Sunday, 28 June 2020

Covid 19 and painting a house

Here it is, the end of June!  As I said before, I'd probably not paint til June....I finished the house, the exterior of the studio (but not the interior of the studio), and it has passed FHA inspection.  There will always be work to be done on this 270 year old mud house, but for now, I'm resting.  Now comes the age old question for me, when will I begin to pick up the brushes and finish the little painting I had started late February.  I never finished it, I had to start on the house because FHA was coming to assess its' value.  I dropped everything and took care of a ceiling that needed work before it was inspected.  Then I headed to Dallas for a one night charity exhibition of Ceilidh! with the American Ireland Fund - Texas.  It finished March 7, and I headed home because of the problems starting with Covid 19.  The rest you know from my last post.  I just thought you'd all like to see the exterior results of my labours these past 4 months.  The white building is the studio building that you saw before.

Without the house to throw myself at, I'm discovering that I was definitely hiding my anxiety, grief and stress.  An artist can't hide from feelings for long, or she becomes tied in knots.  So here I am, going through what I forgot to see last month, and the month before that.  But I'm tired of not being able to paint - always a good sign.  I'll get going soon.  I feel it in my bones.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

An artist in the time of Covid 19

I see so many other artists filling their time with painting, blogging, videoing, teaching online, etc., etc.  I can't.  I can't paint with all the anxiety swirling around me (mostly not mine), with all the unknown things happening.  So I've been throwing myself at my house/studio walls... continuing to finish the outside of the building.  I've replaced rotted trim boards, screens, scraped walls, brushed walls with a wire brush, hammered nails into chicken wire to make it easier for my guys to plaster what needs fixing, etc., etc., until my hands hurt, I fall asleep over a tv program, and I don't feel the anxiety or sadly, the pain of loosing my beautiful husky, Jake.  I'll paint again.  Hopefully things will subside enough to just pick up the brushes and finish the little seascape on my easel that I was working on before I took Ceilidh! to be exhibited for a night at the Ireland Fund, TX, annual Emerald Ball.  Then covid 19 hit and I think most of the people I know and don't are trying to just get through the crisis in front of us.  Maybe I'll not paint til June, but my  house will be sparkling and finished.
This is a project I tackled in mid-November....putting a new roof on what will one day be my studio.  It had a 2' x 4' hole in the old covered in tin.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019


I hadn't realised how long it has really been since I wrote in here!  Since March, I've completed 2 more major commissions, and finished up enough work on my old house that I could finally get my permanent certificate of occupancy!  Then, it was a month in Europe - work and R&R - then back to New Mexico to finish two major outdoor projects on the house that had to be done before winter truly set in.  I managed to do enough, and am now sitting happily in my snug house, watching the snow blow, and resting from my exertions on behalf of the house.

Which gets me to what I actually decided I wanted to talk about!  I haven't painted since August, when I finished a few paintings to put into an annual Scottish Exhibition at Iona House Gallery in Woodstock, Oxfordshire.  I had also to get my full c/o before I left for Scotland and the Cote d'Azur, because there were no more extensions on the building permit I had originally obtained in 2016.  I returned from Europe, rested and inspired to paint, but also knew I had to put it on hold until I could finish the outside work.  That hold came at a price....While working on my house is essentially a creative endeavor, a sculpture if you like, the projects I was working on weren't... it was sheer graft, rather than creativity.  I knew it, and knew I would have to struggle to make the shift from construction to creation.

For me, the need to paint becomes visceral.  I can feel the channels in my body get stuffed up if I can't get it out.  But if I stop for awhile, for whatever reason, I go through this process I've become very familiar with, before I can actually look at photos I have for inspiration, sketch a study for a painting, much less pick up those brushes and put paint on the board or canvas. In the fog stage, I experience doubt, fear....doubt that I'll ever paint again; fear that if I do, it will be horrible or that people will discover what a fraud I am.  Yet, the fog and rising above it after enough time putting one foot in front of the other since I can't see anything, is an integral part of my creative process.  I must allow it, and move through it, not getting caught by the fear, in order to reach new levels in my work. So here I am, stuffed channels and all, beginning to talk about it after a fairly eventful year art wise. I hope in speaking about it, someone else out there can see how necessary this down time is for an artist.  The last fog period I had was this time last year, and and when I came out of it I began the first of three different commissions, a few other little paintings to take to Scotland, and managed to get my permanent occupancy permit on my little house.  No wonder I'm in the fog.  I tried to put all the work up, but it caused Blogger to freeze and loose half my here's the 2nd commision...

Gold Hill and Organ Pipe Cactus Blossoms, 30 x 50 in., oil on canvas, commissioned

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Finished Commission!

Cowboy Doctoring (about 1930), 18" x 24", oil on canvas, sold (commission)
Here is the finished commission!  It was delivered in mid-February.  I have been trying to finish another painting since, and until 2 days ago, couldn't even look at it much less pick up the brushes. I spent over a week, sitting with it, reading a book, listening to music, trying to let it keep coming forward.  As I tried to get comfortable with the inevitable wait until I could work again, I realised how much I had emotionally wrapped up in this particular commission.  The exhaustion when I left my friend's house after delivering the painting was incredible - from the emotional let down of a commission happily received.  

I have always been emotionally tied to my work - even finishing a giant painting would require that I not paint for 3 days or so after, and that was when I was painting nearly every day!  Actually, I've never been one of those artists who can just go in and work in my studio like I was going to a job.  And I believe this is because I'm so emotionally tied to my work.  

In order to even move forward on the NM Ceilidh painting on my easel (about 1/2 done now), I had to finally look at sketches from elsewhere and began a painting of Les Grande Dalles, not far from Honfleur on the Normandy coast.  I'm not sure what the problem is, painting NM subjects.  I have painted them before - yes, 30 years ago, but I have.  But all I can say is once I took the pressure off of finishing a NM painting, by starting something NOT of NM, then I could slowly start to put more paint on the NM Ceilidh painting, and see the journey I need to take with that painting as well.  I think, that it's all caught up in the emotional reality of living back in the USA after being gone for so long.  And more, in trying to focus and find myself in a different situation than I thought I'd be in. Ill get there.   

Monday, 14 January 2019


Omaha Beach, Summer (Normandy), 24 x 30 in., oil on canvas, £3,000 ($4,500)

Well, 2019 has begun with a positive bang!!  Not only did a commission come just before Christmas, but a new client fell in love with a Ceilidh! painting formerly on display in Scotland!  But I'm writing today about the process of commissions. 

I love a commission!  I get paid in advance (half) to create a painting.  I get to explore, generally, a completely new direction for my eye; and work closely with the client to make sure that what I produce is exactly what they were expecting (if not more!).  This particular commission is an offshoot of the roping piece I did in 2015.  My client saw that piece and thought about what I had done, then contacted me just before Christmas to hand me a very old photograph of cowboys, horses, children and the landscape around Hot Springs, South Dakota.  The client's instructions were to make a great painting of action/passion/light/color that also happens to document the fact that two family members (and now 3, as I looked closely at the image), were participants in a historic time and place near the Pine Ridge Sioux reservation.

I have spent days focused on creating an image that has presence, balance and character; making sure that even if the horses and people aren't really more than strokes of a charcoal pencil and later brush loaded with paint, that they have proportion that shows action and passion.  I now go back to the client with my sketches, and once approved, the painting is mine to produce.  This is where my soul's reaction to the image comes forth and all the light and movement come out.  I can hardly wait to show the piece. 

And as for finding the balance and focus I need to create this work of art, I've made huge leaps forward....just by devoting a week to the sketches.  And as you can see above, I did do the painting of Omaha Beach, finally!  It's always a relief to know that the images will come, no matter what I seem to do in my life that gets in the way!

Just wait for it!!

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Brushes In My Hands Again - FINALLY!

Well, after my last blog post getting things off my chest, and a few days of real quiet and focus, I've finally started to paint.  Not what I'd expected to begin to work on - but that doesn't matter, as long as I'm painting!  I've begun with strong momentum.  Two paintings are sketched on, and one is begun.  I'm starting with a piece from my sojourn at Omaha Beach.  The second is about my favorite music spot at the moment, on a Wednesday night, when often an extra musician or two will stop by and join Jimmy Stadler for a real Ceilidh!  These both speak to where I was, and where I am now....and it seems I need to bring both to the fore, instead of other planned ideas.  It's like having been badly constipated and shell shocked as well, and when I can start to focus on my work, suddenly everything loosens up and the smoke dissipates into clear skys ahead. 

No, I'm not going to show you half-finished work....but I will tease you with an image of Omaha Beach, and one that MAY become a painting from the Taos Ceilidh!

Wednesday, 21 November 2018


Hello!  Been awhile since I've talked about my work.....mostly because getting to the work point, the painting point, has been such a challenge that I'm not doing much writing.  I remember talking about setting limits in August!  But since mid September, I have tried unsuccessfully to keep those limits, keep my focus, keep my painting time.  I fought hard to produce the two miniatures for a show at a new gallery in Ft. William, Scotland; and again, fought to finish in time, a painting for the annual Scottish show at Iona House Gallery, Woodstock (UK).  Unusually for me, I was scrambling to get all three pieces into the mail, leaving enough time to get them to the UK.  But I made it - by the skin of my teeth!  Below you see the two miniatures...
Eilean Shona, 6" x 8"., oil on board

Picuris Peak, Autumn, 6" x 8", oil on board

I also managed to produce a few other small, but good images of Scotland - Iona and Glenfinnan.  So its not been a complete waste.  For the miniature show, I decided to paint one Scottish and one NM landscape, as I have a foot on each side of the pond now.  

Since I managed to get the work off to Scotland in time, I've not put paint to canvas.  I've a list of ideas; sketches of things I want to explore on canvas or revisit.  However, my inability to set limits has gotten in my way.  If I have one big boogie man in my fairly charmed life, it's monetary.  I have been helping a friend out in her shop, while she recovers from double knee replacement; and what began as a 2 day/week job, turned into many more hours as others didn't respect my off time.  I'm so glad I had the time to do this for her; but it's had a negative, knock-on effect on my art time.  That is, the time I need to have to contemplate, to be quiet enough to hear my inner voice; to do the selling, writing and coordinating that must be done to be successful as a painter has been hugely diminished.  (I estimate that the business of being an artist takes about 60% of one's time!).  And the biggest boogie man comes from that - I am terrified I will become so dependent on that little bit of income that I will be stuck. The basic lack of understanding, by the general public,  of the fact that my very life is a business, is one reason why I moved overseas in 2001!  Coming back, I knew nothing had changed; but I had put 17 years (at that time) into the focus of painting full time, and I figured I could be strong.

It took a lot of time and courage to jump off the cliff of being an artist full time.  I've been living off my work since 1998.  Over the last 20 years, I have taken the odd part-time job when things got too tight, opened a bed and breakfast the last two years in my home in Glenfinnan; but none of those things have interrupted my creative time like this little job has done.  I always made time to do the marketing of my work, the record keeping, planning, looking for exhibitions, meeting clients.  I have had to put ALL of those things on hold, or in second or third place behind duties keeping my loved friend's business and employees on an even keel.  

There is an end to the job, I know; but, what scares me is that the 3 - 4 months that I have happily and knowingly given, has translated into another delay in my work reaching clients who have only just begun to realize I'm painting again.  I'll be out of a job, a paycheck, that I have cursed and can hardly wait to end, but my business will have suffered, and I'm TERRIFIED that I'll not have enough to pay my bills.  Active painting translates directly into active sales.  I'm afraid that I'll not be able to stop working because I'm now so dependent on this little paycheck; because the selling part of my job had only just begun again. And perhaps THAT is what is keeping me from painting....that and exhaustion.  Shopkeeping, and I'm good at it, is the antithesis of a quiet, creative life.  You must be on the entire time you're there.  I don't sketch (Its a dress shop....charcoal and expensive clothing don't go together); in fact, there isn't enough time to really read a book. There is NO down time. I collapse when I get home, because my day starts very early as well. 

I'm writing all this because I need to understand myself how I got to this twisted place.  I allowed it.  No one's fault but my own.  And if there is a fledgling artist out there reading this, I hope that they realize that its HARD to be a full-time artist in the USA.  Hard enough in Europe, where there is a culture of patronage for artists; but here, it's a challenge to find that balance of being supportive and kind, and saying "NO! This is MY time, my work, my business! Nothing can interrupt my time unless MY work is done!"  It takes tremendous self-drive, focus, and a "never give up, never give in" attitude. Even after all this time, people say, "Gail, you have to pay your bills, have money.  You have to have a job."  NO.  I don't.  I have a more than full-time job.  Being an artist is 24/7.  Everything I do, everywhere I go, relates to my work.  Even if that is a little job that has a negative relation to my work.  It all affects my work.  This is where having the back-up plan that so many people insist we have gets in the way....that back-up plan will, every time, get in the way of getting the artist's work done.  Even if its just putting things online so that people can see you're working.  I've always said, "if I had a back up plan, I'd be doing that!  Being an artist is harder than you can imagine!" 

Perhaps I'll get lucky and the three paintings on exhibition will all sell! Or a new client will grace my new studio, or see something at one of the other places I have work on display, and find something they can't live without.  That hasn't changed, no matter what side of the pond I've been on.  Always the hope.  Thanks for listening.