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?

The Sunflower Project: New Tools!

It’s been nearly three years since I started the Sunflower Project. In that time some of you have asked me how you can begin to share your 1000 gifts with the world, and how you can keep your efforts fresh. While that depends on your life and what gifts you have that you can freely share, I have come up with a couple tools to help you along your journey. Click on the images below to download and print these tools.

May you share your 1000 gifts with the world, and may those gifts return 1000 fold to you one day!

Sunflower Project Tracker

For those of you that would like to keep track of your efforts to make the world a better place, here is a handy tracker with spaces to jot down the gifts you would like to share with the world. Each sheet has spaces to track 250 actions, so you can print and fill 4 sheets for 1000 gifts.

Sunflower Project Gift Jar

For those of you who would like a fun way to introduce simple acts of kindness and generosity to you 1000 gifts I have created a free printable for this Gift Jar. There are 12 preprinted suggestions for actions as well as 4 blanks for your own ideas. When you are at a loss for a kind act, pull an idea out of the jar and look for an opportunity to implement it. Completed all of them?
Congratulations!
You can start over by adding them back to the jar, or fill the jar with all new actions.

Click on the project image above to link to the printable. Then follow the instructions in the gallery below to assemble the Sunflower Project Gift Jar:

The Sunflower Project: 12 Days of Christmas

Tis the season for thinking of others and giving gifts designed to light the darkness, bringing hope for the morrow’s dawn. Here are 12 suggestions that can help you fulfill your promise to share your 1000 gifts with the world. Feel free to start them on December 25th as per tradition, or to start today!

  1. A partridge in a pear tree: Make a donation to your local food bank.
  2. Two Turtle Doves: A little money left on your gift card? Hand it to the person in line behind you.
  3. Three French Hens: Make a batch of chicken bone broth (or vegetable) soup for a sick friend or relative.
  4. Four Calling Birds: Call (not text or email) an elderly relative (or four).
  5. Five Gold Rings: Empty your change pocket into a Salvation Army Bell Ringer’s Kettle.
  6. Six Geese a-laying: Leave change in a candy machine, laundromat, parking meter or grocery cart.
  7. Seven Swans a-swimming: Keep travel smooth sailing for everyone by shovelling a neighbours walk.
  8. Eight Maids a-milking: Pay for the person behind you in the coffee line.
  9. Nine Ladies Dancing: Give your server an extra tip.
  10. Ten Lords a Leaping: Next time you feel yourself leaping to conclusions about someone, give them the benefit of the doubt.
  11. Eleven Pipers Piping: Pipe some frosting on a batch of cookies and drop them off at your neighbours.
  12. Twelve Drummers Drumming: Drum up some business… take some business cards and promote a friends small business, in person or online!

Sunflower Project: Community Collaborations

So last week I told you about the new painted utility box I contributed to the Marlborough community. I also mentioned the references to the sunflower project that I included in the design. Here would now be a good place to include some images of a couple of the other boxes from the project. These artists agreed to let me contribute a sunflower seed to the designs of their boxes, symbolically taking part in the project and growing it further to take root in the Marlborough community. Thanks Sharon Fortowsky and Ashley Oshiro for hosting the Sunflower Project in your projects. Hopefully we can collaborate again soon!

City of Calgary Painted Utility Box
Ashley Oshiro
(Detail with Sunflower seed by Debbie.lee Miszaniec)

City of Calgary Painted Utility Box
Ashley Oshiro

City of Calgary Painted Utility Box
Sharon Fortowsky
(Detail with Sunflower seed by Debbie.lee Miszaniec)

City of Calgary Painted Utility Box
Sharon Fortowsky

Did I Mention? New Painted City Utility Box.

Hi,

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:

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

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

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

Home
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.