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Meditation and making marks

sketchbook page progress

I’ve spent the last several years making classes as a priority and art secondary. This was an important shift of focus for a couple of reasons, but mainly to create a sustainable income as a full-time artist.

With the focus on writing what I know as video chapters for my Skillshare classes, I fell out of the habit of being an artist for myself. I need to make it clear: I love making classes. The “but” after saying that is that I began an increasingly unhealthy relationship with my own art and my own discipline for making it. I – wrongly – built up an impossible standard that if I wasn’t learning, writing, and making examples for classes I was failing my path in some way. This unhealthy shift was a slow process, but came to a head over last winter, which, to be frank, was a really crap time for my mental health. I stopped creating everything, with few exceptional bursts of creative output. I didn’t even produce a class for six months. I was at a rock bottom.

In a way, it had to happen. I had to hit the wall to see the problem. I’ve recently been on a path toward energising what I do – both teaching and creating art – and it’s working, if slowly.

I have revisited what it is to keep a sketchbook, and am now making it a morning meditation of sorts. I know in my mind that no one will miss me if I take ten minutes or an hour first thing in the morning to fill a page or two in a little sketchbook. I know that keeping a sketchbook is a valuable tool for experimentation and learning. The “doing” is a little more challenging because of my guilt-centric thought processes, but I’m getting into it now.

I used to draw all the time. Drawing is my first love. It’s always been my conduit to the weirdness in my head, the outlet for expression and the wonderful (and, at times, frustrating) challenge of documenting what I observe. I love freaky drawing. I love realistic drawing. I love it all. So what the hell happened that I stopped filling sketchbooks?

Somewhere along the way – let’s just say, since art school – I programmed myself that art wasn’t going to be a viable living. I didn’t go to a traditional art school; I have an industrial design degree. I regret nothing, but something about that planted a toxic seed deep inside me that sprouted slowly into a full-blown “you’ll always be a hobbyist” mentality. I overcame this for a few years of genuine fine artist success a handful of years ago. I was represented by a couple of galleries. I sold expensive paintings around the world. I had large solo exhibitions. I grabbed the dream and made it work for a little while.

But art sales are difficult to count on and so I looked to establish a secondary income stream. Teaching on Skillshare has been the best thing for my confidence and income but also created a difficult situation: I found I had to really focus on one or the other – either class creation/teaching or fine artist, and so I chose to build my teaching career into a reliable income. I pay my bills with what I teach online and that’s fricking fantastic. What is not fantastic is that now I’m ready to balance the two areas of my art life and it is so hard.

I haven’t seriously, regularly painted canvases in several years. I haven’t drawn for the joy of drawing in sketchbooks for years. I don’t feel like a beginner, but rather like someone coming out of a coma and being very, very rusty at everything. Sure I can draw. Sure I can paint. I have been competently and successfully teaching others how to do that stuff for years. But, can I paint for me? For what’s in my head? Can I risk the weird stuff rising up and splatting onto pages and paintings? Of course, but it’s tricky, I won’t lie. I have been mostly creating examples for classes for years but rarely challenging myself. I’m in the process of changing that now.

I’m taking those 10-60 minutes in the morning to break down some barriers and tap back into the truly creative me. I’m beginning a journey of belief in my own work again and it’s already making a difference in how I feel about my art and being in my studio.

I’m in the middle of producing a new Skillshare class now, and it is taking longer than I’d like, but at least this time it’s because of allergy season issues preventing me from working rather than mental health reasons. I’m forging new, healthy work habits and the sketchbook work is one aspect of that. I’m pretty rubbish at traditional meditation, so the sketchbook time is my morning meditation. I meet myself at my desk, perhaps listen to an art world podcast, and draw. Today I added gouache to the drawings and love it. I actually enjoyed the process instead of feeling like I was wasting time or making crap. (Maybe it is crap, but I enjoyed it.)

I feel like I’ve turned a corner and perhaps I’m entering a new phase of my art life. It still involves teaching (I love teaching), but I am returning to the joy of making things for the sake of making them. Instead of rare or infrequent bursts of creativity that leave me exhausted, insecure and unhappy, I am making a daily effort to reconnect with my creative self. Feels good.

The journey to my abstract art style

First, let’s start with, what is abstract art?

If we go by the definition from The Tate Guide to Modern Art Terms, ‘abstract art’ is as follows:

“The word abstract, strictly speaking means to separate or withdraw something from something else. In that sense it applies to art in which the artist has started with some visible object and abstracted elements from it to arrive at a simplified or schematised form. The term is also applied to art using forms that have no source at all in external reality.”

The definition continues from there citing styles, origins, and example artists, but I think that first paragraph is enough to go on at the moment. I think it is important to then look at the definition of ‘abstract expressionism’ to understand a little further about what I do:

“Abstract Expressionism- Term applied to new forms of abstract art developed by American painters in the 1940s and 1950s. […] The name evokes their aim to make abstract art that was also expressive or emotional in its effect.”

The entry continues with more information and example artists, but let’s move on.

I do a bit of both, mostly leaning more towards expressionism. The journey to abstract art that pleases me (in so much as it turns out in a way that achieves mostly whatever I needed to achieve) has been a multi-decade process and evolves still.

I’m not gonna lie to you: My early abstract art was derivative, lacked skill, boring and did not come close to tapping the things inside me that needed so desperately to come out. But they were important works. You need – NEED – to make a lot of bad art to get to the good stuff (which comes and goes like a stray cat). I have MOUNTAINS of what I consider ‘bad’ art. The way I put together shape and colour now was learned by years of getting it often wrong, but with an occasional feeling of getting closer to ‘right’ to keep me going and experimenting. I have also had long periods of time where I’ve not painted or drawn at all. It is OK to pause. Take a break if you need to.

I have not wasted a single art supply in my entire life.

This is important to realise and say to yourself out loud in the mirror if you need to hear it. No mark is wasted. No blob of paint you let dry on the palette or scraped off a shit painting, no pile of paper with overworked, contrived, or ugly marks is money down the drain. This stuff is necessary and you have to make the effort. You have to use the pencil in order to find your line.

I have destroyed most of my old work because I believe you can curate however you please. I did not always think that way; I used to save EVERYTHING. Now, I can take a photo and light a bonfire. Not everything I create is worth saving, in fact, most of it isn’t because that stuff is the learning part of this creative process. I gotta learn what works, what materials and marks complete the sentences in my head, which lines take my mind to new places like a drunkard drawing a map.

I recently created and launched a video class on Skillshare called Find Your Line: Develop Your Drawing Style and it’s all about the hard work part. The drawing things over and over, using materials as tools not precious things, and discovering – through lots of iterations – what stuff feels like you, but you in a more authentic and unique way. The exercises work. I found out the hard way over years and years of no one guiding me, but I’m pretty sure the class will cut some of that frustration out for you. I digress.

I am still evolving.

I look at the work I liked even just five years ago and I see that my abstract art has matured and shifted. I figured out what does it for me and am always finding new ways of putting it on paper or canvas. I have changed my entire mindset over the years on how I put down what is in my mind: I start cold. Typically, anyway. No idea. No sketches. Just do. I tend to figure out what material I want to work with (oils, pastels, watercolours, etc.) then pick a colour and make a mark. There is nothing in my mind other than what is in front of me and I let the piece guide me, rather than me guide the piece. At some point, we – the piece and me – work together to find some kind of finish. Sometimes, I let my brain dictate too much and that’s when I usually overwork something by trying to cram ALL THE IDEAS into one piece and it becomes a bit shit. Knowing when to put down the paint is a struggle that I reckon will never end.

If you are frustrated with your progress but have only been creating art for a year or two, maybe five, I have some good and bad news for you:
The good news is that you’re making art and – if you don’t ignore the signs – you’re going to find some exciting and satisfying work along the way.
The bad news is that you are going to make a lot of shit too. You will feel frustrated, lost, and like a fraud. And if you aren’t making a lot of shit, you aren’t growing, experimenting, or pushing yourself as an abstract artist.

Fail often.
I certainly have and vow to continue to do so. That’s how I know I’m an artist and not a machine. And remember, no art supply is wasted unless it sits unused.

Now, a little walk through some stages in my work over the last twenty-five years: (click to make larger)

See all this? Most of it is crap but all of it is important to the process.

Holy heck, I’ve started blogging again.

Gosh, a lot has happened since I last posted here. If you look at the previous blog post, I’d just released a class on ink hatching on Skillshare. Since then, I’ve released a total of sixteen (16!!) classes there and rapidly became one of their Top Teachers, which means I’m in the top 1% of their total teachers. This is kind of a big deal…

When I started Skillshare in late 2016, I had a long-term plan to ramp up my teaching income to become an important part of my earning a living as a full-time artist. I am so glad I did this. I knew it would mean putting my fine art creation and sales mostly on hold until I could achieve a balance between the two worlds. The time for shifting energy and creating more balance is now (2019).

Part of this transition is to bring the writing back, both here and on my personal blog. I’m tired of lazily blurting the news on Facebook or Instagram instead of really taking the time to reflect and share more authentically what is going on. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I bleddy love Instagram, but I need to do some stuff here. So, yeah, I’m blogging again. Expect to see the art side of stuff here including art business, art tips and techniques, posts about my process, posts about new work, and more.

Thank you for being here.

(Also, sign up to my newsletter for stuff. That’s a thing too. It’s an infrequent but quality thing that I’ll be putting out a little more often than the blue moon schedule I’ve been using so far.)

Teaching Ink Drawing Techniques on Skillshare

July was a big month for me as I jumped into the world of filming video tuition! I’ve recently released a class on popular learning network Skillshare, and I’m watching the student numbers and glowing reviews grow. It’s unbelievably exciting to be exploring this new aspect to my art career. If you want to try my class for FREE, hit this link and enjoy. It’s about ink drawing using hatching techniques, and will build your confidence with the exercises.

My new class on Skillshare - Improve Your Ink Drawing with Hatching Techniques by Jen Dixon
My first video tuition class! Exciting!

I plan on releasing another class in September, and at the time I write this, I’m thinkingĀ it will be a class on making miniature abstract art. It was actually one of the first ideas I had for a class – based on work I was producing at the time – but is a little more complicated, so Improve Your Ink Drawing with Hatching Techniques won out as my first class release. My goal is to release a new video class every two months, perhaps with some free mini classes in between.

The free class links above are for a limited number of students, but if you miss out on that, use this one to get 3 Months of Skillshare for 99cents. That gives you access to classes on all topics site-wide – including mine – which is also awesome.

Oh, one last thing. If you are taking my ink class and post things up to Instagram or Twitter, use #jendixonhatching so I can find your work. Can’t wait to see it!

Open Studios 2016 Time!

conservatory gallery
It’s Open Studios Cornwall time again and things at Penwarren are already in full swing. I held a preview party last evening to kick things off, and boy did it! Thought up and arranged somewhat last minute – and credit to Pete for the idea and much of the prep – we invited people to eat, drink, check out my art before anyone else, and have a good time. Mission accomplished, and though I hadn’t set up the evening to promote sales, work sold, and I have already had an email from a collector showing her purchase framed and hanging in her house! Still smiling about that as I write this.

As for Open Studios, the official event started a few minutes ago for my location, and I’ll be open 11am – 5pm everyday from 28th May – 5th June. It’s always a tiring event to be a part of, but so worth it. I love having people ask questions, see new things in my (mostly abstract) work, and of course, it’s great for sales. Art can be a fairly solitary profession, spending hours alone in a studio, but this event allows me to share my creative sanctuary for a while.

If you find yourself in the neighbourhood, do stop in. You’ll find a map and address on my contact page and additional information on the Open Studios site.
(Photo above is of my conservatory art gallery.)