Tag: in the studio

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.

In the Studio: May 18, 2012

May 18th, 2012 | No Comments

in the studio may 18, 2012
In the studio, May 18, 2012: New paintings stacked among the old as late afternoon light blazes through the window. In the foreground is Variant, which I painted last November. Read about Variant.

With summer solstice just five weeks away, the daylight of the Arizona desert is growing eye-piercingly bright, white-washing everything in sight. Keeping my studio’s shades lowered is the only way I can prevent my retinas from melting!

There is nothing like desert light. It’s mesmerizing and merciless, life-giving and lethal. It offers inspiration and commands a healthy respect.

And so, with sunlight lending an added glow to my fluorescent paints, I’m giving all I’ve got to making new paintings that have a minimal pop-art vibe. I’m drawing upon all of the things that inspire me visually, synthesizing them into something not seen before, exploring as I go.

Many of these new works are based on sketches I created months ago — in some cases, years ago. If those sketches appeal to me now just as they did before, I know they are worth pursuing today.

In the studio January 17, 2010: Abstract pop art?

January 17th, 2010 | 2 Comments

abstract pop art
Work in progress: A painting called Hypermodic Spastaculatron, as of 5pm on January 17, 2010. Lots of fluorescent paint going on. Is it abstract pop art, or something entirely different?

The latest news from my studio is this:

My Spring/Summer 2010 collection of paintings is officially “on.” Projected launch date is May 15, 2010.

This will be a decidedly “maximalist” series of paintings. (See more in this style in my maximal abstract art gallery.) This will be a departure from my Fall 2009 Collection, which was focused completely on minimal, geometric compositions.

I am not sure whether labels from the 20th century, such “abstract” and “pop art” really define what I’m painting. (“Abstract pop art” doesn’t quite work, either!) What I’m painting is something new, something that defies categorization, something that hasn’t been seen before. I’m gathering new shapes, patterns, and colors and throwing them into the future.

A New Year’s ambition of mine is to paint one painting per week. The Spring/Summer collection would therefore roll out with 16 pieces, if I’m lucky. Year to date, I have completed 0 paintings. Today, I am still working on version #3 of painting #1 in the collection, shown above. I shall persist.

abstract pop art
Choosing my colors: In the studio on Saturday, January 16

All of this considered, I want to show you progress on my work as best as I can. Yet, I also want to keep the collection under wraps until the launch date. Therefore, I shall offer you glimpses of paintings in progress, when available. Just like above.

In the Studio: 6 January 2009

January 6th, 2009 | No Comments

This post may/may not interest you. It’s one part Norm Abrams, another part Bob Ross. If it does not interest you, I cordially invite you to visit one of the many far more interesting websites on the Internet, such as this.

Sanding Stretcher Bars

Kidding aside, I would like to convey to you what I’m up to, and what my goals are for this week. Over the past couple of days, as time allows, I have added an additional 2.5 inches of depth to already-assembled 30-inch-square stretchers.

The strips I attached will give this painting a 4-inch depth, or “cradle,” allowing me to paint the sides. The design will wrap around the edges, which is a pretty cool effect. I produced a “proof of concept” a couple of weeks ago — the painting called Circuit (via my flickr page):


Once I sanded the edges, I stapled poster board to the side, and sealed the seams with tape. This way, no surface variations will be present on the sides of the stretched canvas:

stretcher bars covered

This is the best alternative I know of for creating a deep-cradle painting. I have built my own deep-cradle “box canvases” before—with a panel of MDF mounted atop strips of wood. I primed these wood/MDF boxes, then painted over the priming. Problem is, those box canvases were heavy! And if I bumped or dropped them, the wood instantly dented.

Using canvas, however, the weight is reduced (cheaper to ship); there’s only limited potential for dings and dents; and there’s the benefit of a “tooth” to grab the paint ( = less brush strokes showing = more flatness).

That said, my goals for this week are to complete two of these paintings, both of which I will enter into an upcoming juried show. The first piece will be Circuit 2.0; the second will be Civvik 2.0 (a larger version of the painting below). Also I hope to produce a couple of works on paper. It will be a busy week!


Also, I’ve started to write poetry again, for the first time in years. Not just in my head, but actually conveying the lines to paper. I do not know where this is coming from. But it feels like a good thing.

I have long harbored an idea to write a book called 2600 Poems by John Ashbery, which would neither have 2,600 poems, nor be written by John Ashbery. Quite possibly, these poems would land in that book, which ultimately might have a different title.

Poem titles I thought of last night:
1.) All of the Factors, Including the Fact That
2.) The Size and the Structure
3.) Cheer You Up with a Turkey Sandwich

Here’s the opening lines of “The Size and the Structure”:

More or less,
Things are becoming
More or less

That’s the way I see it,
At least.

I’m not sure where to take the poem from here. It’s not much, but it’s a start. It’s all about incremental progress in 2009!

In the studio: November 11, 2008

November 12th, 2008 | No Comments

Here’s the latest from the studio: Working on a series of small “study” paintings (10 inches square each), just to test some ideas and see what happens.

As my friend Oliver points out, these small works offer room for an “endless amount of variations.” To be sure, each design has at least two “almost made it” designs behind it, waiting in the wings to be painted.

Testing out new designs as I type this.

Sorry for the poor-quality photo. Hard to portray fluorescent paint, regardless of the quality of lighting.

In the studio: April 23, 2008

April 23rd, 2008 | 1 Comment »

Taking a pause from the Space Loops canvases, I’m trying my hand at remixing a painting I made in February 2004, called Süfnex. It was one of the first minimal modern paintings I made, veering toward minimal art after years of pop art. After all, I figure, if musicians can remix their own tracks, so artists can remix their own paintings.

The project is a rethinking of the Süfnex design, but with a red, green and blue color scheme — one that struck me when I rediscovered an image of a phone card sporting the mascot of the Japanese baseball team Seibu Lions. But the red, green and blue scheme is also the territory of Ellsworth Kelly, one of my favorite minimal painters. I decided to amp up my paints a bit, throwing in fluorescent paint into the mix, if only for a placebo effect. (If I think the paints look brighter, they must be brighter!)

Below, clockwise from upper left, are: the Seibu Lions phone card; the original Süfnex painting; and four variations of the design.

minimal painters   minimal painters
minimal painters   minimal painters
minimal painters   minimal painters

I’ve really enjoyed the process so far. It’s brought my mind back to what inspired me so long ago. Plus, it’s a series, a form of production of which I’ve grown more fond. Many minimal painters of the 1960s worked in series, propelled by a similar impulse.

Lawrence Alloway — who in 1966 organized a show at the Guggenheim called “Systemic Painting,” which included minimal painters Frank Stella, Agnes Martin, and others — described the serial process in minimal painting as “One-Image art.” Read the full essay here. Alloway explains the serial approach to minimal painting in a very powerful way, in a way that really resonates with me, as follows:

The artist who uses a given form beings each painting further along, deeper into the process, than an expressionist, who is, in theory at least, lost in beginning; all the One-Image artist has to have done is to have painted his earlier work. One-Image art abolishes the lingering notion of History Painting, that invention is the test of the artist. Here form becomes meaningful, not because of ingenuity or surprise, but because of repetition and extension. The recurrent image is subject to continuous transformation, destruction and reconstruction; it requires to be read in time as well as space. In style analysis we look for unity within variety; in One-Image art we look for variety within conspicuous unity. The run of the image constitutes a system, with limits set up by the artist himself, which we learn empirically by seeing enough of the work. Thus the system is the means by which we approach the work of art. When a work of art is defined as an object we clearly stress its materiality and factualness, but its repetition, on the basis, returns meaning to the syntax.

On that note, I will leave you with an image of work in progress — taken in my studio this evening:

minimal painters

In the studio: November 3, 2007

November 3rd, 2007 | No Comments

Today is a beautiful day in Tempe, Arizona. High of 89. Winds light and variable. Not a cloud in the sky. Got the windows open and the sun is shining through with all of its splendor!

Today I’m working on finishing touches of the painting I started on Thursday night, shown at left. And at right is a sketch of the next painting I’ll start. An ongoing exploration of the wavy shaped-pattern.


On the stereo is Piero Umiliani’s Musicaelettronica 2, which absolutely blows my mind, like so much that Easy Tempo has released over the years. Particularly I’m digging the jazzy track titled “Scoop.” I’m also into Budos Band’s new release, the aptly titled Budos Band II.

Thursday night’s painting gig at e4
in Scottsdale did turn out to be a good bit of fun. Met some cool people who offered lots of good encouragement — they appreciated what I was working on much more than I imagined. I think it’s good to get out of the studio and paint in public occasionally. A studio environment can prove hermetic.

In the studio: October 25, 2007

October 25th, 2007 | No Comments

Here’s a work-in-progress shot of Invalid Input An Error Occurred While Processing This Directive, started Monday night. It’s 20 inches high by 40 inches wide. The color combination in the upper right corner encompasses light fluoro blue, vivid fluoro green and this weird mustard brown on a light fluoro red. In full sun it’s pretty hard to look at, which is a good thing, as far as I’m concerned.

pop art is over

For me, this marks a return to my pop art roots — but in my opinion, pop art has long been over. I need a new descriptive phrase to explain the next generation of pop culture and media-inspired art. I don’t know what to call this. All I know is that making this stuff is a blast.

In other news, my page for the Think Small 4 art show in Richmond, Virginia is up. Have a look at Omnicron’s Dilemma and other works or art for sale here.

I hope to have a photo of Invalid Input up on the site this weekend.

In the studio: Labor Day ’07

September 3rd, 2007 | No Comments

Just finished a larger version of Asymmetrikelly (below, center), which is 100% pure eye-piercing fluorescent orange-red on white. (Lights dimmed for enhanced effect.)

In part, Asymmetrikelly is a nod to the early “figure/ground” compositions of Ellsworth Kelly, which he painted in red, green, and blue. In April I produced the original study of this painting, just 9 x 12 inches. This piece is 30 x 40 inches. I think I might make an even larger square one, too … 60 inches square.

To the left is Rust & Sky, another recent work.

Inspired by Ellsworth Kelly

In the studio: August 11, 2007 – Two new paintings

August 11th, 2007 | No Comments

Here’s progress for this week: Two paintings based on recent sketches. On the left is Rust & Sky; on the right, Black & Tan. Both measure 30 inches square. Also produced a 10-inch-square study of Rust & Sky, similar to other studies I’ve recently made.

Minimalist painting   Grant Wiggins
Grant Wiggins Arizona

Next, I think I’ll paint another study that’s essentially a “remix” of Rust & Sky, switching up the colors. I’m thinking red on white. Then I’ll move on to work based on my August 2 sketches.