Making Oil Paint

An upside of the social distancing we are experiencing, is that there’s not much to entertain or distract me from my studio. When things get busy, it is one of the first activities to be pushed aside, which makes no sense, because when I am in there, almost immediately, I feel relaxed and productive. I think it’s human nature, or at least American nature, to feel that if something is “fun” than it isn’t work, and if it isn’t work, than it’s not as important as work. Even though I like my actual “work,” I am not immune to that attitude.

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to work with oil paint, but my studio supplies are getting out of control and I don’t want to buy anything new until I work on that. But I have oil sticks, pigment and oil binder. So, I decided to try making my own oil paint from pigment and safflower oil, and with a little oil mixed into oil stick.

I used Earth Pigments and Schmincke pigments (Pthalo Green), with Winsor & Newton binder and Shiva sticks. Since I’m happy with the outcome, next time I’ll use some of my precious Kremer pigments! This method worked for me, since I work in small batches and at this time, am not producing collector-quality works for sale or display. When I decide to upgrade the work, I’ll do more research and upgrade the process and materials accordingly, I am sure.

There are so many ways that creative work can bring joy and satisfaction. I love being able to experiment with raw materials to make something new. I’m self aware enough to know that I am not the world’s best artist, and that’s okay. My creative satisfaction comes from the act of creating something completely new, whether it’s a piece of art, a rubber print block that I carved and used, or mixing up paint in an new shade or finish. I enjoy breaking things down to their component parts and then rebuilding them into something useful and custom-made.

In this chaos, for me at least, it’s going to be important to look beyond the usual for validation and happiness. Everything from client acquisition and feedback to social media measurement will dip, so those things aren’t accurate metrics right now. My business, like most businesses, will just have to be what it is for a little while, but I can regain some of that validation through my creative work. While I don’t know what life will look like on the other side of this, it really does help to identify healthy and creative things that I can control, and do more of those things while the world works itself out.

There wasn’t sparkly green, antique rose gold or sheer pink iridescent oil paint in my world before I went into the studio yesterday, and now there is. I can see it, mix it, paint with it, and finish the day knowing that I built one small thing that does what it’s supposed to do.

Establish

“Slumgullion (The Venerate Outpost)” Philbrook Museum, Tulsa, OK.

Late last year, I posted about taking a sabbatical year” to focus on my personal and professional creative work. Whether you call it Murphy’s Law or the universe saying “hold my beer,” my good intentions left the rails almost immediately.

In January alone the cat died, James’ aunt died, James spent a week in Las Vegas with his work and I lost what felt like an entire day in a suburban Chico’s while my mom tried on various “perfect black pants” that all looked exactly the same. We went to East Texas and drove to the beach for a day with my parents. I worked, kept up the house, saw friends when I could, read a bit, watched some TV and then it was February and time to plan my first art tour. And so on, and so on. I felt like I inhaled at the end of December and exhaled sometime in the last week or so.

Great sabbatical mindset, right?

But some things have gone well. I use social media and my mobile devices less and less, which feels better and better. I still don’t pick up my phone or iPad until after I have had coffee and read a bit. That has been nice, and as a bonus, helps navigate and give perspective to the wild news cycles.

I also had time to think about a word for the year, or for the next ten months rather, since it was almost March by the time I got around to it. “Establish.”

Last year’s word was “Forward.” At the start of 2019 I was sitting with a lot of uncertainty over things that weren’t moving as they should, proverbial centers that I knew simply would not hold. So in the trend of picking a theme word for the year, “Forward” was a good touchstone, an idea to make decisions around, and a reminder to take risks and just make the decisions I needed to be somewhere other than I was, and get back to liking my life.

In my last corporate job, I was responsible for building IT processes and setting global business priorities. This involved taking a great deal of data and qualitative input from our markets around the world, accounting for risks and uncertainties, and organizing that information into policies that our entire global ecosystem would agree to participate in and abide by for tasks like bug resolution, feature implementation and new initiatives requests. It was extremely difficult, and I say this as someone who also had to manage a complex, high stakes, multi-vendor, multi-time zone code update around the devaluation of the Belarusian ruble. (Understand why I work in art now? Haha.)

I loved discovering, analyzing and organizing all the information, but some of the other details…not so much.

But I am a framework person, and frameworks help my creative and personal life just as much as they helped my big, messy corporate life. They keep information from overwhelming me and also build in things to look forward to. I can’t predict what positive results will be, but I truly believe that by following healthy habits, positive results will come. And that is exciting.

2019 was so “Forward” that it blew past the finish line and into 2020, I guess. But after a well-earned few weeks to rest and reset, better late than never, I am ready to “Establish.”

Where does this fit into the idea of a sabbatical year? Establishing a solid foundation directly supports the creative, personal and professional goals that I have for 2020. Establishing gives me a concrete, manageable idea to focus on, and a consistent, larger goal when individual priorities compete or become confusing. It is also a logical next step from “Forward.” While I wouldn’t want to pick 2021’s word so early, I am hoping that I’m preparing myself for years to come in which I can launch.

Sabbatical Year

When the word sabbatical started to creep into my thoughts, I didn’t realize it was related to the number seven, and also to the sabbath, but it makes perfect sense now. It’s right there in the name.

The number seven isn’t significant to me at this time, but the idea of a sabbatical, a rest, is calling me. But, like many other people, I can’t take a real sabbatical. I am self-employed, so I need to work (plus, I enjoy my work and would miss it!) and I have other obligations that I must consider as well.

I have a friend who is a big proponent of “think trips,” the idea of taking some time to oneself, usually annually, to reflect, rest and plan. I have done a few “think weekends,” adapted to my own schedule, budget and other priorities, and have found them quite helpful.

With that in mind, I wondered if a “sabbatical lite” might not be helpful as well? Just for a year, 2020-2021, and nothing too restrictive or intense. What would it look like? How might I integrate it into my day-to-day responsibilities, prioritized in a way that is effective and lasting?

It would look different for everyone, but for me, it means identifying three non-negotiable pieces to keep (growing professionally, being a good partner to my husband and generally, being a good friend, family member and citizen.) I also chose three goals to focus on (creative work, entrepreneurship and mental health.)

How to balance those responsibilities and goals? What does success look like? What are the best steps to take? I don’t have those answers right now. I suppose that’s where the sabbatical comes in!

So, we will see!

I do feel that for me, personally the answers will be come clearer and my stress points will get stronger through creative exploration, reading and travel/new experiences. Saying “no, thank you” more often and setting firmer boundaries on my time and other external expectations.

You may notice that my newsletter sign-up has disappeared, along with my newsletter itself. That is part of this journey. I needed to look at where my time was going, and eliminate things that felt redundant. So, I may bring back the newsletter at some point, but here’s where I’ll be writing and posting art for the foreseeable future.

I’m also closing up my personal Etsy shop for the year, with the possible exception of some temporary “drops.” (You can “Favorite” my shop on Etsy to keep informed.) I’ll also take on the occasional custom request. I feel pulled in new and different directions of making art, and this sabbatical is, in part, time to explore that.

A few months ago, when I was researching for the next iteration of my business, a peer said to me “I felt I had a blank slate.” Their circumstances are different from mine, but we are both women in our forties who had to leave corporate America for a bit and had trouble getting back in. She now has a fun, successful and interesting professional life that she would never have predicted. I realized then, that I also have a blank slate and that maybe it’s a gift.

So, I’ll be processing a lot through writing, here. Weekly, semi-monthly, I’m not sure yet what it looks like. But I suspect a lot of people, particularly people like me who really can’t pack it all in and move to Iceland for a year on a “real” sabbatical would be helped by, and interested in the journey. Maybe you also have a blank slate or at least an opportunity to evolve, an maybe it can be fun.

“And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Rainer Maria Rilke