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Zen And The Making Of Art

Fresh off the zafu, 12x12 oil on cradled birch panel, this is "Pearfectly Zen".

Earlier this summer, I celebrated my fourth year of being a full-time artist. The 'celebration' coincided with the opening day of one of the area's largest arts festivals. Always up for a challenge, I had applied for and been juried into the festival's art market. So my far-far-better-half and I loaded up the jalopy (...that's an Archie comics reference for you young whippersnappers... Egads!) and headed off to set up the sales booth for the weekend.

The task was made all the more challenging by the fact I had injured my back a couple of weeks earlier while at another arts fair, so the far-far-better-half was having to do a lot of the heavy lifting.

Yes, the artist life can be back breaking work - literally. But so can the artist's spouse's life! Where's all that promised glitz and glamour gone now, Leonardo?

Yet, as much of a flurry of activity as the booth set up required, it truly paled in comparison to the manic painting marathon that had preceded the actual event. In the three months leading up to opening day, I had painted nearly four dozen pieces.

Not studies, mind you. Actual gallery quality paintings. This was the biggest arts fair I had ever worked. By far. I really had no idea how much inventory was enough. So I fell back on the old OCD scout's motto: be overly prepared. And that meant having a surfeit of inventory available - you know, just in case. I may have been a work horse in a previous life. It seems the most logical explanation for my work methods. Strap me to a plough and point me toward the field and I will put my head down and not stop until the whole thing is tilled. Appointments are missed. Hay goes uneaten. Calls don't get returned. Personal hygiene becomes questionable. Oh, it's an insidious sickness this type of driven work ethic.

In my previous life, when I worked a high pressure 9 to 5 gig, I sometimes turned to meditation to deal with the stress of it all. It worked - to a certain extent. The thing about meditation - at least for me - was that I only got out of it what I put in. If I skipped a day or two, I'd find myself right back at zero. But with painting, as I've mentioned in this forum before, it is its own form of meditation. Or at least it can be.

At its best, when you are in 'the zone', painting is the essence of zen - coming from intuition, transcending rational thought. That is if you aren't in a blind panic about not having enough inventory and - what were you thinking! - needing to operate a booth at a big art festival for four days. And when I say blind panic - the cliché is particularly apt. Because as it turned out, what I couldn't see was that my creative tank was running on the thinnest of fumes by the end of the painting jag.

Sales at the festival were good and the response from the public was excellent. It's what happened next that knocked the wind out of me. Once the frenzy of the festival was done and everything was put away, I crashed. Hard.

I had heard of the post exhibit blues - even had a very mild bout of it last year. Most artists experience some form of it. You spend weeks, months, years, preparing for a 'big show' and when it's all over, you come back to your creative space and find the worst kind of emptiness.

I walked back into the studio in early August and felt totally disconnected from the place. The thought of picking up a paint brush was absolute torture. And still I forced myself into painting. What is wrong with me?? (...insert neigh here...) The whole incident scared the bejeebus out of me.

The thing is, I have no plan B. Painting full-time is it for me. I'm all in. Because I know myself. If I keep an escape plan in my back pocket, when the going gets rough it'll find its way to the front. And the next thing you know, the far-far-better-half is asking "Is that a 9 to 5 job with a steady paycheque in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?"

And so we come to Pearfectly Zen. This piece was done over the course of two days. The last two days of August to be precise. For the first time in nearly a month, I found myself excited about painting again while working on this piece. I know that, to some, that won't sound like much of a dry spell at all. I get it. Some artists go years lost in the wilderness this way. But to me it felt like an eternity. And if there is a wider, deeper, creative chasm waiting somewhere in my future, I'd rather not know about it today. Today I just want to enjoy the zen of art making.

I love how this piece turned out. Not because I think it's great art. But because of what it stands for in my mind. Some people will look at it and see a very realistic depiction of pears in a cellophane bag. Me? I look at it and see a light at the end of the tunnel.

See you around the studio.

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