Staring at a Blank Canvas

Starting a blank canvas can be refreshing. It is sometimes a great feeling. It means that you have just finished yet another painting, and you have therefore accomplished something. Yet staring at a blank canvas can also be intimidating, frustrating, and self-deprecating.

Last week I went to my studio after an almost weeklong absence that included moving apartments and working as a production assistant on a film. I was excited to paint. I miss my studio when I am gone for more than two days. I would not waste time staring at a blank canvas because I knew exactly how I wanted my new painting to look. It would be a girl sitting in the back seat of a car painted in black and white. I had been thinking of this image for a while. Yet then I hesitated, thinking it might look better in a different palette. I thought about the chrome filter on my iPhone camera app, a Degas painting I had seen years ago at Musee d’Orsay, and this painting of a woman in a tub that I saw at the Fog Fair. I want to paint like that, not in black and white. 

Le tub by Edgar Degas (1886) 

Le tub by Edgar Degas (1886) 

I wanted to paint, but I was scared of making the wrong move. I was scared I will waste time and money and, even worse, the outcome will be bad. I did the worse thing possible: nothing. I couldn't paint. I needed time to think about it. 

This is one of the frustrating and time consuming things about being an artist, especially a painter. I feel like I have been painting long enough that I shouldn't have such hesitancy and doubt about my work. But I do. I tell people that I am an artist when people ask me what I do. It makes me feel like I am professional, regardless of how many or how few sales I have had this month. It is my title. Consuming my thoughts with doubt about my talents feels failure. 

I am normally pretty confident. Yet that can change the second I enter my studio and am staring at a blank canvas. When you paint, you are incredibly vulnerable and you open yourself up to criticism. You are going to be judged. You do not want to make the wrong move. 

I tell myself that with the more paintings I paint, the better I will get. I tell myself to just start painting. This self-doubt will go away.

I don't paint. Instead, I clean up my studio, write down some ideas, and read a post on Artsy about Hong Kong. Eventually, the voices of self-doubt and criticism in my head stop. I paint, and the time goes by fast. I paint, and you know what? It's not that bad after all. 


Conversation with Artist Dominique Caron

I had the pleasure of recently speaking with the French artist Dominique Caron. Her paintings evoke the gestural force of abstract expressionism, yet her work is incredibly refined. She makes abstract painting look easy. Controlling such chaos is very difficult. Her paintings seem to sing like a Kandinsky work does.

Dominique always painted but her art career started in San Francisco. She was born in France, then spent her 20s living in Africa. Returning to France after being abroad seemed unthinkable, and so she moved to the Bay Area. In California, she started making tribal masks like the ones she had seen in Africa. They were soon being sold in galleries. I was interested in speaking with her not so much about her work, but about her path to becoming a successful artist. I wanted to know what advice she might have for young artists wanting to pursue art as a full time career. Here are some highlights from our conversation and you can seen her work here

Think of yourself as a businesswoman. You are running a business. 

Network network network.

Reinvest 10-15% of your profit back into your business.

Emails are ok, but printed cards are better. People will delete emails but keep cards. 

Work big and do not make prints.

Never mark your work down, ie put "sale" next to a price. It cheapens your artwork.

It is better to price your work a little low than have it be overpriced.

The return on showing at cafes and non-gallery venues is very low.

Buy canvases in packs of twenty. Make a lot of work. Two out of ten paintings will sell so make fifty.

If you have an idea or something that you are passionate about, express it. You can work in different themes.

Work on several paintings at once.

Make a budget. 

There is a lot of competition, but a lot of people are not really good. 

If you have to get a job in the beginning, get a job in the arts.