Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Truth About Talent

I share my work across social media and am accustomed to seeing comments like "Wow, I wish I had your talent!".'s a dirty little secret: you probably do, you just haven't done the work necessary to develop it.

"Talent" is not a gift bestowed by some mystical Art Fairy Godmother at birth. Talent is a muscle...if you work it the right way, it will get stronger. Sure, some of us may be wired by our DNA or through life experience to be better observers, more persistent, more analytical, and more willing to explore and experiment. All those things contribute to what it takes to develop artistic skill. But what it mostly takes is investing time and effort to learn from other experts, practice continuously, and remain rigorously honest with yourself when it comes to self-assessment of your progress.

But the truth is that most people are either not willing or able to invest both the time and money needed to travel from "I can't even draw a stick figure" to producing work that gets the "Wow!" reaction on social media or helps them earn a living. Having "talent" is neither a fast nor easy process.

I am a "self-taught" artist, meaning basically that I didn't go to art school and have been in charge of my own artistic development my entire life. I dislike the term, though, because it is a bit of a misnomer: we all learn from others. In my artistic journey, I personally have invested thousands of hours (and plenty of money) in reading how-to books, watching instructional videos, taking workshops, engaging with other artists on social media, seeking critiques from respected others, painting or drawing, practicing techniques in sketchbooks, and constantly comparing my work to that of artists I admire with the goal of identifying my shortcomings and how to overcome them. Every artist who is serious about improving their skills will be doing the very same thing.

I have Facebook friends who sometimes declare upon seeing one of my paintings they admire that they need to take lessons from me to learn to paint like that. Well, I could take their money but I can't teach them that. I can offer some basic skills guidance and give them a starting place. But the long personal journey of discovery to develop artistic skill and vision (aka "talent") requires them to steer their own ship, fueled by passion, with course corrections along the way from a more expert navigator.

It can be a frustrating journey. Bear in mind this wise advise from Ira Glass (host of This American Life), especially at the start:

Eventually, if you follow this advice and keep at it, your own work will be praised by others who wish they had your "talent". By then, though, you'll know the truth...talent is a pain, no gain!

For another great perspective on talent, check out Jake Parker's video "Are You Talented Enough?". He breaks talent down into of two types: fluid talent which flows through you and is what comes easily and channeled talent is talent that you deliberately work to develop and refine. Jake has a lot of other informative videos on his YouTube channel ... it's worth taking some time to explore them.

Friday, July 1, 2016

World Watercolor Month 2016

 July is officially World Watercolor Month. It's official and everything! Watercolor enthusiasts from around the world are celebrating by taking on the challenge of completing 31 sketches or paintings that involve watercolor in 31 days.

I decided this would be a good kick in the butt to start a themed sketchbook that I've been thinking about doing for awhile: one containing sketches of things I observe from walking around on our property. Interesting things to paint abound here, from our own animals to wildlife to meadows to forests to outbuildings to farm equipment to rock walls to gardens...well, I reckon I could spend a lifetime filling sketchbooks with all of it!

But my goal is not just to paint pretty pictures. I also have the goal of using this sketchbook series as scientific field journals in which I record my observations, questions, and findings about how our presence and use of this 23 acres has impacted and continues to impact the wild flora and fauna here.

So here we go: the first entry from today, which is the "title" page in the Volume 1 of my 23 Acres sketchbook series.

 If you'd like to join in the fun, click the logo at the top of this post and dive right in! You can see all of my work for this challenge on Flickr.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

One Thing Leads to Another

Concept Sketch for Current Book Illustration Project

I'm still buried in a book illustration project (in collaboration with author and friend Susan Rogers) but it should wrap up by end of July. I won't lie, projects of long duration like this one drive me a little takes a lot of effort to sustain interest over months, at least for me. But every time I do a fun concept or sketch like the one above, it makes me smile and fuels my enthusiasm.  Once the book is done and headed for publication, I'll be able to share more of my work from it.

Illustration is not something I had any experience with this prior to this project but fortunately the author was keen to go with a "sketchbook" style, and that I certainly have plenty of experience doing! And as a result of this project, I've become a lot more interested in the illustration for childrens' picture books and graphic novels and in visual storytelling as a whole. So I've been spending my daily "professional development hour" (time I devote to myself and my own development as an artist) in learning about the art, process, and storytelling aspects of those kinds of projects.

These topics are definitely a jaunt off the beaten path from what I have been doing, but they are compelling and I'm fortunate to be in a position where I can explore them to the extent that I wish. Plus, I prefer to be open to direction signs that the universe plants in my just never know what fun places they might take you! I mean, who knew a silly sketchbook would turn into a self-published book (Doggitude) that then inspired a modest but successful Kickstarter which then led to a big pile of commissions for dog and cat portraits and ultimately to this illustration project I'm working on right now?!

Illustration from Current Book Illustration Project

Most artists tend to focus on a specific discipline or medium. Me, not so much. As long as I'm enjoying the creative process and feeling like I am progressing, I don't worry about being easily categorized in terms of my work. If I was 25 or 30 and aiming to building a lifelong career as an artist, I might be more concerned with this matter. Staring 60 in the eye, not so much. At this point, I just want to keep learning, keep growing, and keep doing interesting things. Hopefully I can continue making money along the way (who doesn't like money, right?) but again, I'm fortunate to enjoy a certain amount of freedom from having financial pressures drive my creative choices.

One thing this foray into illustration has inspired that will benefit all my work is putting more effort in developing my drawing skills, including doing a lot of basic draftsmanship exercises in my sketchbooks. Where it's all going to lead to, who knows. But the journey is fun and it all feels like solid creative progress...that's good enough for me in the moment!

And as an aside, I am making progress on one personal DVD project. I've got the content outline completed. I've also done a couple of test recordings which I wasn't really happy with because of the quality of lighting. So, I've ordered supplemental lighting and once that arrives, will do another teset recording. Once the lighting is good, I will be able to record the full DVD project as well as a few shorter how-to clips which I plan to put on YouTube.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

James Gurney's Weed Painting Challenge

It has been raining for literally weeks in Virginia. This is the wettest Spring I can recall in over 30 years living here. And the sun...well, I was beginning to think it had given up and gone on vacation to more agreeable climes. But today dawned sunny, dry, and glorious! I was already thinking I needed to put work down for an hour and go outside to sketch when I saw James Gurney had posted about a weed painting challenge he is running.

Now, James is one of my favorite artists. He is also a fantastic teacher and extremely generous with his expertise. I love all of his "In the Wild" and dinosaur painting instructional videos. I love his books. In fact, I buy just about everything he produces for sale. However, I don't have one of his hard-to-get and much coveted Department of Art patches. BUT if I'm lucky, I might just manage to win one in this painting challenge!

James Gurney Department of Art patch

Some things are even more motivating than sunshine! I grabbed my gouache plein air pack and headed up to Mike's Big Meadow, our largest pasture (named after my husband). Looking around, I noticed the wild blackberries were in bloom everywhere. On closer inspection, you could see many of the flowers were developing into baby blackberries.

So that's what I decided to paint. I started with a loose washy lay-in of colors and then scratched and brushed marks into the paper to indicate branches and undergrowth. Then I sketched the plant form roughly in pencil. Next, I painted the darks in the background, painting around the leaves and other plant parts. Then I painted the middle values on the leaves and flowers. Finally I adjusted the values with some additional washes and added a few sparkly highlights. My goal was to achieve a loose sketch that captured the spirit of the plant without being too fussy about the details. I'm satisfied in what I accomplished in an hour. I'm still figuring gouache out, not to mention how to actually paint things from observation and see the details of light and shadow accurately.

Baby Blackberries (9 x 12, gouache on watercolor paper) by Carole Pivarnik

Is it good enough to win a Department of Art patch? Guess I'll find out when the challenge concludes! No matter what, it felt fantastic to be outside in the actual real sunshine slinging paint...that's a big win right there all by itself.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Quick Tour of My Studio Space

We renovated the lower floor of our home a few years ago and I finally got the studio space I'd been wanting for years! It's roughly 500 square feet in an L shape with some additional storage in another room. The smaller area is the "office" and the larger one is the where I paint. Because I have so much stuff crammed into it, it feels a bit..."cozy"...but that suits me fine. There is a restroom just down the hall and a lovely garden patio just outside the door.

On to the pictures!

Hard-working studio assistants Loki and Rocky.

Big TV for watching art videos atop shelves holding most of my watercolor/oil painting books.

The view back into the "office" side. My main computer is an iMac 27"; next to it is a Yiynova 20" pen display monitor for doing digital drawing and painting. Notice the awesome recliner (found used in like-new condition for $150!).

Looking at my working table (on risers because I like to stand while painting), my treasured collection of dog figurines on the far wall, and extra table space and chairs for friends or students. Lots of storage in the cabinets and shelves.

The view out the window and door is great. The parakeets chatter all day long. The "wall of boxes" stores all kinds of small items in a pretty way.

A coffee station and more storage underneath. The exterior door leads to a covered garden patio.
I really love this space. It is filled with all the things I love and it is where I can spend time doing what I love. What's not to love? :P I really like seeing others' workspaces. I hope you've enjoyed this little tour of mine. And if you're ever in the neighborhood, give me a shout and come over to play!