Clean sweep.

watercolor stages

Because it’s finally March and spring is allegedly on the horizon, I decided to clean up my studio. I swept the floor, wiped down all the tables, emptied the trash cans and water buckets, and vacuumed the chartreuse carpet the dogs nap and chew dried bulls’ pizzles on.

Then I decided to go deeper. Remembering the old carpenter’s homily, “Look after your tools and they’ll look after you,” I pulled all of my art supplies out of their drawers, boxes and Ziplocs and gave them a proper going over. I scrutinized each tube of watercolor and acrylic to make sure the lids were firmly screwed on, rolled them up from the bottom, and separated the ones that seemed too hopelessly hard and dry. I filled all the pans on my watercolor boxes with fresh paint and left them to solidify. I examined every brush and gave them a wash and scraped the crud off their handles. I sharpened all my pencils.

Then I culled the herd. I have been toting around a big lump of brush markers, some almost ten years old. Whenever I try to use them, whichever one I pick is frayed and faint. Hoping for a resurrection, I usually recap it and throw it back in the bag. Time to face reality — they are all hopeless and done for.  And I’m not sure that this is a medium I want around any more. I don’t like the look of my marker drawings any more. I started using brush markers in the first few years of my journaling life, back when I was still wary about watercolors and didn’t know how to incorporate colored pencils.  Now they seem limited and the colors too dull. So a couple of hundred dollars worth of markers have to go in the trash.

I love my Dr. Martin’s transparent watercolors but too many of the bottles are empty or polluted. I have to go online and order replacement bottles this afternoon.

I came across a few things I’d bought and forgotten. Some black boards and a set of tools to make from a brief period of interest I had in scratchboards. I still want to try that out. Maybe next week. A huge dropcloth and a set of grommets so I could cover a wall of my studio with canvas. A box of untested Daniel Smith watercolors. A really big unused sketchbook. Some big fat Magnum Sharpies that I haven’t worked with since fall. Another stash of flattened cardboard boxes waiting to be painted on.

Next, I turned my attention to my computers.  I ran diagnostics on them both, backed them up, and bought a box of DVDs so I can store files I won’t need again for a while. The internet service in LA is really lousy compared to what we have in NY and I work to squeeze every drop of speed I can out of it. I have been overly reliant on our balky wIfi set up (super annoying as I have a small house and a WiFi extender) and discovered that my new MacBook Pro doesn’t even have an Ethernet port anymore and I had to go to the Apple store and spend more money on a Thunderbolt adapter. Now I can upload  a video to Vimeo in a quarter the time. Well worth the $29.99.

Computers are a fact of life these days. They are our tools as human beings and as artists. We need to keep them clean, charged, and ready to go. We have to update their system software and their applications. We need to spend some time learning the ins and outs of what their apps can do and if they are the best for what we need.  If you can manage all the intricacies of a sewing machine, surely you can master a graphics program (speaking of which I have decided to avoid the expense of getting the new Photoshop and am trying a $30 app called Pixelmator.  So far it is seems to have 90% of the features of Pshop at 5% of the price).

Being mystified by technology, especially when it inhibits the things you want to do, is silly and unnecessary. Answers to any question one could ever have about how they work or how to fix a problem is just a Google click away. And if you are serious about sharing your work online, you should also consider replacing your computer at least every 3-5 years. There invariably comes a time when computers that may have worked just fine are using software that is no longer supported by the manufacturer and becomes slower and slower and eventually stops working with things like Java and HTML 5. Oh, and spend $100 on a scanner (I just bought a new one and it is a monster, zipping through scans in a 1/10 of the time of my old one).

Finally and most importantly, I am doing some spring cleaning on my head. I am clearing the cobwebs, washing the windows of my soul, binning the old and crusty thoughts that I have been schlepping around all winter.

I am going to the library and the bookstore to look at some fresh inspiration. I am scouring the Internet on my peppy new laptop for videos to learn from and portfolios that make me gasp with jealousy. I am thinking of some new types of drawing experiments I want to try. I want to work bigger and do some more large landscape paintings on cardboard ( I just had some fun painting the calla lillies that just popped up in our garden). And I want to get wilder and looser. I want to tie my brushes to broomsticks so they waggle of their own accord. I want to set up my easel in the bed of my truck. I want to draw with my left hand and my eyes closed.

High time to breathe in the last frosty gasps of winter, cough out the dust, and exhale the spring.

A little Madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King

~Emily Dickinson