Start at the very beginning

My studio is full of blank canvases. 

To me, there is not much more beautiful than that.

It’s the beauty of a new start with unlimited potential.

Beginnings (or even restarts) are always exciting and fun, but also a little intimidating. It’s an opportunity to recommit to your direction, or change course completely, or anything in between.

It’s not just “How am I getting there?”; it’s “Is this really where I want to go?”

I have my share of weaknesses, but being risk averse is not one of them, so I have no problem being open to a complete course shift.

But that definitely doesn’t mean it’s always easy for me to know where I want to go. In some ways, being so open makes it more difficult, simply because there are more options.

A tool that I love to use when I’m confronting a new beginning, and that I’ve been using steadily for the past couple of months, is to look back at where I came from.

I know it sounds – and it is – very simple, but I mean really look.

So I will look at my work, everything from the past five or ten years, but even flipping through childhood drawings or college work.

This part of the process means I get to discover things like this photo of me at 18 with some of my first oil paintings. The one on the left is the first one I did just on my own, no assignment.

I still remember my professor looking at it and then casually saying, “Oh, so you’ll be a painter’s painter,” before moving on, and the way my heart filled with pride at being seen. (And in case you’re not familiar with the phrase, he was really just referring to my love of color and physical, gestural paint.)

As part of the “look back,” I will also take a little time going through old journals or letters, what I was thinking or working through.

And finally, I look back skill-wise. For example, I’ve recently been doing these simple drawings with pencil every night.

And now you know my secret: I’m planning a series of important paintings of men with dodgy mustaches!

But seriously, it’s like a musician doing scales. Or a dancer lifting weights. Just strip it back to basics and practice, practice, practice.

Building all those stretchers, stretching the canvas, priming it, that’s one of those basics too.

And this all, of course, is about grounding; it’s about foundation.

In all of these ways I re-familiarize myself with my foundations, and then when I launch, it’s not only with a trajectory that is adjusted and aimed in the right direction, but with momentum gained from a sense of what I’ve already accomplished.

One of the things that I knew already but rediscovered in this recent process is how much what I am here to do is like a combination of visual listening and divination; it’s training and training and training until you can very skillfully jump off a very symbolic cliff.

And the magic is, when you jump, there is always something there.

Truly that is what I first discovered long ago that made me feel this work, as ephemeral and silly as it sometimes seems, is profound and forever worthwhile. I love it so. I will die wishing I could just do a little bit more.

But honestly, the rest of it – getting shows and getting attention and doing things that basically turn this process into some type of making products – I could care less. Always. It’s slightly annoying, but okay, just a necessary part of making the thing I really want to be doing possible.

Sharing the work, however, giving it a life and a voice out in the world, and connecting with people through my work, whether because they purchase it or are just looking at it or participating in it, that I also truly love.

I want to be clear too: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with making products, and there’s nothing wrong with people who love getting publicity for their work, etc. I mean, I hope their work has meaning for them. But I am not making this declaration as a judgment against other people who are here to do something different. I am just saying I understand that’s not what I’m here to do.

More importantly, I’m saying I know exactly what I am here to do.

Last time I talked about processing what it meant to have mortality move in next door, so to speak, and taking the opportunity to live according to what matters most to me.

So now I know what matters most. And yes, I have known this for many years already, but it was still valuable to re-know it, relearn it.

We all do this many times in our lives, if we’re lucky enough to have the choice – assessing and reassessing what we’re doing, really what we’re sacrificing our lives for – and I suppose this time the main thing I came away with was added certainty.

That, and less interest in compromise. After all, why waste time?

“And that will bring us back to Do, Do, Do, Do.”