Just. Let. Go. (The Path to Serenity)

“In business, you have to look at whether or not you are going to make a profit.  There are two kinds of profit – monetary and emotional.  First you have to determine if you will make any money.  Then you need to look at whether the emotional cost is worth it.  If it is something that is going to make you absolutely bat-shit crazy, choose the path of serenity.” – Ed Harris

I choose the path to serenity! "Spirit in the Sky III", digital photograph. Copyright 2009 Amy Buchheit, All Right Reserved.

“But … but … what if?” …

Over the last year or so, I have been in conversation with a potential client/family member about doing a commissioned painting that would be close to both our hearts.  Although I was a bit nervous about doing it justice, I was excited about the prospect of doing something that would enrich my client’s life!

When the time came to talk about the contract, my (anonymous) family member  insisted on sending his/her own, rather than using my standard form.  I thought, no problem!  We can negotiate and make changes as we go along.  But guess what?  I had made an assumption.  Turned out I was wrong.

Two things that hadn’t occurred to me:  a) he/she had no background in art law and b) he or she might not be interested in negotiating.  (I often forget that not everyone operates the way I do.)

Taken unawares, I was shocked at the terms included in the contract – as well as what was left out.  I was even more surprised when he/she refused to talk about wording that made no sense to me.  I was told that if I didn’t like it, he/she would find another artist to work with.

At first I was taken aback.   I had *both* of our best interests at heart, but I didn’t get the impression the family member felt I did.  I was baffled when attempts to discuss the contract were rejected.  I spent hours crafting and editing a response.  That night was long and sleepless, tossing and turning as I tried to figure out how to get the point across: that all I wanted was a contract whose wording reflected the intent.

My cat Bitsy thinking, "For God's sake ... just ... let ... go!!!"

When I awoke I thought perhaps I should just let it go.  Yet I worried … what if?  What if she couldn’t find another artist to do it justice?  (Arrogant, I know.  And, this project *is* close to my heart.)  What if he/she gets upset that I decline?  What if this is the only path to making money as an artist, ever, and turning it down will leave me completely destitute for eternity?  (Yes, my mind goes down dark tunnels like this sometimes.  Thankfully, I know not to let it linger.  Its scary and full of cobwebs.)

Luckily, that day  I was having a social visit with an expert contract negotiator.   Over coffee, I presented the dilemma and asked for advice.  He offered suggestions that would help me move the negotiations forward.

About half way into the conversation, he furrowed his brow and began to question what the other party had been unwilling to change.  Eventually he said, “If you are willing to, I would suggest just letting this one go.”  Since that was exactly what I was thinking, I thanked him and walked away feeling confident in what I needed to do.

Due to the nature of the project and who I was going to be doing it for, declining the job wasn’t easy.  But I felt that there was too much of a chance that even negotiating the contract could damage our relationship, so I chose to pass.

Since turning down the job, conversations between myself and said family member miraculously resumed their natural lightness – and my time has been freed up to continue laying a strong foundation for my business.  It is likely the other path would have driven me “absolutely bat-shit crazy”.  It wasn’t an easy choice … and I’m happy to have selected the path of serenity.

Is there anything now or in the past, that would have given you peace if you had just let go?  Did you hold on for dear life anyway?  Or did you chose to trust that all would be well and release it?  What was the outcome?  I’d love to hear your experiences.

© 2011 Amy Buchheit, All Rights Reserved.

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The Art of Prioritizing

If I look in the mirror and this is what I see - I'd get scared because that isn't me!!! (Oh, what if it WAS me? I would say it's time to prioritize!) "Overwhelmed" by Walt Stoneburner on Flickr

So … you have 30 tasks you feel MUST be done today, and time to do about 20 of them.  What do you do?  Work yourself until you are so exhausted you can’t remain upright any longer, then claw your way out of bed to do it again the next day?  (Is this sounding like the voice of experience?  Hmmmm …)  Go to the movies because there is no way you could do all of it, so why even try?   Do the 20 things you *can* squeeze in, then beat yourself up with a (hopefully) imaginary cat-o-nine tails for failing?

For 15 years or so, I most often worked myself to the bone or beat myself to a pulp for failing.  I flailed around without much of a plan, or one that was so unrealistic there was no way I could possibly accomplish it all.   But as I get older (and feel less indestructible), I find the sane approach to getting things done is utilizing the art of prioritization.

Why do I call prioritizing an art?  It isn’t just to fit it in to the theme of this blog (although, that does work out nicely).  I label it as such because in my experience, there is no one right way to do it.  It is a generative, even somewhat creative act.

Sometimes, the best place for weary bones is watching a good movie in a comfy theater. "Old-school Movie Theater" by Daveybot on Flickr

When prioritizing throughout the day, I ask myself, “What do I need, right now?”.  There are times the answer *is* to go to the movies, because my brain and/or body are on overload.  The priority is resting and taking care of myself.  Sometimes I put the tasks at hand in order of importance, accomplish as much as I can and put the rest on the “to do list” for the following day.  At other times, a deadline is looming and work becomes the top priority, so I push myself to accomplish the goal.

I don’t operate at random any more – I choose the direction my life will take.  I ask myself – What exhibitions are right for me, and showcase my work in its best light?  What grants should I spend my time applying for?  What marketing is likely to make the most difference?  I ask these questions before selecting what to do, and make sure my actions fit my priorities.

While prioritization is a shifting, generative act, there are things I use as an overarching guideline … a master priority list, of sorts.  It, too, can change as situations arise, such as a when a friend or family member is grievously ill and needs my support NOW. But in general, this is the list I use (in order of importance):

  1.  My personal well-being
  2. The well-being of living things in my care
  3. Generating enough income to pay bills, eat, have clothing and a roof over my head and yes, even PLAY on occasion
  4. Supporting friends and loved ones in times of need
  5. Growing my business

It may seem surprising that growing my business is on the bottom of my “Top 5” list.  But without personal well-being, I won’t have the energy to do anything!  If I don’t take care of the living things around me (my dog, my cat, my plants, friends and family in need), I will eventually feel guilt and remorse.  If I don’t generate enough money to pay the bills and provide the basics, I will, at some point, be worried.  Worry, guilt and remorse are all energy drainers that work in direct opposition to creating a life that works.

Don't let the pretty lights fool you. Bumping around in there would hurt! "Pinball Bumpers" by Kapungo on Flickr

I’m not saying that prioritizing comes naturally.  My tendency is to work furiously toward a goal until I’m  exhausted.  So now, when life isn’t going according to plan I have to stop myself to ask – what is really important? Sleep, or getting the blog posted this week?  (You may have noticed that lately, the answer has been sleep!)  By asking the question, I give myself the opportunity to choose.  I find that to be much more powerful than being bounced amongst the bumpers in the pinball game of life.

Do you take the time to prioritize things in your life?  If so, what are your top five?   If not, does it work for you to always just “go with the flow”?  I’d love to hear what works for you.

© 2011 Amy Buchheit All Rights Reserved

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Organization Supports Creativity

How to organize your acrylic paints

Image by ♥ Melly Kay ♥ via Flickr

Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up. ~ A. A. Milne

People often imagine artist’s studios strewn about with tubes of paint, various trinkets, well-used paint brushes and drying gobs of clay or other goo.  They picture a general wreck surrounding the artist either for inspiration, or perhaps as a consequence of the artist’s lack of care and single-minded focus on the work.

I wish I could say this is never true for me, but there are times when it is.  My tiny dedicated art space, a 8’x10’ room, also serves as both storage and my business office.  Art supplies, ephemera, canvases, sketchbooks, seven different types of glue, scissors and other tools of the trade have to be stored alongside tax records, contracts, instruction manuals and exhibition records.   When I get focused on a project, items sometimes get out-of-place to the point where it looks as if a bomb when off in there.  Given the scarcity of space and the suffocation of creativity caused by clutter, I eventually have to deal with it, regardless of the importance of a deadline.  (Needless to say, it is easier to simply put things where they belong.)

This isn’t to say the space has to remain pristine or untouched.  I like my studio to feel alive and lived in.  The walls are covered with small original art works and decor that inspires or interests me.  A cool midnight black velvet cloth dotted with circular reflective discs drapes atop some stark white plastic storage bins.  My “Nightmare Before Christmas” votive candelabra means I can have five scented candles burning in a relatively small space.  The shelf-unit stereo provides a variety of tunes to keep me inspired as I work.  I also have a section of wall with art-related awards so when things get challenging, I am reminded of accomplishments and buoyed by acknowledgements received thus far.

Organized but lively bookshelves! 🙂 (The blue and black item at the lower right is an action figure of "The Invisible Woman" from Fantastic For that fell over. Goes to show - organized doesn't mean perfect!

With all of the interesting and useful things in my studio, the most important “thing” is how organized it is.  While I’m sure professional organizers could teach me a thing or two, for a greenhorn, I think I’ve done quite well.  The one closet has a built-in organizer with drawers and shelving to separate different types of supplies.  The drawers hold items ranging from small office supplies (binder clips, rulers, etc.) to collections of seed pods and other objects from nature that I feel will be useful soon.  Some shelves in the closet hold office supplies such as reams of paper, where others house small plastic bins with drawers, each containing small art supplies such as charcoal sticks or adhesives.

The wooden six-drawer dresser holds many things from mailing envelopes of all sizes to loops for viewing photographs.  Sitting atop the dresser is a wood flat file holding large sheets of paper, sketches for ideas-in-progress and completed projects yet to be given away or framed for display.  Each drawer in the dresser and flat file are clearly marked with a large, easy-to-read label listing items contained inside.   I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

So what does this have to do with creativity?   In my mind – everything.  That isn’t to say that you can’t create in a messy space.  I have done it before, and if needed, could do it again.  But nothing stops the creative flow quite like not being able to find that glue you’re sure you had, or … by the time you finally find what heap the glue is in, realizing you are almost out and have to go to the store.  I can’t tell you how many times I howled in frustration when I can’t track something down, something I *know* I just saw, but end up spending a half hour trying to find.  Before my space was organized, that was my life in the studio.  When I couldn’t tolerate it any longer, I got smart and started labeling.

Some see this as over-the-top. I see it as working smart.

Once I got organized, I was able to shave off even more time from my work day by setting up structures that not only kept me organized, but helped me find ways to improve on my current system.  I came up with a series of steps where I set out everything I would need for the day prior to putting brush to canvas.  In doing so, I can determine if there is anything needed prior to beginning the work, run errands first and thus reduce the risk of interrupting my creative flow.  Once I start, if I decide I want a bit of ephemera, a special paper or some other small object to attach to the canvas, I know where to find it.  I simply walk over to the clearly labeled drawer or shelf, take out what I want and get right back to work without disrupting my the project.

So yes, I can sometimes fall into having the stereotypically messy artist’s studio, and yes, I can work in that type of space (to a point).  But I often find myself frustrated when I do.  To me, organization supports creativity so much that it’s well worth the effort to put in place, maintain, and improve over time.

Do you find it’s important to stay organized, or can you produce equally creative results in a messy environment?

© 2011 Amy Buchheit.  All Rights Reserved. 

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Every Picture Has a Story – “Morning Glory”

Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open.  ~John Barrymore

This is part one in a series I’m calling “Every Picture Has a Story”.  Periodically, I will select a painting, photo or other artwork to tell either the inspiration behind it, the meaning (this will be rare as I usually prefer the user to discern this), or the story of its creation.  I would love your feedback and questions as the series progresses.

"Morning Glory", 30"x40", acrylic on canvas, copyright 2001 Amy Buchheit All Rights Reserved

In the spring of the year 2000, I was working on finishing my prerequisite classes at Clark College so I could transfer to Marylhurst University to finish my art degree.  I had been struggling with my health for the past 2 1/2 years, and it was getting worse.  I was so bone-crushingly exhausted, it was almost impossible to stay awake for my classes, when I felt well enough to attend them.  I was falling far behind in my schoolwork which was highly unusual for me.   I was getting desperate as the end of the quarter loomed, and I had no time or energy to get caught up.  It was then that I had my first appointment with Naturopathic physician Carole Warner, who was the first person to acknowledge there was indeed something wrong.  So much so, that I needed to stop going to school and not work so I could regain my fast-failing health.

During this hiatus (which ended up lasting two years), I wanted to do *something* toward forwarding my art career.  So after a few months of almost nothing but bed rest, I cleaned myself up and went to an art demonstration at Art Media in Happy Valley, Oregon.  It was there that I was introduced to the wonderful world of Golden Acrylic paints and mediums.  I was in love.

I received free samples at this demonstration, and decided to play with them one day when I was feeling a bit better.  I loved the creamy texture and the brilliant color.  I wanted to do more, but was still very ill.  I rested and waited.

A few months later, the demo was repeated.  It was so chock full of information about Golden Acrylics and how to use the paints and mediums, I went back so I could pick up on things I had missed or forgotten.  This time, in addition to the samples, I purchased some paint and canvases.  It would still be a few weeks before I started working, but when I did, it was heaven.

I was able to paint whenever I felt up to it, and rest when I didn’t.  Feeling so poorly, I chose a pallet of bright colors to lift my mood.  I created an abstract sketch with a good feel and flow to it, then transferred the sketch the canvas with an Napels Yellow Hue.  The paint flowed smoothly and soothingly across the surface.

When filling in shapes I worked with one color at a time, applying them so that both hue and intensity had a pleasing balance across the space.  I shifted some colors to create a better composition, then began building up layers … between seven and ten layers per area, depending on how much it took to achieve the desired richness.

Once the waltz of shapes across the canvas were as I wanted them, I mixed Titanium White in increasing amounts, daubing the paint on with the side of a filbert brush to create more of a soft, fluffy, slightly dimensional feel to the work.  Applying each daub was very soothing, making me feel light in a body physically dragged down by the weight of utter exhaustion.

As I worked, a feeling of quiet meditation came over me … something that felt healing and peaceful in the midst of my physical struggles.  There was no hurry, nowhere to get to … just the paint and I, working in a dance to create something pleasing to the eye and the spirit.  It was just what I needed at that time.

After the piece was complete, I came back to it a week or so later to consider its title.  To me, the color and flow reminded me of how spectacular a morning on a meadow can feel, looking out over the dappled grasses and flowers … butterflies flitting lightly amongst them while sunlight filters through wafting pollens.  It made my heart happy, so I named it “Morning Glory” … after both the flower and the glorious feeling such a morning can have.

I have treasured this piece probably more than most.  Other than its pastel predecessor “Dreamweaver” (which sold fairly quickly), it was the first step in creating art connected with spiritual and physical healing.  “Morning Glory” has had a prominent place in my home – the focal point when you walk through the door, and visible from the living room, dining room (where it hangs) and kitchen.  It has ventured out to such exhibitions as annual Lake Oswego Festival of the Arts and the National Acrylic Painters Association’s 7th Annual International Art Exhibition held in Seattle, Washington.  Much as I love it, I hope that sometime this year, it will find a home with someone who can enjoy it as much as I have.

For more information about Morning Glory or to purchase, contact Amy at 360-852-5981 or via email at amy@amybuchheit.com.  (Payment plans available.)

Posted in Art Work, Exploration, Journey, Life, process, Uncategorized, Undulating Abstractions series | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Failure and the Importance of Tenacity

Workshop room

Image via Wikipedia

“As I’ve said, you will fail.  At least I hope so, because it’s a foregone conclusion if you’re really living, really reaching.  … With the right attitude, you can transform any setback into a guide for growth.” – Jillian Michaels

“I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Alva Edison

Over the past few months, most of my artistic energy has gone into creating and test-teaching three brand new workshops.  When I took this on, I had no idea how exhausting or all-consuming of my creative and free time it might become.  Because of my commitment to excellence and giving a great experience to my students from the start, it did become a bit all-consuming.   It has been worth it so I can develop and improve the curriculum so it can be fun and understandable, starting with the very first class.

In addition to the creation of the actual curriculum, I needed to obtain supplies necessary to run the workshops, plus create and establish the marketing for each class.  Getting materials involved hunting down sales at art and crafts supply stores, asking friends if I could borrow or use their items (easels, white boards),  running “wanted” ads on Freecycle and haunting Craig’s List‘s free section.

Don't let failure eat you for breakfast. You are too crunchy and don't taste good with milk. (Untitled, unedited digital photograph, copyright 2010 Amy Buchheit All Rights Reserved.)

Marketing was equally labor intensive.  Creating and implementing a good  marketing strategy always takes hours upon hours to complete; from writing and editing text, to preparing images, to submitting or posting the ads, to pointing people toward those ads and then reminding them to register.  It is a lengthy process.

I have not been in the studio to create new art these past few months because I underestimated the time involved in creating these new workshops.  Believe it or not, I’m alright with that.  Why? Because I know this is the start of something bigger than myself. The possibility of assisting even one person who was afraid to express themselves go beyond the (major!) milestone of registering for a class, to a place where they get that they, too, are creative beings.  That is the idea that lights me up and keeps me going.

The time for my first class rolled around about a month and a half ago.  I was frankly feeling ill prepared and terrified –  but somewhat excited at the same time.  The day before the class was to start, I called in to the venue who was sponsoring the workshop to find out how many students I had to prepare for.  The answer was two.  The minimum registration to run the workshop was three.  FAIL.

I didn’t have time to worry much about the fact that my acrylic painting workshop did not take off.  The venue and I decided to reschedule the class for a May 18th start date.  After completing my business taxes (a grueling weeks-long affair for me at this stage), I dove into the creation of my next workshop on Vision Boards.

My dog Colby FAILing to love the ocean. (Beach, yes, ocean, no.) Copyright 2007 Amy Buchheit All Rights Reserved.

Though of course I put an equal amount of energy into creating a great workshop for the Vision Boards, it was much more fun during the test run and I felt pretty confident by the few days before the start date.  The class was meant to run this past Saturday, April 30th.  I called two days ahead … and only one person had registered.  (The required minimum was three.)  In the end, the class was flat out canceled, without being rescheduled at this venue.  FAIL.

As an independent contractor, I do not get paid for my time to develop these workshops.  I get paid for actually running them and hopefully, in the process, make enough money over time to pay myself back for development time.  So until these workshops successfully run multiple times, I have 100+ hours of research and development that have not produced any monetary result.  FAIL.

So with all of this failure, why not throw in the towel?  For me, here’s why:  I know the importance of tenacity in the face of receiving no agreement.

Stand up for your dreams and hold on tight. Don't let them die! ("R.I.P.", film photography, copyright 1999 Amy Buchheit All Rights Reserved.)

I would not be an artist today if I had waited around for friends and family to pat me on the back and tell me it was a good idea.  I had to take a stand for myself, plant my flag and say, “This shall be”.  I wasn’t sure how it would happen, but I  made a commitment and stuck with it until it became a reality.  Here I am, fourteen years later, as an exhibiting (and teaching!) mid-career professional artist.  Was it challenging?  Yes.  Sometimes even tough?  Oh, yes.  But was it worth it?  Like you cannot believe.  🙂

Doing anything of importance takes a drive, commitment and… here’s that word again … tenacity.  To be honest, it kind of sucks that my first few workshops didn’t fly.  I spent a lot of time on them, and was anticipating their debut.  On the other hand, it’s a good thing because it gives me more time to make sure that they are the best that they can be before they burst out on the scene.

I was momentarily a bit down after finding out the Vision Boards class was flat out canceled, without being rescheduled.  However, there are plenty of locations I could teach this at, several of them better suited for this particular material.  I am already pursuing venues that are a better fit, and am now offering the Vision Boards workshop as an at-home workshop event where people can learn how to create them in the comfort of their own home, amongst supportive family and friends.  Note:  Had I not failed – the in-home idea likely would not have come to me.  

If this doesn't exemplify the spirit of tenacity, what does? "Tenacity" by Mark Robinson. Find under "me'nthedogs" on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/66176388@N00/

So what’s next on the tenacity train?  I have 10 days to develop the final workshop, “How to Exhibit Your Art”.  So far, no one has registered.  Do you think I’m going to give up, throw my hands up and throw in the towel?  NO.  I have a deadline to meet, a commitment to fulfill and I will be prepared.  If the workshop flies the first time it spreads its wings in the nest, hooray!  If it needs time to strengthen its muscles before it takes the leap into being taught, that is completely honorable and understandable.  Either way, it *will* leave the nest and take flight.

Now for the good news:  Tenacity is paying off.   Remember the painting class that was rescheduled to start May 18th?  We now have enough students registered, with an additional sixteen days left for folks to sign up.  It is definitely a go.  Come join us!

The moral of this tale is … if you believe in something, do it.  Leap at every opportunity and grab it by the tail.  Be doggedly tenacious in your pursuit while allowing it to happen as it is supposed to.  And don’t be afraid to fail, Fail, FAIL.  If you allow yourself to fail and just keep going, good things are bound to come of it.

“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” – Sir Winston Churchill

© Amy Buchheit 2011 All Rights Reserved

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How Creativity Affected Me – the Formative Years.

original illustration (1865) by John Tenniel (...

Image via Wikipedia

A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What one can be, one must be.  ~
Abraham Maslow

When I was a young girl, before adult responsibilities were a thought in my head, I remember that my favorite times involved having my nose buried deep in a book, when I was drawing and when I listened to (or played) music.  My family moved a lot and though I was adept at making friends, I was often “the new kid” and at times, considered somewhat of an outsider.   Through all the life changes, my constant companions were the adventures to be found in my own creative endevours or through the creativity of others.

Though I don’t remember it myself, my father told me about my first drawing.  He said I was eighteen months old when I decided to draw a picture of a boat.  The way he described it, though the lines didn’t all connect, you could tell it was a boat, and not just any old boat – but specifically the one I was looking at!  I would have loved to have seen it, but it was lost the last time he moved.  He told me that of all his moving during his 20 years in the Air Force, that was the one possession he was most upset about being lost or damaged.

Dad and I "cutting a rug" when I was five. (Actually, I was on dads feet, HE was dancing). Spokane, WA, 1973

One of my earliest personal memories was when I received my first turntable at the age of five.  I can clearly my first albums – a 45 RPM of Michael Jackson’s “Rockin’ Robin” (with B side “Ben”) and the first Sesame Street album, where I learned a song about how to mix colors (“Red and yellow make o-range, yellow and blue make green.  Blue and red make purple … fit for royal queen”.)  I’ve been a music junkie ever since!

My next clear memory of being affected by creativity was getting lost in Lewis Carroll’s crazily creative world of Alice in Wonderland.  One of my favorite pictures is of me laying on the couch in Berlin* base housing, blue dress hiked up and nose buried in the book, totally absorbed in the tale while my mom snapped the picture.  I used to get lost in books for hours, devouring fiction and non-fiction alike.

At about the same time I received a book with blank pages, both lined and plain – a blank canvas to fill with whatever my young heart desired.  I remember studiously working away, writing poetry and prose and illustrating my stories with crayon and pencil drawings.  I remember it seeming to be a lot of work and having to really “buckle down” to finish that book.  Of course, it probably took about three or four hours total, but for an eight year old, that is a serious commitment!  I was very proud of it when I was finished.

The next Christmas, I was given a plastic saxophone to play.  I don’t remember using it

Bob Shiavinato was the first artist I ever remember meeting. He was a friend of my family in Berlin.

when it was whole … the part that sticks in my memory is that I loved it so much, I tried to play it even after the mouth piece had broken off.  Something happened that a small piece of plastic then broke off in between my two front teeth … a tiny sliver that felt like a boulder wedged in there.  That was the end of the plastic saxophone, but not of my love for music!

I had the opportunity to observe artisans hand-crafting items throughout my time in Germany.  I was fascinated by the process of creating Hummels and Gobels when touring the factory.  I remember watching carvers creating wooden Madonnas through shop windows, and absorbing information on  how leaded crystal was made.   Though I didn’t realize it then, those exposures created an indelible inprint of the importance of pride in craftsmanship that still lives with me today.

Though my hours of reading have been reduced to minutes, and playing instruments is not as consistent as it was in my teen years, my early exposure to the two plays a part in my art today.  Recorded music has an important part in my painting process.  When preparing to paint, I either put a selection of CDs in the shelf-unit stereo or upload a playlist onto my iPod.  My musical selections influences the outcome of the piece.  Reading provides possible topics or influences for artworks, and both music and books provide great fodder for titles.  The early exposure to pride in craftsmanship has served me well in creating archival artworks that should last for generations, providing my collectors with as sound an investment as any artwork can be.

Even working on a puzzle together promotes creative problem solving. My dad, brother Keith and I in Berlin, around 1975.

Consistent exposure to the creativity of others and the opportunity to make art and music for myself as a child made a big difference in who I am as a person and an artist today.  If you are a parent, family member or family friend, why not expose a child to some artistic culture and encourage them to take on a creative project today?  It will help make that child a more well-rounded person, and could lead them to following their creative path as an adult as well.  You don’t have to be an expert – even doing the most primitive drawings alongside a child can encourage them to do it themselves, and allow them to understand that you don’t have to be perfect to enjoy your creativity.  You can make a huge difference with small acts of artfulness.

© Amy Buchheit 2011 All Rights Reserved

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The Journey to (and Through) My First Mural (Pt. 3 – Completion)

This entry is part three of a three-part series called “The Journey to (and Through) My First Mural”.  To read the first two parts of the series, start here.

The wall with the completed sketch. You can barely see it here due to the low light/low contrast. But you can get a good idea of what the bare wall looked like. 🙂

Note:  The pictures taken at the end of each day aren’t the best – it was dark by the time I left and the lighting in the hallway is dim.  I chose not to use flash to avoid overexposure, and in the end, they were underexposed.  (I am going to see if I can go back to get a better final shot.)  The detail images are better representations of the work.

Life is like a coin. You can spend it any way you wish, but you only spend it once.
Lillian Dickson

Detail of sketch to the right of alcove. Notice the lack of finish at this stage. It doesn't need to be perfect - what you are going for is basic composition and shape.

Eighteen years after my first thought of doing a mural, I arrived at my client’s home, supplies in hand.  All the searching for somewhere to learn about murals, doors closed in my face, research on my own, planning with the clients, tenacity and stick-to-itiveness were finally coming to fruition.  After walking my friend’s mother through what I was going to do that day, I set up my equipment consisting of a drop cloth, old t.v. tray, sketches, several #2 pencils, white eraser, a protein bar, Diet Dr. Pepper and my iPod with a mix of mid-tempo music to keep me moving.  Over the course of the next five hours, I sketched, erased, considered the composition and made adjustments until I was pleased with the position of the vines.  A smattering of leaves were sketched before I packed up, scheduled the next session and called it a day.  I left feeling satisfied and hopeful that my first mural would be a success.

First layer (of vines) is done, dude! 😉

Two days later, I was back at it and rarin’ to go.  As I was filling in the sketch with leaves, my friend’s mom (one half of my client pair) came by to see what I was doing.  I reminded her that if she had any questions or reservations about what I was doing along the way, to please speak up.  This was her house, and she would have to live with it, so I was willing to do whatever they wanted.  (Of course, I would let her know if my expert opinion differed from hers and why, but as the client, she was always right.)  She pondered what I was doing, and asked me to remove a group of three leaves from one part of the sketch, saying she thought the composition was too cluttered.  After some discussion I agreed to take them out (they were toward the bottom of the alcove on the left) and they remained out of the final product.  Rule #1:  When you are painting a mural in someone’s home … while you can guide and suggest things, it’s their home and the client is always right!

My assistant, Maggie. Her sister is off creating kitty havoc somewhere, too "busy" to pose for me.

Once the sketch was finished, I went back to their laundry room to pour the base colors into small containers, put water in a jar and retrieved the paint brushes.  For this project I was using two sizes of filbert brushes, three sizes of round brushes, one flat brush and a detail brush.  Setting all of this up was becoming a bit of a comedy because … well, its time to tell you about my “helpers”.  Maggie was a feisty four-month old kitten with only ½ a tail and more energy than any one being should likely have.  Her sister (lighter color with a full tail) was actually the feistier of the two, tearing around the house like a demon and doing everything she could to jump onto the t.v. tray with the paint.  (For the life of me I forget her name.)  Each time I went to work on the painting portion of the mural, ½ of my attention was spent ensuring the dynamic duo didn’t redecorate the rest of the house with painted paw prints.  It was half amusing and half annoying, but we developed some sort of understanding along the way.  (If I didn’t leave things unguarded, they wouldn’t destroy it 😉 ).  I pressed on.

Change of composition under alcove now apparent (check against the last sketch from part two). No matter how well you plan, you have to be prepared for changes if things don't look right up on the wall.

By the end of day two I got all of the base coats on the leaves and vines, beginning a bit of detail in the vines.  After 5 hours, stopping only for a protein bar and the occasional swig of Diet Dr. Pepper or water, I was tired.  I packed up, conferred with the client and called it good.

Detail from early on day 3

Day three came the following Tuesday.  When setting up this time, I poured all six paint colors into containers so I was prepared to work the entire image.  The first step was to “clean up” the edges of the vines and leaves using the wall color.  By going back and forth over the edges with background color, then repainting the edges of the vines and leaves, a more natural feeling is achieved along with a sense of depth.

Detail: end of day 3

After initially touching up the edges, I began adding darks and lights to the mid-tone base, creating a more natural, dimensional feeling.  4 ½ hours later the vines were well under way and I had started adding darks to the leaves.  I was clear I had another day’s work ahead, so I chose to tear down for the day.  That now entailed pouring six different colors of paint back into their containers, wiping the smaller “working” containers off with paper towels, rinsing/scrubbing out each container and cleaning all of the brushes, actual cleanup time was now 30 minutes.  That didn’t include time to confer with the clients at the end of the day.

More progress on day three.

That Thursday, I arrived ready to finish the project.  The vines were well under way, so it was time to start tackling the leaves.  As I was working on them, my friend’s mother stopped by to watch and said, “Wow.  You are very talented.”  Spurred on by that and a great mix of music that included David Bowie, Steely Dan, Roxy Music, The Beatles, Duran Duran, Nik Kershaw and Elton John, I finished the leaves, worked on details to create more depth in the vines and stepped back to call it DONE.  My friend’s mom said she was very happy with it … I checked with her several times to make sure.  If she was satisfied, so was I!  I packed it in, and she handed me a check that included a bonus, and we were both smiling as I left.  I checked in later to hear that her husband also liked it.

Maggie modeling - end of day three. They will be changing the carpet to a lighter color once their remodel is almost complete.

They went out-of-town for a bit, and I have been working on taxes and the like.  The final step for me will be checking back in to make sure they are both happy, taking a picture of the final image during daylight hours and thanking them for their business.  That should happen over the next two weeks.

Detail shot, coming close to finishing!

While I still have a few steps to complete to ensure 100% customer satisfaction, for all intents and purposes I have completed a project 18 years in the making.  It started with the tiniest inkling that I could be a professional artist, sparked by watching a famous artist in action, spurred by my pursuit of employment at said artist’s gallery, going on to starting college, transferring to art school and graduating with a 4.0 and Bachelor of Fine Arts degree concentrating in painting.  Along the way I asked to volunteer with  artists painting murals so I could learn the ropes, being told no or ignored each time.  I bumped into obstacles along the way, but never gave up on the idea of creating work that was an integral part of a home’s design.  It took almost two decades, but I can now say that commitment is complete.  Next step – a large-scale mural?  Could be.  Stay tuned!

Final mural - detail around alcove.

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning. – Albert Einstein

Text and images © Amy Buchheit 2011 All Rights Reserved

Posted in Art Work, In Progress, Journey, Life, mural, New work, process | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments