Covid and Being an Artist or, a Treatise for Fighting Sleep.

In search of how other artists are doing during this hard time. Please, please comment below.

I have always been a night owl. I liked staying up late as a child and in college did regular “all-nighters” with nary a yawn. To this day I still do my best studio work in what most people would call the wee hours of the morning or what I call the “shank” of the day. It’s quiet in the house, the phone isn’t ringing, no one’s questions to answer and you can’t vacuum – in short, no distractions. I feel like my creative juices start flowing around 1 am and hit their peak around 3 am. Between 3 and 4 am is when I get that devil-may-care attitude of, “what the Hell,” and try doing wild and adventurous things that my 3 pm self would never have the nerve to try. I also lose my sense of, “if I do that, I might ruin it” and have a more, “lets just try this, it could be cool.”

But late night work is different from what this pandemic has done to me. I used to stay up til 2 am regularly and rise at nine, eight or the ungodly hour of 7:30 when little ones were around and catch up on sleep the next night or the next. Now it’s more like go to bed at 3 am and rise at 5:30 am, feed the cat, make some tea and go back to bed not to rise til mid-day. Then the night falls and I am somehow too wide awake to go to bed at 1 or 2 but too emotionally or mentally exhausted to start a project. So, many nights in a row after tossing and turning in bed I get up, go down to the studio and sit in front of the computer wasting time until I can finally fall asleep and then start the cycle again. This produces a cranky woman who is deprived of sleep and not producing any art. This makes her feel sad and useless.

I am searching for the magic pill to reverse this. I make lists of projects I want to do. I have created a folder of photos that are good references for future art. My art studio is the kind of clean and organized place that gives me the desire to go work in it (trust me, not too clean, not too much of a mess). I have eliminated all the road blocks that I can thing of, and yet each day I find time to watch art videos on YouTube mesmerized by yet another style or technique and don’t pursue my own creative visions. I feel like the stress of the Pandemic has somehow wiped my brain of those surges that drive you to create. Almost like something from a sci-fi movie. I am wondering how many other artists are struggling with this. How many other artists are laying awake each night with barely any energy or motivation to create. I wonder how many of us are struggling with insomnia and just kind of float through the day like a ghost. I would love to hear from other artists and their tips on how they overcame the lack of inspiration, or the lack of sleep. How they continue to function in this world that seems the same but is so profoundly different in every single way.

The grey has arrived

While the NYCUSK went to Greenwich Ct, @JoanTav1 and I went to Port Jefferson to draw. The sky and the water were grey. Not a friendly lets paint your living room and chic grey, but the kind of grey sky whose calling card says, “don’t try and hide, wintier is on it’s way. ” It was raw and windy and miserable. Joan and I could barely muster the energy or enthusiasm for a subject. Nothing was calling to us. But 90% of making great art is about just showing up to the page and doing it. And no whining about boring subjects. I have seen a beautiful watercolor of an old rusty chain. It’s more about setting intentions and keeping an open mind and heart to letting something happen. Will it always be great , when you are uninspired or weather challenged, or just plain no in the mood. No., of course not, but I can guarantee you will get better regardless.

One of the things I kept reminding myself was, “don’t forget, the water reflects the sky”. Somehow the water looked darker but I restrained myself and kept it that winter grey. You know what? It worked! It’s a little darker then I intended but in the grand scheme of things, I am very pleased and proud of myself for following though and learning the lesson..

I am hoping for a surprise Indian Summer to extend my outdoor drawing practice for a bit longer, but while it’s the middle of October we still haven’t had a frost toast. I would love to see Northeast communities bathed in sunlight and not the sad and icy grey that moves in until May 31st .

Above find the still waters of Port Jefferson Harbor. It’s a busy place even on a day like today with a slew of boats moored and Ferries to Bridgeport, Ct. The scene was interesting, but ya just can’t replace a sunny day.

Yeah I know you hate to do Notans, but they work!

This past weekend I taught a class to the Baltimore Urban Sketchers on Composition in Harve De Grace, MD. One topic we covered was values and how they help you to paint the story that you see. Making a small thumbnail or sketch in black and a mid tone grey on white paper  (three values), or even just using black and the white of the paper, (two), will make painting 95% easier. These sketches are called “Notans”. Notan is a Japanese term which literally means “light dark harmony”. It’s basically a small ( 3×4 pr smaller) where you draw with only a black marker and a 50% marker; I find the brush style the best.  It can be done in pencil but it takes longer. Create your Notan shapes using the side of the brush. Just block in the shapes.  By establishing where your darks and lights will be before you paint, you set up a road map to follow. You can then spend your time thinking more about the colors that match your grey values when you are painting, and less about the composition ( cause you have just set that up!).

Notans can be as complicated or difficult as you want to make them. Below are two examples

Forest HIlls Inn, Forest Hills, NY

If you squint at the Value sketch, and look back at the color sketch, it will become clear to you how I used those values to create the spine of my painting, making sure the darks got dark and the lights remained the white of the paper.

Below, the Guggenheim Museum which I attempted in just black on white. It took a great deal of concentration to decide where to put the blacks, but I think it worked out well.

After the class @toddpop1 and @sunamisue and I painted on the dock opposing the Concord Point Lighthouse. You can see that I followed my notan fairly accurately, although I did lighten the water significantly, and It made for a much easier paint. perhaps we painted for an hour and a half.

Concord Point Lighthouse, Harve de Grace, MD

Sadly I lost my Craig Young palette paint. It lays somewhere in the brackish water at the bottom of the Susquehanna River. Special thanks to Craig Young as he had an extra one on hand. ( should be here in two weeks. sigh) So you see as much as none of us want to do it. Those pre paint value sketches or Notans are truly a wonderful assist in getting both your colors, and your composition on the right track. Give it a try, after you do one I am betting you will start to do them all the time- and let me know!