Restoration for the Art Soul
Even before the pandemic was underway, I had chosen encouragement as my blog message for 2020, following my acronym:
We have reached restore, which is now very appropriate as we enter the fall season.
In a few weeks we will turn back the clocks, but we know we cannot turn back time. We have always known we are part of a larger community, and that has become immensely apparent during 2020. Being part of community means starting with ourselves!
As an artist, restorative time is crucial. Even though we have been isolated for seven months, my life has been full of activity: Zoom meetings and virtual gatherings. October is traditionally “art month” and I am moving at a steady pace. This week I completed a YouTube video bio as past of the “Art for Heaven’s Sake” project and I placed my France Sketchbook Calendar 2021 in my Etsy Shop: French Press Art by Janis Commentz. I have two classes to teach this next week, an acrylic plein air class for the Joshua Tree National Park Desert Institute and a Youth Zoom class for the 29 Palms Art Gallery
Currently, my November calendar is a beautiful, unfilled space.
As the leaves begin to fall, I too wish to shed a few things – to see clearly what lies ahead. I need to clear clutter from our home, activities from the calendar and activities in cyberspace that merely fill without feeding the soul.
Many of us know that “restorative” poses in yoga “ allow us to relearn the art of relaxation while developing the skills and abilities to self-soothe. It enhances our healing capacity through helping us regulate the stress response and re-balance the nervous system”—from yoga coach Meghan Johnston.
As we move from seven months of isolation into the unknown, as artists and creative beings, we crave the restorative season. Think of a squirrel gathering treasure of nuts and acorns. In fact a study from professors in the Department of Psychology at University of California at Berkeley, and published in the September issue of the journal Royal Society of Open Science (2017) — claims that tree squirrels use a mnemonic technique called "spatial chunking" to sort out and bury their nut scores by size, type, and perhaps nutritional value and taste. When they are hungry later, it is theorized, they can remember where to find what they want.
Squirrel study by Albrecht Dürer, 1512
This may explain the need to re-organize during this restorative time. I plan to thoroughly sort and re organize my studio. I work more efficiently and happily when I know where things are. Even when they do not look organized, I remember where objects were placed during the last organizing activity.
Like the leafless tree, in restorative mode, collect things that strengthen. Gather kernels of wisdom and truth, reach deeply with your roots into rich soil.
Prepare now to feed your artistic self with activities, people and provisions that will contribute to your art. Long walks in nature, quiet reading of works that uplift, strengthening exercise.
As a painter, this is when I put the dictated art projects aside and play! What images have I longed to explore. What medium have I not used in a while?
Last studio organization - needed again!
I meet with a group each week to inspire creativity and although we originally met to paint, we are exploring the foundations of drawing, remembering my colored ink, pens and other drawing materials. The simplicity of line and contour! The advice from classic authors such as Betty Edwards, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain; Kimon Nicolaїdes, The Natural Way to Draw; and Robert Henri, The Art Spirit. Our meeting has become a nurturing space. One individual is looking forward to a bone-muscle surgery and is planning now how she can prepare her space for quiet, nurturing art practice as the recovers; like the squirrel, she is planning, collecting and organizing!
May I suggest also helping to restore the spirit of neighbors. Here in California, many have been devastated by fires as well as the pandemic. For example, apple orchards in nearby Oak Glen have been badly affected. Nearby Cactus Mart in Morongo Valley, which carries my artwork , posted: “ If you’re going to @rileysatlosrios in Oak Glen for your apple cider be sure to stop at @action_true_value_ in Cherry Valley” to contribute to a donation. Look for those in need. Often, they are silent and not reaching out.
Part of restoring ourselves is helping to restore our community. Creativity should spread generously to uplift others.
Yes, it’s been one of the most unusual Julys I can remember.
As I write, I am nearing the close of a solo pilgrimage to one of my childhood havens, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. I am eager to share reflections and tips for pursuing your creative practice. Quiet time can be healing.
Carmel is world-renowned for its rugged shorelines, mystic cypress trees bent by the wind, the almost too charming architecture initiated by Hugh Comstock in the early 1900s,, and Pebble Beach. In the early 1900s – writers, musicians, painters, actors flocked to the colony and established a haven for creativity.
These childhood photos tell you my story: Mom 'n me, four generations at Carmel Beach (late 50's)
I think it's easy to see why I am drawn: I feel especially close to my parents when I visit Carmel and relive memories, while creating new ones.
My childhood in the 50’s and early 60’s included annual visits to Carmel. My artist mother would scope out galleries and sketch as we drove the coastline. This was an era of beginning tourism, but, for the most part, our visits to Point Lobos and along the famed 17 Mile Drive were met with few fellow travelers. Fast forward – this week it was teeming with tourists, most masked, and in town, many cafes have moved into the streets. I remained isolated cooking my own meals.
I cherish time for reflection and the silent birthday retreat; the time has been sweet despite startling differences from other visits.
Cartwheelin' - me definitely a few years ago; my mother would carve a mermaid in the sand at China Cove and I was able to sculpt one for my daughter on a mother-daughter trip in 2011; and China Cove on a sunny visit in 2015 with our son and his wife. The cove is now a seal sanctuary, off limits to humans.
So – my admonition -- create a retreat for yourself. You may not be able to escape as I did. Simulate a beach or mountain or desert retreat atmosphere in your home or studio! Where are those seashells? The woodsy cabin treasures? Desert detritus you have collected? What creative activity do you wish to pursue?
During time alone, I read short devotions and poetry, journal, take long walks and sketch. When my own family traveled, (my adult children still tease me about bringing a dictionary when camping) I had a bottle of magnetic words for inspiration; during my retreat, I pour out a few each morning and ponder. This morning’s random words were: book, new, release, tree, drown, yes, skeleton… I immediately began to think of the old figurative cypress trees along the 17 Mile Drive that were named, The Ghost Tree, The Witch tree...long ago fallen.
Historical photo of the famous "Witch Tree" landmark
at Pescadero Point, Pebble Beach, September 1962.
The tree was blown down by a storm on January 14, 1964.
Quiet time can be healing – even 45 minutes can do wonders - as a restorative gift. If you have not read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s 1955 classic, Gift from the Sea, consider it required reading! (and it led to the title of my original blog, Desert Argonauta!) I am grateful for my physical get-away to escape the busyness of even an isolated life, Zoom meetings, mundane chores, and caring for others.
My words from the jar (love the plexiglass coffee table!); books, tea, candlelight; feet up on the deck; a walk along the beach, desk view, beach at twilight (the Walker House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, in the distance).
Lessons from this week:
Be kind. The world is in incredible turmoil. No matter what issues you take to heart, some are easily offended. Stay true to your beliefs, but in love with patience.
Be kind to yourself!
Remember your childhood and honor those who stood out as role models. What made your time with them special? Be that light in someone else’s life – AFTER your retreat!
PAINTING / CREATIVITY TIPS
If it is in your soul, paint, (write, sing, dance, make music)!
Short opportunities can be golden: a sketch, a color study, a few apt words.
If moved, paint outdoors (or from life, flowers, objects, your imagination)!
Grab whatever supplies you have and go to your subject. It may be in the backyard, from your car seat, a public bench—or climb a bluff. Go where the sun and mood take you and be open to opportunity: a parking spot, a bench. Take what you can carry. Take a quick hike to see if what you need: a chair (or sit on a rock, bench, stump), easel to paint? small notebook to sketch or watercolor? backpack.
When people see me out painting, many remark, “Oh I would love to do that! "You already know my response!
Your image will most likely never be what you imagined, but you will improve the more you paint or draw. Don’t be “precious” about your drawings; they are exercises!
Loosen up! Try new techniques: watercolor, sketching with a twig dipped in ink (or coffee), scratching with charcoal, scribbling…my quick study after a slow deliberate drawing is often more satisfying, more evocative of the subject.
The watercolor sketches below show a long version (left) and a quick version without preliminary pencil (right). The last one was after I packed up - hit the trail , took another look and had to do one more!
Color awareness. Not only do weather and time of day affect color, but place plays a huge role. Latitude and geography change the entire scheme. My Southern California desert palette is significantly different from the cooler grey tones of the Central Coast. Allow yourself time to adjust. Keep painting. Be patient but persist in simulating the colors you see. Imitate the appearance or character of what you see.
Each exercise is a small lesson in color, shape, value. Imagine these as taking notes! Remember the photograph does not equal the human eye! But it offers a record.
Think design and simplify! What you leave out is more important than what you include. What is the essential quality of your subject? I think this applies to writing, painting, composing and all art forms.
Be brave: talk to local artists. Ask questions. Listen to artists' advice, but adjust to your practice, what works for you.
Encourage other artists: I had a fun conversation with this young man (above) at Carmel Beach, Sean Conroy, painting from his colorful van.
Persist! You will be frustrated by small things: closure of parks, forgetting items, lack of restrooms, light and fog moving in and out, a fence – persist!
Sometimes, the best refuge is a public spot – I notice such a difference in where I situate myself, masked, distanced. I often drive around a block three times, waiting for an opening. Be open to those who may stop and visit; take your cards, why not?
Two on the trail - delighted to be photographed
Sketching through the fence at Cypress Point- I knew I could look out and imagine it not there!
Take only what you need (and can carry), but double check: paper towels? water/medium? brushes? –and don’t draw on the back of another watercolor in your tablet as I am wont to do.
Take snacks, a lightweight backpack, and wear clothes with zippered pockets (one for my tiny zippered pocket wallet designed by artist friend Christine Lamb and one for my phone).
Be alert. As an older woman I feel safer, BUT I am always alert. I use the same if not more stringent safety precautions in the U.S. as elsewhere.
How much is God revealing to me? How much am I listening and watching? I think Moses of the Bible was a visual learner; God used a burning bush to get his attention! God certainly reveals his majesty to me daily as I observe, hear and smell the beauty of the sea, rocks, even my desert home.
Find a place where – YOU can take
Find your roots
Retreat and grow!
My REAL answer to the black and white selfie challenge (yes I took this!) I posted a more flattering shot on Instagram, but I think this comes closer to the real me. Yes, I’m now turning into my great grandmother (shown in one of the first photos on this post!) Tear in the hat and all! Doing what I love. Painting at the beach! and my mask in reverse makes a vintage neck tie.
What is the headline for this photo? FINDING MY ROOTS
This 2016 street work by Banksy criticizing the use of teargas in the “Jungle” refugee camp in Calais has appeared on the French embassy in London. The artwork, which depicts a young girl from the film and musical Les Misérables with tears in her eyes as CS gas billows towards her, appeared overnight.
What that sound goin’ round?
It seems like we have experienced much during the past few months, weeks, days.
My blog is dedicated to encouraging artists and the creative spirit—but there is much to ponder.
The last few weeks have become a surreal combination of events, feelings, and visual images.
Pablo Picasso's 1934 Guernica is regarded by many art critics as one of the most moving and powerful anti-war paintings in history in response to the bombing of Guernica, a Basque Country town in northern Spain, by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy at the request of the Spanish Nationalists.
For over 80 days, the globe has struggled with its reaction to the Covid virus and experiencing stages of grief. Essential workers, young parents juggling home schooling with work, teachers recrafting their art and adapting to virtual classrooms, have all have experienced prolonged stress.
In this bizarre altered universe, the globe seems to experience many events together as we all wait for a vaccine.
The latest deep global wound has affected the world. The murder of George Floyd has exposed a raw nerve.
Norman Rockwell's the Problem We All Live With 1964, is considered an iconic image of the Civil Rights Movement. It depicts Ruby Bridges, a six-year-old African American girl, on her way to an all-white public school during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis. Because of threats and violence against her, she is escorted by four deputy U.S. marshals.
All parts of the body are connected to the heart and we are reminded again, that as a culture we have heart damage. We have put wealth and willful ambition in front of humanity and dignity for all.
In the midst of the pandemic, we recognize that we need to have sincere and long lasting self-evaluation and change.
Several months ago, I dedicated this blog to encouragement—and following my acronym for E-n-c-o-u-r-a-g-e, I am at O—Observe.
Dorthea Lange’s photographs of migrant families and interned Japanese Americans helped to bring attention to the needs of many during the depression and WWII.
Some definitions of Observe include:
and decide where our art practices may lead.
Théodore Géricault's 1818-19 The Raft of the Medusa drew his inspiration from the account of two survivors of the Medusa—a French Royal Navy frigate that set sail in 1816 to colonize Senegal. The captain had not sailed for over twenty years. After the ship ran aground on a sandbank, there was a shortage of lifeboats, used for the wealthy. Those who were left behind had to build a raft for 150 souls—a construction that drifted away on a bloody 13-day odyssey that was to save only 10 lives. The tragedy became a major news event and scandal of its day and the public were scandalizd by the reality depicted in the monumental painting. 16′ 1″ x 23′ 6″
Recently, I read an artist’s post that during these trying days, painting seems irrelevant. I disagree.
During these powerfully charged days, art can influence!
Art must be an ongoing tribute to creative expression by all people, created by God in his infinite wisdom.
Art encompasses many forms – the painted image, spoken word, film, dance—and our lives are changes by it.
My prescription is to create art for the heart—and that can change the heart!
The heart as it supports
dignity for all
Whether your art overtly depicts images to promote racial equality or abstractly conveys emotions to promote dignity, I encourage you to keep your paintbrushes, pens, camera(phone) and creative tools close by.
I have found that I am happiest when I have a project -- preferably a creative one! And I hope that during this unparalleled time, you are finding projects to keep you not only occupied but fulfilled.
Last month I offered tips to nurture creativity.
Nurture creativity in yourself and others:
Look for beauty in everyday objects and nature.
Write in a journal - your observations and your reactions.
Organize and sort your supplies.
Study a new subject: I’m studying French with a free ap.
Rekindle an old hobby.
When you get a creative idea - go with it!
Do not fear opinions of others or your own inner critic.
As we now move into our 8th week of isolation, we are finding the experience is definitely pushing our envelopes as we strive to remain strong, cheerful and considerate…and as those who disagree with you, whether they are across the bed, hall, town, country or world, are taking a bit more of your determination!
I hope you are pursuing painting, dancing, singing with gusto! In March I created an acronym for this year! How appropriate it is!
Word 3: “Cultivate a sense of play!” As the world is in a serious condition, we need a sense of humor and a dose of laughter to keep us healthy, as much as we need to isolate, disinfect and self-distance.
Remember moments during your childhood when you laughed raucously! When you giggled as a toddler or...as a teen! What brings a huge smile to your face now, even if you are alone. Do you still chuckle out loud when you read something funny?
When did you last allow yourself to PLAY? If you have young children around you, you are most likely reading fairly takes, silly joke books, or playing silly games – just to brighten your time together.
US News & World Report says play can make you healthy, happy and more productive. Even during the pandemic:
In your creative experience, what brings you joy?
I think color is an important mood booster. Did you ever open a new box of Crayolas with a frown on your face? Maybe it’s a new set of pastels or paints that brings delight today. Or nail polish? Or food coloring!?
I have seen a LOT of creativity with colorful masks lately!
In the northern hemisphere, it is a beautiful spring! And for the southern, autumn. Two of the most color laden seasons of the year.
Color-mixing can be an enchanting exercise. You can make a chart or just dabble! You may create gorgeous colors – or mud. (But then you know how to make mud when you need it!)
Non painters may enjoy a little coloring so I have created some coloring pages to print and color—you can follow the original painting or created your own unique work of art! Here is a link to a free Printable pdf of the these coloring pages. Click here.
Many exercises and experience help us to think about color. Sometimes just looking at works by favorite artists inspires your palette. The impressionists often used bright sunny garden inspired colors. Seasonal colors have a specific palette. One very fun ideas that I call using scent sense (and giving credit to painting teacher Pauline Agnew) is inspired by scents—from aromatic oils, fruit whatever you enjoy. Scent is also a powerful reminder of memory. Before room scents were created, my grandmother place apple wedges on light bulbs—to create an apple aromatherapy! Mix up the colors that the scent elicits and play with abstracts. To me, the eucalyptus made me think of sagey greens, and golden browns. Use your imagination. Interestingly, each of these abstracts began with a mental image of somewhere I knew with eucalyptus trees@!
Play with stokes when imagining a painting by a favorite painter—such as Monet or any favorite colors. You may even appreciate the colors absorbed by your paper towel or baby wipe!
Play with acrylic (or other) paint on gessoed watercolored paper or canvas. This demo turned into a work of art.
Bright Agave, Janis Commentz, 10 x 10" acrylic on canvas
Squawk!, Janis Commentz, 6" x 6" , acrylic on wood, (SOLD)
Sometimes a crazy idea or color will guide you. I awoke with this image of a yellow Joshua Tree in my head and painted it.
Yellow Joshua Trees, Janis Commentz, 18" x 18" acrylic on wood panel, (SOLD)
Have no fear—not a painter?
Play with collage…poetry....Tear magazine images. Glue to a sheet of paper or cardboard with starch or a glue stick or if you have none of these—flour and water to make a paste-apply with paint brush.
Dreaming of Paris, paper collage, Janis Commentz, 2019
Flower Pots at the Luxembourg Palace,Janis Commentz, ink on paper NFS
I’m not suggesting your baking will match the amazing Paris macarons of Ladurée but allow yourself to go a little crazy with baking cookies or other goodies. Just Google crazy, creative colorful cookies!
Photo by Janis Commentz, Ladurée store window, Paris 2018
Whichever project you embark on this week, I just hope you stop, take a recess for your soul, and play. A we know, play can elevate our emotions and dispel anxiety!
Download my FREE coloring pages here.
Stay healthy! Love to you all!
This Tuesday will mark three weeks of isolation.
For me, this year was transitional as I began an online business and scheduled workshops. Just three weeks ago, I was packing new art supplies to teach a painting workshop. As I watched the news and received a caution letter from UCR regarding cancellation of Desert Institute classes, I began to understand….
With isolation, we are experiencing classic phases of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They do not necessarily follow a single order, and we haven’t been grieving very long.
In this health crisis, my goal is to encourage others - and myself. I remain pragmatic.
As I wrote recently in my last blog: Mind, body, spirit and soul are connected. Every aspect affects our creative life. For me, reading my bible, poetry, inspirational travel journals, watching short creative video clips of friends watercoloring, walking and gardening has kept me grounded. Spirit connects us with God, and our soul is where we express our passions. (janiscommentz.com)
Acronyms help me to discover new ideas. Mine reminds me of how to encourage.
What am I doing? I keep a schedule and start the day with positive reading or movement. I have never cooked or cleaned my kitchen so often. I’m eating better than usual.
I am making art about what I want - not what sells or what others think I should paint. I love the desert, but my heart is drawn to the Impressionists. I am painting and sketching purely for my own taste.
As I paint, I listen to upbeat music or uplifting movies. I set a timer for 20 minutes to limit listening to news. I keep in touch with good friends but have cut back on social media. I have participated in Zoom groups, and that is a revelation. Our lives will be forever changed in some ways.
I have tried filming myself painting and even made a little screen test (by myself) to perhaps share on virtual workshops. We do not know how long we will be isolated, and I like to plan ahead. Currently the virtual world is filled with art - online classes, free virtual museum tours, and images.
On another note, part of me enjoys the more leisurely pace. All of us were on a mad go-go-go trajectory. My creative juices do not turn on and off like a faucet. The grief process affects them. At first, my denial kept me packing for workshops, thinking we could just meet as a small group. When I heard the Indian Wells Masters tennis tournament had been canceled, I knew it was enormous. We have all experienced anger during this time.
Surrounding myself with beauty and quiet helps. I urge artists to gather the tools they enjoy—brushes, pencils, paints –materials many have been hoarding for years. Create order. Many of us have created photo libraries to paint from, and, here in the desert, we still can take peaceful walks. I don’t remember looking out my back window so often- and almost every time, I see a bird, bunny, coyote, squirrel, hiker or off roader. I have a wealth of visual inspiration.
I am not pressuring myself into making art. We need to be gentle with ourselves at this time. Some of us have aging parents or others who still are dependent on us. Finances are worrisome. Just figuring out to shop for food is a challenge. Keeping up appearances is a bit harder-with non-essential services, such as routine dental appointments, stopped.
I think a lot about the lives of my ancestors and how they existed in a quiet world.
My advice to artists - and I said I would move to the 2nd word in my acronym, nurture. Nurture creativity in yourself and others:
Look for beauty in everyday objects and nature.
Write in a journal - your observations and your reactions.
Organize and sort your supplies.
Study a new subject: I’m studying French with a free ap.
Rekindle an old hobby.
When you get a creative idea - go with it!
Do not fear opinions of others or your own inner critic.
The paintings I’m working on are all to suit me, all not quite finished, but my inner critic is a little more forgiving these days.
Mother's Favorite Chair - Janis Commentz - watercolor, ink - 10"x7" - cards available
As the entire structure of our daily lives has turned a corner, I reach out to you with a voice of encouragement. At this point, we are inundated with advice, news, and badly timed humor. I listen less to grim news, and the news is grim, and more and more to inspiring words.
My life, as has yours, has taken a completely different path this month. Yet I feel compelled to set my sight on hope.
Mind, body, spirit and soul are connected. Every aspect affects our creative life. For me, reading my bible, poetry, inspirational travel journals, watching short creative video clips of friends watercoloring, walking and gardening has kept me grounded this week. Spirit connects us with God, and our soul is where we express our passions.
Let me share the encouragement I am gathering and some of the tips I’d be sharing if you attended one of my painting workshops.
Acronyms help me to discover new ideas, and here is mine.
I will write about each letter separately in a post.
An engagement can mean a promise, assurance. In think a promise of reward can be very important right now—the promise of beauty, hope fulfilled, pride. We are creative beings made in God’s image. We were made to be creative.
Consider your personal toolbox and gather your personal tools:
If you were attending one of my painting workshops, I would talk about your intentions and observations.
What is your intention today? (This is geared to painting, but you’re creative; adapt for your activity.)
Or to paint at all? To express yourself? record a moment in time? Therapy? To apply color and create a desirable image?
As with other activities weaving, sewing – one experiences the tactile joy of the materials.
Painting—is a practice much like yoga or baseball. Each time you show up to “play,” your brain becomes familiar with a pattern of activities.
I would encourage you to write one statement in your notebook:
“I came today with the intention of ____________________________________.”
What is it you are drawn to looking at?
I hope this is enough to inspire you and get you moving.
This week I have been painting from a photo I took of a close friend in her beautiful non-desert garden, picking cherry tomatoes. I only work on this painting, when my spirit is lifted. If watching corny romantic movies or listening to music helps, consider them tools! It is still IN PROGRESS, as am I. Watch the slideshow below.
You may have your family around you. If so, consider doing these activities as a group! Gather the children and ask them the workshop prompt questions about intention and observation.
Cherry Tomatoes (In progress) - Janis Commentz - acrylic on canvas - 30"x30"
I leave you for now with some words of inspriration:
If I can stop one heart from breaking – Emily Dickinson
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain
Dreams - Langston Hughes
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
For I know the plans that I [have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11
Let’s get started.
My prayers are with you all, and I wish you comfort and encouragement as you stay within the confines of your world and create.
Inspired by all of you,
Winter Carnations - Janis Commentz - Pastel on Paper (sold) cards available
I am delighted to announce that my new online ETSY shop is open featuring my Spring Collection of stationery, notecards, sealing labels tablets and more. And to think it all started with a trip (or two) to France, carrying my small set of watercolors and a watercolor pad!
Above: Campbell House Workshop in January - see participants working in the mirror!
Today, as I look out the window, I see over 100 Joshua Trees, and gratitude spreads over me like the sunshine on our beautiful Mojave! We expect a high of 67°F today. If you live in a less temperate zone, I hope you have your February creative vitality flowing!
Weather changes, but our creative spirit can be nurtured in every season! Last year, on this date, we had snow! Beat the winter blues with creative choices.
With a number of ongoing projects, it has been essential to reevaluated my practice and reset goals this year. For me, it means fewer outside commitments and new personal directions. Each of us may need to re-focus on a different aspect of our art practice.
As you approach spring, may I suggest some spring “cleaning” and a review of your resources?
TIME - Each of us has only 24 hours and 365 (1/4) days per year. A portion of your time may be obligated to work and family, making your own creative moments even more precious. Are you giving away time? Are you volunteering? If so, examine this activity. Volunteering is a wonderful activity that can build friendships and share ideas. It supports the culture of your community. Plan your schedule carefully and reserve time for your personal creative practice.
ART SUPPLIES - If your creativity involves the visual arts, supplies can be expensive. Take inventory. If your medium is acrylic, you may want to try gessoed watercolor paper, a lovely surface for all water based mediums! Watch for sales. Whenever I hear of someone clearing out art supplies, I jump and have been gifted paints, mediums, and more. Although working large can be freeing, working small allows you to travel outdoors being inspired by what you see. When traveling, I carry a small kit of watercolors, a small watercolor pad, 2 favorite brushes, 2 mechanical pencils and a fine point sharpie. I am learning to keep my plein air painting kit more compact so I can carry it easily. Talk to friends about art supplies. You may even want to host an art supply swap. One person’s trash is truly another’s treasure. Have you learned to stretch your own canvas? Interestingly, I find very few do this today. In my youth, my dad built wood frames and I stretched canvas - using a staple gun. Consider other do it yourself art supply projects.
ENERGY – How much can you effectively accomplish? Often less is more. (That being said, stretched canvas may well be worth the cost.) A trip to a gallery, library or museum can be well-spent visual inspiration. A walk outdoors or a drive into beautiful surroundings can trigger creative ideas. Plan time in your studio (even if it is the kitchen table or small closet). Unplug the phone, eliminate distractions, feed the pets, or wait until the kids are at school. Don’t expect a masterpiece! Allow yourself to play; enjoy color and design. I must complete project commitments, but when I start painting just because the paint on my palette looks so delicious and an image pops into my head, the real magic happens!
PAINTING PARTNERS - As in many realms of your life, with whom you spend time is important. Some friends encourage. Others leave you exhausted and drained. The energy created by a group of joyful, enthusiastic creatives can act as a positive cheerleader. Choose carefully. I love people, but I have really learned to enjoy solitude and getting to know myself. Do not hesitate to let your creative guide be yourself!
SPACE – The key to a good creative space is organization and careful choices. This does not require pristine neatness, but an orderly plan. As you work, supplies are tossed around or grabbed quickly. Create your workspace: the kitchen table or a desk in a closet can serve beautifully. Collect needed items and move the rest to another area. If you must, place items not required in a hamper. Remove it from distracting sight. Locate good light—next to the window or a lamp. I like carefully staged inspiration—a painting or print, a scented candle, an item reminding me of an artistic loved one. At the end of each session, clean up! Clean your brushes thoroughly. For acrylics, I find plain water to be the least wearing on brushes, but I use a scrub brush and get ALL paint out! Neaten up your creative area making it ready for your next session! If you must pack up, place items in a carrying container (a bank box, basket, hamper, tool chest) and create your own traveling studio!
This month, the famous groundhog predicted an early spring, and although I appreciate beautiful winter light, my mind is moving ahead to spring! Each season provides something to anticipate – just as each season of our lives and art practice help us to look forward!
Remember advice for the New Twenties:
Nurture your creative practice!
Plan new experiences and exploration, ever seeking inspiration!
Let your inspiration drive your art!
Remember to encourage others!
Wishing you all the best for an artful year!
Below, pics of my Workshop at the lovely Campbell House Inn in 29 Palms: plein air painting, fabulous student work, group photo, initial sketching, my demo.
.Workshop News 2020:
March 21 at Cactus Mart in Morongo Valley, CA (currently sold out, but you can sign up on the waiting list)
Desert Institute Field Class in Joshua Tree National Park: April 4th, Black Rock Campground, Yucca Valley
Capturing Joshua Tree landscapes with Acrylics (beginners welcome!)
Art Groove - Camp4Grownups! August14-19 Landscape Painting as a Creative Process. I am delighted to teach this summer at Camp de Benneville Pines summer Adult Art Camp! My class will be one module at a full 6 day art camp experience in the beautiful mountains near Angeles Oaks, CA. Sign up early! Description below.
October Desert Institute Field Class in Joshua Tree National Park - date TBD
New Online Shop Last, but not least, I will be opening my new ETSY Shop on March 1.
Ooh La La! I love the new items soon to appear on my online store, including these adorable stickers to match notecards! ArtbyJanisCommentz: French Press, will feature my first spring collection! After many years of painting and teaching, I fell in LOVE again! With France. Everywhere I traveled, I discovered beautiful buildings and villages to sketch. I want to share the beauty of French design with these lovely paper products and to invite you to bring a bit of France into your home.
As we enter a new decade, I am sure many of us are pausing to evaluate the past few years, our habits and our gifts. It has been said 2020 will be a decade of clearer vision—let’s hope so. It is definitely a time to reflect on our priorities.
What has been a heavy weight and what allows you to soar?
In my own art practice, I have removed certain activities and obligations from my schedule and added new ones. I am reflecting on one of the most important purposes for my life, to bring light and joy, to encourage others in this often dark confusing world.
Above: "Joshua Trees Against the Blue Sky" by Janis Comments, acrylic on canvas, 20" x 20"
I am reflecting on my approach. For me, the queen of multitasking, I have learned that this is not always wise. Taking photos in our beautiful rare snow, making footprints in the ice to photograph for Instagram and then reading my mail as I entered the slick floored garage---combined for the perfect slip up – (or down!) and produced two tiny bone fractures last February! Less multitasking.
Learn to savor experiences. Sights tastes, aromas, feeling, sounds! I am certain this will influence the inspirations that translates into a painting!
Time. We know time is precious. If your schedule is already busy, it is difficult to slow down and let creativity wash over your soul! However, like exercise and good nutrition, you will reap the benefits of more creative opportunities. One of the negative changes of the 20th century was created by the desire for more efficiency, faster “smarter” methods and packing more into each day. No one has invented a longer day. Know the lifelong restorative benefits of the arts!
Change of scenery and continued lifelong learning. I have had the good fortune to travel this year. In fact, I seek the cozy interior of my studio. However, even if travel is not in your budget, may I suggest subtle changes. If possible, take a different route to work or school. Talk to new people. Visit different places in your community: a park, a library, a museum, a swap meet, even a different supermarket! Add new books to your reading list, different genres of music and more. New experiences awaken new ways to approach your creative practice—whether it’s poetry, painting, acting, playing an instrument, sewing, collaging or other art form.
My recent trip to Savannah GA led me to observing and drawing amazing, and to a Californian, older architecture, reminiscent of European cities. It led to study of unfamiliar people and events. Upon my return home, I am drawn to the buildings of our Mojave in a new light- and with unexpected interest!
Below: My photos and sketches from Savannah
Locally, the small burg of Pioneertown came to my attention. In 1946, the “Living, breathing movie set” was created by investors including Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Today, “Mane Street” hosts small art galleries, specialty gift shops, a working Post Office, church and “Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace.” Pappy & Harriet’s, originally the Cantina-an outlaw biker burrito bar, evolved into a tourist hotspot serving great food! And its performers have included Robert Plant, Leon Russell, Seann Lennon and, yes, Sir Paul McCartney! And, when I first was a teacher in the desert during the late 70’s, we used to watch our principal bowl at the Pioneertown Bowl. It was a working bowling alley then—rumors of its reconstruction are alive! Lots of detail and inspiration for sketching and painting.
Below: My photos and sketches from Pioneertown
For the New Twenties:
Nurture your creative practice!
Plan new experiences and exploration, ever seeking inspiration!
Let your inspiration drive your art!
Remember to encourage others!
Wishing you all the best for an artful new year!
News for 2020
Jan 14-16 Desert Landscape Painting at the Campbell House Inn (photo) Campbell House web
April 4 Joshua Tree National Park Desert Institute: Capturing Joshua Tree Landscapes with Acrylics https://www.eventbrite.com/e/capturing-joshua-tree-landscapes-with-acrylics-spring-2020-registration-82537434689
Aug 14 – 19 Camp Benneville de Pines Art https://www.uucamp.org/camp-calendar/Groove : Summer Camp for Adults - Landscape as a Creative Process: Using Acrylic and Water-based Paints
Oct (tbd) Joshua Tree National Park Desert Institute: Plein Air Painting in the Park!
I also hope to launch a new line of cards and paper goods based on travel sketches for my France Sketchbook Calendars. Reaction (and sales) has been welcoming!
Below: January Workshop at the Campbell House Inn and right, France Sketchbook Calendars and Cards
Winter Glow, 8 x 24, acrylic Janis Commentz in a private collection
Nurture YOUR CREATIVE SIDE even when it’s cold outside!
In this busiest of seasons, I send you greetings and encouragement! The holiday season is filled with a variety of colors, scents, emotions and a distracting array of activities! As days grow shorter, we seek light-- metaphorically – an, as an artist, literally.
Winter daylight, casting deep shadows, creates a surreal backdrop. Snow glistens on majestic mountains. Dramatic shadows drape themselves on buildings and stone structures. Warm afternoon light bathes a a holiday table or a pet in a window.
Before this inspiring winter light slips away, nurture your creativity. I believe we are creative beings made in the image of a creative God. Observe the winter beauty of the season. Make a mental note or even better, I encourage you to record your surrounding in a quick sketch! Even a hasty contour sketch with indications of shadows can be an inspiration for a future painting. We rely heavily on photographs, but we know the eye provides intimate and accurate information and color as a camera cannot. Plein air artists understand this well. No matter your painting style or art form, light and contrast deeply affect your work.
Celebrate the reason for the season, enjoy special moments with your loved ones, but take time to record the effects of the changing course of the sun, especially as we approach the shortest day of the year. Here are a few wonderful paintings by well- known painters--just to contemplate.
The Magpie by Claud Monet
Winter Landscape Caspar David Friedrich
Washington Square, Ashcan School painter, Everett Shinn
20th Century Japanese woodblock artist, Hiroshi Yoshida, shows the subtle colors of a barren landscape with the snow covered mountain in Suzukawa.
Or the longest day of the year! As our connectedness to other parts of the globe increases, I am profoundly aware of the Southern Hemisphere’s summer during December. As I watch posts from artists in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and more, I am more curious about December in this warm zone. It has been very enlightening (pun intended) to see posts about art exhibits, open studios and workshops from these regions. Three artists that come to mind are Richard Claremont (Sydney, Australia), Beth Lowe (Kommetjie, Cape Town), and Tracy Verdugo (New South Wales, Australia). Their sunny creations pierce our northern hemisphere with warm beauty!
The Day, Pitwater, Richard Claremont
Stillbay, Beth Lowe
Home by the Sea, Tracy Verdugo
As a painter, I feel my strongest images have emerged from the winter light and longer shadows.
The painting at the beginning of this post emerged a after a Christmas Day hike in Joshua Tree National Park. Golden Glow captures the late afternoon sunlight.
Wishing your many afternoons of sunshine!
Each day is different, yet even during troubling periods, you can make decisions to bring at least some joy into your life.
In the desert, November started with glorious, sunny, yet crisp weather—a dip into the 30’s at night.
October was a very busy month for me – “art season” as they say. Teaching a painting day-workshop in Joshua Tree National Park, two weekends of opening our home and my studio on Hwy 62 Open Studio Art Tours and, because I believe we all need inspiration from outside sources, a first time visit to the LA Brewery Artwalk – a twice a year event where 104 arts open their studio lofts to the public.
Teaching Desert Institute class, open studios photos - including the model purchasing the photo of herself hiking, and adventures at the LA Brewery Artwalk:
My head is spinning with creative ideas!—in need of rest and restoration.
This weekend, while attending the funeral of and elderly friend’s husband, I was reminded of the seasons of life and our lifespan on this planet.
As artists and artlovers, the richness of our lives comes from a range of emotional experiences. Although we cannot control all circumstances, we can learn to be content—and by storing up kernels of wisdom and creativity, we can create and spread joy.
On that note, let me encourage you to set some creative goals for 2020!
I enjoy teaching a sharing painting tips, especially in our beautiful Mojave Desert! Each spring and fall, I teach a Saturday plein air painting class in the beautiful Joshua Tree National Park through the Desert Institute https://www.joshuatree.org/desert-institute/field-classes.html
In January, I will be teaching a two night/three day water based painting workshop at the historic Campbell House Inn in 29 Palms and will be directed to beginning and intermediate level painters. Come play with us in the sunny Mojave Desert, a perfect winter get away January 14 – 16th https://artcantina.com/business-directory/desert-landscape-painting-with-janis-commentz/
There is a time for serious painting and a time for fun, a time for a more academic approach and a time to break “art rules”! Does art still have rules? After my lighthearted painting, I begin to yearn to paint a bit more thoughtfully. I am eager to really work out my new lightweight plein air easel. Living near a National Park allows for some quick trips to wonderful vistas! However, urban areas, interiors, pets and so many more scenes provide great subjects for painting.
Your schedule may be very full, allowing only a brief time for any creative pursuit. Gather a few supplies. Keep them where you can get to them. It may be only a small box of watercolors in a mesh cosmetic bag ready to go.
Work in steps; prepare the surface one day, find something to paint (photo or scene) on another and then pain on that third hour that you carved out.
Gather objects for inspiration! Above (right) is a photo of an inspiration shelf I put together when I first retired from teaching and needed to surround myself with meaningful objects: (from top clockwise, Christmas music parchment belonging to my mother, photo of my mother in her 1940's ceramic studio, cubist self portrait by my uncle, Vermeer print - because I love his use of light, vase by local potter Ed Keeseling with a figure he sketched in my life drawing group, red asian wooden vase belonging to my mother, a jar of red earth from Texas that was supposed to be under the bed when I was born. Haha-- it arrived too late for me to be born over Texas soil!
Make a move! Obstacles will enter our life. I found myself journaling with a negative twist last week, ad made my self rewrite each with a positive re-statement. I created a thankfulness bridge:
The whiny negative comments changed to encouragements.
Make a plan. Even if you have to modify it, have a general plan! Turn “I can’t” into “I can!” Jump in! Apply paint! Find objects for a collage! YouTube a project and follow directions.
Spread a little joy!
Wishing you a wonderful November! ~Janis Commentz
Henri Matisse, Le Chat Aux Poissons Rouges 1914, (The Cat With Red Fishes)
…August…vacation…back to school…seeking to escape heat….
For most, we are seriously seeking inspiration.
What moves, propels, encourages, excites, helps you develop and sharpen senses? What awakens, kindles, invigorates, amuses and delights? This can be a tall order, but sometimes, if you can find even ONE of the above in your art practice, you have found a treasure.
WHERE I Go
I find wisdom when I turn to Scripture to start my day. Inspiration is often like kind words spoken. “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Proverbs 25:11 You may be familiar with Grace Noll Crowell’s lovely 1950 poem inspired by that verse:
Oh, to speak so fitly
That my words my be
Like bright golden apples
On a silver tree!
Oh, to write so wisely
That some hungering one
May reach and pluck that fruitage
Shining in the sun!
Beautiful craftsmanship, elegant carving, music and poetry are all praised in scripture. Inspiration is often like kind words spoken to your soul.
My mother's autographed copy - from poet best friend, Esther York Burkholder
Lately, I like to read a bit of poetry—especially by some of my local friends. Noreen Lawlor’ poetry is filled with wisdom and often humor. Poet Cynthia Anderson, acclaimed for her perceptive reflections about nature, teamed up with watercolorist Susan Abbott in Now Voyager.
Even my Facebook and Instagram feeds are fill with artists, writers, dancers, musicians and more.
I know the visual artists whose work generally makes me want to get out my paintbrushes...Matisse, Picasso, Redon, and many contemporary artists. Hover to see artists and titles. You can see I draw inspiration from many sources.
To WHOM do you turn for inspiration to pursue the creative process?
I am grateful to meet regularly with a group of women painters to discuss art trends, review each other’s new work, encourage and occasionally exhibit together. I wish I had a photo of our last very animated gathering.
Finding your GENES
Were certain relatives in your family tree especially inspirational? Did you have grandfather who danced? A great aunt who recited poetry or inspired you in some way? Find out more about their legacy. Imagine how excited they might be to share their artform with you!
I could not resist: my grandfather, whom I never met, in a production of Firebird during high school I have always loved modern dance.
Setting the SCENE
Consider which time of day inspiration most often visits you. If it’s not your “creative” season, pretend it is—seek autumn colors and poetry, find winter glow in candles and cool colors…you get the idea!
Create a gathering to share —host a coffee or meet in an inspiring setting. Attend a concert or play. Visit an art gallery. Invite friends to play musical instruments, paint, write random poetry ~ so many options
Finding the WORDS
…from philosophy, painting and theater….
“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
“You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul”
George Bernard Shaw
You know who are your muses and encouragers? Seek them out! Gather with them. Drink in inspiration as you would a cool summer thirst-quencher.
And most important…encouragement and inspiration are generated when you give it back. Encourage other artists. Even if it just means giving a child a crayon and paper!
Janis Commentz - Sketchbook in Monet's Garden at Giverny, France
As we approach summer, what will entice you to read a blog?
As my favorite season approaches, I think of mornings spent journaling and reading on our backyard porch swing. I think of mornings and afternoons painting on the patio. To me, forever bound to the traditional academic calendar, summer tempts me with the colors, tastes, and textures of lemon meringue pie and sweet juicy watermelon!
If you are a painter, these colors are just as tempting pouring out of the tube! I am ready to set up a table of summer delights and begin painting!
Janis Commentz - Sunflowers-acrylic on canvas
As summer approaches, what nurtures your creative practice? Healthy foods strengthen our bodies, and sunlight and water support healthy growth for living things. Another crucial element for creative growth is respect.
Recently, partly due to an overlong winter, I have noted a bit of grumpiness, belittling and inconsideration creeping into creative events in which I am participating. It’s baffling at times. How are we to react?
In all areas of life, we flourish when we have the respect of those around us. As I Google “respect and creativity” I find a gold mine of ideas. Respect is vital in healthy day-to-day experiences. When we set out to create and develop our talents, we are seeking joy and purpose! Not all of our endeavors can be as smooth as lemon meringue pie or as tasty as watermelon, but respect certainly helps cultivate creativity.
I know I, too, can get caught up in critical behavior. Let me make a few suggestions for the art community, using the acronym R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
R eview and redirect our own behavior. Compliment before complaining! Avoid joining in the whining and criticism.
E mpathy -all artists young and old need encouragement and consideration. We teach this to our young. Are we considerate when encountering an artform very different from our own? Do we support those who are learning new skills? Recently, I bought a piano keyboard recently, and it’s a great reminder of my lack of skill. I am delighted with my very baby steps!
S pirit and Support – An individual’s spirit can be easily crushed. While direction and guidance may be given, kindness is crucial! We grow hardened to heartless behavior, but we don’t expect it from our art community
Pay attention and pay it forward! Listen and speak a few kind words when we see someone suffering from harsh remarks. We talk a lot about bullying, and some of our leaders are not modeling the best behavior. Help make your art community an encouraging environment!
E tiquette-an old fashioned word for good manners. Let’s hope they never go out of style!
C reativity flourishes in a respectful environment. Artists deserve dignity. We all are a little wary when someone is watching over our back—but the difference between callous criticism and loving kindness is like night and day!
T houghtfulness-Creativity is a thoughtful procedure. Nurture your own creative forces and those around you in a laboratory, greenhouse, conservatory or studio that boosts creativity. Take your Vitamin R (Respect-no chemical or app intended) Respect yourself! Respect Others! Respect your surroundings!
Sunlit Jasmine Poolside Lavender Fields
January 2023 marked 5 years of blogging about creativity, well-being and encouragement. Thank you to the many who have visited my website! I welcome comments and questions.
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