Taking Stock

It’s been a few weeks since I posted anything.  I offer my apologies for that.  I have been quite unwell.  This is the time of year where it seems like the right time to take stock of what happened over the previous twelve months.  Did I achieve any of my artistic goals, or even make meaningful progress along the path toward them?

A post like this is necessarily autobiographical and therefore somewhat more difficult to write than the usual, so please bear with me.

I was initially pessimistic about this year’s outcomes, but in thinking about it, I have to say that, in dispassionate honesty, I did make progress.  There is a natural tension between just doing it and leaping into the release of your artistic works, totally under-prepared, ready or not and the opposite position of preparing the thing to death, releasing nothing.  Neither position is entirely fruitful.

We all need to tread that crucial middle ground between putting something out too soon, which doesn’t make the (now very high) grade, and not putting anything out at all, because you spent all of your time fretting and learning about your work, intellectually, instead of actually doing it.  Like most people, I suppose, I did a little of both, on multiple fronts.  The point is to keep going.

Where my painting is concerned, I didn’t sell or show anything this year.  I didn’t even catalogue what I made.  I’m way behind on that.  Don’t even get me started on photographing them.  However, I think there has been a definite progression and development of both my style and technique, during the previous year.  I painted a lot of paintings (averaging around one a fortnight).  I drew about twice as much as a painted, though mostly as quick sketches (sub ten minutes).  Unfortunately, due to other commitments, I didn’t do as much oil painting as I do in the average year.  My acrylic and oil paintings are quite different to each other.  I have no idea why.  Something to do with how the paint handles, I suppose.  My oil painting didn’t get as much attention.  Perhaps next year.

I experimented with new acrylic colours, mediums, palette knives and brushes in my work and got some pleasing effects and results.  In 2014, I have committed to putting (I think) three works into an exhibition in March.  I’ll let you know how that goes.  Painting is now something that I do, on command, just because it’s that day in the diary.  I like that I can paint whenever I have agreed to, even if I don’t feel like it, and still get a result that I am pleased with.  It’s a good feeling.  I’ve also become quite fast at painting, though I can also produce a good (and different) result if I take a longer time.  I’m in control.

In writing, I managed to keep posting on the blog(s) I write, even when it seemed like I didn’t have a moment to do so.  I’m approaching 500 posts on this blog alone and will reach this milestone before long (I hope).  As far as readership is concerned, I increased the number of daily visitors steadily, though not spectacularly.  It’s very gratifying to know that people read the things I write.  I’ve had some very nice and supportive comments.  It makes it worthwhile and I am very grateful for every person that stops by and has a read.  What you mostly care about is how to blend acrylic paint and how to daydream, as it happens.  You’re nothing if not interesting, dear readers.  I, of course, felt that my best written works were not the most popular, but that’s how it goes.

I did some experimentation on how to paint with the rich brush stroke textures and mark making of somebody like Van Gogh and was pleased with initial results (even though I used acrylics, not oils), but I haven’t blogged about that yet.  My feeling is that if I do a few more paintings with that technique in mind, I might get to a distillation about the approach and then be able to write about it with some lucidity.  The first experiments sort of confirmed by suspicions and beliefs, but the result was not, as yet, entirely convincing, at least to me.  More work to be done on that, even though the approach seems promising.  I also have some new experiments to do this year, involving colour changing paints, very long handled brushes and Egbert brushes.  I can’t wait to try them all.

My books are making less progress, though some.  One book is in the editing and rewriting phase.  If I can dedicate some more time to that one, it should be possible to have it out in e-Book form some time during the year.  I still have no plan in place on how to market that one, yet, though.  That’s some of the work that remains to be done.

The other books are still coalescing, structure-wise, in my mind.  I think I have a definite plan for each of them.  There are also mountains of clipped research to go through, before I can get to the clarity I wish to convey. These books certainly are zeitgeisty, but will also struggle to find an initial audience, because they challenge a lot of accepted orthodoxies and concepts.  To hell with it!  That’s why I am writing them.  The whole point is to challenge the legitimacy of structures that people accept as givens.  Having achieved some sort of clarity in my own mind about how to shape each book, I just have to do the hard work of carving out time to actually write them, without feeling the weight of the pointlessness and despair that accompanies the feeling that you might be writing something challenging to the reader and that this might make the books a hard sell.  On the other hand, they might be just the books that everybody was waiting for.  Who can tell?

Music was a little more neglected than I would have liked, this year.  This is the part that causes me the most pain, because it’s the thing I want to spend most of my time doing, circumstances permitting.  Unfortunately, they didn’t.

On the plus side, my guitar playing finally reached a standard that I had previously reached many years ago, before I more or less stopped playing.  I now feel I can move forward and make new progress.  I look forward to jamming every week.  In fact, it’s the highlight of my week and a chance to try new sounds, new licks, new pedals, new guitars and to improvise spontaneously.  It’s really sharpening my musical skills, all around.  I also get a lot out of the online TrueFire guitar tuition courses.  No matter what standard you play at, you always learn something new from these.  I recommend them.

Unfortunately, the song writing, recording and producing remained obstinately resistant to my efforts to move them forward.  I put this down to a combination of factors, but mostly because I realise the standard required is quite high.  That said, I think it’s time to swim.  I need to use the methods I’ve been using to maintain momentum in my painting and blog posting to give my recording, song writing and producing a kick start.  It’s time.

I spent quite some time messing around with new guitar sounds, this year.  While I am definitely sold on the new digital modelling approach, because of its sheer versatility and value for money, I have to confess that some of the more interesting sounds came about, this year, by using analogue distortion and overdrive pedals of various kinds in combination with digital modelling amplification.  I’m not saying that the effects I obtained can’t be digitally modelled.  The difference is definitely subtle and in the detail of the sound.  I’m just saying that these sounds haven’t been digitally modelled accurately, to date.  In the mean time, the combination of analogue and digital definitely works for me.

My sound library has begun to converge on the overall sonic aesthetic I want on my album.  It’s gravitating toward the sound I hear in my head, when I imagine my finished tracks.  This is a good thing.  Something a little bit unique is brewing.  It’s a rich soundscape and one with many different elements.  I hope you’ll like the overall sound, when I (at long last) get the production going.  It has been hard to envisage how to marry my guitar sounds, my synthesiser sounds, my sound design and sound effects and my voice into a coherent mix.  I’m now at the stage where I think I have the ingredients chosen and now just need to try to combine those using different recipes.  Making music, for me, is akin to being in a kitchen.

The demands of my recording technology overtook me, this year, mainly because two things occurred at once.  My C drive got full and Vista support for my DAW and sampler of choice dried up.  I have to do some reorganisation and upgrade to Windows 7, which is fraught with danger and time consuming, but it’s the only route forward.  Then I can install all the updates that have been waiting on this upgrade.  There will be a big push on this front from me soon.  There has to be.  It’s nagging at my brain and interfering with my ability to forget the technology and just make music.

Yes, I could make music with what I have already, but the upgrades have features that I can see would be terribly useful in what I am trying to achieve.  I’m loathe to continue to do things the hard way, when the tools just require some boring, risky technical maintenance on my behalf to become available to me.  There is an admitted displacement activity angle to all of this, for sure, but there you have it.  I’m human.  Sue me.  I’m relatively new to this artistic way of thinking and living.

Vocally, the long commute to the office continued to provide the space and privacy to work on my singing tone, tuning and range, while driving in my car.  I’m not the world’s best or most natural singer, but I think I’m getting to the point where the microphone shyness is beginning to dissipate.  That’s a great enabler for my recording and song writing.  I feel ok about making a sound with my voice.  Sometimes, I even like what I hear.  I still need to work on my vocal strength and consistency, as well as one of my middle ranges, but it’s coming (gradually).

I have a backlog of minor guitar repairs and adjustments to do and many vintage effect pedals to bring back to life, but these are definitely not a priority.  Once I am making music, these are “nice to have” additions.  I can get by without doing all of this work right now.

Because I am not yet established sufficiently in any of my arts to make a good living doing them, I still work hard and long in a day job.  I travel internationally for it as well, which curtails my many other artistic projects, when I do.  Professionally, there have been many events beyond my control this year and much churn and disruption.  It all happened around me.  My resolution, in response to these unhappy conditions, was simply to do the best work I could possibly do; because that was the one thing I had control over.  As a consequence, I wrote literally hundreds of thousands of words and drew dozens of diagrams about the design and architecture of what I strongly feel is both my best technical work and the right thing for the future of the company I work for.  To my astonishment, this output is gradually beginning to make a difference and is starting to influence the whole company.  We’ll see how it pans out, but it provides proof of the approach I took.  Actively deciding to produce your best work is a very good decision to make, no matter what your field.

The other half of this professional uncertainty was that I began to see a vision for the conditions under which my professional, technical life could be ideal.  This particular project has, unfortunately, been left on the back burner, due to the time demands placed on me recently by my job commitments, but it’s definitely not forgotten.  I hope to return to bringing those ideal conditions into existence, this year.  There are excellent collaborators I think could help cause this reality to manifest.

Sadly, I continue to search for enlightened, awake, aware people to whom my book and lyric subject matter ideas are not surprising, but generally tend to not find very strong echoes, consistently.  While that’s discouraging and lonely, it is paradoxically what makes both the books and the album’s concept necessary.  The struggle remains to see the isolation as an advantage and an opportunity, rather than a rejection and reason to give up.  The struggle is what fuels your art.

A good friend of mine reminded me, recently, that Steve Jobs had believed that you can only go forward in the hope that all of the dots will eventually appear to connect, in retrospect.  His interest in typography, for example, made little practical sense, career wise, until it became the basis for the beauty of the Apple computer’s operating system and applications.  It only made sense looking backward.  I keep drawing and joining the dots, but the pattern hasn’t formed fully, yet, I have to say.  I just need to continue to believe that the puzzle will come together, in the end and be obvious, looking back at it all.  I hope so.

How did your artistic year pan out?

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About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: https://michaeltopic.wordpress.com/. There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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5 Responses to Taking Stock

  1. My gosh! I thought I did a lot! Wow, you certainly have a lot of interests! I work full time too and find it hard to juggle my job, my writing, my networking, renovating, keeping fit etc. Started a new manuscript but rushed into it without doing very much research so am juggling writing and research. I’m happy with my achievements for this year. Of course would have liked to got more writing done but I got http://www.starvinginagarret.com up and running, did a monthly blog, my reviews and made some submissions so not too bad!

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