I came across this drawing recently and today made it available in my etsy shop. Just looking at this image with the old victrola which was already long obsolete when I did the drawing but the boom box and the landline were not. I am turning 59 years old this Spring and it is amazing the changes that I have lived through already in my short life.
I am really grateful for how my children have been really helpful in keeping me abreast on what is bubbling up in the culture. I have done my best to fight that impulse to see look down on what the kids are into because I know that young people have a special ability to keep in touch with the pulse of the new and maybe important next development.
This quote from Julia Cameron says so beautifully what I have been experiencing my entire life, a constant shifting and changing. I am in a season of trial right now in my life which is causing me to do a lot of extra introspection. I am taking long walks, spending a lot of time alone writing and reading and trying to bring my life into order. I know that I have made a lot of mistakes and I have created a lot of messes in my life that stem from this quicksilver shape-shifting Cameron is describing in this passage.
Earlier today I was attempting to organize my flat files that hold my prints and drawings. It was so difficult because some of these works go back now thirty years and I have tried on all different kinds of styles and subject matter which makes organizing this inventory very difficult and time consuming. But difficult or not I simply must press on because I can not allow chaos to just have its way.
I went to church this morning. The church I go to has a large amount of elderly people. A big pip organ and definitely no drum kit! This is the kind of church where most of these men are wearing a suit and a tie. I was wearing black jeans, a t-shirt and a vintage black leather jacket this morning. I like the contrast of going to a church where things feel like they haven’t changed much since the 1940’s because I find it a good foil to my mutability. That community cautious of change somehow helps me to strike a better balance in my life.
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!