Saturday, October 31, 2009

Samhain and new beginnings...

Good ol' Jack is glowing in the dining room as I type...

Today has been a great day. It started off when I had some very early trick or treaters - oh no wait, they were my students for my cp basics class. :-) As this is my last course before my break, things are definitely ending on a high note. The ladies are absolutely fabulous and lots of fun and I know I shall miss our time together when we no longer meet for class.

It is very elemental here today, with strong gusty winds, a wee shower here and there and leaves flying everywhere. Late in the afternoon I grabbed my camera and headed out to take some pictures. Here is our young chestnut tree. It has such an orderly canopy of branches.

Here is a chestnut on that tree.

A bowl of chestnuts and acorns...

A spectacular rainbow against a gorgeous dark sky...

And finally me and my 'best friend with the fur'. Hey, notice the white porch rails, the green table and bench, floor and yellow/cream walls? All painted by me last month! A wonderful change from the dark and dreary brown we had before. Brown, brown and more brown. Gone!

Samhain is one of the origins of Halloween. Samhain is an Irish word meaning summer's end. October 31 - November 1 was a time of celebrating the harvest, an acknowledgement of the dark time ahead and a time of remembering the deceased. Many scholars believe that this time also marked the beginning of the Celtic new year.

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will know that I love any opportunity to declare a fresh start and to grab a new beginning. Samhain is no exception! A new year, well, why not? Tomorrow, I shall see November 1 as the start of two months of celebrating my renewed commitment to studio time. I shall make fresh goals and I shall tackle them with new energy and enthusiasm. Of course in two months I can assess my progress, make new plans and start off again with another new year celebration.

Perhaps your goals could use a bit of renewed fire under them. Why not celebrate this ancient Gaelic custom of a new year at summer's end? Oh and just a note for all you feral gals (and guys), the moon is full this October 31st night...perfect for a jaunt out with the wolves and a bit of howling don't you think?

Friday, October 30, 2009

peas in a pod, tweaking my art and the business of art

peas in a pod, work in progress, coloured pencil on Stonehenge, 6 1/2" x 20 1/2"
copyright Teresa Mallen

So here are the peas in their pod, as they look now. The next time you see it, it shall be finished. I will definitely have a better photo. The sky has been overcast for days and it makes taking photographs difficult. Even if we do get some sunny weather, I will probably have to do some Photoshop work to adjust for the large amount of white in the background.

It has been a joy to log in some serious studio time in the past two weeks. We have closed up the farmhouse and it has been pure bliss not to have to go out of town a couple of times a week.

I haven't been working on the peas that much. In fact, I have been revisiting several completed pieces.

I shall be participating in a studio tour in just four weeks and that means that I have to get busy framing art. Before I frame a work, I revisit it. That means that I put it on the drafting table and I start looking it over very closely. Then I grab my pencils and I start to tweak. Sometimes I just need to crisp up an edge or two or slightly deepen a value. Sometimes I do more than that. The advantage to living with art for a while is that I can be more objective. The distance of time helps me to see if I captured what I had intended to. Once this stage is done, I sign my name and then the art is ready for spraying, scanning and the framing process. Perhaps this is my own oddity but I find I do not like to sign a work until I am completely satisfied that it is done, 100% done.

One piece that is getting some significant tweaking is my peony stamen picture. I finished working on this piece early in the summer and I placed it in my studio where I could see it. I didn't feel that I was quite done with it but I wanted to sit with it for a while. In the end, I decided I would take the risk of bumping the whole piece up a few notches. When I left it, the piece had an overall soft quality to it. While the stamens did pop, the whole piece seemed lower key than I eventually felt I wanted. So, onto the drafting table it went for some serious tweaking. I deepened all the shadow values, strengthened lines and enriched colours. I also lifted some veiny bits that I had put into the petals. I didn't like them so off they came.

Now it is taped to my white board that I have out for teaching. I have moved into the tweaking standing up stage. This position allows me to step back from the piece which I am doing a lot! It is almost ready to sign. :-)

I have had some interesting conversations with folks since declaring that I am running with the wolves in 2010. It would seem that my decision to stand my ground for studio time and not teach was interpreted by some as meaning that I was "taking a year off". I am still chuckling over that one. No I am not retiring, nor am I taking a year off. In fact my goal is to work lots and hard but just not at teaching.

Running a business takes time, a lot of it. Unless you are fortunate to be represented by fabulous galleries that manage to consistently sell your art (which isn't the reality for the majority of artists) you end up doing the business stuff yourself. In a given 40 hr work week (most self employed people work more than that), lets say that 50% of an artist's time is spent on business. That means that the artist has just 20 hours to throw pots, carve wood or work on their reference photos, drawings and colouring. Humm...a bit sobering isn't it?

The business stuff for me involves correspondence (student inquiries, registration receipts, art business related email, writing newsletters), doing my accounts (managing my income and expenses), marketing (creating print ads, writing press releases, designing and getting business cards and media cards printed), buying supplies (for creating art, for teaching art classes, for matting and framing, for displaying art, for the office), doing research (keeping abreast of art information, art business trends, how to keep marketing strategies current), networking and selling (being involved in art groups, both local and international, participating in shows and doing volunteer work for a couple of these groups), having an internet presence through a website (which involves designing the website, learning software, obtaining quality scans of work as well as maintenance through regular updating) and a blog, entering work into juried exhibitions, continuing to learn new computer skills, creating product beyond original art (notecards, reproductions, designing and printing off kit material, creating teaching curriculum), etc. etc.

My new fangs bared approach is my way of claiming those 20 hours a week in the studio. I am also striving to get this number higher. Without fresh new work, the rest of the effort doesn't make much sense. Like most self employed people I work weekends and evenings. For example last weekend I taught Saturday, had my mother-in-law visiting from out of town and still managed to attend an important local arts group meeting for two hours on Sunday. Tuesday night I wrote a new bit of press material that the coordinator of the studio tour requested. Wednesday night I updated my accounting ledgers. Last night I designed and printed off 16 full page, colour ads, again to be used in conjunction with the studio tour. Tonight I shall get ready for tomorrow's teaching session.

Please don't misunderstand. I am in no way complaining. I love what I do and I feel privileged to be self employed. I even enjoy the business end of it. I also appreciate that many artists do this business stuff, create art and work at a full time job! I just wanted you to know that I am not retiring! :-) When that time comes, I will do art just for fun. There won't be any business related tasks and there will be no teaching.

I shall leave you with a couple of fall foliage shots, but not of trees. And yes, despite my rant above, I do find time to be in the garden. :-) I love how the plants start to take on different hues in autumn.

Like this hosta...

and this clump of solomon's seal...

Friday, October 16, 2009

autumn cp newsletter and time to run with the wolves

Well woo-hoo a new issue of my newsletter is now ready to read. If you are new to my blog and you are a coloured pencil enthusiast, do check it out. There are all sorts of interesting things in each issue from featured artists, to tips, Q & As, websites and blogs to visit, etc.

Don't miss Newsletter Group Member Sandy Oveson's woodpecker as well as a very practical tip from fellow blogger Laure Ferlita.

Membership is free so if you are interested in joining the Newsletter Group, just contact me. If you haven't read any of the other issues, grab a coffee and get comfortable. There really is a lot to check out. Enjoy!

This is a view of our meadow and some wonderful fall foliage. You can click on the picture for a larger view. If I had seen the property in the fall, I would have bought the place on the spot, even before seeing the studio! :-)

Yes, it is time to run with the wolves and I am oh so excited. This reference will make more sense if you have read Clarissa Pinkola Estes' book, Women Who Run With the Wolves (if you are in a creative slump, I highly recommend it). Okay, when my German Shepherd and I are out wandering the woods each day we usually aren't running but given that my big fellow spends his days on the furry edge between feral and domesticated, I think this is more applicable than not.

I said in my newsletter that I would write about my decision to not teach any classes in 2010. Well, here it is, this she-wolf has her fur up, she is baring her fangs and she is standing her ground and defending her territory. I have compromised long enough and 2010 is going to be all about my art. I am reclaiming my studio as a creative space instead of a teaching space and all hell may just break loose!

If you have been reading my blog for a while you will know that the past two years have been tumultuous. We found the home and land we had dreamed of so we bought and sold houses and moved. I ramped my teaching schedule up to new heights in my eagerness to make use of my large studio space. Then my Dad became ill. I left Ottawa and became a care giver. Then he died. I returned to Ottawa and hit the ground running determined to meet all the commitments I could. When this was over I tried to slow down. I had an out of town estate to deal with and I needed a break. So I talked about taking a break. I wrote about it. I put it in my newsletters. But in the end I caved. Perhaps it was the fear of slowing down my success. I have spent years building up a reputation, spent money on advertising, I finally have the right facilities, how could I stop teaching now? Part of it was also my desire to help people. I really want to help people in their artistic journey and I enjoy opening up the world of coloured pencil to those who are eager to learn. Maybe it was the economy. When someone from the city of Ottawa calls and wants you to teach classes, how can you say no to the income? In the end, in this year that I was going to slow down and take a break, I taught more classes than I am comfortable admitting to.

Oddly enough, this was a year when I had problems with students. I ended up being led down the garden path by people who said they really wanted me to offer classes and then they changed their minds. I had cancellations. Yes, life happens but I suspect that in some of these cases, they registered rather flippantly, like impulse buying. I started to sense an expectation that folks could just take the course in a few months when I offered it again. This she-wolf doesn't like being taken for granted.

So now I am digging in my toes and I am starting to snarl and growl. I am an artist first and a teacher second. I always said that if the teaching got in the way, then it would have to go. So what does this mean? Well it means that it is time to shake things up around here. It is time for a change. And you know what, now that I have wreaked havoc with the business plan, the adrenaline is starting to pump through my veins. My senses are stirring. My ears hear the sound of breaking glass as I resume stained glass work, my hands can feel the coolness of clay, my nose smells the oil paint and oh the sight of those coloured pencils that are waiting for me!

2010 is going to be a great year. I can feel it down in my bones. Of course I still have my parents' home to deal with and there will be more house painting and renovation projects but the Saturdays will be mine and so will the studio. There is an new glint in my eyes these days and the hint of a wildish grin.

How are things going with you? Maybe we should meet in the woods and howl at the moon. Why not choose to get a bit feral? The wolves and I are waiting...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

peas in a pod wip and food fantasies

peas in a pod, work in progress, 6 1/2" x 20 1/2", coloured pencils on Stonehenge
copyright Teresa Mallen

Here is how the peas are looking now - of course the paper is white not blue. I am thinking of calling this one Brocade Peas. I abstracted the wrinkles on the top of the pod and now the design reminds me of brocade fabric! Keep in mind that I jump all over the place when I work so if the peas don't look done, well they aren't, if the top doesn't look done, it isn't, you get the idea. When it is finished I shall post a larger file image so you can see it better.

So what do you think about when you draw or paint? I ponder all sort of things when I am colouring with my pencils. One topic that has been on my mind lately is green tomato salsa. :-) I know, this makes the third post in which I have mentioned it. Perhaps I need Green Tomato Salsa Anonymous.

I am hooked on this stuff. So far I have enjoyed it with tortillla chips (I like the bakes ones), with rice and I also used it to add spice to a lunch time wrap. I am now daydreaming of adding it to omelettes for a fiery Mexican style brunch, or to homemade soup to add some zing. Did I mention that I made another batch this morning while I waited for my coffee to brew? Oh and when I am not thinking of recipes, I am planning my 2010 vegetable garden. Where will I plant the tomatoes next year? How many more plants should I save space for? How early can I harvest green tomatoes? Good grief, I have just finished this year's gardening season! Is isn't just me that needs help of some sort. My husband is so wowed he suggested I bottle it and sell it. Humm, Teresa Mallen Studio expanding to include salsa for sale. Diversification is good, right? Maybe it is a good thing that this morning's salsa cook-up used all of the green tomatoes that I had left. (I could ask my neighbours but we have had several hard frosts so that isn't really an option.) Anyone willing to do an intervention?

Ah, but before you feel too smug, just what exactly do you think about while you are working? Come on now, fess up...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sharing our passions and quirks...

I did this pumpkin piece some years ago. I really like pumpkins and in the end this became a 'not for sale' item. It is on the wall of my studio and I never tire of looking at it. (Okay, maybe that sounds weird but if we don't like our own art, how can we expect anyone else to?) So, I confess that I like pumpkins from their first growth as a gorgeous yellow flower all the way through to pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie and of course as dried gourds. My own little quirk. What might yours be?

I imagine I am like the rest of you in that I read blogs written by fellow artists. Every now and again I find that this gets a bit old - so and so is doing another cat picture, this gal just won another award, this one is doing another piece featuring petals - (oops that one would be me). When the blog blahs last hit me (sometime in August), I started to wonder about the millions of blogs that are written. I decided to look for blogs that were not art related but were written by people passionate about my other interests.

I mentioned last time that I would share a fabulous green tomato salsa recipe. Well, I found it on a blog written by a woman, 'Farmgirl Susan' who shares my passion for homesteading. Yup, a back to the land, nature nut, that's me. She writes a lot about food and if recipes and such are you thing or if you just like looking at pictures of sheep, her blog might be a nice diversion. If you still have green tomatoes languishing in your garden, I highly recommend this recipe!

If you too are interested in modern homesteading - growing food, raising chickens and other critters, living in harmony with the seasons and nature, I also recommend this blog. It is written by a 27 year old gal named Jenna who dreams of owning her own farm but for now homesteads on some rented property in rural Vermont. She is a gifted and entertaining writer which helps make for a great blog experience.

Do you ever get the blog blahs? Perhaps you too have found some interesting non-art blogs that you enjoy. If so, why not share your passions with the rest of us? I am confident that you have your own quirks and your own unique bit of weirdness - we all do! I would love to hear about your interests. Just leave the address in a comment or perhaps point us to your own blog should you care to write your own post.

I hope my fellow Canadians had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend. I also hope everyone is having the opportunity to get out and enjoy the fall foliage (assuming there is fall foliage where you live). These days I am at risk of tripping and falling on my face as I hike with my dog, cause I am always looking up! See below...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

peas in a pod, new wip

peas in a pod, wip, 6 1/2" x 20 1/2", coloured pencil on Stonehenge
copyright Teresa Mallen

No petals! Here is an early-on view of my newest piece, peas in a pod. The paper is white and unfortunately you cannot see my line drawing. There will be a bit of stem on the left side as well as a shadow under the pod.

A lot of my work is rather minimalistic and usually deals with a single subject. What I wish to capture in these pieces is the inherent beauty one can find in something simple - something as simple as peas in a pod.

You may have noticed my fondness for a narrow, horizontal format. At over 20 inches wide, these seven peas in their pod get the attention they deserve. I am always mesmerized by the beauty of peas, especially when harvest time comes and I am opening the pods. I saved some of the finest looking pods from the garden for a photo shoot. This image is inspired by one shot in which the peas were back-lit by the afternoon sun. I really like the intrigue of the partially open pod. It makes me think of a cave. Caves are places of mystery, secrets and the unknown.

Doesn't everyone like caves? Even if you haven't been inside a cave, the idea of one is interesting, right? I remember when I was a little girl my mother would tell me about these Indian caves that she explored as a child. Finally when I was old enough to make the walk, she took my sister and I to see these caves. I was disappointed to discover that these 'caves' were simply areas underneath rock outcroppings. Yes, one could take shelter from the rain, start a fire and bed down for the night and yes the rock cliffs were lovely but they weren't the caves of my imagination. My mother and her brothers had found Indian arrowheads and such but despite much looking I never did. More disappointment. :-)

Today was a perfect day to be in the studio. It was a blustery wet day. The sky changed its look several times and the wind caused the clouds to race by. I really like elemental weather and I couldn't wait to take my dog out for a walk before supper. The fall foliage looks stunning now and there is more colour yet to come. Isn't October fabulous? I'm off to deal with the green tomato salsa that I cooked up tonight. If you are interested in a way to use up your green tomatoes, stop by my next post as I will be sharing the recipe. It is yummy!