Warm golden sunshine streams through the windows and splashes, glowing, on the wooden floor, bouncing its color-filled rays onto the walls, the furniture, and the old stone fireplace and inviting me outside. I think that finally I can return to my porch, yet the cold air instantly tightens my skin as I realize it’s spring, but early spring here, and I may have to wait a couple more weeks for the warmth of the porch.
This morning I sit, bundled up in my unheated art studio, knitted afghan over my lap, space heater cranking way up to remove the chill. I’m surrounded by tens of thousands of hours of art-making projects, mostly paintings I’ve done here or on location, en plein air, in spots around the world.
Paintings and even printed photographs will make their way to estate sales, Goodwill, maybe even the auction block, but hard drives of memories from our phones may disappear with us, never seen by our families. Yet surrounding me here are hundreds of model sessions, talking with my fellow painters and with models I’ve just met, learning about their lives, and in some cases their unusual hobbies or habits — things I sometimes hadn’t known existed. It’s why I embrace my weekly “life” group, where a few friends come to my studio every Wednesday night to paint and draw.
In his video legendary painter Max Ginsburg talks about the importance of drawing and painting from life, and talks about years and years of 5 a.m. sessions before class with his friends, which gave him the drawing skills he has today. After eight or nine years of doing this every Wednesday when I’m in town, it has sharpened my drawing and painting skills, though there is much to improve. But it has provided something more … a rich time with people who have become old friends. Discussions with paintings have resulted in new ideas, things I’ve been able to implement for artists, along with laughter, jokes, puns, serious dialogue, and thankfully, no politics (our one and only rule). It’s also provided a chance to get to know about the lives of fifty to a hundred models, who we often chat with while painting. It allows me a peek into worlds I’m otherwise not exposed to. One works for the state of Texas in the accounting department, another works at an art store, while another is a hook artist, inserting hooks into her skin and hanging from the ceiling at bars. That’s one for the books! Who knew?
The magic of Wednesdays for me is that I’m forcing myself to invest in myself. With a busy life of family, work, and travel, I’m mostly giving of myself to others, while this is when I am fed by time with friends, a chance to talk to others about everything but work, a chance to be exposed to new people and new things, and a time to laugh and have fun painting. For me this time is a non-negotiable. If at all possible, I try to avoid scheduling trips over Wednesday nights.
Non-negotiables are important in our lives. I don’t have many, but I have a few. For instance, being gone on weekends is non-negotiable. I want to be home with my family. Though there are a few exceptions where there is a weekend convention or a meeting scheduled by others that I must attend, if I’m in control, I’m home.
What are you doing for yourself that is non-negotiable?
What do you do that is just for you, that recharges your batteries, that gives you something to look forward to?
Maybe it’s something annually. Though I have my weekly painting group, I also have things I look forward to all year. For instance, since I don’t get to do as much plein air painting as I’d like to, I look forward to my week painting with others in the Adirondacks and again at some colorful location in the fall, during what I call the Publisher’s Invitational. And when I’m going through a tough patch, it’s nice to dream about an upcoming trip like our annual behind-the-scenes Fine Art Trip. I’ve learned the importance of not scheduling everything last-minute — though I do that sometimes, I like thinking about something for a full year in advance. It helps me get through stressful moments.
I was raised to be a giver. Always give to others before taking care of yourself. I’m happy I was gifted these principles through the examples of my parents and grandparents, but to be a giver, you need to fuel your own engine by giving something of importance to yourself on a regular basis. Because your batteries need to be recharged.
We all recharge differently. I get my energy from being around others, being social, and if I had my way I’d be out to dinner with friends every night of the week. I could do events like the Plein Air Convention all day every day, because I love interacting with people. I also recharge with time at the easel and time outside painting, because I love the outdoors. For others, those things would be a drain. For you, recharging may be alone time with a good book, a walk in the mountains, time playing music, time with friends. Whatever it is, it’s important to find it and then make sure you plug in and get recharged on a regular basis. Sometimes I go weeks without my batteries being charged, and I feel it.
For decades I burned the candle at both ends, years and years of trying to make a living, trying to get ahead, driving in early and home at midnight, years without the money or time for a vacation. Though I gained a lot of value from doing it all, I now realize I’d have been many times more effective if I had done things to recharge.
A few weeks ago I was chatting with an acquaintance. I asked him how he recharges. His answer was that he loves to work. But he has nothing else. That was me: I love to work, but once I found something else, it made a difference.
What about you? How do you recharge?
Are you giving it enough time?
We all have times and seasons when our recharge isn’t easy to find time for, or maybe we don’t have the “fun tickets” (what my sister-in-law calls money). But whenever possible, don’t forget to do something for just you. It’s not selfish; in fact, it’s selfish not to, because when you’re required to be there for others, they need the best of you.
PS: This week I had my eyes opened. For several years my wife and I have given a percentage of our profits to an organization called Mobile Loaves and Fishes, whose slogan is “Everyone eats every day.” In Austin and several other cities, they have dozens of food trucks, and volunteers drive food to areas with homeless people and hand out sandwiches, plus some key other essentials. The vision of its founder, Alan Graham, who I first met in my son’s Scout group, was to build a village of tiny houses to house homeless people to help them get on their feet, get their dignity back, and be able to live a decent life away from the streets.
We had never visited, so we took my son’s classmates on a field trip to tour this village. It was an experience beyond amazing, and I just want to give more. There are about 200 people living there independently, while being part of a community. It’s a village of tiny houses and RVs. They have shops on the property that people can work in — an auto repair shop, a forge and metal shop, a wood shop, a T-shirt screening shop. They also have a large art center to give people a chance to make ceramics, paintings, and other forms of art, and their art then goes into the little store on the property where visitors can buy the art and have 100 percent of the money go back to the homeless people. We met a formerly homeless man and woman who met at the property, got married, and now live there with the first child born on the property.
I have to admit, I tense up if a homeless person talks to me. I’m afraid. I don’t know if they are mentally unstable, on drugs, or just down on their luck. And frankly, I was a little uncomfortable about visiting. Yet after my visit, I want to go back, teach painting, and do what I can to help. I met and talked with a few residents, heard their stories. Everyone I met told stories of their lives, what they were like before and what they are like now. And I saw lots of big smiles.
Not only is this an example of how one person can make a difference, it’s a model that can work in every city in America as we deal with this homeless crisis. I’d encourage you to poke around on the organization’s website. Maybe you’re in a position to raise money or model something like this in your town, whether it’s food trucks or a village. I’m sure they would show you how or even do it for you. If nothing else, it’s a chance to see joy being created and lives being changed, which is good news.
PPS: A shout out to the Marble Falls, Texas, art association that invited me in to speak to their group recently. I was asked to come in and speak about marketing to the group of some amazing artists. Thanks, everyone, for hosting me. I’ll be judging the Marble Falls Plein Air Festival this coming April right before the convention, which is something I rarely get a chance to do these days. It’s an honor.