Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Close-up, "Realization," 2008 Acrylic on masonite by Lea Keohane. All Rights Reserved.

I am sure at some point in your life you have experienced a problem that you can't seem to solve. Whatever it is, it feels complicated, confusing, and the harder you try to find the answer, the more it evades you. Then you set it aside, get distracted, let it float around in the back of your life. Time passes. Suddenly the answer hits you. Maybe you feel a bit silly because it is so obvious. Nonetheless you are extremely thankful, your problem is solved and your life opens up a little bit because of it.

Over the past months, as I've talked about before, I have developed an early morning habit of sketching for an hour or so before everyone else wakes up. For the first few weeks, I cherished this time. It was my own time, my energy was spent entirely on myself, and it felt GOOD.

In addition, I have one day a week set aside specifically for painting, and so I would choose one of the drawings from my sketchbook, re-draw it on a canvas, and paint. Sounds great right? Wrong. The paintings felt contrived, awkward. They lacked the life and the energy that I love so much about the original drawings. So I thought, 'maybe the drawings are the real art,' and I set the paintings aside. But I have a number of reasons for not wanting to deal with works on paper, and one of them is that I want to PAINT. I love the feeling of my brush moving across my painting surface, controlling the brush strokes to look one way or the other, thinking about how the strokes will look later when they are dry and the light hits them just so. I love the way I can quickly cover a large area in paint, turning it from dull into a brilliant color that I am in love with...

And so, with this unhappy feeling, and the business of preparing for several shows and a visit from my mom, my morning ritual waned for a week or two, and my painting stopped entirely during this time. I was busy, stressed, and distracted to say the least, wondering what the hell I am doing with my life as well (a bout of worry that I go through in cycles).

During this time, though (it was only a couple of weeks, but it feels so much longer!), I tried to keep myself open to any answers. I am a strong believer that answers can come from anywhere, the most unexpected places, or in this case from expected ones. I met with different people, talked to strangers at my shows, listened. And I kept hearing, "prioritize, simplify." Finally my friend Anna hit it home when we went out to coffee. She looked at some lists of projects I was working on and made me rate from 1-10 how much I wanted to do each of them and what my reasons were for doing them. Aha! I was doing too many distract-a-projects with the thought of making money, and losing focus on my real goals. Plus I was wasting a lot of energy with all of my list-writing (and re-writing, and piling and saving of lists...yikes).

I sat with those thoughts for a few days, then one night I fell asleep early, I was recovering from a cold. Suddenly, at 4 am, I woke up. Wide awake. It was hot, I was uncomfortable, anxious about the shows I'm doing this summer, and I could not go back to sleep after 45 minutes of trying. So I got up. I made coffee, and started to go to my morning ritual of drawing in my sketchbook, when the answer came to me, loud, clear, and wise, "Draw directly on the canvas."

Plain, simple, obvious. I draw with a black sharpie most of the time anyway, there's no reason why I couldn't draw every day right on to my painting surface (usually masonite, not actually canvas). So now I'm back, I feel like my work has made a little leap ahead, and I feel really free. Not to mention in the need of LOTS of new surfaces to paint on! :)


Mixed Species said...

"Freedom" is the perfect title. You are correct in the simplification priority! In reading this post we couldn't stop thinking of the dozen or so notepads we have orbiting us full of our artistic A.D.D. notes. Must simplify. Thanks for the clarification!

The Big M said...

I tripped over a website the other day, "52 projects", and found the Not-to-do List. Oh man, I was doing everything on that list instead of my dang project. My lists, my dishes, blah,blah,blah, just because I couldn't solve my problem of NOT wanteing to draw this project. I love what yu had to say and it mirrors my own struggles so well. Thanks for the great words of wisdom, I will keep soldiering on!

LeaKarts said...

I'll have to check out that "not to do list!" I'm sure it would help set me straight :)

Amanda said...

Wow, what an awesome insight! I'm struggling with a bit of lack of focus myself, and your story took me right through the emotions I'm also going though!

I'm going to have to check out the Not to Do list as well. I seem to be able to find every distraction possible to keep me from working.

I'm also having great visions of masonite covered in thick black drawings all over a house, and just that image makes me smile. :)

Anonymous said...

Lea I LOVE that painting! I feel like I have been having your 2-week struggle for the past 3 years! I entirely understand the frustration. Perhaps I should try your epiphany and just DO IT, rather than 'plan' to do it. I have so many 1/2 done projects, and no real inspiration or time to finish them. I feel like I really need to get fired up again about my own work...but it's hard to know where to start.

On a side note...I miss you so much! And thankyou for all your wonderful livejournal comments - they really mean alot - as I always miss talking to you and getting your support and advice. Your the best!

squirrelmama said...

I love the idea of answers suddenly coming - or maybe they don't just come suddenly, maybe they are always there and we just need to quiet the insides of our busy little heads to let the answers come out.
At any rate, thank you for the reminder that this can happen. I have a lot of difficult questions to answer now - was just talking to a coworker about that, in fact, 5 minutes ago because she has some of the same difficult questions - and I think we just need to let it happen.
Freedom indeed!