Too Busy to Ignore Inspiration

One of the characteristics of a small town art practice is that it’s most often made up of several pillars. Some artists will paint and run a small gallery. Others will throw pots and work as a studio tech. Still others will work a part-time job while growing their illustration practice. It often feels like there isn’t quite enough work to JUST paint, or JUST make pots. Perhaps that’s just the reality of being an artist anywhere. 

Painting, printmaking, and music all make up a fluid fraction of my time. Sometimes I end up doing one thing really intensely for a while, then swinging into another for a bit. While there are moments I’d love to linger longer on one, I’m never bored. Then there are times like this spring, when suddenly all the pillars pile up and I end up doing all of them at the same time. I’m always grateful for my ability to make a career out of art, but when it’s that busy it can be hard to find the time to feel inspired because I just need to put my head down and plough through it all. 

Last week, in the middle of an already full week, I was invited out to a spur-of-the-moment plein air painting session with some friends. I wanted to go, but for a few hours I had this wrestling match in my head about how busy I was, and how many things needed to get done, and how I had good momentum on this large painting I was working on… but then I heard my college volleyball coach’s voice in my head saying, “Excuses are like armpits, Mike. Everyone has two and they both stink.” So, I decided to push all my ‘to dos’ aside and go, and I am so glad I did. 

Fernie is so full of inspiring people, but it’s easy for me to push hard on this grindstone of an art practice—sometimes forgetting there are others pushing along with me. I don’t know how many professional artists we have in the Fernie area but when I hear people jokingly say things like. “Don’t quit your day job!” I start listing off artists I know. If you restrict your count to the traditional idea of visual arts, I would guess we have something like 30-50. If you add in craftspeople, artisans, digital creatives and commercial photographers, that number is more like 250+ which is something like 5% of our civic population making some or all of their living creating. Those numbers are all just guesses, but it’s enough for me to confidently say go ahead, quit your day job. It’s a journey but you can do it. 

However you count it, a bunch of us piled into our vans and drove up to a friend’s property on Hartley Lake Road and spent the better part of the day soaking in the beauty. Liza dug out her watercolours, Gabby snapped her film camera, JayRay set up his DJ gear and spun some deep cuts for us in the forest. I pushed some oils around on a canvas board. Plein air painting is different because it teaches you not just to look but to see—the light, the contrast, the depth. It teaches you to find a composition in an undefined world of splendour. It teaches you to capture a moment of sun on a tree trunk before it shifts. It teaches you to edit, to pull and push colour and hue with your eye and your brush until it feels right. It teaches you to get out of your norm and to just be. It reminds you why you do what you love. 

On that day, when I forced myself to carve out the time, it inspired me to think again about why I love painting, and why I love painting in Fernie—a big part of the answer to that question is all of you out there who are with me reaching for this uncapturable light in your own way. It’s about continually learning to value the process of fighting for the perfect ochre for a cedar bough—knowing that the people around you are struggling along with you. It’s about seeing another artist’s process and learning a new thing and going back to your studio richer and more refreshed for the solo journey there. 

Thanks to my friends who reminded me that inspiration is not an expendable part of my practice, no matter how busy I am. 

It’s not a by-product of hard work, it’s the reason we practise so hard at our work. Let’s do that again soon.