Time struggles, plein air, and new calendar of events

This week has been a little crazy; two openings and a plein air event for me, theater rehearsals and school and sports for my daughter, and all of the regular stuff of life in between. But some version of crazy seems to be the norm for my schedule every week, and I am not alone.

While I was painting this week at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden (more on that in a minute) I ran into an artist friend and we started talking about how disorganized we can sometimes feel and how guilty we feel about not being better at marketing to social media, to our newsletters, and yes, to our blogs. When time is crunched, the choice of whether to do any of the above or to paint always seems to result in painting as the clear winner.

It’s a frustration that I know a lot of other artists share, many of whom, like me, aren’t always masters of time management or organization. “I need a calendar of events on my website,” I said to my friend, “a quick and simple way for people to check in and see my upcoming shows and events. Maybe it would help me stay more organized too.” When I got home that afternoon, I checked out my site and lo and behold it does have that functionality. So viola! I now have a calendar!😃

If you check out the aforementioned calendar you can see that I have been spending the week painting at the botanical gardens as part of a promotion for National Public Gardens Week. Local artists who applied to paint during this week will submit their completed works for a chance to be juried in to an exhibit at Lewis Ginter that opens June 22nd.

Work in progress, 12x16”, painted during National Public Garden Week at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

Work in progress, 12x16”, painted during National Public Garden Week at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

I really like these kind of events because even though I regularly paint outside on my own, they get me out and focused and inspired. I enjoy seeing what other artists are doing and collecting new ideas on various artists setups and tools of the trade. It’s a very different vibe from the more formal events that are organized around competition. I have some friends who thrive on competition and use it as a means to drive themselves onward to bigger heights. For myself, it’s a little more stressful. I do the competitions from time to time and haven’t yet regretted it, but I am not that competitive by nature. So the more relaxed festivals that are really just a celebration of art and plein air painting are truly my jam.

Plein Air to Studio

Though I have a great love for plein air painting and do it as often as my time and circumstances allow,  I have, out of necessity, become much more of a studio painter these last few years. Working on location is like painting calisthenics. It demands one's full concentration, advance planning, additional travel time, and a good amount of in-the-moment ingenuity in order to capture the particular color notes and light effects of that point in time. As with physical exercise, I get both an exhilarating rush and a bit of a drain afterwards. 

5:30 a.m. wake-up time ensured that I captured this sunrise in all of its colorful glory. As you can see, all of that color was long gone when I photographed the setting at around 7 a.m.

5:30 a.m. wake-up time ensured that I captured this sunrise in all of its colorful glory. As you can see, all of that color was long gone when I photographed the setting at around 7 a.m.

While I love the spontaneity in my plein air work, my studio work has its advantages. For one I can be more deliberate. Without the limitations imposed by time and changing light, I can go larger in the studio, and at times, improve on my drawing and composition. I can also experiment more easily with various formats, color combinations, and other formal aspects of 2D artistry. 

While I have been engaged in both practices for many years now, I want to do more to relate the two disciplines to each other in a more purposeful way. Part of the reason I haven't always managed this is because I tend to consign my plein air paintings to galleries almost immediately after I complete them, which means I am separated from them for either the length of the consignment, or forever if the painting is sold outright. I do have photographs of all of my plein air paintings as well as photographs of the location (though as you can see above,  the latter often tells me very little about the true color I saw in the moment.)

Therefore I'm making a concerted effort to do more plein-air to studio paintings, using the actual plein air paintings as my primary reference when at all possible. Here's my most recent effort:

"New Day Rising", Oil on linen, 20x24" ©Jennifer E Young

"New Day Rising", Oil on linen, 20x24" ©Jennifer E Young

Here's my setup, in progress. I used my tablet holder to prop up my plein air painting so that both pieces would be under the same light for better color accuracy. It actually worked very well. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention!  :) 




Shopping local

As the title of my blog might imply, one of my passions is to travel and paint the beautiful places I've been. But home commitments these days often don't allow me the time needed to go farther afield for scouting subjects and painting them. Instead of lamenting this fact (which I admit I did for a while) I have decided that if I don't find some options for painting close by I will not get very far with my work (or my sanity!) So I've started shopping local. I really only have a few mornings to myself so I need to get in and out of a place pretty quickly in order to pick up my daughter on time from preschool. The Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens are close by, and they are a lovely option, as is Bryan Park. But there really are a lot of interesting subjects even closer to my home, in my Bellevue neighborhood and even my very  own gardens.

Jen's gardens
Jen's gardens

There are a couple of challenges to my place. First of all, I live in an urban neighborhood. While we have tons of gardeners here and lots of green space we also have small lots and lots of large trees. So you have to get used to painting close in, and you're not going to get many sweeping vistas around here, which is the kind of subject matter that I have been most attracted to since I first took up landscape painting.

Secondly, aside from a very brief (but lovely) appearance of sunlight in the early, early morning, a good part of my back yard in particular remains in shadow until about 10:30 or 11 a.m. That means that the most interesting play of light and shadow only makes a presence for an hour, or at most an hour and a half tops,  before the shadows shrink up and burn off at high noon.

On the other hand, having planted every shrub and flower,  I know my garden intimately and  have had plenty of time to observe how the light comes over each bed. So I can set up my easel where I want it, walk back to the studio to do some work there, and then return to my plein air setup at the optimal time when the light is just right. I can work in this way all they way until the time I need to pick up my daughter from preschool (a 5-minute commute), and then just throw my gear into the studio right before I leave to get her. This was my approach for the little plein air below. It's not a big painting, but I still needed to finish this up in two different sessions due to the lighting situation mentioned above:

"The Curved Bed" Oil on Canvas, 10x10" © Jennifer E Young

"The Curved Bed" Oil on Canvas, 10x10"© Jennifer E Young

At home we call this bed "The Bump Out", but I thoughtthat would be a weird title for a painting. At present there is still a sense of order, but in summer it's a lot more colorful, but also a lot more chaotic. ( I really tend to crowd my gardens terribly. This is a bad habit but I'm trying to get better, and not be so afraid to pull things out, give plants away, or just toss them if need be.) The summer flowers are beautiful, but  I like it at this time of year too because you can still see the "bones" and underlying form before the wildness ensues.


I'm baaaack. And I'm kicking off my return to blogging with a new Varenna study. I actually hesitate to call this a study, given the amount of time it took. I guess a month away from painting has left me feeling a litle rusty and slow! In any case, this painting will serve as a preliminary study for a larger piece.

Varenna Study Oil on canvas, 6"x9" ©  Jennifer Young

Varenna Study Oil on canvas, 6"x9" © Jennifer Young

We have had rounds of winter sickness followed by school closings due to snow, so with my foray back into painting being thwarted quite a bit, I had the thought to develop a number of small scale studies of some larger painting ideas that  I've been wanting to tackle. I'll be painting some of these to scale up to my larger sizes. For example this 6x9" piece will scale up to 24x36".

I've painted various views of this harbor a few times now, which you can see herehere, and here. I guess you can tell I am enamored with this particular view of this lovely Italian lake town! This composition emphasizes the strong horizontal of the walled town jutting out onto the lake, contrasted by the verticals of the buildings and tall cypresses.

While I almost always sketch out my composition on paper before I tackle a canvas, I usually leave the painted study for when I am out in the field painting from life. In fact, I have painted lots of studies and lots of larger scale studio pieces and quite a bit in between. Not all small paintings warrant a big statement, but I haven't been all that great about developing my viable studies into larger, more fleshed out studio concepts.  My schedule has been so sporadic for such a long time now, and with not much chance of an end in sight, I really feel like I need to have a more methodical  approach to my work habits. I am hoping that by tightening up my studio practices a bit, I might find more equilibrium when I do get a chance to enter the studio, and I will waste less time and feel less at a loss about what I am going to tackle next.

Well, nothing informs like experience, and since these small ones can presumably be completed in a fraction of the time, (ahem!) I thought it was worthwhile to have a go at a few of them, done, specifically with larger paintings in mind. I will also mine some of my other small works, in particular the plein air pieces I've done, as I think a number of them have potential for further development. I have worked from a number of them here and there, but I think there is more potential (especially in my James River series) and it could be something fun to do during these cold winter months when I'm not getting outside.

The artist/parent conundrum

Well, it's finally happened. This week we sent our baby off to preschool. Right now it's only two half days a week, but still it has been a week of mixed emotions. It's hard to send her out into the world without me nearby, but on the other hand, I can enter my studio for a few precious, blissful hours without interruption. Ahhh! Once we get into a groove, (and get past the tears that come with each parting) we should be able to arrange a schedule where Dad takes her to school on his way to work, while Mom starts painting and doesn't have to stop for 4 or 5 hours. Heck, I may even be able to take my easel outdoors this fall and actually do some plein air painting! It feels like its been a long road to get to this point, both in terms of health and time to work. And yet, I look at my daughter and marvel at how quickly she has grown. She's only two, but she's definitely not a baby any more.

In my next post I will share with you a new painting I've gotten under way during this momentous week. But before I get back to the "art" part of my art blog, I just want to put a shout out to all of those artist moms and dads out there who may struggle to find a balance between being a dedicated primary caregiver to a child and being a creative artist dedicated to their craft.

First of all, hats off to you! It is a tough balancing act. If I had any advice to give to anyone who is struggling to find the time and energy to do creative work while also being the primary caregiver to a child, it would be this: Lower your expectations and don't give up.

Now that may not sound very inspirational, but hear me out. After I had my daughter, I fully expected to get back to my painting in full swing after about 6 months or so. But when my health took a nose dive, it was all I could do most days to parent my daughter and give her some Q.T., and get hot meals on the table (after which point I promptly collapsed in a heap). And on top of feeling really physically awful most days over the past 2 years, I made myself feel worse by being horribly disappointed in my inability to develop a routine of steady work. (What was wrong with me? I "should" be able to do this! ) Had I been gentler and adjusted my expectations to allow for my situation, I would have saved myself a lot of frustration and emotional angst, and perhaps even possibly hastened my recovery. (Not to mention that feeling rotten about yourself isn't exactly an environment for creative bursts of energy, either).

On the second point, don't give up; sooner or later you will find a groove with yourself and your family. It may be a groove that will need constant tweaking, but some sense of rythm WILL happen. It may not happen as quickly as you want, but one day you will blink and your once tiny, helpless infant will be playing quietly by herself here and there (in between running around tearing the house down ;-) ). Gasps for air will give way to moments of breathing space and then at some point actual stretches of uninterrupted time.

Thankfully I seem to be finding my way out of the worst of the health issues now and am actually sleeping again and feeling a lot better. But nothing is like it was b.b. (before baby). I don't have the flexibilty of time and freedom that I used to have. Now I am the one who has to be flexible, and I have to manufacture stretches of time by getting up extra early to make it happen. Any blogs I do write are usually done via my mobile, written piecemeal in short bursts. But with the right attitude and a little bit of creative scheduling, it is happening, and for that I am extremely grateful!

When my daughter was an infant, I would again and again be told this same phrase by veteran parents: "It goes by fast." And it does. When you are in the trenches dealing with colic and diapers and nursing and zero sleep and no time to shower, you might not think so. But it really does. So enjoy the moments with your child and appreciate the moments you can find to feed the Art Spirit. Nurture both as best you can and you may find them growing stronger and more vibrant with each passing day.

"Happy Faces", by 2 year old Eva

"Happy Faces", by 2 year old Eva