Barefoot and silent

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Over the past week, I have somehow completed a good chunk of 15 new paintings. I have always been a relatively slow painter (I could have used that instead of tallpainter!), one of many reasons that gallery representation never made sense for me.

I remember in my twenties having one gallery director ask me, “If we sell out your show, how long will it take you to put together a new body of work?” My very honest answer was, “About a year.”

Needless to say, this made depending on my paintings for making a living pretty impossible, which I have been fine with. I am happy keeping money concerns out of the studio.

But it is true that it sometimes kept me from booking shows, because I would sell pieces before ever getting to show them and it would then take me a long time to stockpile the requisite 15-20 paintings.

So now I realize I may wind up in a different position, one where different things are possible because I am working differently. And let me be clear: I am not working more, I am just getting more done.

Here are a couple of the funny things that are making that happen:

I work barefoot. This is important because my studio is in my home and it is easy to get stuck worrying about tracking paint everywhere. Which I have done a lot in the past. Now the first thing I do is take my shoes and socks off, and when I am done for the day I can put my socks back on and know I won’t track paint anywhere except inside my socks.

I work in silence. Javier Tapia, a professor at VCU, gave me this tip when I was 19. So it only took me 20 years to pay attention to it. That’s pretty good for me! But seriously, unless you are doing busywork (meaning work that does not require your complete focus), music, podcasts, news, they really are a distraction. It is so seductive, because the “company” can seem easier, but in my experience, it is a lie. The real company is in the work, and anything else gets in the way of you connecting with it fully.

I work without caffeine. Again, it seems like it will make things easier, but I have an essential tremor, which means I get my own personal minor earthquake all day: shaky hands. Caffeine, even green tea = more shaky. And once I skipped it, I realized it was also easier to keep my energy consistent through the day. And pay attention to taking care of myself if I was too tired. How many of us are working through exhaustion every day? I almost don’t want to know, but I am trying not to be that person anymore.

I put one foot in front of the other. Have you ever played chess with someone who was just learning and taking way too long to make their move? Well, that was me. I once literally won a game because the friend I was playing with got so frustrated that I took so long that she wasn’t thinking straight anymore. I took so long because I was not just figuring out my move, I was figuring out all subsequent moves. Kind of crazy, but there you go.

Sadly, that is kind of who I have been in the studio too. Sometimes I would be completely free and everything would flow and then I would hit a point where I wasn’t sure where things were going and I would get stuck, moving very slowly, worrying about the consequences of my choices. Now instead of worrying, I focus just on what I know the piece needs right now and I trust that it will take me where I need to go. If I am only sure of two things that I want to do, then I do those things and then move on to another piece.

I hope this is something I have learned in outside of the studio life too. People often say to live in the moment, but it is much harder than it sounds. For one thing, if someone is telling you to live in the moment, they are already not in the moment: they are busy telling you what to do instead.

So for whatever it’s worth, this is my way of finding the moment. No shoes, no music, no caffeine, and narrow my focus to just the next step. And trust.

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