Happy 2018!

View From my Studio Window

I want to wish you all a happy, creative, and productive new year!

As promised in my last post (sorry to be so long), here are some things I tell myself when working on a painting…………..

Donna’s Notes to Self While Working on a Painting 

• No judgements allowed – paint spontaneously and then respond.

• Only create work you love – pay no attention to what anyone else says of thinks.

• Who you are is found in what you love.

• Find and paint that thing that is your own.

• Explanation is the biggest obstacle to creative and personal painting.

• Creativity trumps accuracy.

• Make it ARTificial, not real.

• Don’t paint things, paint shapes, patterns, and relationships.

• Be willing (and even excited) to embrace the mistakes, missteps, and surprises that show up along the way.

• Every painting goes through an ugly adolescent stage – don’t worry, just keep going.

• A painting is always about the artist rather than the subject that inspired it.

             And, here’s one more thing I’m adding to my list in 2018…………

• Take more risks – make your paintings more controversial.

The inspiration for that last note came from a book I’ve been re-reading recently – Finding Your Personal Voice, by Dakota Mitchell – where the author recounts the advice a friend gave her that helped her move past her hesitancy to paint less realistically and more expressively: “I don’t think anyone taught Jackson Pollock to paint that way. I think you should be controversial.” I love that!

Happy Painting in 2018!

Diebenkorn’s Notes

First of all I’d like to thank Carolyn Wilson for sending this photo my way on my birthday last week. You totally made my day, Carolyn! The photo was taken at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco’s 2013 Richard Diebenkorn exhibition, “Richard Diebenkorn, the Berkeley Years”. I was teaching a workshop in Santa Rosa, CA and in one of my talks I showed this Diebenkorn (one of my favorites) as an example in one of my talks.

2013 Santa Rosa Watercolor Society Fieldtrip

Richard Diebenkorn, Seated Woman

Someone in the class mentioned that a Diebenkorn exhibition was currently up in San Francisco, and immediately it was decided that we must take a class trip to see that exhibit! And – the next morning we drove to San Francisco! We all had a wonderful time that day, and the exhibit was spectacular. Here we are at the museum….

I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to see most of the major US Diebenkorn exhibitions that have been held because, as I’ve mentioned a number of times on this blog, Dieb is one of my all time favorite artists.

I found this in the catalog from that exhibition. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Notes to myself on beginning a painting, by Richard Diebenkorn

  1. Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.
  2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued – except as a stimulus for further moves.
  3. Do search. But in order to find other than what is searched for.
  4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.
  5. Don’t “discover” a subject – of any kind.
  6. Somehow don’t be bored – but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.
  7. Mistakes can’t be erased but they move you from your present position.
  8. Keep thinking about Polyanna.
  9. Tolerate chaos.
  10. Be careful only in a perverse way. 

Do you have specific things you say to yourself when beginning a painting? In my next post, I’ll share some of my own “notes to myself.”

Bye for now…..Donna

Following up on my 2017 Watchword

Donna Zagotta, Everyone Has a Story

It’s hard to believe, but in a little over three months the year will be over! Instead of waiting until the end of the year to assess how I did with putting my 2017 watchword, Follow Through into my art practice, I thought it would be better to do it now, while there’s still time to clarify ideas and make any necessary modifications.

Looking at the definition of follow through that I pinned to my studio bulletin board at the beginning of the year, I was reminded that following through means:

  • Completing
  • Seeing through
  • Bringing to completion
  • Bringing to the end
  • Finishing off
  • Finishing

Back in January, when 2017 was all sparkly and new, I had lots of new ideas for improving my work and for taking it to the next level. Now I realize that was really just the “wishful thinking stage” of the creative process. What I learned this year is that when I’m in that stage, it’s as if I’m in la la land! I feel like I can conquer the world….anything’s possible – I’m Super Artist after all! I become overconfident in my skills and abilities, and as a result I don’t recognize the amount of time and effort it would take to master the new skills and abilities that I might need in order to successfully bring any of those ideas to completion. So without really having thought things through, I often jump right in and before long I inevitably find myself feeling frustrated and discouraged because I wasn’t able to pull off an idea that seemed so simple and perfect when I first encountered it. More often than not, those events lead to a slippery slope that ends in abandoning my idea altogether. And the sad thing is – maybe that was the perfect new idea – the one that would have taken my work to the next level if I had just seen it on through to the end.

Reflecting on all of this recently, I decided that I really need to learn how to follow through on new ideas. One thing I know for sure is that abandoning an idea when the going gets tough creates the opposite effect of my intention, which is to move my work closer to where I’d really like it to be. I need to create a list of action steps for acquiring the skills and abilities needed in order to bring an idea to a successful completion. And more importantly, I need to take the action steps and do it until the idea is brought to a successful completion.

It’s often been said that when a goal (or an idea) isn’t working we shouldn’t change the goal, we should change the action. Creating a list of action steps and then taking those action steps is a major key to achieving goals and successfully implementing new ideas. Without the action steps, the goal (or idea) forever remains in the “wishful thinking stage” of the process.

So here’s my plan ………

  1. Put together a list of action steps that might help me express the ideas that I think may help me move my art to where I really want it to be, and at the same time acknowledging that it’s quite possible that an action step might not take me anywhere. We always have to allow for, and be ok with, the inevitable mistakes, failures, and missteps that are part of the creative process.
  2. Instead of just rattling off a list of cliché or abstract actions that I think I “should” take, go deeper and search for practical and doable actions that really stand a chance of producing successful results.
  3. Commit to choosing one action step at a time and keep working that step without judgement until it’s brought to a successful completion.
  4. Detach from results. This takes away the pressure of having to create a masterpiece every time I walk into the studio and puts learning new skills and exploring new possibilities into the category of experiments, play, and fun adventures. Fear is what often stands in the way of taking action steps – fear of making the wrong decision or choosing the wrong path, fear of failure, and the fear of disappointing ourselves. Detaching from results is a great way to by step those fears.

How are you doing with your 2017 art goals?

My painting in today’s post, Everyone has a Story, is currently part of the American Watercolor Society’s 2017 Travel Show.

Bye for now…..Donna.

An Interview With Carla O’Connor

Lately I’ve become obsessed with artist interviews! Long hours alone in the studio can be very isolating and lonely, and online artist interviews are a great way to connect with other artists from across the globe. I always gain some new insights and a deeper understanding of the creative process as I listen to someone else’s ideas, thoughts, and working process. I love hearing what other artists have discovered and experienced and how they deal with the challenges involved with finding clarity, a personal voice and vision, and balancing everyday life with a life in the arts. I often come away feeling refreshed and invigorated knowing that I’m not the only artist who struggles with those challenges. And I’m comforted because I find that I’m also not alone in feeling frustrated by the fact that the art journey I began so many years ago still hasn’t led to anywhere that I can really count on. The struggle remains. As artist Ken Kewley said, “The secret of painting needs to be discovered everyday. Secrets only work for a little while.” And most artists agree that those secrets are only found by working on our work.

Recently, I summoned up the courage to ask one of my friends and all-time favorite artists, Carla O’Connor, if she would be open to being interviewed for my blog. I’m extremely grateful to Carla for replying, “bring on the questions!” And I’m very excited to share her answers with all of you today.

Carla O’Connor Interview with Donna Zagotta

Carla O’Connor lives and works in Olalla, Washington. Along with being a masterful painter, she has spent the better part of her life sharing that knowledge and expertise with eager young artisans all over the world. Beginning in her early married years as an Air Force wife, she was transplanted around the world with much frequency and made the most of it. For the next 30 years, she traveled throughout the US, Canada, and Europe, leading workshops that were eventually so sought-after, they were booked out 2 to 3 years in advance. Carla would sometimes work for multiple weeks with artists in this capacity, a true teacher at heart. Carla’s layered color and complicated patterns became her signature style. She has worked in oil, acrylics, watercolor, and gouache, never afraid to come back to a piece weeks or months later until it decides it is done.

Donna Zagotta
Carla, what do you think makes a great painting?

Carla O’Connor
It is the ability of the artist to convey a message or communicate a unique and personal vision. Regardless of perfect technical skill or mastery of style, a great painting must invoke an emotional, visceral response in the viewer that leaps into the imagination and stirs the heart.

Are your paintings mainly based on direct observation, photography, memories, or imagination? In other words, how do you find ideas and inspiration for your paintings?

I use all – observation, photography, memories and imagination – for inspiration. Some new ideas come out of the blue when I am least expecting it and others are possibly related to an event such as a visit to a museum or travel to distant lands. More personal experiences are also an important source of inspiration – a major move, birth, death, loss and joy- all can contribute to the content of the work. I feel that most pure non- objective paintings are inspired by pure emotion.

What is your working process? Why do you prefer gouache as an opaque medium rather than oils or acrylics?

I am a direct painter, very old school. Many years of training in oils taught: thin to thick, light to dark, big to small. I do not draw with a pencil first but with a brush directly on the surface. I do very quick, small thumbnail studies for composition only. I have never been one for visualizing the finished painting before hand. With only a very rough idea to start, I prefer to be surprised, hopefully a number of times, and frequently challenged through the entire process.

I consider gouache to be my mature medium because of its similar handling to oils. It is as if I have come full circle (oil to acrylic to watercolor to gouache) and found the medium that conveys my vision the best.

Carla O’Connor, The Gift

Are you a slow or fast painter?

I start by blocking in the big simple shapes of the composition using a round brush. Then, I work big, loose, thin color and repeated textural effects. I try to get something happening on the surface to play with. With each layer I begin to slow down and become more selective and controlled. I allow the painting to rest on an easel in different light and conditions in order to study it in its entirety. The refining, additions and deletions come at the end stage. All tiny details are saved till the very last.

What are some of your most important composition and design considerations?

Over years of experience I have come to the conclusion that composition is the most important factor of a painting. All the finest skill and technique in the world will not save a poorly composed painting. Knowledge of the purpose and the use of deliberate and thoughtful formats is real power to an artist. It can pull the viewer in and hold their attention. Knowing what to take out or what to add is critical.

The color palettes in your paintings have a sophisticated and quiet elegance. How do you choose the colors for your paintings?

Carla O’Connor, Men of the House

I do not consider myself a “colorist” and have never taught color theory. I prefer soft warm greys and save the pure color as a punch or accent in the composition. Color seems to be ever more brilliant when surrounded by greys. The chemical properties of gouache require that you must mix thoroughly to avoid streaking. I never worry about the wrong color choice since gouache is sitting on the surface and can easily be lifted and changed. Also gouache dries darker as opposed to transparent w/c which dries lighter. I am often surprised, and sometimes disappointed, at the final tone. But there lies the challenge!

DZYou have been painting the figure for many years and your paintings have a decidedly contemporary point of view. What fascinates you about the figure and how do you achieve that contemporary slant?

All my training in college and post-graduate study has been life drawing and figure based. It is the “thing” I know best from the inside out. As with any subject, you must be able to draw it realistically in order to then abstract it convincingly. My aim is to depict the three-dimensional human form on a two-dimensional surface. By flattening shapes in and around the figure I hope to be successful. This combination of real and abstract gives the work a contemporary look and encourages the viewer to participate in the process.

How did you develop your own voice and your own way of looking at things?

An artist’s personal ‘voice’ is the unique and recognizable style that is distinctly their own. It is imperative if one wants to teach, publish, sell, or exhibit, especially internationally in today’s world. It is to be known for something particular. I believe we are a culmination of all we have ever heard, read, seen or been exposed to. Finding your voice is a process of filtering, editing those influences and fully understanding yourself and what you want to say.

Carla O’Connor, Bellisimia

Your new work is on claybord and is also on a much larger scale than traditional watercolor paintings. How have those modifications changed your work and/or your working process?

Working large is not new to me. I enjoy the physical aspect and the scale. When the format is small, I find I tighten up my grip on the brush and the resulting image shows tension.

Claybord is so smooth it is like painting on porcelain, which only enhances the lifting properties of gouache. The treated panels are rigid and strong and will stand on an easel as opposed to a flat painting surface. That can be particularly helpful when working with the figure for accuracy and avoiding any distortion.

How do you deal with the distractions and disruptions inherent in everyday life? How do you balance everyday life with your painting life?

It has been my habit for years to attend to all domestic issues of everyday life first thing in the morning. When all is done I feel free to go to the studio for the remainder of the day.

Lately, I find it is not so much how many hours are spent but the quality of the time. Two or three hours of very focused work can be more productive than six hours of messing around cleaning the studio. Our lives are multifaceted and complicated, sometimes messy and often unpredictable. That is what makes art interesting.

Can you describe an ideal day in the studio for us?

Years ago I wished there was a slot under my studio door where I could slide finished paintings out and someone on the other side would slide a dinner tray back to me. All I wanted to do was paint! Needless to say, that didn’t happen and I no longer wish for it. Every season of our lives has a tempo – a beginning song and a finale- I have learned that any time in the studio is precious whether 20 minutes or 20 hours. Make the most of it!

Carla O’Connor, Still Water

How do you refill the well when it’s empty?

Occasionally the well will be empty. No ideas, no inspiration, no nothing! It happens! Many books and articles and studies have been written about the ‘Artist Block’. Everything from laziness, health issues, fear, guilt, distractions to talking too much have been blamed. I imagine that every artist experiences a block at some time or other. I have recently had a major change in my career path that has had an impact on my creative energy. It has been the inevitable ending of one cycle and the transition into a new state of circumstances. I am learning to accept the necessity of these “endings” and looking forward to the change and renewal of purpose. I have no idea where this new cycle will lead in my art journey but have faith in what the future has in store.

What advice would you give to someone who really wants to become a serious watercolor artist?

Paint as much as possible! Enter every chow starting with local then regional moving to national and eventually international. Each step builds your name, your reputation and your “voice”. Expect rejection at every level. Get mad and then get back to work. Stay focused and hold on to your passion. Remember to breathe!

I want to thank Carla again for taking time out of her busy schedule to do this interview with me. You can see more of Carla’s work at Carlaoconnor.com and at the Art Spirit Gallery in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Bye for now…..Donna