Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Hashtag: Big Magic! Why I'm Painting This Portrait Project.

My writer-daughter Rosie Spinks said months ago I really must explain to folks out there why on earth I decided to paint a third town with my portrait brush with a third newspaper being as I didn't live close to the town and had no real connection to it.

For the longest time, I was having trouble finding a way to put pen to paper, or hit the keyboard, to explain why.

The Face of Charleston By Johanna Spinks
April 2016
Kindly Featured in The Charleston Mercury.
With sitter, famous doorman  Havin Turner

As readers of this blog will know by now, I painted The Face of Ventura with The Ventura Breeze and Lyn Fairly and Friends Radio show, over a two year period (58 of those portraits now in the permanent collection of the Museum of Ventura County) before moving on to The Face of   Malibu with The Malibu Times. This coming December I will hit the 50 sitter mark in Malibu, my hometown,  which I am immensely proud of.

January 2016 saw The Face of Charleston begin with the historic Charleston Mercury newspaper (est. 1822) and co-creator Katherine Mengedoht,  the concept being exactly the same, to record a slice of the town through my portrait brush, the sitter's sketch appearing in the newspaper along with their life story and how they found the experience of being painted by me. This new project has a newspaper sponsor for the first time, Dan Mengedoht. I should point out I am never paid. This is a free portrait project and I am now in my sixth year of doing it. Not a penny in my pocket from it but many pennies out of my pocket for supplies, travel, promo stuff, time away from the earning portrait commission easel.

So why do it? Am I nuts not to want to get paid?

I was gifted a book at the weekend called "Big Magic" by Elizabeth Gilbert, of "Eat, Pray Love" fame, outling 'creative living beyond fear'.

We are fans of this uber-talent in our house, especially my afore-mentioned writer-daughter Rosie who has told me many times I need to tap into Gilbert more. She talks as eloquently as she writes by the way. Both Rosie and Gilbert. And who can ever forget the permission to enjoy pasta in the blockbuster book of a decade  "Eat, Pray' Love"?

So I started reading "Big Magic", along with listening to a long-form podcast quite coincidentally  that I had started Friday night before receiving the surprize gift book Saturday in the mail. You could say it was a magical Gilbert weekend. There are no accidents.

A lightbulb went off for me. Suddenly I have a deeper understanding of what will ultimately be a  10 year public portrait project for me: why I continue to do it, the  initial draw for me, and its' current phase draw. Hence this long and overdue post.

These portrait projects are all about a certain magic that I have no control over.

The Face of Malibu By Johanna Spinks
April 2016
Col. Rick Mullen
Kindly featured in The Malibu Times

*The magic of creativity...

 Letting the muse in. I have never once taken a sitting for granted in the 120 or so sitters I have painted by now for the projects of butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, and of course movers and shakers, mayors, famous actors and town cryers. I always ask politely ahead of time for the art spirit to guide me as I walk into the sitting of just two short hours. I prepare too.  I give myself thinking/meditation  time setting up my palette with paints before the sitter arrives.  I prep the canvas along with some practicing of my daily drawing scales, much like a musician doing his. I have never once shown up 'less than'. No late nights before. No extra glassses of red wine or heavy garlic meals. I want to give the sitter and my portrait brush the best chance I can of magic showing up, or at the very least pulling off a decent likeness that both I and the sitter will be happy with.

*The magic of the moment...

Each and every sitter has shared with me so honestly about their lives during the sitting in the most extraordinary and  humbling way. This is indescribable. Words can't cover it. I know I will never do anything in my art life like this again. I will never share with people in quite the same way and so intimately-  and around my art - over such a long period of time.  It is a complete one-off that I will remember when I am old and grey looking back in wonderment from my wheelchair in the nursing home.

*The magic of letting go...

I learned at the very beginning I had to let my art ego go. This was a soul project as Gilbert would say. These two hour sketches from life, talking as we go,  can never look like a sketch that you paint quietly with no-one around. And of course, I am putting each and every one of them out there in the world through the newspapers, a radio show, and on social media outlets.

Will they be judged? Of course! Will people know the challenge of painting someone who is often quite nervous when they show up at my studio,  in just two hours, and me wondering if I can pull off a likeness once again around the 'fly by the seat of your paints' process? Of course not. Will the sketches be judged negatively? Of course. I know that for a fact after receiving some hate mail and  especially an email from a fellow female artist to another, that was not meant for my eyes, but directly criticising my work and supposed 'talents' around the project. Will the sketches be judged positively? Of course. There is no such thing as a free lunch, an art buffet where everyone loves every course,  everything about you and your work. No.

I had to learn to be content with the sheer process of creation, the mission of the project, and the gift the sitter was giving me, by sitting for my series and for the gifts of the series' writers and newspaper publishers. See below.

I try to never adjust the sketches after the sitter leaves the studio, fearing the life essence on the canvas will be forever lost if I do and that is not fair to the art spirit or the moment the sitter and I created. A unique interaction between sitter and painter recorded forever through paint.

*The magic of an uncertain outcome...learning trust.

Usually in my art life I am very in control and type A. I usually know the outcome of much of what I do.  Portrait commissions are researched, and then painted to my absolute  best, delivered on time, and I can't wait to start the next.  Badda bing, badda boom.

However, the portrait sketches have never been for sale. They are painted on these fairly thick stretcher bars, , 16"x16", stacking up in my storage area like a super thick, giant deck of cards. I try not to get nervous when I look at them piling up, no-one picking the deck up to shuffle it. I don't know what's going to happen to them.  Will they get a show? Etc., etc. This was certainly the case with The Face of Ventura.  I had no idea the collection would end up in the county Museum permanently. And to be honest, it was the townsfolk that made that happen, not me. So I have learned trust. Trust that there are so many souls now involved in this project, from all walks of life, that the deck of cards will play out where it may.

So thank you to each and every sitter for the magic of this journey and the art spirit, that makes me wish to continue in a another town. And a big thank you to Elizabeth Gilbert for helping me make some sense of this just when I needed to. And also to Rosie Spinks for sharing the creative journey and her big magic with me.

About one hour in, of a two hour sitting at the historic Market Pavilion Hotel, hosted in the Presidential Suite.

Magical thanks also to:

Elizabeth Gilbert for reposting this blog post on her impressive Twitter Feed!!

Charleston sponsor Dan Mengedoht
Sheldon Brown, publisher of The Ventura Breeze
Arnold York, publisher of The Malibu Times
Charles Waring, publish of The Charleston Mercury
Lyn Fairly, Lyn Fairly and Friends' Radio Show.

Project Writers:
Catalina Wyre, Malibu
Homaira Shifa, Malibu
Katherine Mengedoht, Charleston
Sheldon Brown, Ventura.


Lyn Fairly said...

Working with Johanna Spinks on the "Face of Ventura" project was a joy. The event, yes it was an event, was a multi-media format the first of it's kind on our lovely town.

Johanna stated that upon visiting Ventura, a City built on the shores of an expansive beach in California, she in the vein of Norman Rockwell, wanted to catch the overall "Face" of the city painting the 58 faces. The are between the ages of 9 - 99, kids, men and woman of all walks of life.

Johanna with Sheldon Brown the proprietor of "The Breeze", our hometown newspaper and myself Lyn Fairly, the faces were kept secret until the newspaper first published the story of the portrait barely after it was dry. On my live radio broadcast heard from Santa Barbara to Santa Monica including the entire Ventura county, I interviewed the "Face" who sat for the portrait.

There was a lot of conversation as to who might be the next face and people rushed to locate "The Breeze" to learn the nominee's name. It was a successful art campaign in that it was the 3 of us who made the community excited and involved. It helped Johanna and Sheldon and myself build lasting relationships. I recommend it to other cities and art councils as a way to promote local artists, newspapers and broadcasters.

I wish we had the same dynamic involvement in Malibu. Do fins a place to have all of he portraits on display like you did Johanna at the Ventura County Museum. Invite me!? It is a blast. Remember how many people came to see the Faces?

Your humble radio D.J. and pal, Lyn Fairly KVTA 1590 AM

Johanna Spinks said...

Thank you Lynn so much. It was a pleasure working with you. I paint my 50th face in Malibu this coming December. They will be on display. Stay tuned!