All art copyright (c) Mike Kloepfer
"The level of achievement that we have at anything is a reflection of how well we were able to focus on it."
-Steve Vai

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Making Art in Public Part 1

James Gurney had a post which led to 'a lively discussion' about drawing and painting in public.

These posts, the replies, and the ensuing discussion (external dialogue) got me to thinking (internal dialogue.)

I've drawn over 12,000 faces in the fast-pace world of retail caricatures. Combine that with plen air painting, teaching classes and workshops, sidewalk art festivals, and many different types of public sketch groups*, and I have quite a bit of experience in this area. I found that I have quite a bit to say on the subject, so I decided to put it in my blog where I can share it. My post will most likely parallel Mr. Gurney's, and the discussions that come out of it. I apologize in advance for any redundancies.

On the job with LoL Caricature Co.

DIS Plen Air Club

RotaryFest Sidewalk Art Festival

Teaching figure drawing

Here's the bottom line: I love art. I love making art, I love looking at art, and I love talking about art. That is the main driving force that leads me to overcome my shyness and/or introversion when it comes to interacting with people while making art in public places.

Art is, by nature, an introverted endeavor. Making art requires skill, concentration, and focus.
Making art in public creates an unusual dichotomy.

It's a fact that if you're going to be drawing/painting in public, you'll have to deal with... the public.

It comes with the territory. And it leads to an unusual phenomenon: interacting with people while making art.

Some people are friendly, some people are rude. Most people are naturally curious, and it's exciting to see a painting unfold. As artists, we take art-making for granted, and more's the pity. I like the experience of feeling like I am part of a magical process, even though I know that it is only through discipline and hard work that one gets to the point where the magic happens. However, few people ever have the chance to see art being created. In addition, there is a lot of 'mystery,' misinformation, and downright superstition surrounding art and artists. This creates a natural curiosity, as well as bringing up a lot of the 'myths' that people have been fed.
(The most common is the “you are either born with it or you aren't” myth, which is a topic for a separate, complete discussion.)
If I had a dime for every time I heard "I can't draw a stick figure..." let's just say my trips to the art supply store would be more like unbridled shopping sprees.
BTW, my stock response it "I'll tell you a secret... my stick figures are TERRIBLE."

If you don't know, start finding out! And drawing in public is a good way to learn a lot about who you are – and quickly, too!
Making art in public has forced me to face some issues and do a lot of self-evaluation that many artists – and even more non-artists – never have to deal with. It has led to some interesting self-discovery and hopefully a more solid handle on who I am as an artist as well as a human being.

First, a word on introversion and extroversion.
Introverts have received a bad rap in our modern times, labeled as 'anti-social' and many other negative connotations. I heard an excellent description which places the subject in a proper, healthy light.
The terms introvert and extrovert are used to describe how a person 'recharges their battery' when their energy is low:
An extrovert recharges by surrounding his/her self with people. This releases their stress and re-energizes their psyche as well as their soul.
An introvert recharges by spending time alone, decompressing. This releases their stress and re-energizes their psyche as well as their soul.
Put another way, introverts do not look to others to lift them up. They look inward rather than outward for their support. 

If you like metaphors: Introverts use an internal power supply to recharge; extroverts use an external power supply.
If either personality type tries to recharge using the opposite tactic, the end result is that they become even more 'drained.' At some point, their psyche, and even their body, will shut down. This is why some people get 'sick' when they are overloaded with external stress. Their body needs time and energy to recharge, so that they can go back out and engage the world as their fullest self.
It is not a bad idea to think about which personality type you are, and try to structure the situation and environment to uplift you rather than drag you down.

I have a strange introvert/extrovert personality. I am an artist, which by nature is an introverted endeavor. I am also a musician and entertainer, which by nature is an extremely extroverted endeavor.

I am very introverted when dealing with crowds and the general public. Once I break the ice however, I am very social and engaging in a one-to-one situation, or with a specific group of people. I think it's because I like people so much, but huge crowds are just too overwhelming to deal with on the very personal, connected level that I desire. Give me a person or small group of people I can connect with, however, and watch me become very social, very quickly.

I was also discussing another interesting phenomenon with a fellow artist, as it relates to drawing in public. I remarked that, even when I am not in a social mood, simply acting like I am will allow me to engage people. By the end, I am in a social mood. I guess there is some merit to the phrase 'fake it until you make it.' Nothing is 100%, and there are still times that I wind up in 'Mikey's quiet art time,' usually right after lunch. But by and large, I found that just getting over the initial ice-breaker gets the ball rolling and leads to more rewarding interactions than being standoff-ish. Trying to be reclusive in public can be very frustrating.
On the same subject: In his fascinating book Emotions Revealed, author Paul Ekman's research yielded an amazing – and unexpected – discovery. While researching facial expressions and emotions, they discovered that simply making the facial expression would lead to the emotion. Further research disclosed that making the facial expression has the power to alter the body's physiology and chemistry; the end result was the same as having the emotion in the first place.
Think about that next time you are feeling shy.

On the subject of concentration, I have found that most people are very understanding. A simple, courteous “Hang on a second, I need to concentrate on this part” or “This part is tricky. Give me a moment to concentrate” will be more than enough to buy some quiet time to focus.

Another tactic that works for me is to 'think out loud,' in other words to turn my internal artistic thinking into external dialog. That takes some doing; however it is usually interesting, or at least entertaining, for the onlookers. At the same time it gets the dialog out of my head, where I can hear it and evaluate it. It is a good way to maintain focus without becoming standoff-ish, if it works for your personality type.

There's a strange dichotomy about drawing and painting in public. It centers around keeping a balance between the two extremes of concentration and distraction.
The one extreme is to become so focused that every outside occurrence is seen as an interruption or an intrusion.
The other extreme is to become so involved with the people and the environment that you lose focus.
In either extreme case, the environment becomes a source of distraction from the original purpose of being there – to make art.

I am a very social person. For me, there is a 'sweet spot' where I am engaging while I am drawing. Right in that sweet spot, my focus is sharp, my linework is solid, my color choices are good, and I am able to carry on light, enjoyable conversation and engagement. Like all 'sweet spots' it takes awareness, self-monitoring, calibration, and experience to achieve, and it is not always successful.

When it does happen however, those times can be some of the best times to be an artist.

Check out my art here on my blog/gallery site:
While you're at it, check out my facebook page:
While you're there, 'LIKE' the page, and give me a shout-out!!! :)
I'd love to hear your stories. 
Hey, I know... I'll make a 'best pedestrian question' list!!! I'll call it BestPedestQuest!!!

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