“Loving Vincent” and getting to love my job all over again.

I recently had the pleasure of attending the screening of “Loving Vincent” at the Avalon Theater in Washington D.C. with a group of fellow artists and friends.

Being credited as the first entirely oil-painted animation feature film in history, “Loving Vincent” (lovingvincent.com) is a feast for the eyes that brings poignant beauty to the story it tells. Each of the nearly 65,000 frames was individually hand painted with oil paints, mimicking van Gogh’s strokes, morphing actors and backgrounds with his paintings to create a living canvas.

Set 12 months after his death, the visual narrative weaves together different characters from his paintings in the telling of a story that delves into the inconsistencies of the generally accepted theory of his suicide.

Awed by the beauty of the film and intrigued with the tale it weaves, it was the inn-keeper’s daughter’s description of Vincent’s daily life while in Auvers, France, that resonated with me long after leaving the theater. “You could set a clock by him. (Vincent) went out every day (to paint), like a job.” Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime. But his ‘job’ was not to sell paintings, it was to paint them.

The film’s creator used extensive research of letters and interviews to bring a deeper understanding of the man whose maverick intellect was generally not accepted in his time. Born in 1853, van Gogh had already experienced two failed romances, was unsuccessful as a bookstore clerk, an art salesman, and as a preacher (he was dismissed for being overzealous), before he found his calling as an artist. Vincent started painting in 1880 when he was 27. Despite a life filled with torment, he persisted with an almost manic drive to produce over 2,100 works, consisting of 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolors, drawings and sketches, all in less than 9 years before his death in 1890 at age 37.

The reality of making a living from our art looms over most artists. Some create with an eye toward sales. Others balance marketability with creativity. The intrepid create with abandon, as van Gogh did. While he wanted to sell his work, he also wanted others to see the world as he did, and he succeeded. Not financially, though he may have been able to reap monetary reward had he not tragically died in his prime, but by painting emotion and movement on his canvases in a way that had never been seen before. He did not compromise to suit current trend. His success was in finding his creative voice and persistently working at making it heard.

For decades I have struggled to find the right balance between making money and creating artwork, more often than not conceding to the financially logical production while reigning in my more imaginative inclinations. The result has been financially rewarding, but cost me some of the drive I once had. My job has become more about making money and little about expressing my artistic voice above a whisper.

This mindset, the ‘job’ of creating what you love, is my take away from “Loving Vincent”. Not that everything must have a message, but it’s one of my beliefs that things resonate or come to you when you are meant to receive that gift.

Nearing my sixth 10th birthday, I find my paradigm is shifting. Better late than never, I am giving myself permission to break away and create without the stifling restrain of commerce. The mere thought fills me with enthusiasm to get to work. I hope the results will find a market, but I am already feeling the joy that had been missing at just the thought of returning to my job in the studio to create with this new mindset and rekindled passion. Maintaining and adhering to a set work schedule is suddenly something to look forward to doing.

If you have the opportunity, I recommend seeing “Loving Vincent”. It is a moving masterpiece. If you want a little more detail into his life, I also recommend the book, Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story by Bernadette Murphy.

Right venue, wrong weekend, or right weekend, wrong venue?

On my way to the second day of a local show this morning, I’m flagged down and stopped by a policeman holding a speed radar gun. I’ve been zapped at 36 in a 25mph zone. Oops. I’m usually much more attentive to speed limits but allowed myself to become distracted by a little slip of paper held down by the passenger side windshield wiper. I could just make out a bit of handwriting and my thoughts went immediately to someone letting me know they hit my car. Why hadn’t I noticed it on my way home yesterday, I can only blame on being tired from the 12 hour day at the show venue.

Gratefully, the police lets me off with a warning, and I drive -slowly- to the university parking lot I used yesterday. I even park in the same spot. With a slow breath I walk around and carefully check over the back and side of the car before reaching for the little note. No damage. Not even the protective dust layer is disturbed. The note reads:

Do what makes you happy. On th reverse side, Pass this along to someone.

As I walk through campus to the show and my waiting tables full of pottery, also pretty much undisturbed since set up yesterday morning, I slip the note with its karmic reminder under the wiper of a parked Kia. 

The kicker here is that I’d left the house with my normally high level of enthusiasm wavering. After a long day with little foot traffic and only $21 in sales the day before, I’d spent the previous evening in a funk. This was about to become my worst show ever. Especially since I had already spent almost half that day’s income in the bakery next door. 

In the time it took to shower and dress this morning I ran the gamut of questions in my head, including:

  • Are my $4 to $45 price points too low? Too high? 
  • Too little inventory/variety? Or too much?
  • Is my work too colorful? Should I tone it down?

The general comments are nothing but positive. Everyone ‘loves’ my work. So why do I not have more success? Truthfully, I have little business savy, but I would like to think I have learned enough over the past decade or two to come closer to achieving a level of business success that does more than just pay for my expenses.

Perhaps this isn’t the right venue for my work. It is the 4th of July weekend in a busy little university town. There were less than 100 people that came through yesterday. Today is Sunday, and though the farmers market outside is buzzing, less than two dozen shoppers have cruised past my space. According to my artisan neighbor vendor (stained glass), Sundays are traditionally busier. I hope so.  There are four hours left before we are to pack up, and I am at a negative $28 if I deduct my space fee and yesterday’s lunch from my sales.

For the time being I am trying to keep from nodding off. Little chance for a nap though, it seems my bra has sprung a leak and the escaping underwire stabs at my sternum if I slump in the chair.

Fine, I think to myself, open up the sketchbook and get some designs on paper for this week’s studio work. Out of the sketchbook falls a note I wrote to myself months ago: 

Don’t ever stop creating. Make something. Every. Single. Day.

Despite the poor sales and thoughts of having to get a new bra, I’m smiling, remembering when and why I wrote that. Making pottery makes me happy. Seeing people smile when they hold my work makes me happy. 

No, it isn’t easy work. But like anything else in life, if it were easy, everyone would do it. Pottery is heavy to pack and transport to shows. Production  takes time, patience and skill. Glazes can create phenomenal results or yet another pot for the shard pile. Even as I write this, I find myself distracted by how the light stikes a beautiful  blue glaze on a bowl in front of me. A new glaze recipe that turned out better than I’d hoped for.

Then again, that same light bulb is highlighting a  beautifully carved dish, now a candidate for the shard pile because of an amber glaze that turned an unfortunate runny brown more associated with symptoms of a stomach virus. 

So it goes, the highs and lows that exist in being an artist and potter. Right venue, wrong weekend, or right weekend, wrong venue? I can only say that I am going to take that anonymous note to heart and do what makes me happy, as I will with my rediscovered reminder to continue to create. Every. Single. Day. 

P.S.  A flurry of shoppers paraded through shortly after I finished typing these words. I am happy to report I am well in the positive and have far fewer pieces to take home! Even the amber carved dish destined to meet my hammer has found its forever home.