Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Dream, The Doubts, The Key

10" x 8" watercolor on Fabriano Artistico 140 lb hot press paper

I. The Dream:

I had a dream a few nights ago.

I was standing beside an easel. My online artist friend Linda (L.W.) Roth of the "Out on a Limb" blog, was about to show me how she paints on canvas. She put brush to canvas, and as she brought the brush down I heard a musical sound.

I heard a sort of sing-song, "PNT-ING!"

The sound was coming either from the brush or the paint itself as she executed the stroke.

"What was that!?"

"What, yours doesn't do that?" she asked.

She put more paint on her brush. Then, watching me out of the corner of her eye, she brought down the brush again.

"PNT!", it rang.

Without lifting the brush from the canvas, she pulled the brush back up to finish the stroke.


I was speechless.

Just then, I heard another sound.


I jumped. Looking towards the sound, I saw another online artist friend, Hallie, of the "Arting Around in SOVA" blog, standing next to an easel with one of her paintings on it.


The sounds were coming from the painting itself! Hallie was doing nothing at all.

I asked her about it and she yawned and said, "yeah, they do that every now and then. Don't yours?"

And that is when I woke up.

II. The Doubts.

The painting at the top of the page took many mornings, in the hour before work, to do. I parked across the street from these two storefronts in South Miami, and painted in my car, en plein air conditioning. I'm not one for quick watercolors. I layer and layer.

In truth I was disappointed at how it turned out (although my brutally honest family seemed to like it).

After painting the reddish-brown jewelry store, I read Frank Eber's stark reminder that I should not "try to do too much" with the watercolors. I felt it was already overworked but I had invested time in it, so I continued with the picture and finished it.

Then I sailed far afield in the world wide web and felt that everything I saw was better than what I had done. I had a crisis of confidence. That's when I had the dream.

So I searched further and discovered the SGVA blog which has short posts containing art quotes, definitions, and tips. I found a Wolf Kahn quote there:

"The practice of art should have an effect not only the public, but even more importantly, on the artist himself, by enlarging his sphere of freedom... Each picture is valuable only insofar as it contributes to this development, because it enables the artist to go on in a freer, larger way to his next picture."

And I had learned a lot from this picture. I had struggled with perspective. I wrestled with values, with changing light and shadow, and coordination of color. I successfully inserted a figure in the scene that I had sketched from life in my Moleskine. And I worked a bit larger than my usual.

I found this quote at the SGVA Blog too, by Ira Glass:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.

Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work... It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.

And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

I was cured.

III. The Key.

We are a family of artists. We endure the same struggles and enjoy the same intrinsic rewards. We have the joy of seeing - really seeing - the world, and then attempting to portray it our own way. Knowing this helps me through the rough spots.

I am constantly reminded of this connection because of two consistent resources that I've been dying to share. You may know about these already. But maybe you don't. And if you don't, you are in for a treat. So here they are:

A. "Artists Helping Artists". This is the only internet radio show that I know of that is by artists, for artists, and addresses artist's concerns, hopes, and desires. There is an emphasis on marketing, but also many featured artists. It is inspiring and enlightening to listen to this show and Leslie Saeta is a creative, knowledgeable and personable host. The easiest place to listen is here, where you can find all past episodes too. I usually listen in my car! The blog to accompany the show is here.

B. Subscribe to "Robert Genn's Twice-Weekly Letter". It's free and arrives in your e-mail. It is always a good read, with useful tips for artists, and the personal experiences and anecdotes of Canadian artist Robert Genn. You can subscribe here.

Art talk comes to me! What can be better?

You needn't thank me. What else is family for?

{pssst..I was given some blog awards but I need to gather the paparazzi anyway, so next time..)


  1. Try this quote, it's one of my favorites posted in my art room. "The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is to simply train you how to make the small portion that soars." Art and Fear,(page 5)by David Bayles and Ted Orland. That gives me hope. I think your painting is interesting, it has a lot of good stuff going on in it. Painting in your car is really dedication!

  2. Dan, this is the first time I've actually laughed out loud at a blog (both times I read it). It is interesting that Linda gets musical notes and I can only imagine what my noise sounds like--maybe chalk on a blackboard. Luckily, that noise has never bothered me (I've read that more highly evolved people aren't bothered by that sqeak). My guess is your paintings create sounds, too, but you're en plein aire so you don't hear them. I will admit that the most important part of painting is when it looks like I'm doing nothing--that's the thinking part.

    After about 50 years of sculpting and painting, I'm still in that gap--I accept that my work will never match my ambition (much like golf). It's that rare nice straight shot that brings you back to the easel.

    Your painting at the top is wonderful, nice composition and I love the green awning.

    Today I was picking up paintings and dropping off paintings; I think art is a lot of hauling and lifting. Thank you for the mention; I feel like a celebrity.

  3. Hello Dan,
    Great blog!
    Recently, Jim Marshall (of Marshall Amplification) died. He was a really nice guy. I met him once and spent ages talking about two old Marshall 50w heads I used to own. He told me a better way to link them and set them up (he also gave me some stuff inc a nice t-shirt). Anyway, on the day I found out he had died, that night I had a dream that I was playing guitar and as I was playing, colours were coming out of my amp. Both music and art are emotions so to me are related. Both need to be worked at. To be any good at all playing guitar you have to spend many hours sounding With art, you have to produce many works before you start to see any progression at all. You are getting closer all the time to that dream we all have of producing what we have in our heads.
    Your painting is fantastic. I can imagine being there. I am struggling with watercolour but won't give in :-)
    As I said at the start - Great Blog Mate!

  4. I just think it's a great painting Dan =) for what it's worth anyway.

  5. The Ira Glass quote says it all...
    I really like the sunny yellows in your painting, watercolour isn't simple and it doesn't always do what we want it to do!

  6. I really like this painting. I like the analogous yellow-orange-red complemented by the greens. I love that palm tree and wish I could paint palm trees like that. For me, it's that difference between what I want to achieve and what actually happens in my art that keeps me interested. When I can do what I want with a media and/or subject then I am bored. Love the Ira Glass quote!

  7. I always enjoy reading your blog and this time it was especially good. Thank you for sharing yourself with the rest of us.

  8. I like the painting too. The blood/red shop really helps to give the other colours zing & works imo.

    I was surprised how short this post was after the warning :) btw I always have to leave your posts a day or two until I have time to read them.

  9. Okay. I signed up for both your suggestions. I might have done so before publishing my comment, which I made before. If that's the case, then I think I said "great post Dan--even though you dreamed I had a noisy brush that pinged a lot. You are absolutely right when you say we artists are never totally happy with our work for we are always reaching for and never achieving perfection (my synopsis). It's in our blood. The master piece is always the next one on our lap or our easel. The stretch is the joy.

  10. The painting may not be all that you wanted it to be, but as you said you learned a lot from doing it, watercolor can be a slippery media so good luck with the next one. :) I love the Ira Glass quote, it is so true, and even when you come out the other side one still makes a lot of not so good art.

  11. Insightful Dan, I love the Ira Glass quote, I think I have a .jpg of it on Flickr.. I do an art class on Fridays with 5 and 6 years old (considered at risk because of the neighborhood and their race).. Those kids are so creative and bold with color and willing to try new things, and some of them are really really good already... and some of them are already negative and down on themselves... I try for the hour I'm with them to challenge them and to give them permission to not like it, to turn it over or throw it away and start again... no pencils, I make them draw with pens...I'm so mean like that... I tell them every line is valuable, an extension of themselves their vision, their hand, their line. Some times they will ask, what color should I use (like today when we did owls)... so I'll say, well in real life owls are brown, but this isn't real life, this is ART, so your owl can be purple or green or a rainbow of colors, you're the artist you decide. So I've rambled on and on, but the point is, we all, even as adults need to give ourselves permission to be creative, so keep it or trash it... to paint the town purple or not... to obey the laws of perspective... or say to heck with it and just draw it our way... maybe people won't like it... but it's ours, all ours and nobody else will ever do anything quite like it ever... so our art is unique and special... the only way to fail is to quit.

  12. Rebecca Cantu said, "Dan, your blog post was very inspiring and so on point, I think.
    Thank you so much for sharing!"

  13. I like my fellow bloggers sure enough...but I have yet to dream about them...haha! I like how the dream seems to indicate that you are "listening" to what others have to offer..perhaps our biggest lesson to learn is about individuality. When I was a graphic artist I worked with the best illustrators...and I just knew I'd never be able to add anything to the visual art world that could compare to what they offered. It kept me away from lifting a brush for decades. I am glad I decided something along the lines of "oh, hell, I am different than they are" and I accepted that. I put that whole Ira Glass talk on my blog.....twice. (The video've seen that right?
    You are gifted in several departments. I think you are a born communicator. I love your watercolors....they ARE Florida :)

  14. I like your painting, especially the colors. It seems to be part of a story - or it could be the decor of a dream! Ira Glass's words are very interesting. Also, the doubts when you see all the incredible talent around. It's all about the process, and the joy we take in doing - and sometimes looking at our own work, however imperfect it is. Thanks for the links and thoughts provoking post!

  15. Dan this is an inspiring post, most particularly the Ira Glass quote - what a revelation. What I like about your picture is the sense of the overhanging trees. Your posts are always interesting, and like many of your other commenters, I am very grateful - thank you.

  16. Thank you for this excellent Ira Glass quote ! It does ring a bell !
    We all do share the same moments of doubt, and your posts are always full of interesting thinking matters !
    As for your work, this watercolours looks lovely to me with a nice combination of warm colours it is really inviting !!! We, amateur artists must accept we ARE amateurs and enjoy ourselves !!
    Looking forward to your next posts !!

  17. Great sketch above Dan, lovely colours and great onions below

  18. Thank you all. I am feeling a bit better about my picture now.

    Joyful - Thank you. Great reminder. That is still my favorite art book of all time.

    Hallie - You are a celebrity. I was thrilled that you enjoyed it, especially given my wife's reaction that - "You dream about these people?! Weird."

    Stew - Thanks - great story. You will wrestle watercolors to the ground!! (Or something like that).

    Alex - It is worth a lot, thanks.

    Cathy - Thank you. The real yellow in the painting isn't quite so yellow. The scanner seems to slurp the yellow right up, and there is not much I can do about it. The color scheme while very similar to what you see (or what I think you see) is a touch more subtle.

    Ann - You are right. If it were easy I would probably think it wasn't worth my trouble.

    Cheryl - Glad you liked it. My writing happens to be on canvas too.

    Sue - I am glad you think it works - I think it was the colors of the buildings that attracted me to that spot. I got rid of the warning after reading your comment - maybe it was scaring folks away!!

    LW Roth - "The stretch is the joy." I am going to keep saying that over and over.

    Kathleen - Thank you. Good to hear from the other side.

    Captain - I was so charged by your comment!!! Inspiring. I am confident you are a marvelous teacher!!

    Rebecca - Thank you. Thanks for visiting my blog.

    Celeste - You always have something interesting - and valuable - to say. I am heartened by the fact that you went through this very same thing. I had no idea it was a video. I haven't had time but will definitely check it out.

    kazumi - Part of a story, or decor of a dream..I like that! Thanks.

    Jane - Thank you so much for coming. Being inspired is a bonus - I am very complimented.

    Martine - Hmmm. I read and re-read your comment. You are right of course. But I want to be more than an amateur!!!! Aaaaarrgh!

    debra - Thank you. Given your beautiful work, it is wonderful to receive your compliment on those onions!

    Thanks all - so much.

  19. What a a splendid, helpful, post and I thank you for your generosity in sharing it with us. I'll be checking out the radio program and signing up for the newsletter. And, Ira's words couldn't be more true. Thank you so much! nancy

  20. great blog post - thank you so much for sharing! a very helpful reminder.

  21. I understand and commiserate. I've written, daily, for almost four years now. It's all out there, on the blog, and I am amazed by the difference between the writing four years ago and now. You can see it, feel it; and yet had I not kept going -- only because I love it -- I would never have made the changes, developed the nuances that I have.

    It still pays nothing, but it makes me happy. :-)


  22. Hi Dan, Your blog posts are a treasure! I certainly can identify with your self doubts; I'm still in the working through it stage that Ira Glass mentioned. It takes courage. Speaking of which, hooray for you for getting out there and working en plein air conditioning! I have not done landscapes that I'm happy with, but the reminder that it takes time and practice is most worthwhile! Thanks!

  23. waiting patiently out here for the next Dan Kent watercolor of Florida....and/or of people or ideas! tap tap tap...fingers drumming

  24. Oh my Dan! How long did it take to make this post?! So much great information and fun too!
    Love your painting- very nice.
    Love your words- funny, insightful, packed full of good stuff.
    And love both Hallie and L.W.
    All in all... perfection!

  25. Celeste - I hear your drumming!! It's been a dark time for me lately, but I'm still here, and this evening I feel better (hope it continues)..but through it all I've made art - I have three more watercolor paintings to post. But in the midst of it all my scanner broke. You've just got to laugh. So I expect I'll post soon, maybe by weekend. I hate not posting.

    Thank you all you latecomers to the are welcome even if you are as late as I always am! I am grateful you came by and thought enough of the post to comment.

    See you all soon!!

  26. Hooray...! I am glad you'll be able to post soon....! Three new watercolors! woooo hooooooo!

  27. When I first saw the date up top, I thought, 'oh good, I'm only three days late!'. eh...I guess that would be a MONTH and three days! Sorry I've not been around! In fact, I feel really bad about not having time to get in contact with you while I was in Florida...and oh so close to Miami! I wish that I had had the time, but when I finally did, I had the big dog in tow.

    Your posts are always so thought-provoking! Love the painting! Loved the dream! And related to all the feelings of doubt. And as I was reading, I thought to myself, 'oh, he would love the Ira Glass quote. I should send it to him!' And then I read the exact Ira Glass quote that I was thinking. I keep that quote nearby since I am often chastised for talking about the negatives in my paintings. I also loved reading all these comments. Like Elaine said...we only fail if we quit!

    Hope things are looking up for you. I think we've turned a critical corner here. The darkness seems to be lifting. Hope to be posting more often.

  28. I forgot to say thank you for the wonderful links! I've subscribed to the newletter and mentioned that I learned of it through your blog post. Will be checking out the radio program tomorrow!