A scribbling of lessons learned after living in Scotland and...
A Year of no Color
This piece has been rewritten like, 31 times by now.
2014 was a rough year for me.
It was the last year of college, my dad was sick with cancer, and I had lots of plans to go abroad for a graduate degree. Graduate degrees are expensive, however, and so is traveling abroad. It was a lot to handle and build up to, despite it being a long-term goal for my wife and me. I was working as a Scientist at the time for a small company, and we'd managed to save up enough for the visa application proof-of-financial wellness/moving. With lots of applications and pertinence, I was accepted into the Uni of Edinburgh's Particle Physics MSc. program. We had a huge garage sale, packed up almost everything else we owned into her parents' attic, and a remaining small cluster of absolute essentials vacuum bagged into four plastic bins (yes you can fly on an airplane with these as your baggage). They weighed precisely 50 pounds each, we'd optimized to laser-accuracy. The challenges surmounted the moment we touched ground in the U.K., but that is for a different post I think.
In retrospect, moving to Scotland changed my life and my personality. There's a lot to be learned about yourself when moving to a place where you have no friends or family, more importantly: no community. My artistic identity in early 2015 was at a major standstill. Paintings took me forever to complete and really it felt more like an obligated chore than a conduit to invent and create. However, a year later, when we were headed back across the Atlantic to Texas: I felt reinvented. With none of my familiar art supplies or settings, I went through an inevitable artistic fast. A combination of four factors helped catalyze this new sense of direction and breaking of bad habits:
No distractions, strange new environment. No Netflix, no friends, no familiar haunts. It was like jumping into a pool of icy water, I suddenly became aware of everything I took advantage of back home. If anything, the most important thing under this category was a break in comfortable familiarity.
We were on a tight budget, down to essentials. A tube of black paint, a bucket of gouache, and a dozen canvases obtained on the cheap from the thrift store down the road.
Incentivization by an upcoming exhibition opportunity: The university announced a month or so after we arrived a student exhibition, which was perfect timing. The possibility of showing my work to other people gave me much-needed motivation. Seeing how people view your work can be really stimulating.
Practice consistently and often. I had very little else to do (besides study, which you can only do so much of) which pushed me to paint and draw more. Under a year I filled up a 100 page sketch pad and painted over ten paintings (I had only finished one painting in 2 years before this).
Me with most of my pieces before we moved out of our flat.
I've always imagined an artistic slump as a sort of sinkhole, and not an on/off switch. They can sometimes take a long time to get out of. I learned a lot about myself making this move, my dad had died only 8 months prior. I was definitely at one of my lowest worst point. However, humans are a highly-adaptive species; when the environment and circumstances change, so does our mindset and creative outputs.
One of my favorite things about that Scotland exhibition was we only used canvases from thrift stores that had been covered up with white paint. I remember one canvas in particular, a high-quality wooden frame that was very nicely crafted, which had a canvas stretched photograph of a badly drawn neon photoshopped pair of Rolling Stones' lips. The lips were bright red had green goo dripping down off the bottom lip, it would have been wrong if I'd not covered it up; I did the citizens of Edinburgh a favor!
Hollow Earth (partial pic), my first piece I started in my empty flat.
When the exhibition finally came it was so much fun (we did forget how empty our flat walls would be for 3+ months). Despite the rude cab operator's opinion on me transporting 8 paintings in his car to the city centre, they arrived undamaged. Unbeknownst to me I was selected to be separate from the showing group hall and instead my work was to be displayed in the uni's coffee shop on campus. Hearing this at first I was disappointed; all of my work was off in the coffee shop, away from all the other artists' work. Despite the 200+ people that attended the opening, only about 6 made it over to where my work was displayed in the shop (it had to be locked up since the shop wasn't open).
As fate would have it, despite my pieces being separate from the group exhibition, my work became noticed by the University. When the show was coming to a close, they decided to extend the time in which my pieces exclusively were displayed. This kept them up an extra 4 months (after the exhibition closed) to be shown during the internationally-known Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016. And because of this, I was able to sell several of my pieces.
So, what I'm really trying to get to and why I call this page "A Year with no Color" is because life threw me a curveball and my creative well dried up. But despite the difficulties life brings us, there is always a way to work it into something that makes you grow. In past edits I had the phrase written: "there can always be a way to flip it into something that grows you;" but I no longer want to use the word "flip" because becoming something else requires growth and cultivation, not a quick "flip." There is power in discomfort and loss of familiarity. I have heard of artists that when they're on a downbeat they change up their environment, studio space, or medium. Doing this doesn't mean moving to a different country, but could be a simple moving of the easel to a different wall.
Thank you for reading.
Below are some photos from my exhibition. When I arrived back in the U.S., I hit the ground running with work. I was also a little excited to start working with something other than black (It should be evident by what's in my gallery). My work "Cosmic Waves," which was the first to sell during the exhibition, made the front page of reddit! Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about my experience.
My small crowd at the exhibition: