By Thea Fiore-Bloom, PhD.
6 Ways Goofing Off Deepens Your Art & Grows Your Business
Ever guiltily scoot out to a flea market, museum or city park instead of writing or making art?
Next time you take a day off from creating to go on a mini-adventure, hold your head high.
Don’t label it as goofing off. Label it as… FIELDWORK.
“Fieldwork” is a term originating in the academic sciences (specifically anthropology) to describe the process of scholarly observation that took place outside the university walls, in the field.
For an artist, fieldwork is venturing out to find treasure. Treasure in the form of meaning, stimulation and confirmation.
Fieldwork for artists is creative archaeology.
It is a digging down and around for the what, where, and why of your unique genius.
Let’s look at six benefits fieldwork brings to our lives and our art.
1. We Race Back Home With An Idea
Travels anywhere can result in two kinds of treasure: physical treasure in the form of objects and mental treasure in the form of inspiration. Unlike its evil cousin resistance, fieldwork can make you want to race back to your studio.
Michigan mixed media artist Graceann Warn (www.graceannwarn.com) gets so inspired after her art related sojourns that as she says: “I can’t get back to my studio fast enough, I have speeding tickets as proof.”
And if inspiration wasn’t enough reason to do fieldwork, there is the benefit to your sales.
Taking yourself to a place that excites you not only lifts you out of the “same old” on wings of wonder, it helps you make work that sells.
2. Helps You Make Work That Sells
“As an artist all you have is your mind. Your mind is your best commodity. The more you enrich your mind the more you have to offer. That is your value,” said agent Lilla Rogers (http://lillarogers.com).
“Another key to success in the art realm is to stay engaged, stay passionate. You must keep exploring and adventuring. Keep feeding the beast. Garbage in, garbage out. Great stuff in, great stuff out. As artists we are explorers, we are adventurers,” said Rogers who regularly reminds her own roster of clients about the surprising role joy plays in the business of art.
“People buy your joy,” Rogers said. “Passion sells. You need to understand the culture at large and the markets to find the best audience for your unique, inspired work. As an art agent I know that my busiest artists are the ones who are having the most fun. They know how to tap into that place.”
Rogers goes into this concept in detail in her playful yet potent book: I Just Like To Make Things: Learn the Secrets to Making Money while Staying Passionate about your Art and Craft.
3. Keeps Us Curious About Our Own Work
Chicago based Frank Connet (frankconnet.com) is a fiber artist specializing in shibori, an age-old indigo dye resist technique (see figure two). Several of Connet’s pieces are in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Connet insists that his frequent, happiness-inducing escapes into the Michigan woods and other wild places, have done yeomen service to keep his pieces fresh, meaningful and in demand over the years.
“My forays into the natural world keep me intrigued and curious about my work and about what surprise nature will have in store for me around the next bend,” he said.
4. Inspires Calm & Confidence
Connet’s fieldwork in the forest has strengthened his art, his powers of observation and helped him stay calm and confident under deadline pressures.
Connet was making shibori (see figure on right) long before he realized his unique way of practicing this art of sewing, bundling and dying fabric, resembled structures of ice formations he later came to love to photograph (see image on left).
“My own work often alludes to the earth’s natural processes of accretion and erosion as seen in sand dunes, plant life, ice formations and mineral deposits,” said Connet.
Below we once again see a form from nature (in this
case a piece of northern California beach kelp) that intrigued Connet who took the seaweed photo years after forming the copper piece that coincidentally resembles the crenelations of the kelp.
Connet later noticed the resemblance between the kelp and his shibori on copper work and was intrigued.
For Connet it was confirmation that his artwork was on target, aligning with his lifelong interior musings on form and pattern.
But what if nature doesn’t do it for you?
5. Fieldwork Encourages Epiphanies
For others of you, natural or beautiful places are just not where your muses dwell. I walk the nature-laden section of my urban neighborhood a few times a week, along a picturesque series of canals.
On a good day I admire the beauty of the quaint painted bungalows lining the waterways. I stare at cats sleeping on patio railings and spy egrets with their reflections mirrored beneath them in the still water. I get less stressed, even relaxed but rarely do I have art-related epiphanies.
The epiphany days for me come when I explore the alleys between the backs of the gingerbread houses that front the canals.
In the alleys I find old wood-paned windows from the 1950s, car fenders from the 1970s, lost letters and odd handmade toys lying scattered against impromptu murals.
The combinations of weird and mysterious things, stir the kettle of my brain. How did that brand new pair of boxer shorts get on the decrepit rocking horse anyway?
Even if I don’t bring anything home with me, I leave inspired. The ideas and the found ephemera for my assemblage often converge in abandoned places.
Colorado mixed media artist Monica Riffe enjoys “smashed things” so her fieldwork often takes place in the lands of the discarded. “ While scavenging in an old dump outside of Santé Fe, we were like kids on Christmas day, oohing and ahhing over rusted aspirin tins discovered amid piles of oil cans and tires,” she said.
For others of us, like Judy Wise, traveling further afield to collect foreign ephemera is just the ticket.
6. Grows Your Business and Your Joy
Wise (www.judywise.com) is a successful, Oregon painter, teacher and writer whose career emphasizes how her travels, like a fountain, constantly feed her business and her joy for life and art. (If you like to go abroad for creative inspiration I urge you to check out Phil Cousineau’s The Art of Pilgrimage; Making Travel Sacred, a few weeks before leaving. It’s a quiet mind blower of a book that changed how I go away and come back home again.)
Wise’s work has been published over several decades in books, magazines and e-books for home study. Her designs have appeared on greeting cards, textiles, and calendars.
In her blog, Wise shares images of her classes both stateside (Encausticamp-Washington) and abroad (Bali-Wax).
Wise uses photos of her art teaching trips to add color and stories to her social media. Wise usually has several personal fieldwork voyages on the docket to India, Scotland, Amsterdam or Mexico.
Whether home or abroad Wise derives pleasure from working in her own art journal every day. To the right is a double page journal spread from before and during her “Paint Oaxaca 2014” adventure that the artist shared with her blog readers.
Wise is a master marketer who has earned her faithful audience not through gimmickry but via authenticity, creativity and generosity of spirit-all nurtured by meaningful travel in the field.
If you can, go away.
Let your jottings, drawings or memories from your sojourns remind you of your unique take on all that is.
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors.
Leave a comment below on how leaving your office or studio has affected your thinking, writing or art making.
Parts of this article originally appeared in a 2014 edition of Professional Artist Magazine. Banner image is a detail from Judy Wise’s
encaustic abstract displayed and credited above.