or its author, or the budget, or the selection process. No, I am going to sound off on the uproar that went out, by those who know nothing about it as well as those who should know better (namely other artists who compete for public art contracts).

First of all, If you were not interested enough to participate when the call went out for public interest in participating in shaping public art policy (and there are indeed calls, as an artist who is interested in possibly one day getting a contract for a public art project, I am on the email list for notifications from the city, so I know these calls for input and participation in policy have gone out), then for goodness sake, blame yourself for not having input into what gets selected and produced, and quit whining about the need for more community consultation! What do you expect? Someone to go door to door, with a binder of the proposals for each project, to survey every household in the city?

Along the same lines, refrain from making a statement on the lack of consultation with community and cultural groups until you actually know who was consulted. Bowfort Towers came under fire for not having sufficient (or any, according to certain published commenters) consultations with first nations groups prior to approving the design. Later on it was revealed that the city’s process did indeed involve consultation with an indigenous knowledge keeper. The fact that this person might have missed a visual association with a burial platform? Well, I think that is one of those cases where a hundred people may see no visual association between X and Y until one day one person makes an association and says, “Hey, did you ever notice how X looks like Y?” Suddenly, no one can un-see it. Then the association is so obvious, people wonder how it went un-noticed. they start to assume that the association is intentional. Does this mean that a cultural gaffe has occurred, outrage is due, and changes to consultations should be made? I don’t think so, but I will leave that up to you to decide. Suffice to say there are a lot of accidental phallic symbols in yards and gardens in my neighbourhood (two small round shrubs either side of a tall narrow shrub, two small flower beds either side of a straight narrow path). I am not sure that I would get very far insisting that the owners change their gardens to accommodate my sensitivity to unintended and accidental associations.

Second, quit assuming that everyone must like a work of art for it to be worthy of being a public art work! It is not going to happen, ever! You will never achieve public consensus on the relative merit of a work of art, unless the public consists of just one person. To make a comparison, blue and red are equally ‘good’ colours. Yet some people love red and can’t stand blue, while others feel the reverse. Still others love both and others hate both. While I would not paint my house red, I cannot claim that red is not a valid colour simply because it is not my preferred colour. Yet when it comes to art, some people cannot understand that their vision of what is art is not universal, and that there is no one type of art that will be acceptable to all people. It follows then that there is no basis for an individual to claim that a work of art is not worthy of public funds because the style of the art is not agreeable or to the taste of each and every member of that particular public.

Third, quit assuming that artists do not provide economic benefits to the community where the art is being installed, but are merely pocketing obscene amounts of money for little work. There are so many elements here I can’t go into it in just one post, but here are a few points to consider: Bowfort Towers is part of a percent for art policy, common to many cities around the world, one which was reduced over the last uproar, and may be under threat of that again (which is why I suspect that this is a manufactured uproar on the part of city departments who would like to reroute that cash to their own areas). What that means is that a percent (in this case .7 of a percent) of any public works project, goes to art and aesthetics. So Bowfort Towers total budget was five hundred thousand dollars. What does that say about the budget for the rest of the project, a major interchange? Now, if paying for materials, contractors, labour, insurance, manufacturing, permits and engineering for the project itself is going to cost over 50 million dollars, why would anyone think five hundred thousand is out of line for what it is going to cost for an integrated sculpture and earthwork artwork embracing either side of that interchange? The artist may be the designer, but with any artwork of that scale, in the public domain, all the same considerations will apply as would to a public park, building or infrastructure project. Materials aren’t free, contractors expect to be paid, and the city expects the piece will be of a quality to endure and not to endanger the public.

One influential commenter felt it was insensitive when people were unemployed to spend money on public art. I would like to point out that the artist is not able to complete a project of that scale on their own in their free time, with materials scavenged out of dumpsters. Thus people had to be hired, and materials purchased, which again leads to people being paid. It can be argued that it is insensitive to the unemployed to downplay the economic benefit of these public art projects. In fact the artist and the city both made statements to the effect that 80 to 90% of that $500 000 stayed in (or stimulated) the local economy. In essence public art is a local economic subsidy that benefits many in ways besides the aesthetic appreciation. Complaining that too much is being spent on it during a time of unemployment may have the curious effect of causing cuts to funding which promote unemployment further, thus cutting the throat of the complainant’s basic argument, and maybe their income too as the competition for other jobs intensifies.

Next there is the critique that it would be great if the contract went to a local artist, rather than an international one. Yes, I agree in theory it would be great to keep all of that money in our local economy, but I will admit that I don’t know all the ins and outs of why it was not possible. So as a wise person would, I will refrain from being outraged about it. I have heard a number of explanations, such as that contracts under a certain size may be reserved for locals however over a certain size they must be open to international bidders under free trade laws, and to close them might somehow jeopardize local artists from making bids internationally. Maybe this is the case, maybe not, but either way I won’t get angry about it until I know more than conjecture. It may even come down to no quality local bids made it to the table before the deadline. Should the project be held back until a suitable proposal can be filed by a local? I don’t know. I can attest myself to the difficulties in trying to get a proposal together for a large multifaceted project call, as captain, cook, crew and cabin boy of my own ship (dinghy).

So what was the result of all this outrage? Since it is an election year, they have decided to freeze awarding any new contracts until they can review the process (again, it was just reviewed a couple years ago after Traveling Light) by which public art is selected. Meanwhile public infrastructure projects will continue to be needed, so that percent I suppose is in limbo in the budget. Will it be cut again? Will it be consolidated into a mega project? Or will artworks need to be retrofitted to completed projects after construction? What will be the impact on smaller projects, such as the Painted Utility Box Program. Generally well received, it provides small commissions to local artists while helping deter vandalism to the utility boxes. That too is public art.

In the end, politicians like to please people, and if public art controversy does nothing but give them headaches, they have little incentive to support it. Thus I find people who call themselves artists, yet insist on getting on the outrage train, to be the most short sighted of critics; they are only serving to undercut what support the arts have by our civic leaders.