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The Ultimate Guide to Building a Studio Practice

I was recently invited to write a post for The Abundant Artist Blog on the mindset needed to build a sustainable creative practice, and I’m happy to share with you that it’s live!

artist jessica singerman painting in studio

“For many people, when they think about an artist at work, they envision uninterrupted marathon hours of studio time… something that isn’t realistic for most artists.

A studio practice needs to be sustainable – meaning you can keep it up for many years, whether you have family obligations or other jobs – without burning out. There are obvious necessities for a studio practice – like space and time – but to sustain a practice for a lifetime involves your mindset.

What is mindset? Simply put, mindset is the way you think. You can reframe the way you think to make your thoughts work for you, not against you.

I talk about the artist mindset in two ways: the mindset for your creative practice and the mindset for selling your work. In this post, I dig into how to cultivate an artist mindset to drive your creative practice. How do you prioritize the making part of the equation and keep creative momentum?

With mindset, people often focus on having a positive outlook. Positivity is part of it, but I advocate having a resilient mindset. The resilient artist mindset means being equipped to keep making your work even when you don’t feel like it. Develop the tools to carry you through lulls in your work and to break through blocks. Recognize that life might not be all kittens and roses, and you will have challenging moments. Having resilience lets you know that you can and will work through external and internal obstacles.

I’ve found nine keys to building a resilient artist mindset and sustainable studio practice…”

Continue reading this post on The Abundant Artist blog.

On working slowly and enjoying the process… and color

Lately I’ve been living and working more slowly. I realized working at a break-neck speed isn’t sustainable or enjoyable anymore, and that since I work for myself, I could give myself permission to work more slowly. The fact is I will always get my work done, so I can choose to take my time and enjoy the process. I’m not a procrastinator, so it doesn’t make sense for me to anxiously work fast anyway. This is all easier said that done however. I realized I needed to slow down in 2020, but it’s taken me a year to actually put it into practice.

I’m also deliberate about not multitasking if I can help it. Most of the time, genuine multitasking isn’t actually as effective as singletasking for me (not sure this word exists, but I’m using it) and at the end of a long work session of multitasking, while I might feel virtuous, everything feels like a bit of a blur, and the process definitely isn’t enjoyable.

There are certainly tasks I can complete relatively quickly and painlessly, but generally speaking these days I’ve been mindful about my thought processes and the way I do things, and I feel overall more content while working and living more slowly. Except on certain designated bike rides when speed is kind of the point of the ride – that’s different.

On that note, here’s what’s happening in the studio right now. And yes, I did mention that I don’t multitask, but I typically do have multiple projects going on at once. I just don’t work on them simultaneously.

I’m working on a series of landscapes where I’m playing with shapes and colors. I’m working slowly, trying to figure out the kind of color-play I want, refining the edges of shapes, thinking about the feel of the surface…

It feels good to take my time and work meditatively. These are the first two in progress.

I started in reds and pinks and oranges, colors that I knew would be mostly covered up and dissonant with the colors in the finished paintings. I like to allow little sections of the underpainting to show between shapes or through brush marks. Now that I’ve covered up most of the underpainting, I’m reworking the colors to fine tune how they relate to each other.

I’m thinking of what I’ve learned through experience over years of painting and back to grad school in one of my favorite and most challenging classes: color theory. In this class we studied the Munsell color system, which breaks down color into three properties or dimensions: value, chroma and hue. The way I put this into practice as I paint is by making some colors darker or lighter (adjusting the value), making some more or less dull (chroma), and in some cases changing the color completely – like turning a violet into green (the hue).

Because the paintings are paired down with a few interlocking shapes, the colors become even more important. I think that as art becomes more minimal, each decision becomes more significant because everything is there to see, plain as day.

As I make changes in color, edges of shapes shift around too: some edges get more crisp and some become softer. This process is both intellectual and intuitive as I think through what I know about color relationships and how I want the paintings to feel.

These paintings feel like an important bridge for me. For years, I’ve been wanting to integrate the landscape with the geometric work I did in my Little Watercolor Squares series. (See some of the paintings here and the book here.) Last year, I made geometric interiors for my show at Elder Gallery. (See that work here.) These new paintings feel like an integration of all that past work, and that feels good. This work isn’t ego-driven. It’s not trying to prove anything. It just is.

On the other wall of my studio are some small paintings I made to test out compositions and colors for this new series. These little guys will be available at the Ardmore Art Walk on May 8th.

The larger painting on the right is a commissioned piece that’s drying. It was inspired by Amanda Gorman’s Inauguration Day poem.

To be the first to know when the landscapes above are available, subscribe to my Insider’s List here.

Botanical Drawing Greeting Cards for pre-order this week!

violet botanical drawing

Due to popular request I’m doing a print run of my Botanical Drawing Greeting Cards this spring!

Pre-order your cards here until Thursday April 15th. ⁣

This is a pack of 10 greeting cards with my botanical drawings on the front. Each card features a different plant and is ready to be personalized on the inside. They come with envelopes.

The plants featured are all found in North Carolina and according to a good friend, the cards are a perfect gift for a teacher, neighbor, friend, family, minister – particularly if they love nature.⁣

Cards will ship in May and are only available direct from me.⁣

See them all and get the details HERE.

Camping, grit, resilience and mountains

 

I spent a long weekend camping with my family at one of our favorite spots, Pilot Mountain State Park. We love spending time in this special place, and we hike there year-round.

We went to the summit one evening just before sunset and I couldn’t resist shooting a short video to share this landscape with you. The first views above are from that evening, looking toward Winston-Salem and then the Blue Ridge.

The second view is from one of our hikes in the morning, of Hanging Rock and Sauratown Mountain toward east of Winston-Salem. One of the unique aspects of this spot is that as you do different hikes in the park, you’ll have the chance to see 360 degrees of landscape from Pilot Mountain. Since the mountain’s rocky formation juts out of the surrounding hills, it’s not surprising that it was used as a navigational landmark and was called Jomeokee or “great guide” by the area’s first inhabitants.

My family and I often have interesting conversations as we walk. One of the ideas that came up was the meaning of the words grit and resilience. My husband took the position that they are one and the same. I argued they aren’t, but that there is overlap and that the two qualities can go hand in hand. In the last year since the pandemic hit, I’ve been thinking of resilience a lot. I didn’t realize it until relatively recently, and it feels like an important quality to cultivate now. Anyway, my brother, being the rational person he is, recommended we simply look up the definitions. So here they are from my good old American Heritage College Dictionary:

*grit: indomitable spirit; pluck

resilience: the ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune; buoyancy

I often feel gratitude to have such beautiful places just a short drive away from home. Spending time at Pilot Mountain walking and looking and listening fills me with contentment and with inspiration for my work. Now it’s back to the studio!

Find some paintings inspired by my time at Pilot Mountain here and bring some peaceful energy of the outdoors into your space.

 

*I like the way Angela Duckworth talks about grit in her aptly named book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. You can watch her TED talk here.

Introducing Portraits!

Last night I read an article in the *New York Times Style Magazine about terroir. It describes a vintner in Cleveland who planted vines in an abandoned city block to make his wines. It also features a baker who put out sourdough starter in various spots in New York City so that each one would pick up flavors from its environment. (Note this was pre-COVID times.)

If you’re interested in wine, you might know terroir as a French word used to describe the environment in which a particular wine’s grapes are grown. The makeup of the soil, altitude, sunlight and rain, all of these factors influence the flavor of a wine. This got me thinking about how I could apply the concept of terroir to portrait painting.

Last week, I made a painting of my husband Tim while he napped in my studio. I’ve drawn him many many times, but over the course of 16 years together, I hadn’t painted him yet. I purposefully included the studio space, tools, a cool chair and bright blanket around him. All these elements were fun to paint and gave me an excuse to play with line and colors. And all of these elements around Tim contribute to how his finished portrait turned out. All the elements in the space around him are a sort of terroir for this portrait.

Making that painting reminded me of how much I love painting people, so I decided to launch portraits this week.

I’d love to make paintings of people in either indoor or outdoor spaces… with things that bring them joy… a bike… some books… plants… musical instruments perhaps… 

You’ll notice I’ve included my painting of two dog buddies on a mountain top because our fur babies make great portrait companions!

I currently have some beautiful birch wood panels I’ve been preparing, and these will be ready this week to start making paintings. They are 24×18 inches with 1.5″ edge (painted white), and will come wired and ready to install on your wall. A portrait of this size is priced at $2300 for 1-2 people (or pets!), and I’m happy to work in other sizes and with larger groups as well.

Check out my custom artwork page for details on how the commission process works, or email me if you’re ready to get started. I look forward to making your portrait!

*Ligaya Mishan. “The Growers, Bakers and Beekeepers Embracing the Terroir of American Cities.” The New York Times Style Magazine 26 Mar. 2021.

Make a botanical watercolor drawing with me

This morning I went exploring in the neighborhood with my son. We walked through a stream and through bramble and over fallen trees and on a hillside of kudzu… we found animal tracks and bones and all sorts of adventurous stuff. We also found beautiful flowering weeds!

I always get excited in that transition from winter to spring, when the dandelion, violets, clover, and nettle and all sorts of tiny tender leaves and flowers start to appear. I picked one of my favorite (it was in a spot filled with many others), some purple dead nettle, so I could make a drawing.

I thought you might like to see the process and maybe even join along. So here we go back in the studio…

In case you do want to join me, I’m using pencil, Pigma micron ink pen, watercolor and a 140lb watercolor paper.

Want to learn how to use watercolors? Check out my watercolor course.

On running and walking

2 paintings and a dog in living room
“Go Easy” and “Pilot Mountain 3” bringing a breath of nature into this living space

A couple weeks ago, I pulled the plug on running. I’ve been nursing hamstring and hip injuries for the last couple of years, and figured the smart move would be to stop running and to walk instead. So last week I resumed my daily morning walks.

Before getting back into running a few years ago, I used to walk every morning. First it was to walk my son to preschool, and I loved sharing that time with him: walking slowly, talking to neighborhood cats, picking up tiny sticks and stones and plants to collect. When he got older and went to elementary school, I’d walk after dropping him off.

I’d look at the patterns of tree branches, and the colors of leaves and the shapes and colors of shadows on the grass.

After a week of returning to daily morning walks, I realize that during my runs, I don’t engage with my environment in the same way. When I’m running, my mind goes straight to my thoughts or to how my body feels. Whether on the road or trails, I’m paying attention to my environment, but it’s to make sure that I’m not going to get hit by a car or trip on a rock.

When I’m running I’m not looking at the landscape with my painter brain.

I’ll give you an example of how I look when I’m walking. Yesterday on my walk, I noticed the dark shape of the trees behind a meadow, the large expansive green shapes of those meadows, and the way the sky cut into the tree line.

This morning on my walk, I noticed patterns in trees: the v-shape notches between branches and the shapes of the trees before they transition to sky. I also took the time to photograph piles of branches (my current obsession) and to root through them for sticks that might spark my imagination in the studio. Who knows? Those piles of branches might be the jumping off point for a series of drawings or paintings.

So I’m enjoying my walks right now. I’m relishing moving more slowly through space and observing all the changes happening as winter transitions to spring.

Above, you’ll notice my paintings Go easy and Pilot Mountain 3. Going easy sums up this shift to walking from running, and the Pilot Mountain series is inspired by my family’s favorite hiking spot. Find them both in my shop. 

What do artists do all day?

It’s a busy time here, and because what artists do all day seems like a bit of a mystery, I thought I’d invite you to get a glimpse behind the scenes.

I’ve been creating a new course for artists called the Four Foundations for a Thriving Art Practice. My collaborator, the Seattle artist Sarah Guthrie and I conceived of this 5-week class to help artists build sustainable, fulfilling art practices, and there is no other course exactly like this one out there. I’m really proud of this work because I know it can make a difference in a lot of artists’ lives. The course launches on February 23rd.

Last week, I had an excellent conversation with Sonya Pfeiffer, director of Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art, about the thought process behind the work in my exhibit, Hold us in the light. You can watch our chat here on my blog. View the works and shop the exhibition here.

For the last year, I’ve had an installation/video project I’ve been thinking about (something on the scale of Paper Mountain) and I finally got the ball rolling. The project is inspired by the effects of flood waters, and I am currently in the early prototyping phase and working on grant proposals for funding. Given the scale of the project, I’m probably a couple of years out on exhibiting this, so stay tuned!

I’ve also been continuing to develop my painting and drawing skills by working from life and refining my knowledge of color by doing color studies. In retrospect, it seems that’s what I typically do in the winter and in between larger projects.

I have a favor to ask. If you know anyone who would be interested, would you forward this post to them or let them know about my work? Or if you feel comfortable, would you forward their email to me and I’ll take it from there? Word of mouth is one of the best way that I connect with new collectors. I really appreciate your support!

The field you think you own, oil and acrylic on canvas, 40 x 60 inches

Conversation with Sonya Pfeiffer

Sonya Pfeiffer is owner and director of Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art in Charlotte, NC.

From the gallery:

Jessica Singerman Artist Talk

Join us in the studio with Jessica Singerman as she takes viewers behind the thought process and intention in her new series, Hold Us in the Light.

View the works we’re talking about and shop the exhibition here.

 

Creative Detours

Creative Detours: an exhibition of paintings by Jessica Singerman at the Forsyth County Public Library
January 1 – March 31, 2021

(January 11, 2021, Winston-Salem, NC) Award-winning painter Jessica Singerman announces her exhibit of paintings entitled CREATIVE DETOURS, opening at the Forsyth County Public Library on January 1 and continuing through March 31, 2021.

In this collection of paintings, viewers will notice that some are more impressionistic and some have more recognizable elements – the work hovers between abstraction and representation. In this way, Singerman explores the way things look (shapes, colors, line, edges, etc…) and the way things feel (hot sunlight, cold wind, the smell of leaves, birdsong, etc…).

Singerman’s work is inspired by the poetry of nature, color and light in the landscape, seasons, and the passing of time. Says Singerman, “All of our senses are awakened when we spend time outside. The rhythm of steps while hiking, the whir and clicks on a bike ride, the changing shapes of light and shadow between trees, the sound of birdsong—the memory of all these impacts on my senses feeds into my process of abstraction. I love to explore my experiences in nature through the elements of color, shape, line and composition.”

Viewers may recognize Singerman’s paintings from the billboard featuring her work on Route 52. She was one of the 2020/2021 Triad region ArtPop Street Gallery winners.

The artwork in the exhibition can be purchased at www.jessicasingerman.com.

About the artist: Jessica Singerman lived alternatively in France and the United States during her early life. Singerman earned her BA with Highest Honors in 2002 from the College of William & Mary, Virginia, and her Masters of Fine Arts in 2004 from the University of Delaware while on a fellowship. Her award-winning paintings and drawings are exhibited and collected internationally. Singerman lives and works in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

FORSYTH COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY, including CREATIVE DETOURS, by Jessica Singerman, January 1 – March 31. 660 W 5th St, Winston-Salem, NC 27101, www.forsyth.cc/library/, 336.703.2665

Find this article on YES! Weekly. Thank you to publisher Charles Womack and to YES! Weekly for the write up!

High up in its windy nest, oil and acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40 inches
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