Don’t Hibernate This Winter

December 14, 2016

Winter slows me down.  The days get shorter, I get less sunlight and the onset of the cold hits me like Superman in the presence of kryptonite.  While it would be tempting to hibernate from Thanksgiving to Easter – the winter season is actually a great time to gain new art skills or sharpen and hone the ones you already have.  So, grab some hot cocoa, hunker down in your studio, and follow these basic tips to not only survive, but thrive as an artist through the winter season.

Don’t wait for inspiration – this is the tricky part.  If you have less energy – (and most of us have a little less in the winter), you are less likely to feel “inspired” or “motivated” to produce new work.  As the artist Chuck Close once said, “Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work.”  As a creative individual, I get energy, inspiration, and overall good vibes from being creative.  Creating new work leads to inspiration in a far more reliable fashion than waiting for inspiration to lead to creativity.  A lot of inexperienced artists get the equation backwards and spend most of their time waiting for something to happen.

Get to work.  Since you’re more likely to be cooped up in the house rather than boating on the lake or going to the beach – find something to keep you busy.  Make an unreasonable and unattainable goal of skill mastery.  You may decide to set a goal for quality – decide to learn to paint like Vermeer.  Or quantity – try to make a new work of art every day through the winter.  Keeping up with your goal will help to keep your skills sharp.  Even though there are rare moments of sheer epiphany when developing as an artist, most of the growth that we see is very incremental.  Our skills and aesthetic sensibilities grow little by little, and practice is definitely unidirectional.  You will only get better the more you work in your chosen medium.  I have yet to run into any artists that claimed negative results from practicing their craft.

Find some friends.  Find an art group in your community to practice your skills with.  The accountability and comradery among a group of fellow artists will keep you on your toes through these winter months.  In Danville, Kentucky – we have a group called the Plein Air Artists of Central Kentucky.  Over the summer months, they meet and practice plein air painting (as their moniker implies) outside on farms, in gardens, etc. – but in the harsh winter months, they meet in the Community Arts Center’s grand hall – setting up themed still life subject matter, drawing from models, and generally having a wonderful time challenging each other to become even better artists.

Get down to business.  The winter is a great time to get the business/marketing side of your art together.  It’s a great time to photograph your work, develop your website, or even start blogging about your art.  I will be the first to admit that there have been times when I have said to myself, “I’m turning over a new leaf.  I’m going to update my website, start blogging, and document every work.  I’m getting my stuff together.”  This lasts about a month (or less) before life gets in the way and I neglect to do anything.  I can almost guarantee that if you visit any artist’s website (even some pros), you will find HUGE gaps – sometimes spanning years – where there is little to no activity or updates.  Of course there are exceptions, but there is a strong tendency among artists to either focus intensely on their work OR their business.  Spanning both of those disparate worlds is quite a challenge, but you will find that those who have the most success have found a way to do both.  Winter is a great time to batten down the hatches and finally focus on business side of your work.  Artists don’t like to think of themselves as businessmen or entrepreneurs (both may even be considered fightin’ words among some artists), but they most certainly are.  If you fail to take time to properly market your product (your work), you cannot expect much in the way of an audience for your work.

Learn something new.  You may think that you’ve found your niche, your technique, your medium, your message and that you need not delve any deeper into the world of art because you’ve found YOUR THING, but there is always more to discover.  Curiosity and experimentation is essential to finding your place in the art world.  If you truly want to do something unique, you need all of the tools and tricks of the trade that you can get your hands on.  If you are a strictly a realist, it wouldn’t hurt to dabble in non-objective abstraction.  If you are a figurative artist, have a little fun with minimal compositions.

I tried throwing pottery for the first time last night.  I always had a hunch that I probably wouldn’t be too good at it, and I was more than right.  I was TERRIBLE – easily one of the worst in the room of first timer high-school kids.  I didn’t get anywhere near making any kind of vessel.  I just made a muddy mess.  Even though it’s not my thing, I still had fun trying to do something new, even if I didn’t quite get it. I certainly gained a new appreciation for the art form.  I now wonder why pottery doesn’t cost $500 a bowl just to cover the cost of the learning curve.

Go see some art.  The winter is a great time to get out and see some wonderful art shows.  Grab an art-loving friend, (or convert an art-tolerant friend into an art lover) and make a day of seeing all the art you can.  It doesn’t have to be an internationally-known museum – your local art center or gallery will likely have something that will interest you.  Nothing gets me more excited and inspired to make art than to see real art on exhibit.  On occasion, I might find something online or in a magazine that gets me fired-up and studio-ready, but nothing is quite as inspiring as seeing the real thing.

I hope you’ve found some inspiration here.  While it’s tempting to “pause” your art until warmer weather, staying active in the arts year-round is a great way to ensure that you are staying in your creative prime.  Like they say, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.”  Stay warm and stay busy.