If I Can, You Can – Accepting Challenge

As a kid, I had a bad habit of ripping off my fingernails.  I would start with a hangnail but usually I would work on a jagged edge until I could get a hold on it and then just rip it off.  It was a nervous habit.  I was always picking at my nails and my parents repeatedly told me to quit.  Why did I develop this habit?  I don’t know and would probably have to go through psychoanalysis to find out.  Not worth it.  It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I challenged myself to quit.  And I did.  At some point, I challenged myself with minor goals.  I thought that if I could accomplish these goals, I could do anything.

After I conquered the nail-ripping-habit, I knew I could quit smoking.  It was 1973.  I had smoked since I was a sophomore in high school, and smoked at least a pack a day.  It was a nasty habit.  I would wake in the middle of the night just to have a cigarette, and that’s the first thing I would grab upon awakening each morning.  Smoking affected my weight…  at that time, I was a mere 120 pounds.  Once I accepted my self-imposed challenge, I quit “cold turkey.”  Actually, I have to admit that I did not have even one quarter to buy a pack.  I had to quit, and it was not easy.  But I persevered.  I developed restless leg syndrome and my legs ached painfully.  You know how people say, “Oh, food tasted differently?”  I don’t remember experiencing that.  During that first year of snuffing out that last butt, I gained about forty pounds. A nice benefit.  After some time, I smoked a cigarette and my reaction was “What did I ever see in this?”

Now, I was ready to tackle the World.  I had been an unhappy teacher for some time.  I was only earning $13,000 annually after having taught for thirteen years.  I could see a bleak future.  I had always wanted to be a professional singer.  That’s another story, but I had to try.  From there, I applied with a major transportation company.  To be hired for a ground-level administrative position, I had to pass a typing and shorthand test.  Typing was a breeze, but shorthand?  I had two weeks to learn it and had to pass a test at 90 words per minute.  I made it.  I applied myself and advanced from a clerk, to a secretary and then to a management position.  In the final years of my career, I had a nine-state territory.  I flew somewhere almost every week.

Wait!  I had some intermediary challenges.  I was forced to give presentations within the company as well as to the public.  I was a horrid public speaker, but I joined Toastmasters and not only became a proficient speaker but also an accomplished trainer.  Having overcome my weaknesses was very satisfying.

Fast forward to 2006.  I suffered two heart attacks and two strokes.  The nature of my challenges changed.  I was dizzy 24/7 from August until December.  I walked with a cane during that time and when I did I was taking baby steps.  I took physical therapy and speech therapy.  The most difficult challenge was overcoming depression.  My youngest son encouraged me to “take up my brushes and once again paint.”  I did, and I have been painting over ten years now and consider myself a professional painter.

Have I completed all of my challenges?  I hope not.  Recently, I had open-heart surgery and all the resulting challenges.  My latest is writing this blog and also writing a newsletter.  I want to build my email list Studio News.  I go to the gym six days a week.  The list of challenges gets longer.

The take away for you… it’s in the title of this post.  “If I Can, You Can.”  Start with a small challenge.  It will give you confidence to move on to a more difficult one.  You will eventually become the person you were always meant to be.

 

 

 

My Gray Hair Caused Mistaken Identity

Pacing and smoking… it seemed like an eternity. Finally after seventy-two hours of labor, my wife birthed a beautiful baby girl with million-dollar lips. I was very proud and she was just what I hoped for. But let me back up, my wife and I married young. I was 20 and she 19. It was a whirlwind-love-at-first-sight-I-cannot-live-without-you marriage after dating only four months. Moving fast, we lost little time conceiving, after all isn’t that what life’s about – re-creating or was it rec-reating? Get it? Eleven months after marriage our daughter was born.

For an additional six years, we tried to conceive again. We thought we were not going to have any more children, then we did conceive. Again, we were very proud. If anyone tried to convince me we were not going to have a boy, I would get pissed off. My wife’s delivery was much easier this time and she did birth a boy. He didn’t have million-dollar lips and I thought he was an ugly baby. My wife argues that he was not. Luckily he grew out of that ugliness and became a cute kid, and now a handsome and confident man who did not get his baldness from me.

Our family was complete. NOT! Wait for it…. wait for it. Our family was growing up and our daugher was leaving the nest. Wait for it! Twenty-one years after #1 was born, we conceived for a third time. #1 was a sophomore in college. When our third child was born, #1 was the age I was when she was born. Oh, by the way, we had another son.

At left: My wife, #2, #1, #3, & Me

It happened more than once though! When venturing out in public on a Saturday, #3 was then walking and had very curly hair as it had not yet been cut.  We were getting frozen yogurt and a VP from my company was also in line at the store. He stated “what a cute little granddaughter.” I tactfully replied “it’s my son.” Double down on “mistaken identity.”

The best anecdote of “mistaken identity” occurred when #1 and her new husband were dining out with us. #3 ordered a steak and the waitress turned to our daughter and her husband and asked if it was okay. They pointed to my wife and I.

When people ask about my family and I tell them I have three kids with twenty-one years difference between the oldest and the youngest, they ask “all by the same wife.” Of course, by the same wife. All three are adults now and all married. #1 and #2 each have three children. #3 has three dogs and a cat. My wife and I have five beautiful granddaughters and one handsome grandson., and I enjoy when they call me “Gramps.”

Hiding Under My Desk to Paint

My love of painting was born

My resume includes thirteen years as a choir and band teacher at a public high school. Can you believe after thirteen years, my highest annual salary was $13,000?  Poverty level.  Obviously this was several years ago and times have changed for the better, or have they?

It was during this time that I began painting with oils… wasn’t aware of other mediums. On my salary, affordable housing for my family and I was a mobile home. As you can imagine, an art studio was out of the question. When passion takes over, however, there is always a way.

I made do. I had a tabletop easel that I squeezed under a desk. I sat on the floor with my legs crossed and painted from photographs and magazines. My favorite subject was clown paintings. To this day, I still have three of those paintings. Each of my three kids have laid claim to one of them. I enjoyed clipping black and white photos from magazines and newspapers and imagined the colors for those clowns and their costumes. Additionally, I created still life paintings and gave them as gifts.

When I left teaching, I chose a different career path as a manager with a large transportation company. Having sacrificed my need to be creative and the stress of corporate demands may have contributed to failing health and I suffered two strokes and two heart attacks. I survived but lifestyle changes I made caused major depression. It was actually a blessing as my younger son encouraged me to once again take up painting. I did. I now consider myself a professional artist and I no longer have to “paint under the desk.”

Two Cents’ Worth of Art Advice

5 Phases for Growth – Loraine Requested My Guidance

Recently, I was contacted by Loraine seeking guidance in reference to her art career.  She wrote, “…for many years I was too afraid to go for it.  I thought that I wasn’t good enough.  I have now decided to give up that belief and learn rather than assume that I will never get better.” Kudos, Loraine, for this positive step.  The best way to conquer fear is to practice and practice and practice.  It will build your confidence.

Before we go further, I have to preface any guidance with the fact that I have been working on my own art career over ten years and I am still learning.  My advice is based on my accumulated knowledge through my trial and error.

First and foremost, Loraine, don’t quit your day job.  At least, not yet. Your strongest assets are determination and persistence.  Expect delays and rejections…  it’s part of the game. Stay positive.  With this in mind, I suggest you approach your career with baby steps and in phases.

Phase I – Creating Artwork:

  • Practice daily – not every piece should be for sell, you’re developing your style
  • Materials – use the highest quality of materials that you can afford
  • Create in Series – need 4 to 5 pieces for a series

 

Phase II – Goals

  • Set Goals – choose three to five goals and master those before adding more:
    • Studio Space – devote an area to your artwork where you don’t have to set up and clean up every time you work on a piece – you need to be able to leave your mess and come back to it later…  the dining room table is not an option
    • Build your Portfolio – you will need at least 25 to 30 pieces in a cohesive style to begin
    • Photograph your work – I photograph my own.  Since I cannot take a photo without it being blurred, I use a tripod for the camera.  Clear images that are cropped are mandatory.
    • Your Name is your Brand – you want people to remember you. Create your email address using your name, e.g. I use jerry@jerryhardestystudio.com.
    • Stories – create stories to go with each piece.  Potential buyers want to know about you and your artwork.  Give people an emotional connection to your work.

 

Phase III – Promoting your Work

Until you build your portfolio, you may not be ready for this phase yet.

  • Social Media – Use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – post daily, if you can.  Post an image along with Title, Medium, Size, and Price (more about price later)
  • Website – build your site using a free service.  There are a number available, Square Space, Shopify, Saatchi.  Personally, I use FASO for which I pay.  I like to have control over any changes I need to make and FASO provides that.  Remember to use your name as you create the site, e.g. my site is JerryHardestyStudio.com.  Note I use my name in my email address and my website name.
  • Bio and Artist Statement – Create your Bio in the third person and an Artist Statement in the first person.  You will need these for your website and for any submissions to contests or galleries.  These are not static documents, but change as your work improves and as you change.

 

Phase IV – Other Art Business

  • Pricing – be consistent.  Do not price pieces that are the same size differently.  You will lose buyers.  Create a price list.  When I began, I used $1 per square inch, width x height; therefore, an 8×10 would be 80 square inches or $80.
  • Business Cards – create a basic business card.  Include an image if possible and basic information, your email address and website address.  Don’t leave home without them and pass them out wherever you go.  I use Vistaprint and Moo.
  • Internet – review other artists sites, bios and artists’ statements before creating your own.
  • Read – in addition to the Internet, the Library is a great resource.  Read about favorite artists, books about technique, and books about art business. I have an extensive personal library and have used the city library as well.

 

Phase V – Art Gallries, Contests, Organizations

  • Join organizations such as Art Societies
  • Visit Galleries and Museums
  • Attend Gallery Strolls
  • Enter local contests (some charge for participating)

 

Overwhelmed?  I was.  I am.  Loraine, you can work on much of this simultaneously, however, do not attempt to do it all at once.  Decide what’s most important, and I cannot emphasize enough that building that portfolio is the most important.

Creative Blast #2

Be Creative!


Happy New Year!  Did you celebrate?  If so, did you celebrate too much? I cannot even stay up past midnight…  I hate to admit that it’s an age thing.  No, wait!  Getting up at 5:00 a.m. has to be a factor.  All that aside, let’s move on to creativity.

You got your mojo on?  In other words, have you exercised and had that warm shower that I wrote about in Creative Blast #1?  If so, you’re ready to meditate and be creative.  Where can you find a nice, stimulating place in which to have that “eureka” moment you’re seeking?

I’m going in here.  It’s warm.  There are others here doing the same thing I intend to do.  Therefore, it’s stimulating.  Besides, I could use another cup of coffee.  Now, do you know where I’m going?  Starbucks, of course… maybe you would prefer a local coffee bar/shop. Not all are stimulating… depends on the environment… the noise level.  It also depends on customer service.

I’ve been here so often that some of the Baristas know me by name.  I call that good customer service. After getting my order, I find a table, munch on my pastry and sip my wonderful latte.  I want it to last as long as possible.  Many of the patrons are on their laptops.  I prefer to take a sketchbook.  Not only can I sketch, but also use it as a journal and write.  I compose outlines for some of my best posts in Starbucks.

Back to the environment.  It can be frustrating if you cannot find a table.  When in Rome, Italy, I ventured into a coffee bar expecting the same service as at home.  I ordered my usual latte which came as steamed milk.  The Barista happily replaced it.  A group of middle-age men were standing around quickly indulging their caffeine addictions. For me, it was not very pleasurable.

Back to Starbucks, many tables are taken with just one patron when it could seat four. Most of the time, it’s not a problem.  I believe most patrons find it inviting and stimulating.

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Today,  a couple of guys bond over a game of chess.

Every Thursday at the same table, a group of six guys gather and try to top each other’s stories.  It’s refreshing to hear them raucously laugh and get excited. At times, I feel a bit envious that I’m not part of that group.  In a corner, a homeless guy naps as the warmth of the shop envelops him. Then there’s the young father and son spending quality time together. At times, I’m that father with my youngest son; although he’s now an adult.  Additionally, there’s the occasional, informal business meeting.  All these disparate personalities contribute to the Starbucks brand.

Starbucks not only sells tasty pastries and coffee, but also pop culture at its best.  It’s coffee time!  It’s creative time! I challenge you to make creativity part of your day. It’s a Blast!

Creative Blast #1

Why Ideas Come to Life in the Shower


I Shot Wendell!  That was the title of a recent post.  If you read that post, please stay with me and don’t judge me until you’ve read this new post in its entirety.  

What does shooting Wendell have to do with art (my main focus)? Nothing, but everything to do with creativity.  Which sparked  the question, “Why do I always have creative ideas in the shower?”  I decided to do some internet research as I couldn’t possibly be the only person having epiphanies in the shower.  This morning was somewhat different…  I read the paper with my coffee after which I relaxed and became meditative.  The ideas lit up as I began to mentally write this post.  I finished the post in the shower.

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Before the physical act of writing, I researched my topic and discovered several internet articles.  Most referenced the release of dopamine.Dopamine, the “motivation molecule.”  Dopamine, a neurotransmitter,  is released in our brains caused by various activities including a warm shower, exercise, listening to music, and meditation. In the shower, we are relaxed…  not distracted.  This is a good thing. However, if we do not snare our thoughts when they occur, they may be lost.  According to Leo Widrich in his article Why We Have Our Best Ideas In the Shower: The Science of Creativity he offers three ways to do so:

  1. Keep a notebook with you at all times – Artists use a sketchbook – Don’t forget a pen or pencil.  Even in the shower, use Aqua Notes.
  2. “Incubation” period  – jot down notes relative to the idea, go about other tasks while the idea is incubating – return to the idea and finish it.  (I went to Starbucks with my wife while this post was incubating).
  3. Overwhelm your brain: Make the task really hard – you will engage more of your creative area than normal.  Rewriting the post “I Shot Wendell” as “Creative Blast #1” has certainly engaged my creativity.

Those sparks of creativity are beneficial.   Increasing dopamine ignites those sparks… warm showers, exercise, music, and meditation as previously stated.  In his article How to Increase Dopamine Naturally Deane Alban provides a list of certain foods, drinks, and spices that can help:

  • All animal products
  • Almonds
  • Apples
  • Avocado
  • Bananas
  • Beets
  • Chocolate (I like dark chocolate)
  • Fava Beans
  • Green Leafy Vegetables
  • Lima Beans
  • Oatmeal
  • Sea Vegetables
  • Sesame and Pumpkin Seeds
  • Turmeric
  • Watermelon
  • Wheat Germ

Now back to the creativity of the day “I Shot Wendell.”  For thirteen years I was a band and choir teacher in a public school in Northeast Missouri.  Being a disciplinarian was the most difficult aspect of teaching.  Most students were well-behaved and respectful.  There were a few that pushed the limits however.  Wendell was one of those. He played Baritone Saxophone in band.  The instrument was almost as big as he was.  He wasn’t a bad kid…  he just liked to talk, especially to Terri.  Of course, if they were talking, neither were playing their saxes. I gave Wendell demerits and lowered his grade, all to no avail.

One day between classes, I discovered a starter pistol in the teacher’s lounge.  My creative juices flowed as I had been contemplating for quite sometime how to get Wendell to quit talking.  This day, I was going to have some fun at his expense.  This was back in the day when male teachers wore sports jackets.  I tucked the starter pistol into the waistband of my slacks and covered it with my jacket.  I told several students in the front what I was going to do so they would not be alarmed.  Wendell didn’t disappoint me, he started talking.  I pulled out the pistol, pointed it directly at him and fired.  I said, “Now you shut up!”  It was the first time I ever saw Jay Dee, Wendell’s best friend, smile.  It was a BLAST… very satisfying.  I cannot recall if Wendell was affected or not.  He was probably like a wild horse.  He couldn’t be broken.

What does this have to do with art?  Nothing, but it was certainly the CREATIVE BLAST that I needed.

Artists, I challenge you to get in the shower after you exercise while listening to soothing instrumental music at a low volume (words are distracting), stand there and meditate and have your own CREATIVE BLAST.

 

 

Art Does Not Speak for Itself

It’s our job as Artists

Not only do we Artists need to write about our work, but we also need to be able to speak about it as well.  Writing  “Artist Statements” and “Bios” are part of the creative process.  Add stories behind the work and communication becomes a challenging and essential skill that we need to hone.  Several years ago, I was exhibiting at a garden show when I was approached by a collector who asked me to tell him about my work.  As I stumbled over my tongue, I realized I was in trouble and would not make a sale to this gentleman – needless to say, I was embarrassed.

Since that time, I studied with a young artist who insisted that I talk about my work.  I have learned the value of a story to accompany each piece.  Many artists respond that the art speaks for itself.  What does that mean?  Viewers may have different interpretations of a piece?  That’s certainly true, especially for abstract work.  However, that does not mean that the artist should not have a story or reason for creating a piece that’s meaningful and not just eye candy.  Allow me to illustrate the story I developed with the painting “Going Under:”

going-under

Going Under, Acrylic, 20×20

“Going Under” is my expression of a journey that I was somewhat reluctant to take.

Imagine that moment when you jump into the deep end of the pool and realize you’re going under! Or perhaps going into surgery and the anesthesiologist asks you to start counting backwards. All the colors of your reality come together as the sedation envelops your consciousness and blackness is your new reality although you don’t know it. Upon spewing that nasty chlorinated pool water or opening your eyes as if you were reborn, there is the first glimmer of light, and you’re grateful to be alive.

Are representational artists able to create their stories more easily?  I wonder.  I suspect a landscape artist’s story would include a location.  Was it painted “en plein aire” or from a photograph.  What time of day is represented?  Colors used?  Textures?  Portrait artists can certainly tell about the model.  Why this particular model?

As artists, how can we prepare ourselves to write and talk about our work?  I suggest five steps:

  1. Join a Toastmasters Club – I joined a number of years ago and have become a proficient public speaker.  Find a local club through toastmasters.org and join.  The organization allows you to progress at your own rate in a non-threatening and supportive environment.
  2. Develop your stories as you create; it’s part of the process.
  3. Write and write and write and write.  Write a blog.  Write a newsletter.  Write out questions to yourself that you have often received.  Then write a suitable answer.
  4. Speak at every available opportunity.  Practice addressing the questions in #3 above and learn to ad lib your answers.
  5. Create a new Comfort Zone by doing these five steps.

I challenge you to create your stories and answers.  It’s time-consuming, but well worthwhile.  I’m still working on mine.