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Today I thought I would talk about my “Haiku Series” paintings.

Painters in the past had to paint realistic subjects in beautiful detail. With the advent of the camera, painters needed to differentiate themselves from this new technology, so they began to split off into many different, less realistic ways of presenting their “art.” Now there are so many different schools of painting you need to take courses to understand them all -- I know, I teach them. Plus, viewers of art may feel confused as to what any given piece of art is supposed to be about. When you view the art on my website today, before you read anything about it, I want you to stop to see what you think of it, what it makes you feel. Then, after you've allowed your mind to interpret it, you can read on to learn more about the piece.

This is particularly true of what I call my “haiku paintings.” In 2007 I went to the Vermont Studio Center, which is where I learned how to do these paintings. This method was suggested to me by the painter Bill Jenson. The Haiku paintings and drawings are abstractions using a method that is similar to a technique reportedly used by the seventeenth century Japanese haiku poet, Basho. As the method was told to me, one of Basho’s disciples recorded that Basho would seat himself before his paper and wait for the “space” between himself and the paper to “disappear.” Then he would begin writing. When it seemed that the poem had begun to occupy its own “space,” he would quit writing. The poem was finished. As applied to my painting, I would sit in front of a canvas and wait until I felt the brush had to touch the canvas. At that point I would let my hand take me wherever it wanted to go. The strokes just happened. Since the haiku paintings were done quickly and in the moment, it is hard for me to pinpoint and remember exactly what feelings or thoughts motivated me to produce any particular one. By the way, my wife is a writer and poet, and she selected the titles for many of the haiku paintings. I let her look at the paintings, and she picked lines and phrases from poems that “fit” the painting for her.

Some paintings just have a different feel l than other paintings, whether they are abstract or representational. For example, “Soda Shoppe” (shown above) has a very light-hearted feel, which implied the title.

In contrast, the painting, “The fish glitters in me, we are risen tangled together, certain to fall back to the sea” (above) has a more serious feel, even having somewhat of a downward pull to it. The haiku paintings express certain feelings or movements and are very similar to calligraphy in this respect. Calligraphers in all cultures and all languages have exploited this propensity for the stroke of a pen or a brush to feel light-hearted, fanciful, playful or more solemn, depending upon their intent. However, one of the ways in which the haiku paintings differ from the work of calligraphers is that with the haiku paintings I never know what I am going to get ahead of time. This is related to the process of making the haiku paintings, which is very spontaneous, and seems to allow for expressions to come about of which I am unconscious.

Since I’m an art professor I also wanted you to know about how my haiku work fits into the scheme of art history. The closest parallel to this work in art history of which I am aware is the automatic writing done by the abstract surrealists of the 1920s and the 1930s. Their work was heavily influenced by the writings of Sigmund Freud, and in particular, his book The Interpretation of Dreams. In this book, Freud talked about the unconscious or subconscious mind, a part of the mind which we cannot access consciously but which nonetheless communicates tremendous amounts of information via symbols in dreams. Through automatic writing the abstract surrealists hoped to access the unconscious. The abstract surrealists were part of a larger movement known as modernism. The modernists reduced their subjects (such as landscapes) to basic colors and shapes.

Please feel free to comment below or to email me with any thoughts on this article or on any of my paintings. You can email me from my website or at


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Like many artists, I have a day job to support my art addiction. It is university teaching. For over 30 years I was head of the Art Department and just this year I have finally stepped down to just plain old teaching – with its attendant advising, committee meetings, faculty college meetings, faculty orientation, and more time eaters. But I must admit, most of the time I love teaching, too. But since the first lockdowns five months ago, things have changed. I, due to risk factors, obtained permission to teach fully online this fall. My wife, Stephania, is still overjoyed. Or maybe just joyful, not over joyed. In order to be able to do this online I had to take a course in Blackboard, an online teaching platform which from everything I can tell so far was not designed for lab or studio classes or anything that involves hands-on learning as opposed to sitting down learning. I need to be able to have students show me what they are drawing or painting, and then show me the progress of their drawings or paintings during class time. I had initially thought I might be able to do this on Zoom, since in theory the students could simply point their computers or iPads at their easels or drawings and go to work. I would have multiple screens to view, and voila! Problem solved. Not so. The university will not support Zoom.

There are several possible ways students could share subject matter and progress on Blackboard. One is they could upload photos of same onto the Discussion Board. However, I was told that the Discussion Board can only hold so many megabytes, and this method (50+ students uploading 3+ photos per class all term) will likely overload the system. Another choice is to use an “Assignment” function, but so far students are having to go through extensive machinations (15 steps, including getting kicked out of Blackboard entirely and having to log back on) in order to upload one photo. Since they need to send in about 3-4 photos per class, this is exceedingly cumbersome.

In the spring when we went first went online I didn’t use Blackboard, other than for grading. I handled everything via email back and forth. Now that I have had training in using it, I am aware of more features it has, including a communications method called Collaborate. I had hoped to maybe use this to let my students aim their screens at their work and I could watch as they worked, just as I had hoped to do with Zoom. Not happening. Getting screens aimed at work with the right angle and the right light just requires too many contortions. We are exploring the possibility of having students use a separate webcam in addition to their computers or iPads, but for the time being the students are reporting that webcams are sold out everywhere. (Apparently I am not the only person having this sort of problem.) I am also discovering an interesting phenomenon: my students do not want to share their screens or show video so that you can see their faces. Maybe they’re in their jammies in their rooms?

Collaborate is nice in that I can talk to the students directly and personally, instead of via email, plus the rest of the class can get the benefit of any advice if I so choose. Collaborate is also the third method I might use for having students upload their progress and subject matter photos. My wife has been looking this up for me (she used to use Blackboard when she was teaching). Apparently Collaborate will allow students to upload image files of their subject matter and progress, and will also allow me to download these image files that the students have uploaded. I am thinking of organizing them by student, although it may be time consuming and may overload my own computer.

Meantime my colleagues are teaching on campus. Campbell was described earlier this summer by some magazine or newspaper (can’t remember which) as being one of the best prepared schools for students to return in the fall. And they have definitely put work into it. They are doing their utmost to keep residency at one student per room. Since Campbell is a residential university (on the main campus, most students live on campus), this may prove difficult. They have mandated spacing out of classroom seating to safe distances, and in order to accomplish this have devised a variety of class schedules to accommodate the students. In particular, many classes are being split in half, with half attending one day of the week in person and the other half attending the other day (for Tuesday-Thursday classes). All classes are being recorded, so on the days a student is not in the classroom, he or she can watch it online. For Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes the idea is the same, but the scheduling is a little more complicated. Some classes are being taught synchronously (i.e., the teacher meets with all students at the same time, which is what I am doing), and some asynchronously (students work on their own time). There are problems with each approach. Depending on class size, various variations of this model can be employed to ensure social distance. The staff are working very hard at maintaining

“You guys have to realize a party is not life or death, but you

socializing during a COVID outbreak is.”

– Aisha Greene, Duke student

cleanliness. I hope it works. North Carolina State University closed regular classes and has gone fully online already, due to a jump in COVID cases. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has had four cluster outbreaks of COVID. Duke is faring well, but they required students to quarantine for two weeks before coming to school and they are testing like crazy. The biggest problem seems to be parties. I read a quote from a Duke student named Aisha Greene. She said, “You guys have to realize a party is not life or death, but you socializing during a COVID outbreak is.” My wife says she wants to meet this girl.

In our own department I worry about my colleagues who are teaching face to face. For the

Graphic Design professor, the computer lab is small relative to the number of computers in it, and spacing things so that students can be far enough apart will be quite a challenge. In the ceramics and painting studios, when students are going for and putting away supplies, social distancing just can’t be maintained and allow students time to get to their next classes.

It is only the end of the first week, though. I am waiting for word from the Computer Help Desk on their ideas on what I can do to resolve the photo uploading issue. And I am still learning more about Blackboard. Who knows? Maybe someone from the Blackboard company will read this, take pity on me, and make me my own special uploading function. I can always dream.

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Welcome to the inaugural issue of this blog, Breck Smith on Living as an Artist! The main authors of this blog are Breck and his wife, Stephania, who helps him with the business end of his work – and occasionally the creative side as well. We want to cover a variety of topics on the art life, including how much time you actually get to spend on creative work vs. on business aspects of art, balancing your art life and a day job, the pros and cons of working with family, “family lineages” in one’s art, different schools of art, being an art teacher, buying art, and more. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any topics you would like us to address, and please feel free to comment below.

So for today, let’s start with the first topic, how much time do you usually actually get to spend on your creative work as an artist? According to Breck, he (and many of his students) started out with the happy belief that his art life would be spent mostly at the easel or with a sketchbook in hand. Not so, he says. Breck now teaches his students the “80-20 Rule” – you usually spend about 80% of your time on business components of your art career and only 20% actually producing creative work. What things make up that 80% of time? Ordering art supplies and keeping records of them for tax purposes, for one. In fact, recording all money transactions is necessary for tax purposes. Cleaning your studio so that it is in shape enough for you to be able to work in it is a second odious chore that takes time. Keeping up with competitions and grants, applying to them, taking and preparing images of your work for your website and for submission to competitions, grants, and galleries, time spent finding and working with a gallery (including transporting work to and from the gallery) – part of the 80%. Keeping an inventory of your work (where it has been submitted [competitions, galleries, individual buyers], the results of those submissions [accepted or rejected? Showing in what location? Won any prizes? Purchased or under consideration or purchase? By whom?], and basic information about the work [medium, size, title, location, whether or not it has been framed already, and cost]) -- part of the 80%. In addition to an inventory of your work, you will also want to keep some sort of record (database or spreadsheet) of potential buyers, sellers, and competitions. Here you’ll want to list what work has gone to whom, when, what the results of that “contact” were, and sales, prize, or return (date of return and where it went – i.e., back to storage, sent to a new competition, sent to a new gallery, or

sent to a new buyer. You’ll also want to be sure to have snail mail, email, and phone number contact information on everyone in your list. This contact list can be the basis for sales announcements, show announcements, and other – limited!! – mailings for e-commerce purposes. You DO NOT WANT to overload recipients or they will unsubscribe from your list and/or ignore the content of your messages. Thus, it is critical to maintain this list. Part of the 80%.

What will you be saying to potential clients? How will you be reaching them? You could do it through mass mailings, but unless it is face-to-face interaction, most likely it will be via your social media, website, and a blog or text on your website. This is more time not spent on creative work. Website maintenance – uploading images and information about them (again, medium, size, title, location, whether or not it has been framed already, and cost) requires time. Coming up with social media and blog ideas takes time. Writing, editing, and uploading a regular social media and blogs take time. Most social media and blogs these days include some type of imagery – images, videos, animation, or GIFs. Preparing and processing these takes time. If you choose to place text directly on a website page, that takes time. Furthermore, the process of search engine optimization (SEO) requires that you have new, relevant material on your website, rotating on a regular basis. (SEO enables your art website to be found more easily on search engines like Google.) SEO requires further behind the scenes work (like adding tags to pages and images) which is also laborious and time-consuming. As Breck’s new-to-the-process web maintenance person, I can attest to this!

Another time consumer is keeping up with the field and researching juried competitions

(where are they? Who is the juror for juried shows?), grants (what are eligibility criteria, deadlines, etc.?), galleries (what kind of work do they carry? Does it look like your work might be a fit for them?), and what is going on in your field of art (painting, textiles, sculpture, etc.). Subscribing to the appropriate journals (Art Forum, etc.), newsletters, and blogs – and actually reading them – takes time, but is generally more fun and rewarding (at least Breck thinks so). This is also a way to gather names and contact information for potential networking. And networking takes up a LOT of time. Going to other artist’s shows and studios, participating in arts organizations, being active on art and artists' social media sites, and meeting and talking to gallery owners -- this is a necessary part of any art business and makes up a chunk of the 80%.

However, alongside all of this business-y work is the fun stuff – going into your studio and making your oil or acrylic paintings, going out and doing your public art sculptures, weaving beautiful textiles. The time when your creative juices flow – you get ideas for new work, new things to try in your work. Breck has been working recently with acrylic paint markers because it enables him to do continuous lines. He also tried out doing collage with acrylic painted sections of paper. It turns out he didn’t like that last one. The 20% you live for. Aaahhhhh. Makes the life of an artist worth it.



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