I have a new mantra this year. Every hardship is an opportunity. I found an image of the Chicago fire for this blog because it was a extreme hardship that leveled this great city and allowed it to be rebuilt to a tremendous new standard that now has some of the most beautiful buildings of any modern city in the world. I also chose the Chicago fire because I am writing this blog at Union Station in Chicago tonight waiting on the Pier Marquette train that will take me back to Grand Rapids Michigan the last leg of my long journey home from Munich Germany. I had an amazing time in painting in the streets of the medieval city of Landshut. I met cool people and my luggage contains six paintings that are going to friends that paid $200 to have a painting done in Bavaria. All this is really cool but also last Tuesday, in the last week of my three week tour, I found out some news that at another time in my life I would have said it was “bad news”. Now I am calling it a great opportunity to grow. A hardship yes, bad no!
I think that how we choose to frame life situations makes all the difference in the world. When I was ten my mother died in her sleep. One day I had a mother and the next day I didn’t. This has become a powerful reference point in my life because I can look back and see so many really important good things that came into my life because of this tragic alteration in my early life. I once again remind myself of this tonight as I begin to work through what is sure to be on more powerful transformation in my life and my artistic practice.
For the past three weeks I have been in Landshut Bavaria spending a lot of time painting outside on the city streets. It is very cold and this makes making a picture that more of a challenge but I like a challenge. Yesterday it was particularly cold and as you can see from the photo above the morning light became particularly soft as it came filtered through thin morning mist. Everything was dusted with a light frost and soft cover of snow white on white and grey.
I had just recently arrived at the spot I had chosen to begin painting, with my touring easel unfolded I began to put the colors on to my pallet. As I was doing this a woman came up from one of the shops from across the street asking me if I would like some hot tea. I said yes I would, very much like some hot tea. About 15 minutes later she came over with a large thermos of hot tea, a china cup, a spoon and a few packets of sugar all nice packed into a canvas bag. This pot of tea both warmed my stomach and melted my heart.
I have come to realize that this plein air tradition of painting out side on location, especially on a busy city street, is a great way to bring art to the people. It’s just the case that many people simply never walk through the doors of an art gallery or art museum. They just don’t. Also I think painting outside in the middle of the winter comes across as somewhat of a heroic act to those who bare witness. I’m thinking I may want to do this once I return to Grand Rapids as well and I look forward not only to the paintings I will create but to the people who I will meet in the process.
I have worked alongside different people from time to time during the course of my artistic journey that have brought me into new areas of growth. I know that there are times in our life when we may get stuck and need help to get moving again. I just finished the Tony Robbins book Awaken The Giant Within and loved it. Spending time with this man wether reading his books or listening to an interview on line is always a real shot in the arm and it reminds me that there is so much more potential within me I can tap into than I realize.
Over the past twenty five years of working as a full time visual artist I have learned a lot of hard won lessons. If you are in a place in your art career wanting to make a change please let me come alongside of you with a phone call to help you push through what ever may be holding you back. Let’s do this together!
Last Sunday morning I few into the Munich airport. I shared the rear of a big jet plane from out of Chicago with about 35 children from the Ukraine. Sergio sitting next to me could not have been more than five years old and his sister Maria told me she was nine years old, English being just one of three languages she was fluent in.
I did a little drawing of Maria on the back side of one of my German language flash cards I had with me bundled with a rubber band. (One of my humble attempts to learn this language that has seems to mostly come from the deep back of my throat.)
Making art comes up from a deep place in the back of my heart. It is one of the most powerful ways I have to connect with people. It is also a direct way to connect with a place which is exactly what I am doing during this current tour in Germany. I am building a more meaningful connection here with every painting I make
If you would like one one of these paintings, a drawing or a letter please go to this link and make this connection with me
I for one do not want to be simply sleep waking through my life getting up to do what I did yesterday plodding along mindlessly through my daily routines. I want to remain awake to the greatest possibilities that are tucked into the seams of each day have been granted. It is my belief that art making is a sure fire way to keep the consciousness awakened.
When we are in the zone writing a letter, rolling out a pie crust, or sketching a portrait, these are times when we are connecting to something much, much bigger than just us. These are times that we go online to the gods. During these creative activities our personalities get an infusion of magic that brings an extra sparkle to our aura. It is somehow through these activities that we become more alive and hence more awakened to our full potential as humans shot through with the divine. We have taken off our crown and buff it up to a high shine. You know that saying “He is marching to the beat of a different drummer” ? Well when your creative practice is finally in full swing, that drummer has more than just a snare and a high hat, he’s got the whole god damn kit!
If you would like help getting your creative practice up and going I would love to help you. Please go to my creative reboot section of this site and lets work together to do just that.
I had the good fortune to get to know Lowell Brams and his son Sufjan in the mid 90s when…
I was booking bands for a little music venue in Grand Rapids Michigan. Lowell’s son was playing in a popular local band called Marzuki at that time. Lowell came to the shows and we would sometimes fall into conversation. As fate and a lot of hard work would have it his son would grow into the mega indie star Sufjan Stevens with a current net worth of four million dollars and the Asthmatic Kitty record label with a stable of 33 bands and solo artists making some of the most creative forward thinking music out there. I recently reached out to Lowell asking him what it’s been like, this adventure of growing a record label from a little side project hobby into a full fledged record label in a post-record label, free music era. And this is what he said:
1. If you were to start over, would there be anything at all that you might do differently?
Not much, except establishing stricter budgets for artist’s projects.
2. Are there times (and I’m guessing there are) when you wanna just chuck the whole thing and do something else and if so what keeps you slugging away?
I’m retiring, for the reasons most people retire, but as long as I had the energy, I wanted to keep going.
3. At what point in your journey with Asthmatic Kitty did you realize it was turning into something really big?
That was when Pitchfork magazine ran a second review of Sufjan Steven’s “Michigan,” and sales, along with interest, really started to pick up. That was the third Sufjan album we released, and the first two had received only limited attention.
4. Lots of people complain about the difficulty of making a living being a working musician in a world where so much free music is readily available. What are your thoughts regarding this issue?
I’m afraid that many artists will have to make music just as a hobby.
6. Lowell, what would you say (if anything) in your life, pre-music biz, prepared you for the role you now have with AK?
Previous work in retails and, especially, wholesale bookselling taught me how do work with customers and anticipate future sales (not that I didn’t make mistakes). Also, my father started and ran a business manufacturing and selling his own products, and I learned some things from that.
7. What would be an example of a something really cool that has resulted from your work with AK, something that you could bring to mind for example to help pull you through the tedium of daily responsibilities when you might begin to tumble into doubt?
Receiving our first copies of new releases was always exciting.
Let me know what music you have been listening to that you love lately. Have you ever considered starting a record label or a band? We wanna hear from you.
Making a paintings is a mystical practice. We are the ancients searching for the way to turn lead into gold. When we make a painting we are once again those early people scratching pictures onto the walls of their caves depicting the glories of their favorite hunt. Applying colored pigments to a stretched canvas is to make a doorway into another world. And tho the artist by default evolves into a modern shaman, her audience can sometimes seem nonexistent. In fact, she may feel like a stranded motorist sending up flares on the side of an empty road in the middle of the desert. I have a Wilson basketball in my studio and there are times when I feel more than a little like Tom Hanks in his famous movie Cast Away.
So because isolation can some time seem to be the preset of our dominant culture, I am constantly inviting people to come over to my studio to visit. I love to have a friend stop by and to make them lunch. Afterwards I can share what I have been working on and see how they respond. There is a way that the artwork comes alive in special way when it is shared with another person. It is as if when there are a new pair of eyes an electric current to the soul is completed. Could it be that when we are before a powerful artwork that even a sort of spiritual download takes place? I am almost positive this has happened to me on several occasions.
As artists we spend our entire lives learning to see. This vision we develop is not limited to the physical world. what happens when a person spends years learning to draw they are at the same time learning how to be still. I believe that developing the ability to be still and receptive is putting yourself in position to be handed the key to the universe. If we can learn to be still we just may find ourselves with a plug in connection to the spiritual realm, hard wired into all that is eternal. It has been said if you can find a way to truly connect with any one thing, like Walt Whitman’s blade of grass, you at once connecting with everything.
I am curious what your experiences have been like if you are an artist. Do you ever feel isolated and if so what do you do to break this spell and find connection with others? Have you had powerful encounters with a work of art that felt like downloading updated spiritual software? I would love to know your stories and strategies.
I will be going back to Germany for three weeks January 18th. I am making a special offer this time around by giving you a chance to purchase art that I will be creating while I am there. I have five different price points from $25-$225 which should put receiving original art with in everyones budget. This also keeps me from putting my plane fare on a credit card. And in a way this lets me take you along with me. Lets face it, our lives become richer for the relationships that we foster. I would love to be in the position of creating a special work of art for you. Check out the new page on my site and think about what sound good to you.
Spending three months in Bavaria last year really expanded my world. As soon as I got back home I began to plot my return. Being in a different country with a different language and culture had me wide eyed almost like a child because I was seeing everything for the first time. As an artist we simply need to keep exploring new territory in order to keep growing and at this time in my life Germany is providing that adventure for me.
I took this picture this summer in downtown Cleveland on Memorial Day. Two hours after shooting this image I was on Johnny Cash’s tour bus which was parked in front of the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame. Goose Bumps!
I am very excited to make myself available to work one on one with those of you who have found that their creative journey somehow got off track. There are so many things that call for our attention every day that calls us away from writing our next song. The house needs cleaning. There are bills that need to be paid. Someone’s birthday is coming up and we need to figure out what we are going to get them before it’s too late.
We are all creative even if we would not call ourselves an artist and that creative part of us needs to be nurtured. If it isn’t and we let those practices fall away the color begins to drain out of our lives and it happens gradually so we often don’t really notice because we get just adjust to life as a creative anemic.
Here’s the deal, the world needs the full color version of you and so do you! If life came along and knocked your flag down to half mast let me help you run that flunky flag of yours back up the pole.
Are you wondering what this would actually look like? We begin with a free phone call where we take a look at where you’ve been, where you are now and where you would like to be. If you live nearby we can meet face to face. If you are far away then we do phone calls and video chats.
Give me a call and let’s take a look at how we can get you going again 616-325-0200.
I met and fell in love with a girl who I met one Friday night in the Spring of 1985 at the bar. We had fun dancing that night and tho she didn’t say much she definitely hooked me and I came out of the bar with her name and phone number. We went out the next night for and the longest romance of my life was kicked off with cheap Mexican food. Brenda and I were married for 30 years. We had six children together and countless adventures. I am not going to even begin to try to sum up three decades of life together except to say I learned innumerable life lessons yoked together with this girl and for each of these hard won lessons I remain thankful. Two years ago we restructured the relationship. Our legal marriage contract dissolved left us both free to begin the discovery of what it would mean to rebuild new lives living in different physical locations.
I really enjoyed my married life (at least about 28 years of it anyway) and now I love being single. I think that you would agree that there are different seasons in a person’s life. I have come to believe that knowing the life season you are in is really important because otherwise you can not totally embrace what makes sense now. Being single after so many years of married life has often felt like I’m going through adolescence all over again. The last two years has been a time of both disorientation and discovery. I know this is a transitional period for me and that is bringing up issues of independence and self-identity that can make me feel out of sorts and confused.
The first year out of my marriage I was working on these large oil painting portraits that came about through a process of painting and then scraping down what I had carefully built up only to build it up again. This process of building up and tearing down to build up again has become a very helpful metaphor for challenging times in my life. Leaving my wife of 30 years was like dragging the drywall knife through my wet painting and now I am rebuilding my life again to be a life that I am fully engaged in, a life that I love.
There is a comment opportunity here so if you have ever experienced a life up-hevel that left you feeling like a clumsy adolescent for awhile please share something with us here about what that was like for you. Who knows, your thoughts may just what we need to help us have the courage to take the next step of faith into the life that we want to begin living with full velocity.
I met Claudia on the edge of the Black Forest in the tiny village of Vilsheim Bavaria about 40 Kilometers from Munich. I was painting Plein Air, she was out for a jog. We had a brief exchange but long enough for me to scrawl her phone number in oil paint on the back of my canvas.
I would come to find out that Claudia worked in a clinic as a special healer who not only attended to the physical issues of her patients but also was adept at helping reveal the heart break and emotional trauma that cause the illness to manifest.
I believe that the artist has the potential to heal herself through her art making practice. I also believe that this healing power can sometimes be tapped into by the awakened viewer of her art.
Claudia has just returned to Munich after a one week stay in Grand Rapids Michigan. Claudia and I have spent hours and hours talking, laughing and singing our way to a partnership. She has gone home with a carefully selected inventory of art from studiobeerhorst that she intends to place in the homes and work places of her native Germany.
We are very excited to add Claudia to the studiobeerhorst team and are excited to see the way she extends her healing work with our artwork as we extend our reach among her people.
Etsy was launched in 2005 which is the year Brenda and I moved our family from Grand Rapids Michigan to Brooklyn New York. Because Brenda is a trend setter and trend spotter she found them that year and made a purchase. I opened my shop two years later which means I have had my store now for 11 years. During that time I have sold $17,667.00 of my art all over the world. My average purchase is $64. 15,186.
It is vital that an artist finds a way to share their work. Back in the days when we loaded rolls of film into our cameras, that roll of film was worthless until the shutter opened and let in the light. That’s how I think of art that sits in the flat file. It’s in the darkness, patiently waiting for the day eyes will see it and it will come to life.
There are many ways to share your art and Etsy is just one of those ways.
I remember meeting Matt Stinchcomb when he came to Grand Rapids. He told me how his college buddies put Etsy together and how he was one of their very first official employes. (They now employ nearly 800 people with an annual income around 195 million.)
Etsy contacted me in 2010 asking if we would be open to be the subject of one of their mini Etsy documentaries they were doing at the time. They came to Grand Rapids and and pretty much moved in for almost a week shooting hours and hours of video that got edited down to exactly 3 minutes and 40 seconds. It’s a brilliant piece and I watch it every once in a while and touch down into that time of our families life.
i have been traveling for months. First I was down in Virginia for an artist residency there for two full months and shortly after that I took advantage of an offer to come and work in Bavaria for three months. I have been back home just a little over a week and just re-opened my online store. I am really excited for stepping up my commitment to make my studiobeerhorst Etsy shop the best it can be. I invite you to contact me with your ideas. What do you want to see that isn’t in the shop? What special project do you want to talk to me about working on with you? I would really love to hear from you.
I’m writing this blog one day before I fly back to the United States after a three month long painting and drawing exploration of Bavaria Germany. I’m afraid that I have completely fallen in love with this country; it’s people and it’s culture. I’m deeply conflicted because as much as I miss my own bed, being able to spend time with my children and doing things with my dear friends back home, leaving Germany is gonna be tough. The cobble stone streets filled with pedestrians and people on bicycles, hearty Bavarian food offered up at cozy old restaurants for half the price of what I would pay in the US, buildings everywhere dating back to before Columbus was even out of his dippers….it’s hard to think of going home and leaving all this behind.
So what I would like to do is go back to Michigan and regroup. I wanna finish the paintings I began here that aren’t yet quite done. I will make woodblock prints from some of my favorite drawings in my Germany sketchbook. I will work with the studiobeerhorst team to carefully plan my return to Germany for next year so I can begin the next chapter well prepared. Does anyone know of a good German language tutor?
This painting above was done in the beautiful city of Passau. It is one of Germany's oldest cities and is actually a peninsula surrounded by three rivers. While I was working on the piece above over the course of a long afternoon, a young woman who works with her mother in the family restaurant just down the street from where ai was painting brought me a free drink. Later she took me inside the ancient building that housed their restaurant and showed me around the very cozy space filled with the work of local artists. I was very touched by her hospitality to a complete to me, a complete stranger. I experience these frequent kind gestures almost every time I venture out to make art in the city. These generous people are helping me to feel welcomed in a strange place, a very long way from home.
The above painting was painted in Landshut which, like Passau, is a city from the Middle Ages. There are still portions of the old city wall standing that once surrounded and protected the city. There are buildings in this city still in use that were already over 100 years old when Columbus was putting together the finances for his voyage to discover a shorter trade route to India. I love to walk through its narrow cobble stone streets looking for places to draw. This painting includes a portion of the castle built on the highest possible spot above the city. It is stunning how this castle stands high above Landshut like a faithful sentinel keeping watch. A young reporter working for the local paper spotted me on the street while I was working on this painting. She did an interview there on the spot while we waited for the photographer to come with his camera.
In the very center of Landshut stands the beautiful old St Martins Church. It is said that this is the tallest brick tower in the whole world. I have starred at this tower now for hours doing drawings and painting. What fascinates me about this particular tower is not necessarily how tall it is, but in time how it has become something like a great giant tree trunk to me. It has so many variations of windows, ledges, and different sections that it seems to me that this mighty tower was not so much built but rather that it grew there. My painting of St Martin’s church measures one meter by two meters and just barely fits in my studio clearing the ceiling by just a couple centimeters.
I spent three days exploring Munich. Each day I would begin in Merianplatz which is the city center and is always filled with people. I found my favorite spot to draw which was sitting on a low knee wall that surrounds the entrance to the U2 subway station. Interestingly this very spot seemed to be a magnet for Americans because while I would be drawing more often then not, at some point, I would here my mother tongue being spoken. Sometimes I would start up a conversation hungry for a little o’l USA fellowship. Other times I would just listen in like once, when a stocky middle aged guy in cargo shorts was explaining how much better the building I was drawing (the Neues Rathaus) would look after a good power washing.
I have several paintings in process as well as a large sketchbook that will come back to the America with me. I’m thinking that I would like to continue working with this material I’ve recorded in my sketch book when I’m home. Eventually I would love to do an exhibition with this work perhaps in Germany. And while I’m saying what I want, I would also like to find a way to return to Germany and continue this project further.
I have now been in Germany one month. I am drawing and painting on the street as a way to connect with the German people and their culture. I am meeting so many cool people this way. A lot of people sneak a peek as they walk by. Because I am usually sitting either on my fold up travel stool or right on the paving stones I'm eye level with the small children and it's often the children who tug their mothers in for a closer look. Sometimes a conversation ensues this way but more often it's usually just a soft "Schön" (nice) after a brief pause to look and they are on their way.
Today I had a young Turk named GökAy ( pronounced "Gek A") who kept me company for something like two or three hours while I drew the giant tower of St Martin's Church (said to be the largest brick tower in the world). At one point he excused himself only to come back a little later with two warm and creamy lattes for us to share. Off and on GökAy explained some of his personal spiritual beliefs which included reading a poem off his phone that he had written that morning. From time to time he would shift to speaking in low soft tones in a not Deutsch foreign language. I'm not sure if he was praying or making comments under his breath about the German girls passing us by. It was really cool to have his company while I was on the street today and also helpful because he took on the role of my interpreter when people stopped to talk (including two Muslim women with a child in a stroller). One of the women was asking if I would be will to do her portrait. I with out the help of my new friend I would have never known what this woman was trying to say.
Drawing what I see helps me to see because it causes me to pause. When I am paused to draw I begin to see what is really there (on a much deeper level) then would otherwise be possible had I just captured the image on my phone. Sometimes while I am drawing a particular view, I see a tourist pull out there phone and take a few pictures and then quickly move on. It only takes them an instant to capture the image that may take me three to four hours to draw. For me the drawing is the doorway into making a painting. The drawings and the paintings become a way for me to begin to build a relationship with a place which intern makes my life richer as well as it gives me something valuable to share, as well.
I have been in Germany now for about a week and a half. I am very slowly adjusting to life in a foreign country 4,391 miles away from my home (according to my GPS). I am staying here with a local sculptor named Martina Kreitmeier who I met at an artist residency in Virginia earlier this year. Tina lives in the small farming village of Vilsheim 44 miles south west of Munich. Driving is so different here. When ever we go somewhere we travel on narrow country roads that weave through the beautiful Bavarian countryside connecting village to village. If we do end up on a highway it won't be the big interstate highways I am used to in the US, these highways are usually just two lanes of opposing traffic with no speed limit.
Thankfully I have yet to see any of the strip mall sprawl that is so common back home. Everything here I see looks very well built, solid and classic. I have not seen one home with asphalt shingles. Every home, out building, barn and store in Germany has a clay tile roof. This is a roofing system you would only see on the most expensive of homes in the USA. The stores are tucked into the quant village centers sporting very modest signs. I went into our local pharmacy and every thing was lined up on wooden shelves like I see in the old movies that date back to before the 1950s. Here the cities often have the old city center with buildings dating back to the middle ages and then on the outskirts you will find the modern architecture, but again, these are usually very nicely built when compared to American building standards. Many of the larger German cities like Munich and Dresden where completely destroyed during WWII and needed to be rebuilt. I have not witnessed these cities yet.
This is Tina's sister Conny Kreitmeier and her band Stimmuligsbüro Kreitmeier to give you a little taste of rock'n roll Bavarian style