Monica Burrow
Original Art from BC and Beyond

Blog - A Palette of Ideas - on being an artist

(posted on 18 Jan 2020)

It's been a while since I last wrote here, as I feel it's more important when there is actually something useful that I can share.

Last March my art guild needed someone to fill in at the last minute on a public interactive demo day. After the general meeting I offered to do it if needed, and shortly afterward I received a phone call confirming my participation.

I arrived on the day with my helpful husband in tow carrying bags of my work, and all my supplies. We hung up some of my work behind the table, I pulled out my canvas prepared with sketch and transparent colour toning, and got down to work in front of a crowd of anywhere from 5 to 12 people that came and went throughout the three hours.

I explained how I started out 27 years ago and then started applying paint.

Some people came and went. Some stayed the entire time. Some stood in the rear of the group and took in snippets of info and others sat hunched in the front row eagerly taking notes. Some were quiet, some asked questions. Some smiled and some were serious.

I thought I could feel my blood pressure rising. I had a few adrenalin rushes for sure, especially during parts I wasn't confident about or where I was feeling my way through values or shapes. Making sure the image was reading properly was a challenge since I was working against time and couldn't step back freely without ending up in someone's lap.

Some people I recognized as non painters, some were curious about starting, the rest I of course imagined were masters of their craft who should have been doing the demo instead of me!

Prior to this demo I had painted with an audience. In a previous blog Go Big or Go Home, I wrote about seniors with massive cognitive and physical impairments that I painted for, who couldn't leave if they wanted to either because of not being able to speak or move. Some of these had a keen interest in art, through former related art careers or art as a hobby and would stay with me because it brought them some kind of joy to watch me create an image.

Before that my demo experience was years ago from a few visits to demonstrate for my daughters' elementary classes. I started with the Kindergarten class and gained enough courage to paint in front of the Grade 4 class. In both cases the demos were successful and it seemed that a lot of that success was attributable to choosing the right audience! (It didn't take much to impress a group of 4 year olds.)

I did have a year of teacher training back in the mists of time that I relied on for confidence that I could pace and communicate knowledge in front of others.

After the interactive demo last year, while cleaning up, I found a plain white shopping bag with something wrapped inside it. I took it to be a bag of garbage that a member of the public had left and opened it before throwing it away.

To my surprise there was a parcel wrapped in newsprint, tied with a ribbon and a little sign taped onto the outside. On the newsprint was a handwritten message of support from a fellow guild member, former buyer and vocal supporter of my work. She wished me well on the demo, said some very nice things and said it was the beginning of good things to come. In the wrapped parcel was a canvas and the words "I can't wait to see what you do with this."  In my relief at having completed the challenge, it was the PERFECT ending to a day that was very intense at times.

Since the demo, I have taught my first workshop for the Guild, teach an ongoing monthly class in Acrylic Landscape, have another Workshop coming up in April, have been invited by another Art Guild to teach a weekly class there in March and April (see Workshops and Demos tab). Each time I have demonstrated or taught I bring the little sign and set it up on the work surface.

The latest demo was for an art guild in another town! The painting I did in 2 hrs plus another 45 minutes at home, is below.  Once again, I was nervous as this was for an art guild with some very good painters, not the general public. Once again I imagined they were all masters of their craft and early in the wee hours of the day the demo was to happen, I was awake with mind racing about colour choice, brushstrokes and pacing. In an effort to get SOME sleep I reminded myself that they had seen the website, so they knew I wasn't a fingerpainter and that if they had wanted magic, they would have hired a magician! The demo went well. There was no need to worry.

I tell my audience that the sign is not about me. The sign is there to remind me of all those along the way who told me I could do it. Even at times when I wasn't sure. Even when I was amazed to find that people thought I knew stuff they might not. It reminds me of my friend. It reminds me of my family who have told me good things over the years. It reminds me of the people who have chosen to live with my work by buying it. It reminds me that self doubt is my biggest obstacle. It gives me confidence to push ahead with what I enjoy and grow in my work.

So thanks to Rose and everyone else out there who has said positive things. Thanks to those who have rejected my work too, as they have a place in keeping my feet on the ground and keeping me part of the growing and improving that makes the art making a fresh challenge every time I start new work.

"Island Charm" is found in the Southern Gulf Islands BC Coast Gallery