Studio Life During Covid-19

This week has been intense and uncertain for a lot of people. We are all watching the news on a daily basis, and surfing social media for the interaction that we are prohibited from getting in person.

In the studio, in addition to the new Covid-19 drawings I am sharing with you in this post, I had a contract cancellation as their offices are shut down for Covid-19.

Kathleen & Quinnton, 16 x 20 Acrylic on Canvas

I finished Kathleen and Quinton’s wedding painting, and edited and uploaded the final video in the series, which will go live on Youtube this Friday (watch for it).

I am still planning on doing a sketchbook tour video this week which I should upload to Youtube for next Friday. This almost couldn’t happen as I dropped off the sketchbook to be scanned (more about that later) and picked up the next day. That evening all non-essential business were ordered closed and I thought the book would be unavailable until restrictions were lifted. However curb-side pick up was still available the next day, so I will still be able to make that video for you after all.

This does put me a bit behind on the schedule for the next Planning an Art Show video, however this crisis has changed many plans. Or delayed them in this case, so keep an eye out for it on my channel, it is still in the works. Make sure you are subscribed so you don’t miss it when it does come out.

Three more people joined the Sunflower Project, and will be receiving a painting of a sunflower seed from my halloween series in the mail (so long as the postal service is still delivering). A nice surprise for them, art direct to home, when we can’t go out to get our art-fix! On a serious note though, I believe that the hoarding we saw in grocery stores this past month has shown how relevant the mission of the Sunflower Project is in working to encourage a society where we all have confidence that we will have enough of what we need.

I was turned down for inclusion in this years Western Art Gallery at the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede. Oh well, you win some you lose some. However it is not certain that the Calgary Stampede will go ahead this year as planned amid the Covid-19 crisis. For the sake of all those it employs, and all those artists who were accepted this year, I hope it does.

Speaking of not going ahead, it was difficult to motivate myself to carry on applying for projects and shows, not knowing if the effort to write the applications were futile given the potential for the events to be cancelled anyway.

So more about why I got my sketchbook scanned: The response to the Covid-19 drawings has been overwhelming for me. I have had a number of requests for reproductions, so in this time of limited access to services I find myself looking into what I can do to get reproductions of the drawings into peoples hands, and how to share them with more people. I will keep you updated on what I am able to make available as I know more.

In the mean time, keep watching my channels on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linked In and Youtube for the drawings as I upload them. CBC Calgary has shared them on their feed:

Take care of your selves (and your community) and we will talk to you again next week.

The Timely Sketchbook

I have always loved the beautiful sketchbooks of other artists, but they have never been a regular thing for me. Mine are usually decades old and half full of loose composition ideas, shopping lists, reading notes, budgets, business ideas and the odd nice drawing of a landscape or portrait. But a proper visual diary of my thoughts, observations and inspirations? Nope, I’ve never had much luck with those. Maybe it is because my thought process is long, but I usually respond to circumstance through my paintings, rather than in bound books of daily sketches.

Covid-19 Sketchbook Drawing 1,
Ink on paper,
Debbie.lee Miszaniec

However there is something about the need to respond quickly to the realities of the Covid-19 crisis, that has me revisiting the sketchbook as a way to document and think through both the monumental shift in our daily lives, and the weaknesses in our social and economic systems that this crisis has exposed.

Covid-19 Sketchbook Drawing 2,
Ink on paper,
Debbie.lee Miszaniec

To create a painting in response to each question this crisis has raised would leave me behind the curve as each new thought, experience and piece of information displaces the last. A sketchbook seems much more responsive to the circumstance.

Covid-19 Sketchbook Drawing 3,
Ink on paper,
Debbie.lee Miszaniec

Considering a journal as opposed to a sketchbook; in this case, I prefer the ambivalence of images to the specificity of words. If I were arguing a position I would write an essay, or perhaps a manifesto. Words can be interpreted or misinterpreted, but it is difficult to hold two, or more, positions at the same time. I enjoy the plurality of the image, where I can simultaneously hold multiple and conflicting positions, turning them over in my head as I create and contemplate the visual analogies I am making.

Covid-19 Sketchbook Drawing 4,
Ink on paper,
Debbie.lee Miszaniec

Covid-19 has had an effect on my art practice in showing me the value of the sketchbook. I may decide to use a sketchbook format more often in the future when I want to digest a complex and quickly developing situation in a timely manner.

Covid-19 Sketchbook Drawing 5,
Ink on paper,
Debbie.lee Miszaniec

For now I will continue to document my thoughts in my Covid-19 Sketchbook. When this one is full I will do a sketchbook tour video (my very first, as you can guess based on my history with sketchbooks) and upload it to Youtube. Make sure to subscribe to my channel to catch that upload.

Time to Plan (your Art Show) for Better Times

As I write this today it seems half of Calgary is shut down to limit the spread of COVID-19 and the shops may as well be for the amount of stock left on their shelves due to panic buying. My daughter’s university practicum is cancelled, putting her educational plan in limbo, and I am worried about the safety of my mother and her husband on her upcoming trip to Calgary from out of province. They are in the high risk category for complications if they were to get sick. So although I think my household could handle the illness, I will be following the suggestions for social distancing and hand-washing. I am doing that so my older family members don’t get sick, and so I don’t have to self-isolate and miss out on my mom’s visit, should she still choose to come out (I would totally understand if they decided to postpone it though, given the circumstances).

For me social distancing is not a huge problem as my children are not little anymore, I don’t regularly commute for work or work around others, and I had no big events lined up for March. I can play it by ear for the smaller gigs I do have coming up. However many of my peers in the arts are seeing their shows, performances and day-jobs go on hiatus while the world implements extraordinary measures to flatten the curve on COVID-19. Many are uncertain of how they are going to pay their bills, as they don’t fit into the standard employment categories. I am hopeful that recently announced government assistance to workers in the form of paid leave and EI benefit waiting period waivers will somehow be adapted to assist the creative workers who have seen their engagements cancelled as well.

They have poured all of their love and effort into their ventures, only to see something completely out of left field wipe those plans away. It is not something that an artist can plan for. Global pandemic is not usually a SWOT Analysis consideration for these ventures. All we can do is make our best laid plans for what is likely and hope that the odds will be in our favour when it comes to opening day.

As frustrating and futile as it may seem at the moment, now is the perfect time to have faith in the future and start making plans for that next big project. If you are at loose ends with all the cancellations going on, now is the time to make some art, and make a plan to show that art. I have already seen one 30 day challenge circulating specific to COVID-19 response, with discussion about having a charitable auction or show of the results. So go ahead, get in on that, make some art and plan that show for better times!

Here is a video I made to help you get started putting your art show plan together:

Subscribe to the channel so you don’t miss the series as episodes are released. Stay healthy, make some art, and get ready to get out there again when the time is right.

Art/Life: Monday – Friday

I am so close to releasing the video about planning a timeline for an art exhibition. Behind schedule but still on task, and planning to have that uploaded for this Friday, but in case there are further delays, SUBSCRIBE to my Youtube channel so you will not miss it when it finally does come out. In the meantime, I recorded a wee video diary over the week I began the research and script for the above mentioned video project:

You’ll see in the video the foreshadowing of future delays on that project. But I really was not thinking of this video as an explainer for my shocking lack of adherence to self-made deadlines. Rather when I recorded it I was thinking about providing a window into my workweek for all the people in my life who don’t have any idea what I do as a full time artist Monday to Friday since I am not producing reams and reams of art like a human printer, or clinking wine glasses at art openings every night.

This diary represents a limited window as my typical workweek does not usually end on Friday, and if I seem tired in the video clips, it is likely because I am; I recorded them at the end of my workday, usually between 10 and midnight. Although I do aim for balance, I don’t always achieve it.

Fellow artists with day jobs and/or young families (believe me I sympathize, I have been there) look wistful while saying “it must be nice to be able to make art all day,” and family simply cannot conceptualize that at middle age I am no longer able to handle being up to 2 am every morning and all weekend to finish writing proposals that I deferred so I could do things with them or for them “because I am just at home in the studio/office anyhow.”

If you are my family and you are reading this, know that I still love you and still love spending time with you, I just can’t be your ‘go to’ person with time during the day. We can visit in the evening or on the weekend, just like we would if I were in an office or shop somewhere Monday to Friday 9-5.

Aside from the assumption that studio time is free time, the idea that as an artist I spend all day making art is misleading as well: As a picture framer (my former day job) I spent all day making picture frames, so the idea that as an artist I would spend all day making art is logical. However I was hired to fulfill the service being sold while the business owner dealt with administration, vision, strategy, and bringing in customers. As an artist I am both the business owner and sole employee. I don’t hire someone to make the art while I concentrate on selling, promoting, marketing, administering etc. etc. etc. Potentially, I could produce a painting a day every day for all 260 working days of the year, if that were the entire scope of my job. However the majority of my week as a working artist is spent on activities that support the studio financially and lead to the opportunity to make artwork. So networking, marketing, developing projects and writing proposals, which may (or may not) result in the creation, exhibition, promotion or sale of artwork.

Hopefully this video gives part-time artists an idea of what to expect when transitioning to being full-time. You may not be making as much art as you think. In fact you may be making more art now, in the tiny pockets of time you currently have, as it is not split between art and administration. I also hope this video gives non artists, who have artist friends/family, an understanding of why you may not see them (me) more often.

Are you a full time working artist? What does your 9-5 look like, and what do you wish others knew about being a full time artist?

Happy Family Day Alberta!

Because families start with love:

I love that Family Day follows Valentine’s Day here in Alberta! Because, as the song says, (insert name here) & (insert name here) sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G; first comes love, then comes marriage (or whatever relationship definition works for your reproductive unit), then comes (insert names here) pushing the baby carriage. So in honour of that special bond that grows between two people and then is shared with the next generation, Happy Family Day from my family to your’s!

I hope you will enjoy watching this Valentine’s day video that I published to my youtube channel for Valentine’s day, and that it inspires you to encourage your next generation to pay the love forward as well!

Happy Family day from our family!

A Valentine for the World

I’ve made 6 new sunflower seed paintings remind you to share your love with the world! I’ve published a new video to Youtube for Valentine’s day documenting the process of creating all six and I encourage you to subscribe to my Youtube channel so you don’t miss that. Remember to sign up to the sunflower project if you have not already by visiting my website here.

Thoughts on Over-painting (oil)

I just didn’t have a passion for the project anymore. The inspiration did not work out and I was not stubborn enough to invest more time in making it work. So wasteful to abandon high quality* canvases in this time of thoughtful consumption, so I repainted them with fresh inspiration.

Of course there are considerations for overpainting canvases: Is the original completely dry? If you’re considering immediately repainting a painting you will have to worry about the dry rates of the underlying layers, oil and solvent contents of those layers and how it will effect the new painting. Is the painting fresh enough that you could just scrape the whole thing back? If not I would strongly suggest waiting until the painting is completely dry so at least you know what you have to deal with. These canvases were about 6 or 7 months dry, with only the initial layers done. I was concerned that since those layers had quite a lot of solvent they might unevenly draw down the oils from the new painting to make sunken patches that didn’t match well, so I started by wiping down and oiling them out with a mixture of oil and an earth colour to simultaneously tone down the existing painting without completely eradicating it. Then I left them to dry another 3 or 4 months before working on them, once I was satisfied that the oil/earth mixture had an even finish.

Why didn’t I just use a solid colour base after oiling to make a clean slate? I can’t give you a good answer to that. Options? Challenge? I wanted to give myself the option of incorporating some of the initial painting into this one if it seemed like an interesting effect once I was into the painting. I liked the challenge of visualizing the new painting while dealing with the interference of the old one. You may want to use a more solid base colour after oiling out so you can visualize your image without interference. In the finished paintings you can barely see evidence of the originals anyway, so while it was challenging to work this way, pushing me to work with thicker more opaque layers, and therefore allowing for fewer new layers – if we are following Fat over Lean and all that – there was no end result aesthetic justification for doing it that way.

Speaking of thickness, these canvases were originally thinly painted as only the initial layers were completed prior to repainting, but you’ll also want to consider the texture of the existing painting. A highly textured surface means you’ll be seeing outlines beneath the new painting, I have not found sanding to be practical in eliminating anything more than the most minor bumps, drips or traces of stray brush hairs, so you will want to think creatively about how those textural elements can be incorporated in the new composition. A portrait may not be a good candidate for repainting as a landscape, as the shape of the head neck and shoulders may still be evident, but on the other hand, it could force some creative acknowledgement of that element into the landscape. I have had some good effects with textured surfaces, but the painting has to pretty much be designed for or respond to the surface in terms not only of composition, but materials used in the original painting; will new paint absorb or adhere unevenly to the old paint, how dry is the existing painting, and is the support stable (*generally speaking, don’t bother trying to rescue a cheap canvas, use it for a craft or experiment but nothing you are serious about)?

So how about you, what are your experiences and concerns with over-painting canvases?

Medium of Exchange:Process HUB@302: March/April 2021

Its a bit early for a SAVE THE DATE announcement, given we are looking over a year down the road, so I am just putting it out there that the show we have been working on putting together for over a year now, Medium of Exchange: Process (a follow up to Medium of Exchange: Debt (2010)), has been invited by the Alberta Society of Artists to show in their gallery! Jesica Campbell, Penny Chase, Jessica Hauser, myself and Koren Scott, will be mounting the exhibition at HUB@302 in March/April of 2021. I will be documenting the development of this show here and on the One Life Fine Art Studio Channel in a series of videos and posts exploring how to mount a collaborative visual art exhibition like the Medium of Exchange shows. I expect the first video will be published later this month. If you are not already subscribed, you should follow the link to my channel and subscribe so you don’t miss that series.

A Better Butter Tart (painting).

So This is what happens when an initial idea doesn’t pan out on a canvas. Originally I was going to do a series of small paintings with a recipe card for pancakes overlaid with agricultural and ingredient images. It just wasn’t working, so I abandoned the set after the base sketches were done, and decided to re-use the canvas for these lovely little food still life paintings depicting Canadian heritage treats with tea, books and various items. So here is the first of three of these original oil paintings shown being painted directly over the original sketch. Speed-painting and time-lapse painting video’s of the other two paintings will be uploaded to YouTube in March and May, so if you would like to see them as well you should definitely subscribe to my YouTube channel.

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.

  • Cowboy Coffee by Debbie.lee Miszaniec
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.