Studio Notes – January 2017

For a while now I have been writing daily pages as inspired by Julia Cameron. I don’t necessarily do them first thing in the morning but generally after breakfast and before I begin working for the day. Last week I had a few wonderful, productive days at my studio and I thought it would be interesting to also write my thoughts at the end of the day as this is when my brain seems to be most eager to explore all that I have been working on. After a few joyful days working away on some exploratory pieces that felt challenging and liberating all at once – my last day of the week saw me hitting a blank wall so to speak. This came as a bit of a shock so I decided to document my thoughts. In this post you can read exactly what I wrote at the end of that day – unedited! I have no idea if this will be of any interest and in many ways it feels very vulnerable sharing my thoughts here but I know that this process of reflection was incredibly valuable to me – and perhaps it will offer some encouragement to you also.

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(Four mark making explorations – each one mixed media on paper 24 x 32 inches, mixed media on paper)

Studio Diary – 14th January 2017

Today threw up some interesting challenges – EXPECTATIONS.

Without putting an exact name on it or going so far as to choose one word for the coming year, my focus this year is profoundly towards my artwork and developing as an artist by means of surrender and exploration. Something I have been craving for the longest time.

I have spent my days in my studio since the beginning  of this new year happily ‘playing’. That word to me can sometimes (wrongly) signify a half-hearted (as opposed to serious) means of whiling away the hours in lieu of anything better to do. When in fact this time has found me absolutely serious, focused and determined in my pursuit of working with no expectations whatsoever. With the sole purpose of ‘seeing what happens’. Freedom to commit to whatever feels right in the moment. It has been a glorious week where I have felt absolute freedom to do exactly that.

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(More mark making explorations – taking things further. Intuitive landscapes from memory and inspired by harbour villages – 16 x 24 inches, mixed media on paper)

This morning however I paused just for a moment to think. That moment of reflection became at least two hours before I knew it. That ‘thought’ was the death knell to the flow or energy that has seen me beavering away in a mindless, blissful state of exploration every other day this week. The work ‘expectations’ had entered my mind.

Who am I doing this for? What will ‘everyone’ think of it? My goal this year is getting my work out there (approaching galleries and applying for exhibitions). Will they even look twice at what I am doing? How does this relate to all the other work I have been doing these past two or three years in particular? I have just finished creating an ecourse on Portraits – what the heck am I doing now playing with these crazy abstracted mark-making exercises that over a day morph into landscapes born entirely from memory and intuitive painting. Who the heck do I think I am?

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(A piece I worked on for a longer period of time – raw and unedited, I can see where areas need to be quietened down to create more resting places for the eyes – 16 x 24 inches, mixed media on paper)

At this point it was either go home or get a grip on myself in an effort to rescue the remains of the day. The music goes on – loudly – in an attempt to drown out my unwelcome thoughts. I often listen to film soundtracks when I am in the studio. I like the variation in pace from the dramatic to the sublime – the long term favourite being Lord of the Rings. I start … mark-making … apologetically. Reluctant to commit to what I have now, in this moment, come to believe might be a complete waste of time when I ‘should’ be doing something else. Something more finished. Something more focused.

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(A detail shot of the above piece showing lobster pots, ladders and rope lines)

Gradually and without me even realising, the doubt begins to fall away as my enjoyment of the materials takes over. There is no thought process, no over thinking, no analysing, no pondering what my next painting should be. There is only the heart to hand to paper physical motion of brushstrokes, my hands reaching for a change of material, a different tool, a contrasting texture to add into the mix.

I don’t know what time it is. The CD comes to an end. I put everything down – it is dark outside. I feel a deep sense of satisfaction and dare I say it ‘joy’.

4

(Working without expectations – just enjoying all that appears on the paper)

I haven’t answered any of the questions I was torturing myself with just a few hours earlier. But I have a clear sense that the only one who expects anything of my work is me. Not once has anyone else questioned what I am doing or asked ‘where are your portraits?’ (not that I know of anyway!). No-one has said – who the heck do you think you are?

As I often discover (time and time again) – the only person standing in the way of me creating art is ME. And goodness it feels good when despite myself I mange to step out of the way!

Today was a good day.

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(My final piece of the week – worked entirely through intuition and from memories of places I love. 24 x 32 inches, Mixed Media on paper)

(I am thinking I may add more of these studio notes into my blog. I would love to know your thoughts – is it something that would interest you? Let me know!)

Comments 33

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  1. kath

    yes, please keep writing (& painting & mark marking). it is a reminder to me to keep going instead of waiting. I love your mark making pieces too – they’re paintings also aren’t they?

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      Gillian Lee Smith

      Thank you Kath!! I am enjoying putting these thoughts out there – I just hope it doesn’t get too repetitive – although I think we all go through the same cycles over and over again and that is perhaps a lesson all of its own. Yes, I guess they are paintings! Whether they see the light of day outside my studio or not remains to be seen ; )

  2. Kaaren

    ‘the only person standing in the way of me creating art is ME”
    Thank you for that! I am putting this quote where I can see it daily. When I start thinking “what’s the point” “why do I try to do this” “who even cares” it will definitely help kick those thoughts to the floor. Just to know a “real artist” has these issues is immeasurably helpful. Please continue sharing!

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  3. Sharyle Doherty

    Gillian, it is fascinating to read your thoughts about the creative process and I hope you post more in the future. I find it reassuring to know someone as accomplished as you has the same doubts as me. I agree it’s all about showing up at the easel. I’m not thrilled with every piece I create. However, I find the more I create, the more I often I make something I do like. And I think I’m also learning that I don’t have to like everything I create. I learn something from each piece I create. Making art is a lifelong journey, a never ending process of exploration and discovery. How fortunate we are to be able to do this!

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      Gillian Lee Smith

      Thank you so much Sharyle – yes, it is so funny as I think we all have the notion that our doubts and worries are unique to us in the moment – but actually I know many folks feel the same. That is why I have decided to write about it (although I hope it won’t get repetitive as it happens so often!)

  4. Lisa

    Thank you Gillian for publishing a personal moment in your life. I tend to think that someone such as you who is such a accomplished and talented artist would never have the same doubts as me. I will remember that I am the only one who is standing in the way of me creating art and I will put that on my easel. Thank you for all the work and time you must have put in to create this portrait class. It is a joy.

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      Gillian Lee Smith

      Thank you so much Lisa – it feels vulnerable and liberating all at the same time. And whilst in the moment I feel like the only one – I know that many, many artists feel the same way. Thank you for visiting and commenting!

  5. Carol Weiler

    I felt like you were reading my mind! I’m all over the place with my art and am struggling with finding what it is I love doing best. But then I realized why does it have to be a choice? Why can’t I do what I love doing in that moment of creative exploration? I am the only person who puts limitations on myself and my art. I would love if you would continue with these studio notes because I think it’s good to know that a beautiful artist like yourself has these thoughts, and they can be encouraging and thought provoking for those of us who are finding our way. Thank You!

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  6. Deb Weiers

    This was such a wonderful read Gillian. You touched on so many things that I believe we all struggle with. Thank you so much for sharing! This made my day. And yes, I am totally interested in more studio notes!

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  7. Aino

    Absolutely. I agree to the above comment. I am so happy to have found your art. It is so inspiring. I hope to find time and purchase your courses this year. I can’t wait. Meanwhile, I enjoy watching you create. 🙂 It’s exciting to see where this will take you.

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      Gillian Lee Smith

      Teresa thank you so much for commenting – I hesitated to put this out there but the response has been overwhelming! I think we all go through the same thing – we just tend to forget and think it is just ‘us’ so it is good to know that we are not alone indeed

  8. Vicki

    Oh my, YES! It is so nourishing to hear your thoughts and to know that you have the same kind of “head talk” that I do when things are not coming together as I think they should. This kind of vulnerability shared among artists gives us all a sense of belonging, if not relief, to know that we are not alone. Thank you for letting us in.

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  9. Karen Elizabeth

    Gillian, thank you for sharing! I find it fascinating that someone I consider actually being an artist has the same thoughts and internal angst that I have. I say I am an artist, however I haven’t sold any work in over 3 years. One statement you made sums up things perfectly. “the only person standing in the way of me creating art is ME.” I have the hardest time just getting myself into the studio and the paint out. Mostly because I have no idea what I want to paint. Yet, I know without a doubt, if I can just get one stroke of paint down on the paper or canvas all the procrastinating chatter in my brain will turn off and I can be at the canvas for hours. It’s amazing how the chatter in ones head can be so paralyzing. One of the reasons I loved your ecouse so much. It got me back into the studio! Though we definitely paint differently it helps to hear how other artist deal with the head noise.
    My most favorite quote of Julia Cameron is, the refusal to be creative is self-will. Isn’t that the truth!
    Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts and vulnerability with us. ❤

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      Gillian Lee Smith

      Karen thank you so much for your lovely comments – I am so glad it resonated with you. Gosh we all go through the same things don’t we? I did not sell as much work last year as other things got in the way (mostly me!!) – but I am determined to make some changes this year and I am feeling the benefit of those already. Step up the easel – create the work that means the most to you and I do believe the universe will take care of the rest (of course we also have to ‘put our work out there’) – but it does begin with creating the work that feels true to you, without a doubt. Thank you again for visiting and commenting!

  10. Debbie Ewing

    Gillian,

    I loved reading your thoughts, especially where you ask, “Who am I doing this for… does anyone even care?” I think we all battle with these types of thoughts and it’s so great to know even a great artist thinks it too.

    I love your final piece!
    Debbie

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      Gillian Lee Smith

      Thank you so much Debbie – yes, I do feel that most if not all artists go through the same struggles – if not daily then certainly at least once in our art journey. I am so glad it was useful to read!

  11. K Brasfeild

    This type of insight is so meaningful to us students…the knowledge that YOU, an artist I admire and have learned so much from in the classes I have taken from you, has these questions is very encouraging to one who is still building stamina and confidence! And, the solutions you employ are so worthwile as well! Thanks so much for sharing!! -k.

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      Gillian Lee Smith

      K thank you! Yes, I know that I love reading what goes on behind the scenes as it were for other artists too – thought processes, working on our mindsets and the inner critic. So despite my worries around ‘putting it out there’ for others to read, I am glad I did! Thanks again

  12. Suzanne OMullan

    Dearest Gillian – I am so grateful that you posted this! Your work – every single piece – including these recent pieces are so worthy of the greatest respect!!! From a single mark that you make on paper to your finished pieces – portraits or not always evoke emotion in me. I believe a great artist is defined by the emotion that one can invoke from others. I enjoyed the verbiage that you wrote because I now know that I am not the only one that questions myself. I don’t dare compare myself to you in art – but it is sooooooo appreciated that I can understand that some of my feelings and questions are “normal” while I create in my world of art. I continue to practice!!!!! Thank you for sharing!!!

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      Gillian Lee Smith

      Suzanne thank you so very much!! It is hard to admit when we have these days but rest assured I think most of us tread the same path. Thank you too for your wonderful comments regarding my work and the emotion – that is core to my work I believe so to have it recognised is truly wonderful.

  13. Ali

    wow, this was a wonderful read. refreshing to know everyone has doubts! i love everything you do. these latest works are amazing.

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