Studio Mysteries

November 21, 2009

Goals For The Next Stage

Filed under: Being a Professional Artist — Anya Galkina - Studio Mysteries @ 1:23 pm

I remember reading somewhere that being an artist is sort of like crossing a river one stone at a time. You only see as far ahead as the next rock. Sometimes, you don’t see ahead at all, but that’s usually due to the looker’s vision, not to lack of available stepping stones.

The last stone I saw in front of me was the necessity to plug my technical skill gaps, by studying academic drawing, painting and artistic anatomy. I can’t say I am done learning, because that would be silly, but I do know that I accomplished my goal of focused study at a world-class atelier for several months. (I would have preferred several years, but several months are still absolutely and utterly invaluable).

Now it’s time to set new goals. Broadly speaking, they are:
– cement and apply my recent learning via creating a new substantial body of work (paintings and drawings).
– take steps to move my professional practice forward, by generating new teaching and exhibiting opportunities.

Here are specific steps I am going to take in order to accomplish these goals.
Body of work
1. Produce a series of small paintings on the theme of beach, water and people.
2. Complete the three large multifigure drawings currently in my “in progress” pile, improving them with the techniques I learned.
3. Begin composing one new large multifigure drawing.

Professional practice
1. Become a member of a coop gallery.
2. Design and produce a website dedicated strictly to my art portfolio and practice, and enabling people to buy my work and associated merchandise online.
3. Prepare a course outline and materials to teach a course entitled Artistic Anatomy 101.
4. Apply to participate in the following annual art festivals: Riverdale Art Walk, Queen West Art Crawl, Toronto Annual Outdoor Exhibition.
5. Create an exhibition proposal and distribute it to publically funded venues.

Man, I’m excited.

November 18, 2009

Movable… Something

Filed under: Being a Professional Artist — Anya Galkina - Studio Mysteries @ 11:16 pm

I strongly recommend avoiding life crises and extreme change to anyone who wants to do art. Crises, both personal and international, are a huge interference with regular art-making.

My journey to LA turned into a series of scary misadventures, forcing me to return to Canada in a hurry and under a lot of stress. Nevertheless, I am proud to say that I had this drawing up on the wall and got in front of it in no more than 72 hours after the flight. My cat and I are couch-surfing (or rather, guest-bedroom-surfing) in a kind friend’s home, but I refused to let this situation interrupt me any more than was absolutely necessary. Luckily, my friend was willing to share a dining nook with what I will loosely call a movable feast.

Sometimes the studio isn’t even a physical place. But it travels with you. So long as you are willing to cross the threshold, the threshold is wherever you are. It’s that simple.

November 2, 2009

5 Things To Make My (And Your) Art Seen & Bought By More People

Filed under: Being a Professional Artist — Tags: — Anya Galkina - Studio Mysteries @ 2:38 am

I posed this question to myself and the universe at large recently, and here are some things I have come up with!

1. Research coop galleries in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal and apply for membership to galleries on the resulting list.
Coop galleries are a good way to get exhibitions and your work in front of people independently of the commercial gallery market.

While commercial galleries can be a good thing, I struggle with them on a couple of fronts: I have not had any good responses from them to date, and I also find that the work they show tends to be totally poisoned by the need to be The Next Hot Thing, which in turn is dictated by the need to sell. While I wish to have my professionalism and the caliber of my work recognized and paid for, I am not in the business of making wallpaper and I refuse to be anything less than authentic in the images I make. The way I understand and approach art seems to be at odds with the world of hipsters and being-seen people. I deal in matters of the soul, they sell art the same way they sell jeans.

Coop galleries are a great antidote to anyone at violent odds with commercial galleries, and they work thusly: you apply, and if the selection committee likes your stuff, or at least doesn’t hate it, you pay a monthly membership, may do some volunteer work, and get to participate in group shows and have a solo show once in a blue-ish moon. I like the idea. The members split expenses and get to run the show instead of kissing curator ass. I am terrible at kissing ass, and I like to run the show.

2. Research publically funded art festivals and fairs where self-representing artists can participate, and apply to the ones on the resulting list.
I already know of two excellent shows in Toronto, the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition and the Queen West Art Crawl. TOAE draws literally thousands of people. QWAC draws hundreds. All those folks come very hungry for art, appreciate the hell out of it, and buy it. At my booth during QWAC, I received the most gratifying thing an artist can have, and that is people tearing up in front of the artwork. I am not kidding. People responded so strongly and put so much mental energy and heart into engaging with the work that even if I never get a single line of print reviews or a single commercial gallery show, I have still done what I wanted to do as an artist and truly reached people.

So, the answer to my question is in part “do what has already worked wonders” and that is, participate in art festivals and fairs. Incidentally, I have sold work every time I have done so, at the price I wanted, and paid 0% commissions on the sale.

3. Write an exhibition proposal and submit it to artist-run centres in every Canadian province.
Artist-run centres are not quite the same beast as coop galleries – the centre administrators don’t exhibit there, if I understand correctly, they simply curate. So basically, artist-run centres are actually curator-run centres, but are not commercial in purpose and usually publically funded. The nice thing about those is that they often pay the artists to show there, as opposed to the artist paying to be shown. (A nice reversal, that! Imagine if actors had to pay to be in a movie or a play, or athletes paid out of their own pocket to compete at elite sports events – the fact that it works this way in the artworld is a thing that is Wrong and Should Not Be).

The less nice thing about artist-run centres is that they consider viewers coming from something as plebeian as the general public beneath their notice. They are designed to impress other curators, which means that everyone is knee-deep in art matter that cannot be understood without an accompanying essay, which must be no thinner than 3 inches and must use no fewer than five of each of the following terms: “strategy”, “interrogation”, “anthropomorphic”, “codifying” and “to critique”. When you mention things like “soul” and “emotion” and “heart”, these folks put a bag over your head and duct-tape a bell to your hand so that people can flee from you whenever they hear you approach.

It’s still worth trying, simply because they have to come up with something year-round, and have spaces that must be filled. I’ll just have to run my proposal through the artspeak generator until I can no longer understand it myself.

4. Complete an art portfolio website that doesn’t have to scrounge for space from my design portfolio site. Enable an ecommerce function while I am at it.

5. Compile a list of public galleries and submit the exhibition proposal to them as well.
Public galleries are yet a third type of beast. They are regional art and cultural centres, library galleries, local museums that exhibit contemporary work and so forth. They are funded by tax dollars as opposed to grants, and have both a higher visibility to the public than artist-run centres (every opening I went to at an artist-run centre was attended only and strictly by other artists, and was depressing), and also higher accountability, because if utter bullshit is on display, someone is likely to complain.

Well. I have some work to do, don’t I?

October 24, 2009

A Small Celebration And A Question

Filed under: Being a Professional Artist — Tags: , , — Anya Galkina - Studio Mysteries @ 4:53 am

2002_painting_cold_windowsillSometimes, artists, by which I mean me, like to moan about how it’s ever so difficult to make a living as an artist. Sometimes, in response, life does something that makes further moaning completely untenable!

Recently, a friend from my home town in Ukraine emailed me completely out of the blue, and told me that someone she knows wanted to buy a painting. The sale has gone through, and Aleksandr Shatsky of Odessa now owns this piece, called Cold Orange, which sold for USD$500.

It’s not a huge sum, but then it’s not a huge painting, and it is a wonderful windfall considering that the sale fell into my lap with no effort on my part whatsoever.

In light of this happy event, I have decided to kick my own butt and do something proactive to further my professional standing as a fine artist. Here is a question I am putting to myself as well as to fellow artists:

What five steps can I take in order to get my work seen by, and hopefully bought by, more people?

Universe and Anya’s Brain, I humbly await your advice.

August 24, 2009

Contemplating The Menu

Filed under: Being a Professional Artist — Tags: — Anya Galkina - Studio Mysteries @ 5:17 am

I will never get tired of saying this: Los Angeles is a feast of art learnin’. My biggest advice to anyone  who is doing a self-directed study like me, is to set limits on how many teachers and how many courses you deal with at a given time. It’s so easy to overdose! I find that having two or three classes per term works great, an immersion level that propels you forward and generates momentum. But any more than that and all the new exercises and skills become much harder to absorb and retain.

Also, put together a teacher team you really like, and don’t let that team get too huge either. Here, especially, there are more fantastic teachers than you can shake a stick at. It’s absolutely painful to edit in any way, but  I think it’s important to focus and mine a select few for all the knowledge they got. Every teacher has a particular set of strengths and methodologies, and if you work with dozens, you will run out of brain room way before you get to benefit from those strengths in any kind of depth.

Looking back over the 5 months I have been studying in LA, I am stunned that it’s only been 5 months. It feels like years! Aside from adapting to a very drastic change in my living circumstances, I also took in an enormous amount of new information. Here are courses I have done so far:

  • Head Drawing with Bill Rogers
  • Academic Figure Drawing and Tonal Drawing with Rick Morris
  • Figure Quick Sketch with Steven Silver
  • Analytical Figure Drawing with Kirk Shinmoto
  • 3D Anatomy/Ecorche and 2D Anatomy with Rey Bustos
  • Still Life Oil Painting with Michael Siegel

I also took a one-day Drapery Workshop with Marshall Vandruff, and did a month of Head Drawing class and Quick Sketch workshops with Sang Bang.

That’s quite a lot in a few months! All on top of trying to obtain a driver’s license in Los Angeles, which is roughly on par with launching a space shuttle, in terms of sheer project magnitude.

So far I have signed up for three courses this fall:

  • Analytical Figure Drawing with Rey Bustos
  • Painting Fundamentals with Eric Pedersen
  • Academic Figure Painting with Grigor Chillingarian

There is a long list of other courses I want to do. But I feel like I need to sit down and really process what I’ve learned so far, before taking on anything more. I have piles and piles of notes, techniques, methods and exercises that haven’t received their due (or their blog post) yet. I don’t want that pile to get any bigger. It’s already an insurance liability.

July 14, 2009

An Artist’s Working Day in the 21 Century

Filed under: Anatomy, Being a Professional Artist, Drawing — Anya Galkina - Studio Mysteries @ 12:41 am

I am sitting in a local Kinko’s, asking myself where I want to go today. Firenze? Paris? Warsaw? The Metropolitan? The Louvre? The Hermitage?

I am here to do homework. The homework entails an assignment where we take a masterwork portraying the human figure, and draw the skeleton hidden within that figure, on a sheet of tracing paper.

I lean back in my chair, close my eyes, and decide who I am going to learn from today. Will it be fiery Michelangelo, whose motor would not rest until he articulated every single muscle forming the surface of the figure, no matter how minor? Or will it be elegant Leonardo, with harmony permeating every stroke, every form, the details as beautiful as the whole? Or should I visit my other mentors, teachers, old friends, Rodin, Rembrandt, Rubens? Or am I ready to swallow the useful but unpleasant medicine of Ingres, to try and discern a skeleton under the chilly perfection of his smooth women?

How can anyone possibly make a choice like that, and how wonderful that I don’t have to. I stroll through WikiCommons, from era to era, from museum room to museum room, and visit them all – because museums never close in the age of the Internet, because the most brilliant and wise artists of humanity are just an arm’s reach away – because I can.

July 6, 2009

Draftsman’s Arm: RSI in the Arts

Filed under: Being a Professional Artist — Anya Galkina - Studio Mysteries @ 6:47 pm

RSI stands for Repetitive Strain Injury. Most people associate it with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but that particular set of symptoms is only one of many possible injuries. RSI is a dark beast familiar to folk in a huge variety of fields: carpenters and tennis players, factory assembly workers and butchers, piano players, graphic designers and yes, fine artists.

Human Engineering and RSI

RSI stems from the fact that human beings are too funky to work like robots. My RSI doctor explained it to me thusly: our bodies’ design was honed in the Pleistocene, when everyone’s workday was extremely varied. You had to multitask between running away from a saber-tooth tiger, climbing a tree to get some fruit, throwing a spear at a wild boar, rubbing together sticks to start a fire, and then taking a break from cave painting to play coconut soccer with your tribe to maintain morale.

In other words, people’s survival was closely tied in to being able to perform a huge variety of tasks during the day, which switched constantly between different muscle groups, and also switched between small and large muscle groups, performing small and large movements.

RSI develops under two types of conditions: when someone performs the same movement over extended periods of time, and when someone has to remain in the same position over extended periods of time. The repetitive movement injures muscles responsible for that movement. The repetitive stillness injures postural muscles required to keep the body in that position.

Muscle Response to Constant Fatigue

Muscle tissue is a marvel. It is almost a creature onto itself, and when it gets tired, and you ask it to keep going, and going, and going, it develops emotional problems and thinks you no longer love it. These emotional problems manifest as a number of things. The ones I often experience are trigger points, referred pain and loss of movement range.

Trigger Points

Trigger points, as I understand them, relate to the fact that muscle tissue can be in one of two states – shortened (tensed) and long (relaxed). When a muscle performs its contraction over and over, to the point of injury, the muscle fibers form spots where they remain in the tensed position, and also kind of stick together into a lump. Trigger points are knots to the power of ten. They pull on the surrounding tissue, inhibit normal movement, put pressure on nerves and reduce blood circulation and oxygenation. Basically, they are toxic swamps of dysfunction and can cause significant pain in their location. Untreated and inflamed, they also cause festive fireworks of pain elsewhere in the body, called referred pain.

Referred Pain

Referred pain can feel like flu-ey, diffuse aches. If severe, it can also feel sharp, hot, and vivid to the point of you having to check whether some unkind soul is actually stabbing you with things. When I had a bad bout of RSI in 2002, while working in a sweatshop ad agency, I felt as if my fingertips were sanded down to the bone, and as if I had ground glass in my wrists.

Imagine my surprise when it turned out that the problem originated in trigger points in my neck and shoulders. Referred pain can confuse the bejesus out of doctors as well as patients. Imagine being told to have surgery to deal with wrist pain when what you need is regular neck massage and a less insane job.

Loss of Movement Range

Permanently tensed, freaked out muscle tissue is contracted and inhibits the work of its opposite twins. Every movement is performed by something having to shorten, which means that the muscles responsible for the opposite movement have to let go and lengthen. If your forearm extensors are short, you won’t be able to use your flexors to their full capacity.

Eventually, muscles just go on strike and refuse to work altogether. Which is probably just as well, because if things are this bad, you should be removed from your body’s driver seat and take classes on responsible usage.

RSI Treatment and Prevention

RSI is kind of like polio, cholera and AIDS in the sense that prevention is a lot more effective, fun and easy to implement than dealing with the illness itself. It may sound crass to compare RSI to something as serious as AIDS, but what if your livelihood depends on your being able to perform the work? What if you become injured to the point where you can’t tie your shoes or pick up a glass of water, let alone perform actions resulting in paid employment?

RSI is a very serious injury and it CAN GET THAT BAD. The pain can become excruciating and constant, the loss of capacity profound and disabling to the point of precluding the simplest of tasks. Recovery from that degree of RSI is long and expensive, the treatments themselves are painful, and if nerves become compressed and inflamed, neurological damage can be permanent.

RSI prevention

Preventing boils down to paying close attention to the degree of symptoms. If you have been playing enthusiastic tennis, computering away or drawing for 6-7 hours, and you notice your shoulder is sore, it’s to be expected, and that kind of pain will probably go away if you rest. But what if you draw, play tennis or design on a computer for several hours DAILY?

First of all, try to limit the activity. Doing anything for several hours daily is a recipe for RSI.

Secondly, make sure you take regular breaks. Ideally, you shouldn’t perform the activity for more than 20-25 minutes without a break, but that frequency can interfere with concentration. But you definitely shouldn’t go for longer than an hour without taking a 10-15 minute break and stretching, moving differently or resting.

In that case, pay very careful attention to whether or not symptoms are gradually increasing.

  • If the “post-long-bout-of-work” pain is still there the next morning, you have a problem.
  • If the pain begins after  1 or 2 hours of work, you have a problem.
  • If pain flares up after an easy and habitual movement NOT related to the work, you have a problem.
  • If you spend a long time getting to sleep because you can’t find a position in which you don’t have pain or discomfort, you have a problem.
  • If pain wakes you up at night, you have a huge problem.

The difficult thing is how slowly these things begin to creep up. You don’t go from normal to howling in pain right away. These discomforts build up over a period of months, and you become habituated to them and no longer register them as alarming. By the time symptoms become truly alarming, to the point where injury is pronounced enough to notice, it’s too late.

If you have any symptoms that match the list above, you are already injured and need work/lifestyle changes and treatment.

RSI Treatment

1. Trigger point release massage. This is not fluffy, friendly, relax until you drool massage. The therapist puts manual and constant pressure on the knot of muscle fibers until they give up on the permanently contracted position and relax. The key to treatment of trigger points is to get this to happen. Once the fibers go limp, blood floods the area, washes out toxic byproducts of activity and inflammation, and the surrounding tissue is no longer pulled on and can go have a beer in peace. Improvement is almost immediate, in terms of pain reduction and movement range.

2. Trigger point release acupuncture. Western medicine has an iffy relationship with acupuncture, and the latter’s effects in healing the body via manipulating empirically undetectable energy flow have not been *scientifically* proven to exist, so it’s generally a buyer beware health market. However, trigger point release is different – it’s a more extreme form of the manual release through massage. When a needle is inserted into the trigger point, the point relaxes instantly, whereas during massage release, the therapist has to keep constant pressure for about 15 minutes per point to get the same results. The improvement in the overall symptoms and capacity is also quicker and much more pronounced than with massage therapy. I was able to recover from a staggering level of pain and disability in about 3 weeks.

However: this therapy is unbelievably, horribly, torturously painful. Essentially, the trigger point release happens because of the shock and pain the needle insertion causes to the muscle. I used to break pencils in my teeth during treatment, and my doctor told me stories about a patient who was an opera singer and would belt out arias on top of her lungs to cope with the shock and pain.

3. Stretches and timed rest. Rest cures are problematic for people with RSI because while they rest, they improve, but as soon as they go back to the activity, the symptoms return. The key is, again, taking breaks and stretching, stretching, streeeeeeeeeeetching. If the problem the muscle is having has to do with being asked to contract too long, too often, then the cure is the opposite – let it stretch out, wiggle its toes and experience relief. Stretching also helps with constricted circulation which is the second problem in RSI besides sheer muscle fatigue.

Timed rest means that you keep doing your activity, but you take breaks that are regular as clockwork. Set a timer and take a break when it goes off. For a lot of people, taking breaks is hard because they simply become too absorbed in what they are doing, especially graphic designers, writers, musicians and the like. A timer is a good tool to keep on track.

Here are some resources for stretches:

4. Regular exercise. Yoga is a fantastic tool to help with RSI. Doing yoga, swimming and general gym workouts is extremely helpful in prevention, and if done carefully, in recovery. My word of caution is to avoid exercises that call on the muscles you are already overusing, or duplicate the position you have to hold for long periods of time. In my case, I don’t do any yoga positions that recquire me to support my body’s weight on my hands. For example, when it’s time for the plank position, I do it off my knees if at all, and instead of upward dog, I do a mellow, “old people” version of cobra. I also swim on my back rather than the regular way, because keeping my head out of the water requires a tense, compressed trapesius, one of my workhorse muscles.

5. Ergonomics and posture. For computer users, it’s relatively easy to achieve. Your back, upper arms and lower legs should be at a 90-degree angle to the ground. Your upper arms should hang next to your body, not extend in front of it. Your upper legs and forearms should be parallel to the ground. Your back should be supported. Your monitor should be at a height that has your line of eye sight at a 30-degree downward angle. You don’t need a fancy set-up – all this can be achieved with things like a box under your monitor. I do find that a chair that doesn’t let you sit in exactly this way will cause problems. Note that it doesn’t have to be an expensive chair, just one that lets you sit in the correct position.

For other professions, things are a bit trickier and have to be adjusted through trial and error. I’m still trying to figure out the best ergonomics for drawing with a small board and drawing a large piece mounted to the wall. Hairstylists have some leeway with height, but they HAVE to keep the working arm extended outward, which is very, very hard on the neck and shoulder muscles. Room for improvement seems to be infinite.

6. Job variation. Is there any way to vary the tasks? Today, I am too sore and fatigued to keep working on my large drawings. Instead, I am making clay sketches for a new piece, which I will use to study the lighting on the things I will eventually draw. I also have some small compositional sketches to make, materials to prepare and anatomy books to study. Is there anything you can switch to, or work on things in 1 or 2 hour increments instead of 4-5-6-7-and-up increments?

These are all the things that I know to be effective in treating muscle overuse injuries. I don’t have a lot of experience with tendon and ligament problems related to RSI, but it also makes sense to me that those problems are secondary, because the original issue is muscle injury due to unrelieved fatigue. Treat the muscles right, and they will serve you happily. Treat the muscles like sweatshop factory employees, and I guarantee you will eventually have to spend a lot of time putting out the fires of revolution.

May 27, 2009

Give Me Studio Time Or I May Have To Cut A Bitch

Filed under: Being a Professional Artist — Anya Galkina - Studio Mysteries @ 1:15 am

The deeply mistaken assumption that civilians often make about artists is that it is a chosen lifestyle. This deeply mistaken assumption is deeply mistaken.

I have never been able to go for long without shutting my door on the world, and being… away for a while. If I don’t get to sit and work on a drawing or a painting, I get itchy, cranky and resentful. In some respects, being a full-time art student is really spoiling me, because now I get cranky and resentful a lot faster.

A long weekend just ended, and I have spent most of it working on a web design project. Four days without any art time is BOTHERING ME.

Is there anyone nearby that I can safely stab?

April 27, 2009

Youthful Follies, Anyone?

Filed under: Being a Professional Artist — Anya Galkina - Studio Mysteries @ 1:07 am

Yesterday, I was washing my brushes at LAAFA, and vocalizing my profound distaste for the task. The artist next to me was all, “Preach it, sister! PREACH IT!!!” It was a stunning realization that I was not alone in hating to wash brushes after work, or, as it turns out, in throwing out myriads of brushes that died through cleaning neglect.

Which got me wondering what other experiences are common to artists, and in particular, whether other people look at their work from when they were much younger, only to recoil in horror? Does anyone else look at their early paintings and ask of the universe, “What the hell was I thinking?”

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