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

29 thoughts on “Clean sweep.”

    1. Yeah, I think I like the term “spring cleaning in my head” better than the term I use sometimes: “brain enema.” I think I could benefit from a brain enema, but I only want to get rid of the useless garbage and not the necessities!


  1. Danny: this isn’t entirely unrelated to your post, but was it you who recommended the book ‘The Confident Creative’? I bought it and, just in case it was you, I’d like you to know that it has caused me to ‘spring-clean’ my mind and soul x


  2. Maybe it’s a ‘March’ thing. I cleaned up my little studio this morning and organized supplies too. Or…….was I maybe procrastinating?? That’s ok, still plenty of time left in the day for drawing.


    1. Yes! Minus 22 this am and April is looking like March in the Adirondacks on weather channels. Head south. Gotta thaw before cleaning. but definitely clean. Then there will be roomfor inspiration.


  3. Danny, rush to your trash can, do not walk. If those markers you tossed in there still work at all please give them to the local thrift store/Goodwill shop or the like. Even if another artist doesn’t find them useful a child might. Thanks, I feel better now. Whew!


    1. I came to say the same thing! Please don’t throw out working art supplies! Find your closest school or community centre– they would die to have such nice supplies!! Children and students so rarely get to use different and high quality supplies, please consider donating them rather than trashing.


  4. Hi Danny

    You are the busy bee and the inspiration for many of us!! I think that your number of fans is growing every day…I am kinda phychic.

    Do you know one of the things I like about you? It is your down to earth approach to life, like “chop wood and carry water” in China, you are the one finding miracles or meditation in the every day activities.

    There is something so comforting and reassuring in reading about your clean sweeping of the work space …I shall read your post again and again, it takes me to a safe place, to “known” where I can be myself.

    I so understand this need to inspect the “all” that aids you to create your art, to prune and rediscover supplies, and to all of a sudden feel a happiness that starts to bubble inside …with anticipation for creating new stuff!!!

    To a joyful spring and I hope to be your Skool student this April.



  5. Danny, Speaking as a sixth grade teacher, please drop off your rejected markers at your local school. Any teach would love half used markers. Valerie


  6. At the USk Symposium in Santo Domingo in ’12, one of the instructors was helping me with my journey toward looseness in my sketching. She said, “See that guy sitting on his motorbike over there? … Sketch him with your left hand, then you’ll know what it feels like to be loose.” It took me over the edge I had been trudging toward for years. Let’er rip, Danny. Paint like the paper and your brush are way too hot to hold on to for more than just a few minutes. Love your work, you words and your art!!


  7. Great post Danny…I am inspired to do some Spring cleaning in my studio. Thank you for the nudge and, as always, creative thoughts.


  8. WEll I want to see a photo of you setting up your easel in the back of your truck. (That may qualify as Outsider Art. ha ha)What scanner did you get? I’ve also been rethinking what exactly do I need in my studio to meet my two primary goals. I love Spring cleaning..a time for reflection and renewal.
    PS: Why do you like to paint on cardboard? Do you gesso it first? You’ve got me wanting to try it.


  9. Cleaning my studio out as well. Its a pain but it has to be done. The goal is to get it as stripped down as possible so that I can do my illustrations and animation. Clutter isn’t good for this soul.

    You’re a brave soul to paint on cardboard. I can’t imagine it being acid free.


  10. Reblogged this on cleaning up the studio and commented:
    Oh boy!!!!! A terrific post about “cleaning up the studio” and the rest of life from the amazing and remarkable DANNY GREGORY. Some deeply inspirational ideas and hot tips on everything from old art supplies to outdated software and stagnant work habits.

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

    ~Emily Dickinson


  11. Great post Danny. Sounds as though you need some ‘stick and ink’ treatment! Try taking a longish stick and dipping it into an ink bottle. Draw whatever you happen to be looking at. Add a bit of a water wash and watch it go wild. Use a bit of sandpaper and ‘grate’ a little colour from one of those neglected watercolour pencils into the wet wash and enjoy the sparkle of colour…Great way to loosen up.


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