David Whyte in "The Winter of Listening" (Essentials, p.26) contains this profound verse:
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born."
The digital composition above is anchored by a painting called "Mary's Song," the Madonna's spontaneous celebration of the mystery and miracle of life and faith with her cousin Elizibeth and by extension all women. Inside her is "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" to quote Bach and by extension, that great shout of Joy that resides in us all, waiting. For what?, you might ask. A birth, in natural time, not something we can hurry up. In the unexpected places that we did not plan. For reasons we cannot fully understand or explain. This is how we find our own voice. It is in us already, being nourished, growing to readiness to be brought forth through pain, love, sacrifice. Born from us to be a blessing to world which needs what we have as those carriers of the light, love and light.
I loved to draw as far back as I can remember. I studied and practiced architecture. But for many years my "art" was helping other people find their own path to joy. I was not till I turned 60, that I returned to my root passion. In natural time, still evolving and growing with each experiment, I am finding my own voice as an artist and human being.
By the way, I know several women whose art-form/ is motherhood. Their creativity,passion,ingenuity,and unique voice is on display everyday on the pages of social media in the joy and growth of their children. You know who you are, I see your joy, your "art" and the blessing you are to the world!
"Start close in,
don't take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
you don't want to take."
David Whyte (Essentials p.13)
I was a bad water colorist for 30+ years. I would do 10 or so paintings, take a few lessons and then quit. Again and again. Reading this poem recently, I realized why. I hated being a beginner. I wanted to do a few, get the hang of it and ride my talent to the next level in a few months, a few paintings in. I wanted to start at the third step. When I moved to Santa Fe, I wanted to try again.
Skyler McGee, my "real artist" daughter in law, suggested I try oils instead of watercolors. It was a new beginning. My new teacher noticed that I was the only one, in the class of 10 or so, that was working on a new painting each week and said, "You will learn more from starts than finishes." I remembered a mantra from design school, "Quantity produces Quality." I decided to do 100 oil paintings before I quit. I painted small. If I didn't like one or got stuck, I wrote a number on the back, put it in a box and started a new one. When I noticed I was resisting instruction, I tried to shift to learning mode, embrace being a beginner. About 60-70 paintings in, I started do work I "didn't hate." I found a new mentor. About 150 paintings in, over a year later, I was finally producing salable art. For me the first step, the one I didn't want to take, was embracing the "beginner mind" and the process of learning from scratch.
Press into something close, the doable next step, but probably the step you don't want to take. Embrace the process, the exploration, the learning. Listen often, to what you are enjoying, the voice inside will guide the second, and third steps.
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
way to begin
from "Start Close In" in David Whyte: Essentials
Young artists I talk to are sometimes confusing style and artist statements with voice. Your own voice is not something clever you do in every painting or piece so people with know it is your work. It is not an often too complicated explanation of what you are trying to accomplish in your artwork.
Voice is deeper.
It comes from the ground up,
through your feet, legs,
loins and heart.
It breaths through your
eyes, ears, mind and lips
and only then does it
flow through your finger tips,
Speaking from earth to earth and
spirit to spirit.
Voice includes perspective, insight, passion, expression, tone, phrasing, your body, soul, mind and spirit in dialog with the other. Voice emerges through conversation and experimentation.
You act........ then ask and listen........
Then do it again and again until you,
your artwork or the other has nothing left to say and
you can sit with yourself and know you have
learning something you didn't know before
the dialog started. You start again, knowing that
finishing is not the goal, neither is finding your voice,
both are outcome of good conversation.
"To hear your
you must listen
to the response of the
To understand the
You must first
learn to hear
your own voice."
- Tom McGee
The gallery is closing, we still have to pay rent and all Summer festivals in Santa Fe are called off. We were beyond discouraged. I had no motivation even to paint knowing I was just stacking them in the corner of my make shift studio at home. Nothing but closed doors as far as the eye can see through the Summer. I did have a commission to do and it got me thinking. Is there a way to do more of these? Then I had a thought that seemed to come out of no where. What if I could paint things that I know people would enjoy, like their favorite scenes and memories? Get them involved in the process but still only paint things I knew had a chance of selling if they couldn't afford them or didn't like how they turned out. A win, win and I would be interacting with potential clients just like the gallery - a new door opens.
"I might paint YOUR landscape photo next!"has become a whole new way of working for me, meeting people and making enough to pay the rent, even without the gallery! I think we are all endowed with the ability to hear a voice, have a thought, see something new that becomes that new open door. I believe in a God who is with us, for us, loves us all. But, we have to be open to the possibilities that lay beyond our past, and even beyond our imagination. In my experience, these possibilities often seem to come out of no where. Open people usually find the open doors. I am grateful every day that this kind of grace finds me!
This may be the most purely impressionist piece I've done to date. "Superstition Snow" is a playful acrylic painting that emphasizes light reflecting off very different surfaces (clouds, cliffs and snow) in similar ways. By simplifying shapes, I can highlight the similarities of all three surfaces, just atoms with different densities! Our universe is amazing and in constant motion no matter how solid it appears.
I was in awe of the breadth and variety of Monet’s work. But what struck me most was how he let each scene speak for itself. Doing the same subject over and over, it was not just the palet that changed with the seasons or time of day. His brushwork changed from bold strokes to light wispy flicks of the tip. The thickness of the paint, amount of contrast, no formulas that had to be repeated in every painting.
Our show, "Great Things Come in Small Packages" is in progress now, in the middle of last minute shopping season. Yes, I am hoping someone buys the small painting above, but mostly I am hoping all the giving and receiving accomplishes one thing: reminding those around us of the value of our relationships with each other. It is not the size of the gift but the smiles, hugs, words of gratefulness and encouragement that we need on the journey that make all the difference. The receiving end is just as important as the giving end. Don't evaluate whether it was a good gift, think of the goodness of the person giving it and richness they bring to you, and smile in some memory. Blessings, Tom
I did not show work in progress on this large "Grand Canyon" piece because it was supposed to a surprise for some long time friends. But as you see, it is very similar in approach to the commission work I did, "Wonder." As we approach the holidays, art occupies a seldom thought of but very significant place as a gift. Yes, it can be expensive, but the lasting value can be immense. Art can be a constant reminder of the beautiful possibilities of life in a world filled with beauty and mystery. It can also be an encouragement of some past achievement or blessing. I gave a friend battling cancer a painting of Denali, one of 6 continental highest mountains he had climbed in his lifetime. I gave the above painting titled "Deep and Wide" to remind my friends of the impact they have had by loving others deeply for a long time in the same place. Art speaks beyond words directly to the heart, providing encouragement each time it is encountered.
Consider art as a gift this season, and don't just think about the color of their decor. Think about what is in your heart and what their heart might need more of over the years ahead. 7 Arts Gallery will be having a show of smaller, affordable artworks in early December hoping to encourage art lovers to share their love with others!
Ok, when the client’s name is on the artist’s proof, it is pretty clear who the art was made for. Right? Not so fast,.. even in a commission, an artist with integrity is trying be true to the values and vision that inspire (breath life into) their work. Without that, the work is literally life-less. I actually like the challenges of commissions where I have to blend the client’s needs and desires with my vision and values. Their vision was to further the creation of art by investing heavily in children’s art programs like our own Art Smart organization in Santa Fe. I see art as a light shining in our world, revealing truth of our place in it as those who reflect the beauty infused into Creation itself by the Creator. In the end, I make art not so much FOR someone (God, myself, others), but to BE something, light that brings something of truth, beauty and inspiration (breathing life into) to all who experience it.
My art is known for it’s sense of motion. I started painting on a rotating display stand a while ago to add some actually kinetic energy to my composition and brush strokes. However, many of my paintings can move from “kinetic” to frenetic” at times, leave no space for the eye to rest. I am reading a book by Pico Iyler titled, “The Art of Stillness.” (Look him up on Ted Talks). He is challenging our “frenetic” culture of instant messages, unending interruptions to slow down, breath and actually become aware. Early in the book he makes this insightful observation, “Movement makes richest sense when set within the frame of stillness.” That sentence stopped me.
I began to reflect on my work as an artist, “was my art telling me the I need more stillness and motion?” “Would my artwork make “richest sense” if the kinetic energy was set within a “frame of stillness.” Using the spiral as a motif in this painting helps a bit, creating a focal point of movement and contrast. But would it be even better with more places to rest like the water. I don’t know. I tend to the let my work speak what ever it wants to. However, I do need to stop, be still and listen more to what it is saying!
Tom C. McGee, Jr.
Musings about mystery, art and spirituality.