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‘Approach and Retreat’

A Multi-Colored Life, by Sue Steiner

mixed media


~~You can go to the very first entry on this blog to read about this painting and why it is the namesake of this blog.~~

I have been enjoying a ‘getting back to basics’ art time.  For me that means remembering why I paint in the first place.  I am a ‘later in life’ artist who spent a big chunk of my life not knowing I had any artistic ability.  I came to art during a particularly tough time in my life and did it as a stress reliever.  I painted my first painting in 2004.  My last art class was in middle school other than 2 weekly art classes at our local art community that lasted for 4 or 5 weeks.  So by far my art education came by playing and experimenting and very little instruction.  I actually am very bad at following instructions when it comes to art! 🙂   So I realized that in order for me to keep growing as an artist I need to respect this process and take a step back from the demands and financial responsibilities of 2 studios to get back to creating for the purpose of experimenting and playing.

I have been trying to build up an inventory for my studio spaces for the Christmas season.  This takes time and also shifts my focus on to thinking in terms of what is commercial?? I had also pursued pet portrait commissions pretty heavily and that has been a necessity in order to pay my rent, art supplies and  horse food!   🙂  Again a shift to commercial appeal.

So I am giving up my working studio to come back to working out of my home studio.  I can work odd hours and still be in touch with what is going on at home.  I also will reduce my rent by a big chunk which will free me up to experiment and play!  This will reduce my need to think ‘commercial’ to think instead, what wants to flow today?  I also have some very personal paintings I want to do of my kids.  After the first of the year I will start on a couple that I have really been wanting to do but felt too pressured with time and commissions to be able to do that.   I really believe if I do nothing else but produce some very special paintings of my children my art career will be a tremendous success!  🙂  But this wasn’t going to pay my rent!  LOL!

So this is my human version of the Approach and Retreat method of moving into new territory.  For those of you with horses you know how effective this is.   To those of you not familiar let me explain.   Horses by nature don’t like ‘new territory’ especially away from their comfort zone (the herd) because to them it means being eaten!  So to get a herd bound horse to extend into new territory you first get an idea of where the boundary is of their comfort zone.  The idea is to take them just outside of this for a short time and then retreat back to the comfort.  You keep gradually extending the distance but keep in mind this back fires if you don’t pay attention to the horses anxiety.  You want them to learn they can venture away and still find comfort. You approach the new but retreat to comfort over and over again.

So I am using the same principle for my art.  I want what was good and special about creating (reliving stress, experimenting, learning) but I also want to venture out of my comfort zone into new challenges!    Obviously selling my work helps buy more art supplies, more horse food, tack (my latest obsession now that I have all these new horses!  LOL!  I know you horsewoman know about saddle shopping!!)  but that is not the end all and be all of what I want my art to be.  Because the art came late in life to me I feel protective of it.  It still feels new that I can even do this — new but I can’t imagine not having it in my life. How did I survive before??  The worse thing at this point would be to lose my desire to paint.

So my focus has shifted.  The commissions I take will only be the ones that people give me free rein to do whatever I want.  LOL!  Without the rent overhead I can take them or leave them.  That sounds kind of nasty and arrogant which is not me. I don’t mean it like an arrogant egotistical you know what.  I am not saying I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed the people I have painted for because I have.  This is just to say I will not pursue commissions to the extend I did before.  In some ways doing the commissions are the ‘safe’ way to go because I’ve been there done that.

This of course can change at any time because not only am I a  woman but I am an artist!  Next week someone may call me and want me to do the very thing I am dying to paint.  The shift will have to do more with what I consider necessary to my growth as an artist.  It had seemed to me that the ultimate success was when someone commissioned me as an artist to paint something for them.  This indeed is a wonderful compliment… but I am learning for me the ultimate success is to honor the ebb and flow inside of me of what I want to do with my art which needs to happen without time constraints, poor quality reference photos and rent to pay!    I often don’t know what is wanting to come out until I paint something that just feels good and right!  Intuitive painting is a phrase I have heard before.  I am pretty sure a large part of what feels good and right is just what happens to flow when I am able to give myself the time and space to quiet what is around me to discover this.

I visualize my artistic side as a wild mustang living on the range.  Like any free ranging animal,  tight spots, limited options and roaring agendas (BLM helicopters) are a huge detriment to its ‘health’.  The mustang grows and thrives without restraints.   I think this move is worth exploring so I can see where it takes me from here.  What new territory will be available as I retreat to my comfort of painting?  I am ready to see.    

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