I am offering long-term private classes to committed artists looking to deepen their creative explorations. These classes are more of an extended mentorship – a dialogue – whereby we go through all of the steps of the creative process and work towards finishing a fully realized painting. Please read on for more thoughts and and ideas about this. If you are interested in working with me, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Over the past few years, I’ve given a lot of thought as to what I have to teach others about art and creativity. One of the most important tools at an artist’s disposal is the imagination. This tool of the imagination is a powerful thing. We have the ability to morph and shape things in our visual spaces: to move in and out of them and find relationships between them. Successfully translating that to the canvas is the triumph of the visual artist.
Through this art that we make – these visions, these ideas, these imagined mindscapes – we can explore ourselves and our relationship to the internal and external worlds. Focusing that inner eye and giving it a voice through spontaneous expressions is something I’ve spent a lot of time working with. It is through visualization, moving through archetypes, personal symbols, and wordless spaces, that one finds meaningful compositions to create.
Invariably, teaching techniques for tapping into one’s personal creativity leads to exploring the translation of that onto the canvas. And so this, of course, leads back to technique. I’m not shying away from sharing ideas and approaches in that realm. On the contrary, technique is of utmost importance because if we wish to successfully translate our ideas and visions to the canvas, we need to have the right tools at out disposal. However, for me, the foremost thing is the vision. The vision – a well-explored, habitated, percolated, lived in, rotated, and fleshed out space that we know inside and out – in our minds, our hearts, our guts. It is that deeper creative process which I would like to share with others.
So these thoughts led me to decide to offer private classes to committed students who would like to work on developing a better pathway between vision and realization. I’ve chosen this approach – private classes – because I prefer working one on one. We can really get into the true process of creativity that way. These classes are specifically for artists who want to work with me in finding a deeper method of translating the internal vision – the visceral, emotional, and personal movement of it – to the canvas.
For me, the true magic of a piece happens by myself in my studio on my own time. What I would like, is to allow others to have that space for themselves while still having the instruction – the dialogue – available to them.
With these private classes, I want to work with interested artists through the many steps towards completing a fully realized painting. Work will include various visualization techniques, journaling, discussions about color and compositional theory, creating sketches, drawings, and studies towards the finished piece and, finally, translating those ideas onto the canvas, thereby completing a larger painting. It will be fun and, perhaps, difficult but, I hope, ultimately, rewarding for all involved.
We are fortunate to have many modes of communication at our disposal – phones and Skype and emails and more – so it’s not necessary that we live in the same city. What we will do is create a schedule of weekly or bi-weekly one hour check-in over the course of several months. Through that time, work will be shared and discussed. We will talk about modes and methods of creativity that you can work with at your own pace.
Movement and commitment to the process are required! Honesty, openness, and a willingness to communicate are a MUST! And you have to WANT to paint because of that inner drive, that desire to create: to make art simply for the love of it!
If you would like to work with me, I would love to hear from you!
Please email me at [email protected]. Include some images of your work and some thoughts on where you’re coming from and where you feel you might be heading. Don’t be shy! There’s no right or wrong! :)
A few notes:
A funny thing about humans (there’s lots of funny things about humans) is their propensity towards building systems. Often systems they build replicate the very structures they once sloughed off.
Some of us constantly seek out environments where we can experience and experiment with new systems and ways of relating. One such environment: Burning Man. What an experiment! Regardless of what they say, there is still very much a free for all going on. There’s so many groups of people trying to work together, camp together, build together, and play together that the radical experiment in this human experience is still going strong. The only thing that contains it is the mindsets of the participants.
Within that experiment has sprung up the idea of the ‘village’ – this big conglomeration of people all pitching together to create not just an amalgamation of various theme camps – but one great BIG theme camp. The village experiment is like a township within a county. BMORG, the county, so to speak, provides a certain amount of infrastructure – roads, bathrooms, a central art project, a cafe – and then the ‘village’ has tended to step in to try to make up for the rest, for the people who camp within it, that is. Often, for anywhere from 200 to 500 people (when does a camp become a village anyhow?), villages provide showers, meal plans, composting, grey water and electrical systems, entertainment, art projects, etc – all for a festival-worthy camp fee, and four or so hours of ‘volunteer’ work.
Whoa whoa there – wait waitaminit – hold the phone – right there – right off the bat – we’ve got it all wrong. Volunteer shift? What is this!? A festival!? Some kind of be-a-part-now-you’re-done shindig? No, it’s fucking Burning Man and the great edict is EVERYONE IS A PARTICIPANT. We’re ALL volunteers. So people get in their minds that they are owed certain things because they paid their money. Some villages, in an effort to raise a bit more money, allow people to pay extra to skip out on ‘break down’ – entitlement in it’s finest!
So I ask: what are we teaching these people? These first timers who come to Burning Man and we think we can share something with them and they come to our village we set up and they pay their dues and get their meals and complain that there’s no soap in the shower (because they didn’t bring any? WTF?) and get bitchy because breakfast was a long line… and o they did their four hours of work already thank you very much.
I had this moment… this moment at Fractal Planet when I was talking to someone late in the week on Sunday who complained that breakfast that morning was so small – crepes? What the hell, she said.
And I thought about how I had dropped everything I was doing – which was: enjoying myself, hanging out with friends, having a good time – you know – it’s Sunday Morning After the Burn – to go make breakfast for everyone – along with the rest of a good chunk of the core crew. I mean, Android was there washing the dishes for hours (one more artist in a long line of Artists Who Are Former Dishwashers, like myself) and everyone else pitching in because if we didn’t do it, who would? And I stood in front of the hot stove for three or four hours pouring on crepes and flipping crepes and sending the crepes to the line. And cooking the crepes and cooking the crepes and blah blah while Moreno made another another another and another batch of batter…
And this person was complaining? I didn’t see them in there at all helping the process go faster.
I went out into the line, after several hours, because I was quite tired of the heat of the stove and said ‘look, we’ve been making crepes for you for four hours!’ (and I pronounced it crepes when really it’s crepes.) ‘But this isn’t OUR kitchen that YOU’RE eating at! This is YOUR kitchen! All these people are waiting in line to eat at YOUR kitchen! At THEIR kitchen. Want to make it happen faster? PITCH IN!”
I went on for a bit. I can go on for a bit if I want to. If I’m feeling it. One person offered to help.
I’d already helped managed the crew breakfast on the Saturday morning of build week. It needed to happen! So I made the potatoes and got the eggs going and suddenly had the spatula and was directing all this stuff for 100 people and that was along with a bunch of others who at that point had worked a lot and by now – by Sunday – were way overworked. So many people never show up for their ‘volunteer’ shift. So many people with so many expectations.
I also built a giant fucking stage for five days. So did a bunch of others. We paid our dues too.
I’m a volunteer. Just like you.
But I learned early on: bring all the everything that you need. You are not here to observe. You are here to serve. To be a part of it. To get your hands dirty. To break your nails. To rise. To fall. To RISE.
I’m afraid that what we’re teaching people isn’t the Radical Self-Reliance of much lore. We are watering down the grand experiment… Instead we’re coddling them into the Burning Man experience with an echo of the festival culture. They have their showers and their meals and their shade and their music and their power. And for them, for their first time, that ends up being the idea of Burning Man that they take home with them. To some, Burning Man ends up looking like an ever so slightly more difficult festival with a whole lot more music and lights.
If we pride ourselves on the things we have to teach people, is teaching them to be reliant on others via the amount of money they paid in, being a volunteer like they might volunteer at any old festival, paying extra to not deal with breaking stuff down… is that worth it? Do we like that?
How is this any better or worse than providing RVs and decorated bikes to those Burner Vacationer types? Hint: it’s not.
So what I see is that the system has been built to a point where it’s simply replicating what we know. There’s nothing new. It’s so hard to shake it. And what we know is Festivals. Festival culture has become an integral part of todays’ music and, in fact, summertime ‘scene’ and there are so many givens that seem to come along with it. As with anything, if you have the money, you can buy into it and be a part of that cool thing. And that money pays for the stage, the lights, the shade, the art domes, etc. So Burning Man ends up with these villages based on festival culture. But the festival culture is not Burning Man. We don’t need camp dues that are the price of a weekend ticket to LIB and end up funding the giant stage, lights, etc – all of which ends up looking like a festival within a festival. It’s nice. It’s interesting. But it’s not what Burning Man is. It’s not why I go to that inhospitable desert that seems to always just want to chew me up and spit me out again.
What we need – the people who organize these huge camps – who have grand visions – is to break it all back down again. Bring it back to square one. Reimagine what we are doing. How we’re framing this thing. Once again, it’s time to throw out the current system and come up with a new plan and a new method. That’s why this is the experiment. There is never anything wrong. It’s always just exploring ways of doing things.
The first-timers are always welcome. But they better bring their own water. Their own soap. Some rebar. And a willingness to get really dirty really fast.
The problem with reinventing the wheel is that you always just end up with another wheel. It’s best to just imagine something completely different.
How else COULD things work?
Way back in who knows when now – November? – Patrick asked me if I wanted to be involved with Fractal Planet – the final iteration of Fractal Nation – a Burning Man village bringing together artists, designers, musicians, from around the world – and throughout our multi-headed, multi-skirted tribe.
Maybe… I replied, hesitantly.
A few months later, and a bit more talk, and I was agreeing to design the main stage for the village which was ending up on the corner of the 2 and the Esplanade. How’d that happen? I have no idea. But I like big stuff so there’s that.
So on a park bench in Santa Cruz drinking coffee one sunny afternoon, we discussed the reason for the whole thing – the mission, the vision. What’s the theme? Cargo Cult. How does it relate? We – this community – pick through the detritus of religions, societies, science, etc, reappropriating, celebrating, often misunderstanding, the bits and pieces that have washed up on the shores of our lives, creating a culture, a movement, even what seems like a religion, out of all of the myriad things of the past coupled with our own beliefs, dreams, and desires. It seemed so fitting. So I agreed.
Time… It flies by. Drawings sent now and again. To the ‘Team’. Responses. Bigger! Bigger is better! Anyways, I was also finishing a book, dealing with Moontribe and the much smaller deco shade thing we were doing there and then, towards the end of June, Violet and I went to Thailand. Throughout that trip there’s intermittent discussion – from hotels and beaches. I stick to the boundaries of my involvement. See, I’m really wary of getting involved in villages. They are so much work. They always have too few volunteers and budgets that spiral upwards and then suddenly crash, etc etc… This isn’t my first rodeo! There’s a reason Violet and I have been a small camp for the past many years we’ve gone… It’s so intimate and building a small art project with a dedicated team is greatly rewarding and not nearly as exhausting. Bigger is not always better.
So we returned from Thailand on Aug 1 and I was immediately sucked into it all… into Fractal HQ, so to speak, up in Sherman Oaks, CA and there’s a bunch of us – Patrick, Jimmy, Liana, Francios, Angelo, all in and out and working furiously on a thousand details. Some who are involved have never been to Burning Man and it’s so hard to explain that it’s NOT another festival. That they need to rethink how they think about events, festivals, the whole nine yards. That it’s fucking Burning Man and it isn’t going to go like they want and the more they control, the more they stress, the less they are going to be able to inspire others, and themselves. And, really, I think, that is the point. Inspiration through experimentation. And when people say “I don’t care if ‘it’s fucking Burning Man’, I’m tired of that!” Well… they just don’t get it… But they will…
In any case, I designed these big pillars, a general look of the space, the backdrop of the stage with these wheels that were supposed to turn but it turned out the person in charge of making that happen… couldn’t…. Along the way, it gets called ‘Michael’s stage’ and I really do my best to kill THAT idea. It’s OUR stage. I’m not building it all. I’m not raising money for it all… It’s a group effort and I’m just another cog in that wheel.
And then, mid-August I was pulled away again for Rootwire, an awesome festival put on by awesome people out in Ohio. That was a great weekend and, in the midst of it, people went to San Francisco to do all the CNC cutting and pre-building with Rob Bell who also makes amazing art pieces out on the playa – these beautiful onion dome structures…
So Violet and I had driven from LA to Reno, left our Burning Man stuff there to fly to Ohio and then we took a flight back to Reno, with a plan to drop in at the Grand Sierra for a couple of nights. I could go shopping while Violet finished a paper for school. It turns out that our early early arrival tickets aren’t happening so we have to wait an extra day. Then our car window got smashed. Thieves made off with a couple bags of grocery items, a camelpack with random shit and Violet’s long time poetry journal, an entire bag of climbing gear – our harnesses, rope, quickdraws, EVERYTHING, and our car registration and insurance card. The motherfuckers.
So that set us back another day. We finally arrive on Thursday. Spend the next day setting up camp – it’s possibly one of the most important things one can do at Burning Man – setting up camp that first day. Having a home space is of super importance. Our situation isn’t elaborate: a 10×20 carport and the starpod – our little shade space where we circle our tents around for our little camp – for Amanda, Jimmy, Imagika, Patrick, Brian, Elena, and others who joined us – Jill, Jess, Francios, Valentina, Trey, Aalex, and more… It makes for a sweet sweet space. And a sweet bubble in the midst of all the craziness. This is our community within the community. Trust, love, support, all of the things…
After that, on Saturday, the truck with the stage materials finally arrives. By then, the truss is up, the bamboo for the total shade is up, etc. So it’s build build build. Unload and build build build. Delegate and build build build. Duststorms? Who cares! Windy? Better hold on! Hot? Fuck the shade! Who took our materials? The drill? There was this rash of ‘burglary’ of materials. People would just come by and take stuff. Even stuff that was pre-cut. Without asking. Ever. And if they did ask and I said ‘no’ then they’d look at me like I was a cheapskate. Some kind of miser. Cripes. The sense of entitlement in this community is so very strong.
It’s interesting being in charge of building stuff like this – everyone else can come and go but the leader needs to be there, on point, the whole time, even if I was totally light headed and hungry and maybe going to fall off the ladder if I wasn’t careful. Because even at 1am, people would come up and volunteer their help. So I would keep going. Because they kept going. In any case, a huge thanks to Angelo, Falcor, Emma, Ed, Dustin, George, Marley, Hoodie, and the others who all showed up – really showed up – and helped make this facet of the grand vision of Fractal happen. THANK YOU. o so much.
It’s crazy how long this stuff takes… From the DJ booth to the backdrop to the pillars to the stage facade… It’s all so simple looking, and light. But it is an effort to construct. The other thing I’ve learned from this kind of thing is to not have expectations of others – that if you tell them they are free to go, that they should take care of themselves first and foremost, that you speak with people from a place of love and respect – tho sometimes straight direction – and get rid of all the anxiety and stress – people will join in and work their hardest because they see the vision and the vision – it is simply to create more love (and something awesome that reflects that).
Because it really is all about the Love. There’s no money here. I’m not getting paid. I just want to do something cool. And that inspires people in a real way. That, for me, for this Burning Man, was the most inspirational thing – the community that joined together to build all this stuff. Not the people who feel they paid their camp dues, did their four hours of work, and left. I’ll share some thoughts on THAT aspect another time. No, the thing that inspired me was the community of DOERS. The hard working women and men in every aspect – the water, the compost, showers, kitchen, art domes, music, lights, fabric, EVERYTHING built in a week and a half, used for a week, torn down in another week. And so much deep deep love that goes into it.
It all came together… magically, organically, and beautifully. (And, I think, mostly stress-free.)
Patrick said to me at one point – Did you think it’d be this much work when you signed on?
Yep, I said. Because I did know. And that was my hesitancy early on. I am all or nothing. And when I commit – and I’m there to build – I am THERE.
All the while Violet was running around with a walkie talkie putting out fires, helping AJ, doing WHATEVER – and all the while we both looked at each other every so often and said ‘Fuck Villages’. Because, man o man what a lot of work and drama… For a huge community with a huge sense of entitlement…
In any case… It all Happened. Then the heat, the stresses on my body – the playa is an intense environment – left me passing out on Thursday morning. My body, spleenless that it is, went into overdrive… and I spent several hours almost forgetting to breath while a strange warm wave tried to pass over me and a friend fanned me and I scraped bottom. With the fine edge of a sword I cut through all the voices, ideas, angers, frustrations, of the past week. Sometimes I forgot to breath. Then the warm wave would pass. And my friend would remind me – Breathe… Just Breathe…
And then, eventually, we went for a walk. Eventually, I was coming back to myself. We talked and laughed with strangers along the dusty windy streets, shaded by a parasol, wandering nowhere. We ended up at the Dr. Bronner’s Tent… had soapy foamy baths… And were revived. And alive.
Burning Man – it’s all the edges, all the facets. It hits so many different parts of us and every place along the spectrum of the human experience. It’s not about how grand or bright or crazy your thing is or how sexy your outfit or how many drugs – but how much you can inspire – play, laughter, joy, sadness… all of it. It’s about the kind of space you can create…. the connections you make… with yourself and others. It’s about the dust and the pinnacles and all the space in between. Like everything else, it’s about how much you can love.
We slept through the night of the burn. We missed the Temple burn. Life goes on!
Then, on Monday, when it came time to tear it all down, that same dedicated team showed up – ready to work. We’d connected all week. There was love and respect between us. Others come and go but you know – when you see the same faces – the same people doing – that these are your people. And, with the same dance… it all came down, beautifully, cleanly, magically.
And, you know, I’d probably do it all over again. Just to play with those lovely souls.
Thanks for the opportunity to share, to participate, to build something great with you all.
Live in love.
On September 11, 2001, I was living in Burlington, VT – painting, enjoying the coming autumn, etc. I didn’t have a TV (still don’t), never listened to the radio (still don’t) and the internet was still just a plodding dirt road through the hills – not the information super highway it was to become.
I woke up that morning with a desire to paint big red fiery paintings. I had a couple of large pieces of masonite – a 4′ x 4′ square and a 4′ x 2.5′ rectangle – and a few cans of red, yellow, orange, and purple latex paints. So around 8 am, with a cup of coffee, I went at it. The diamond/square painting I called ‘Phoenix.’ The other was ‘Unsquaring the Circle’ and felt like a great release of energy.
A few hours later, I went for a walk downtown. In bars and restaurants and everywhere it seemed everyone was glued to the TV. There was a strange lull in the air – a strange quiet tension. I poked my head in a pizzeria on a corner and heard the news. In one fell swoop, one great unsquaring of the the circle, a whole new demon was released. And a whole whole lot changed.
There was a lightness that died that day. A bubble that burst. Things got more serious. From economic crashes to endlessly costly wars to intrusions of privacy and the slashing of civil liberties to an endless stoking of the fires of fear. It’s a different world than the one I knew from the 90s.
But life goes on. Fear begets fear and light begets light. Everyday it’s another deep breath as we keep moving forwards
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