Time management and art

January 15th, 2014 | 5 Comments

Five lessons I have learned from having a goal of painting 1,500 hours in 2014

As we entered 2014, I found that I had created a New Year’s resolution for myself.

The resolution was more of a personal goal — what Jim Collins might call a “big, hairy audacious goal.”

I knew that I wanted to give my all to painting in the forthcoming year. I also knew that giving my all takes time — a commitment of time. The idea of painting (and sketching) for six hours per day popped into my mind. That’s 30 hours per week.

time management and art
Stopwatch running. (Game show announcer voice: Wristwear generously provided by George W. Stone.)

Extrapolating this figure over the course of a year, I realized I was staring at a goal of 1,500 hours of painting and sketching in 2014.

So there I was in my studio on January 2, with an Ironman stopwatch strapped to my wrist, pressing the start button when I got to work, pressing the stop button when I stepped away from the easel, and logging my progress into a worksheet, seeing how it all adds up. Call me a nerd? So what!

Now two weeks — 10 work days — into the year, I have logged 27.5 hours of creative time. Unfortunately, that’s already more than 30 hours behind my six-hours-per-day target. However, on a positive note, I have already completed three wall-worthy paintings.

Four lessons I have learned so far

As you’d expect, I’ve even more keenly aware of how I invest my time. I feel like a football (soccer) referee keeping time in a match. But I’ve also unexpectedly learned several subtle lessons.

1. Get to work. Second-guess less.

Perhaps most importantly, I’ve really cut down on how much I second-guess my work in general. I’m more likely to turn my sketches into paintings, sooner. In the past, there had moments when I have endlessly tinkered with a good design for a painting. One time in particular, a sketch went through 20 iterations, which turned out to be an exercise in diminishing returns. In retrospect, the first sketch was pretty good — good enough to be painted.

Now, by contrast, I feel like the process of working — simply sitting down at the table, computer, or easel — is more important when the stopwatch is running. Not every painting I make will be great, or good, for that matter. Yet, if I can keep working, I’m more likely to make good work, and potentially great work. Even if I make minor, sub-par work here and there, I’m closer to making something good, because I keep learning as I go. The key is to keep working. Process will take of product.

2. Tracking time fosters accountability and focus.

When the stopwatch is on, it’s all about making art. A laser-like focus develops, and distractions get pushed out of the way. Checking the twitter feed is for break time. ! )

3. Keep on keeping on.

On a number of occasions, using a stopwatch has motivated me to not take a break — to keep motoring along — especially when I’m approaching an hourly milestone in a given day. If I see that I’ve painted 52 minutes so far, I somehow feel encouraged to paint another eight minutes, to “top things off” at the hour mark, and then take a quick break.

It’s a lot like doing bicep curls at the gym. No one stops at nine. You have to go for ten.

And, when I’m staring at the prospect of working on a complicated section of a painting, that same top-things-off mentality often kicks in. Rather than be stymied by the complexity of a section, I think about the smaller goal, of painting just a few minutes to get started. In turn, the complex section seems to break into more manageable parts.

4. It all adds up.

The stopwatch has certainly helped me realize how effort adds up. In the past, I often wondered whether I was painting enough. For whatever reason, I thought I was being lazy. Now that I’m accounting for my creative time, I’m easier on myself, because I’m able to remind myself of what I have already accomplished. It’s much easier to say “I’m doing the best I can, given my resources, circumstances and obligations.”

5. Compartmentalization has its benefits.

Fifth and finally, when I take a break, or move on to other work (such as unrelated consulting services I provide for clients), I feel more able to shut out pressures related to my creative work. A football match seems more enjoyable when the creative work is on hold.

Too big of a goal? To be determined.

Ultimately, I might be overreaching with my goal of 1,500 creative hours this year. A goal of 1,200 or 1,000 hours might be more realistic. After all, I have client work to do, and there are many other things to do. I enjoy posting my work to social streams. Life in general needs to be attended to. The value of visiting with friends and family cannot be overstated.

The key is finding ways to focus, while maintaining a balance. When I reach the end of January, I’ll revisit my progress, and consider adjusting my BHAG for 2014 accordingly.

Have you experimented with keeping track of your art-making activities? Share your story below.

Painting and color

August 7th, 2009 | 5 Comments

painting and color

Where do I get my ideas for painting and color? Like many artists, I’m sure, I find inspiration from just about anything.

I never know what will inspire me to create my next painting — and color is often source of my inspiration.

Right now, a textbook I enjoyed as a first-year in college is inspiring me. The book is titled The Meaning of Life: Questions, Answers and Analysis, edited by Steven Sanders and David R. Cheney.

In school, the chapter titled “Nothing Matters” really resonated with me. Today, it’s the book’s cover, designed by Infield/D’Astolfo Associates. My next modern painting and color scheme are very much a tribute to this book’s jacket.

painting and color

The intense clash of violet, ultrabright orange and white — and mixtures thereof — turn my eyes absolutely stark-mad crazy!

At my mixing table, I did my utmost to match paints to the cover:

painting and color

Yet, as I modeled this on my computer, I found that I wasn’t thrilled with using white.

Below, the first and second images are with white The third image eschews white altogether (Leave it to Verner Panton to talk me out of using white!), offering a variant of the second design.

painting and color

painting and color

Of these three, do you have a favorite? Let me know in the comments below. I’d appreciate your feedback.

All of this proves that, just like the meaning of life can be anything to anyone, inspiration for painting and color can be anything to any artist.

Balancing two very different styles of painting

July 1st, 2009 | 1 Comment »

styles of painting
A simple scatter plot, which graphs independent variables (events that happen independently of each other.)

Creativity is like a scatter plot; it’s not a linear process.

As I look back upon the art I’ve produced over the past six years, I’ve noticed a trend. Actually, it’s a lack of a trend. A trendless trend.

Here’s what I mean: Since 2003, I have been painting and designing according to two very different styles of painting; each has two very different compositional approaches: 1) minimal, reductive paintings and 2) maximalist abstract paintings.

I once thought that I had to choose one of these styles of painting — for once and for all, and for good. I could be only a minimalist or a maximalist. But not both. Not having made up my mind, the way I saw it, was a sign of weakness.

Yet, after much deliberation, I never did make a choice. I just kept on making.

And so I continue: I get really into minimalism. But after a while, I hit a wall, and then get really into maximalist abstract painting, only to get distracted, and re-inspired, by minimalist painting all over again. Hence, my output has leapfrogged from one idea to the next, with seemingly little rhyme or reason, for years.

styles of paintingstyles of painting
Two very different styles of painting: Left: Space Loop I, a minimal painting from 2008. Right: Where Is Gibarian?, a maximalist abstract painting from 2008.

Let your mind bounce from one idea to the next

Good things happen when you follow your creative whims. Surveying my work over recent years, I realize that elements within my compositions are completely modular. For example, a trio of stripes from a minimal painting can easily serve as a focal point in a maximalist abstract painting.

Any color, stripe or shape can be applied to any painting I choose to make, regardless of the associated style.

Therefore, rather than see my creativity as a linear process, I have chosen to see what I make in terms of a scatter plot — a collection of independent variables that reside at different places on a graph — like the one above.

Over time, I have changed my mind frequently, going from one idea to the next, one painting to the next. Each painting is much like an independent variable, even though it is informed by my previous experiences.

Don’t make sense, just make

The creative “jumping around” may not make sense from a near-term perspective. However, I bet you could draw a trend line through a graph of everything I’ve made, delineating the average between all of these points, and everything would interconnect.

It’s easy to say that we should know exactly what we stand for at all times. It’s easy to adopt a singular art style and repeat whatever worked for you in the past. That’s safe. That makes sense.

But when you no longer think about making sense, you free up your mind to focus on making. And making, after all, is what art is all about.

Snickers ad parodies

June 16th, 2009 | 2 Comments

For weeks, as I’ve been driving back and forth to work, I’ve been greeted by the humorously ironic Snickers ad campaign, which plays word tricks on its iconic logo. “Get dunked on by Patrick Chewing,” one Snickers billboard warns. “Do hard time in the peanutentiary,” another Snickers billboard advises. If you live anywhere in the United States, you’ve probably witnessed these Snickers ads.

After weeks of driving around, I finally lost my mind and decided to channel my reaction into Snickers ads of my own. Here are my very own 7 contributions to the truly wonderful and completely original Snickers ad campaign:

snickers ad parody
snickers ad parody
snickers ad parody
snickers ad parody
snickers ad parody
snickers ad parody
snickers ad parody

Do you have a Snickers ad parody idea? Post it below!

Art starts with attitude

June 8th, 2009 | 5 Comments

I’ve decided to stop being modest.

When someone pays me a compliment about my paintings, I’m going to take it — and run like hell.

In other words, I’m going to say “thank you” — and I’m going to believe what that person says.

Bashfulness be damned

There’s no point in being bashful. Being bashful will neither help you — nor I — make great paintings.

I am convinced of this: To achieve anything great, you must first believe that you can achieve something great.

To put this into practice: I want to make world-class art. Therefore, I must say to myself, “I can make world-class art.” Or, I can say this: “I make world class art.”

(Typing that last sentence felt pretty good.)

SuperAcid Autobacs Ambilify

SuperAcid Autobacs Ambilify: It's 12:51am, and I've been working on this painting for the past five hours, and I'm ready for sleep. This painting is one of the weirdest paintings I've ever made; it took me four weeks to make; it looks nothing like I originally envisioned it; I trashed two previous versions. But that's another story for another time. Fact is, I didn't quit.

Making “okay” art is not okay

I am also convinced that the greatest artists do no think their is art is just “okay.”

The greatest art critics? Completely full of themselves.

But you know, to do something great, you’ve got to be able to say, “I do great work. Nothing will get between me and my work.”

What did Muhammad Ali say about himself? “I am the greatest.” And he believed it.

As an artist, you should be able to say the same about yourself. It’s not like there’s a Heavyweight Championship of Art, anyway. No one’s keeping score. (Except ourselves, of course.)

In appreciation of the late, great hard-edge painter Frederick Hammersley

June 3rd, 2009 | 3 Comments

This afternoon, I became profoundly saddened when I learned that Frederick Hammersley, one of my favorite painters, passed away on Sunday, at the age of 90.

An email newsletter from Charlotte Jackson Fine Art revealed the news. The subject line read Frederick Hammersley (1919-2009). Before I clicked to open the email, fearing the worst, I tried to trick myself into thinking that perhaps he would be having a new retrospective exhibition. To my disbelief, I was wrong.

Frederick Hammersley, as pictured in the catalog of the 1959 Four Abstract Classicists exhibition

Frederick Hammersley, as pictured in the catalog of the 1959 Four Abstract Classicists exhibition

I would like to tell you why Frederick Hammersley’s work is so important to me. And I would like to explain my sadness for never writing him a letter, telling him how highly I think of his work, and how much I appreciate how he was able to pursue two very different styles of painting throughout his life (“geometries” and “organics”).

Why Hammersley matters

To me, there is no question that Hammersley is one of the greatest American painters of the 20th century. He’s up there with Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. I’d love to see a Newman “zip” painting hung in the same room with one of Hammersley’s “geometries.”

However, the reason why Hammersley doesn’t have a larger following, in my opinion, is a simple question of geography.

Because they were based in Southern California, Hammersley, Karl Benjamin and other members of the Hard Edge abstraction group were thousands of miles away from New York, in a literal and figurative sense. While the West Coast Hard Edge painters were doing some truly astonishing, adventurous, highly original work, they didn’t fit the prevailing “discourse” of New York at the time. When the term “hard edge art” took shape in LA in 1959, pop art was right around the corner in New York; hard edge didn’t have a place in New York’s visual agenda.

Frederick Hammersley's In Two the Fray, #5 1978

Frederick Hammersley's In Two the Fray, #5 1978;
via Charlotte Jackson Fine Art -

And it is true that the Hard Edge Painters—the Four Abstract Classicists (Hammersley, Benjamin, John McLaughlin, and Lorser Feitselson)—were producing their own form of minimalism at the time. But again, they were ahead of their time—minimalist painting didn’t reach New York until the mid-1960s. These guys just didn’t “fit.”

“It was so brand-new,” Hammersley said, recounting how his paintings were received in 1959. “I assumed people couldn’t relate to it,” he says.

Despite not receiving the critical or curatorial attention he deserved, Hammersley carried on, painting away—way off the radar in Albuquerque—following his intuition, one painting at a time.

Yet, now, with hindsight—and thanks to Dave Hickey (who curated Site Santa Fe in 2001), Charlotte Jackson Fine Art (Hammersley’s gallery), Art Santa Fe (which will soon release a retrospective book of Hammersley’s works), and Elizabeth Armstrong (curator of the recent Birth of the Cool exhibition)—Hammersley’s profile certainly will increase.

Why Hammersley matters to me

I first encountered Hammersley’s work at Charlotte Jackson in July 2006, at the opening of his Hard Edge show, which blew my mind.

(Those IBM 14000 CORE mainframe computer drawings from the late 1960s!!!!!!!!!! I mean, renting time on a mainframe to make computer drawings, using punch cards? And one of the drawings is called Clairol? How utterly and insanely amazing is that! If only I could have been there to witness those being made!)

Anyway, three years ago, Hammersley’s show was exactly what I needed to see. I was in a point of transition, artistically, from painting neo-pop art to my own idea of minimal art. I was experiencing a lot of doubts about my decision, and I could tell I was leaving behind an audience in the process. I felt compelled to keep painting trippy pop paintings—because that’s what people said they liked—but I wanted to do something completely different.

After seeing Mr. Hammersley’s paintings in person, I felt like I had turned a corner—I had found a new artistic role model, if you will. He replaced Andy Warhol in my mind. It was “cool” to paint completely nonobjective work with just a couple of shapes in it. The show not only validated my own intuition, as a matter of fact, as I was leaving Charlotte Jackson, I literally turned around one last time and pumped my fist in the air. My reaction was that intense. I drove back to Phoenix beaming.

Following the Hard Edge show, I felt truly inspired to write Mr. Hammersley a letter. But somehow, I second-guessed the idea, as if it was too much of a stretch. I regret that decision.

But I am thankful to say that I was able to see the Birth of the Cool exhibition at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas, two weeks before the touring show closed for good. While I swooned over Karl Benjamin’s loud-as-hell color combinations, Hammersley’s mid-1960s painting Come, really resonated with me. I can’t find an image of it online, so I must ask you to imagine four circles (as I remember, three are white, one black), arranged in the center of a cornflower blue rectangle, in a diamond configuration. The black circle is at the bottom. Yet, it’s not the circles, themselves, that do the talking, it’s the negative space between them. Genius.

We have lost a truly great painter—one of the greatest artists of our time. I know I am not alone in my sorrow. But I am comforted by the idea that so many artists and curators will be inspired by Hammersley’s work, and by his example, far into the future.

For reference:

Please make the 1980s go away…for once and for all.

February 19th, 2009 | 2 Comments

Face it: In terms of design, the 1980s was a wasteland. Postmodernism was cool. … And Panton went pastel, for crissakes.

But the decade’s lack of design sensibility is coming back more and more each day. And it’s bad.

Do your best: Please make the 1980s go away. Karl Lagerfeld knows what’s going on. Converse with him. Think about the future, even if it means drawing from the past. Nostalgia is an enervating pursuit.

Pride for my friends

February 12th, 2009 | No Comments

Pardon me while I brag about a friend; I’m very impressed with this. So writes Jesse “Arbito” Hibert on

“Several months ago I was approached by Nike to design a psychedelic illustration that would be used to wrap around a special limited-edition set of Danny Kass Nike Zoom Force 1 snowboarding boots. Nike liked the design so much they expanded my design to include a Jacket, shirt, posters, and an animated video.”

I therefore invite you check out the video based on Arbito’s utterly fantastic work:

Somewhere between Tom Wesselman and Peter Max: On another Hibert-related note, I’d like to share with you my gratitude for something my friend Oliver Hibert (Jesse’s cousin) was responsible for. In issue X of Beautiful Decay magazine, Oliver is featured in a four-page spread (pages 40 – 43). When asked “What other artists influence or inspire your style, Oliver discusses his family members (Jesse, his sister-in-law Snaggs Hibert, and his brother Spencer Hibert), then adds (emphasis mine):

“Some of my other favorite artists include Keiichi Tanaami, Guy Peellaert, Henry Darger, Tom Wesselman, Grant Wiggins, Heinz Edelmann, Peter Max, Dali, Roger Dean, [and] Eduardo Paolozzi, to name a handful.”

Oliver, I hope you know how much that means so much to me. Thank you.

Line vs. color: Reconciling early Bridget Riley and Verner Panton

February 7th, 2009 | 4 Comments

To be honest, when considering the massive polarity between line and color found throughout art history—between the Poussinistes and Rubenistes, between Ingres and Courbet—I’ve never taken sides. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never taken a life drawing class (and I have no wish to do so), and my early interest in packaging design. I always thought that a colorful stripe, slashing the pictorial plane, perfectly embodies both approaches. And when I first read about Ingres and Courbet’s vehemence for each other, I found their argument somewhat quaint.

Yet, my thinking has evolved considerably of late. For the first three weeks of January, I was immersed in two Verner Panton books: His Vitra Design Museum retrospective catalog and Lidt om Farver (Notes on Colour). The two books have changed how I approach color in my own work; Panton was completely daring in his use of colors, and he shunned white.

Since then, I’ve been reading about Bridget Riley, trying to gain more insight into her radical early Sixties op art paintings. I am completely fascinated by these pieces’ startling originality. They blow my mind—and seem to have been generated from nowhere. In 1959, Riley makes a copy of Seurat’s Le Pont de Courbevoie. Two years later, she paints Kiss, and then Blaze I in 1962. Riley’s works from 1961 – 1965 are all achromatic.

Thus, paring Panton’s turn-of-the-Seventies Visiona environments and Mira-X textiles with Riley’s work just a few years prior offers a plenty of grounds for comparison and contrast. Each is a master of an approach. They share is an art form that is purely optical and dangerously hypnotic. Perhaps most importantly, these works shun intellectual treatment. Dave Hickey’s assessment of Op Art (found in the Optic Nerve catalog) helps explain this: “Op does its own work for whoever will look. It dispenses with the repertoire of knowledge and experience that is presumed to be required to appreciate abstract art. It replaces the elite intellectual pleasure of ‘getting it’ with the egalitarian fun-house pleasures of disorientation, of trying to understand something you cannot … As we stand before Op paintings that resist our understanding, we introduce ourselves to our unconscious selves. We become aware of the vast intellectual and perceptual resources that await our command just beyond the threshold of our knowing.”

For as much as I appreciate Panton and Riley, their approaches are hard to reconcile. Panton was a master colorist, and he mined the optical power of subtle changes in hues, shades and values. But foremost, he was a designer, and he approached color from the perspective of function. “Using colours is like life,” he wrote in Notes on Color. “One must have a goal. The goal can be almost anything—also make the most awful colour combinations.” And he writes elsewhere, “Choosing colours should not be a gamble. It should be a conscious decision. Colours have a meaning and function.”

Verner Pantons Onion pattern

Verner Panton’s Onion 2 textile

Quite the opposite, Riley admitted to struggling with color early in her career. Her early paintings aimed for maximum contrast, which is why she chose black gouache on white paper (or white over black ink on plexiglass for her silkscreens). In the early 1960s, Riley chooses to produce work that is “beautifully aggressive.” As she explains in Dialogues on Art, a series of interviews with the artist, “Contrast is the clash of cymbals, the exclamation mark, the strongest possible means. That I wanted; I felt very much at the time like making an extreme statement, of something violent, something that definitely did disturb.” A complete assault on the optic nerve!

Bridget Riley’s 1965 painting Arrest

I’m charging myself with reconciling the aesthetic principles of Panton and early Riley. That’s where my mind is at right now. I want to produce work that perfectly balances line and color. I want to make works that dazzle the optic nerve, transporting the viewer into the fourth dimension. And if I am working with pattern, I will also be employing a sense of intrinsic structure and compositional order.

Rock it fine in ’09

January 2nd, 2009 | No Comments

The holidays have come and gone, and I look forward to getting back into the groove in ’09. Hanging out and celebrating and all that has been fun, but now it is time to get back to business, as if there were no time to waste!

Amid the holiday downtime, I did find time to watch several episodes of the classic anime series Space Battleship Yamato (aka Starblazers). The first series was produced in 1974, and it offers hours of stellar outerspace illustrations and—my favorite part—mindblowing color combinations. I have found so much inspiration in this series. It is so completely outdated and anachronistic by contemporary standards, but I still find it amazing. And the background music for the first series is ineffably strange and beautiful.

The holidays also have allowed time to peruse a couple of books via Interlibrary Loan. One of them is Verner Panton: The Collected Works. Among the many things I admire about Panton, here are two:

1. Panton was trained as an architect, and he saw himself as a designer and architect. But I find this fascinating: According to the book’s introductory essay, “He regretted having brought so few buildings to completion and never having gained a real foothold in the profession he had trained for. To be sure, he made a number of starts. Panton occupied himself again and again with ideas for construction projects, he participated again and again in large architectural and urban development competitions, with considerable expenditure of time and energy—but he did not succeed even once.”

2. Panton is quoted as declaring “Color is more important than form.” While I truly love line, I find a transformative power—almost a chemical reaction—in combinations of color. I’d have to agree.

In closing, while I have written this before, I really do want to post to my blog with more frequency. Yet, I do find it difficult to find the time and energy. I don’t know why this is. Perhaps I should retroactively make “blogging more” my New Year’s resolution? If so, I guess I’m on my way to keeping it. Anyway, I welcome your ideas for blog posts.