Paint Every Day But Always Keep It Fresh

How artist Kristy Gordon approaches her studio practice for year-round productivity and enjoyment

With the first days of the new decade already in the rearview mirror, we at Artists Network are making a point of asking ourselves, how do we make the most of this new decade, new year, and every day we pull out our paints ready to create? Needless to say, we sought answers from an inspiring source: artist and instructor Kristy Gordon, whose insights and perspective will have you looking toward the horizon with delight…and brush in hand!

And be sure to check out video and additional content from Gordon at the end of this article including our new and free 20-minute video showcasing the glazing techniques she uses to make her paintings glow.

Cosmic Lotus by Kristy Gordon
The Cosmic Lotus by Kristy Gordon, 60 x 96, oil on canvas. A painting that took Gordon two years to create!

A Bit of Background

Kristy Gordon (b. 1980) is a mid-career artist who has exhibited her work across North America, Europe, and China. She is an instructor of both in-person and online courses (her next workshop is at the New York Academy of Art), and she is the founder of KristyGordonCourses.com—an online art mentoring platform designed to help artists further their skills and shape their careers with tutorials, critiques, and advisory input from Gordon.

Gordon’s early career background was in animation; she was the art director of the New Ren and Stimpy Show before she found her way into painting for galleries. She admits always wanting to be a painter but didn’t realize it was truly a viable option until she met an artist who owned an animation studio while also pursuing a fine arts practice. 

As a Painter…

Gordon interweaves motifs from disparate genres and time periods—from Old Master history painting to contemporary portraiture—to create ambiguous settings for strange and surprising interactions among figures, animals, and hybrid creatures.

Visually articulating the often tense power dynamics that exist between human beings and their worlds (both inner and outer), Gordon finds a touchstone in the themes and techniques of art history past. But as a figurative painter in the 21st century, Gordon proclaims a good deal of excitement in being an active artist in the here and now as she dives into the great unknown with the rest of us—able to pursue representational art with an ease, openness, and confidence.

Explosion by Kristy Gordon
Explosion by Kristy Gordon, 72 x 72, oil on canvas.

“It’s an exciting time to be a figurative painter,” says Gordon. “Now, more than ever, there is a need for art that examines socio-cultural events through the lens of social justice and ecological awareness. Many artists are returning to representational painting because of its storytelling capability.”

As a Teacher & Commissioned Artist

Gordon is an artist adept at balancing multiple responsibilities and types of relationships, including a studio practice, an instructor’s teaching load, and an art business built on commissioned work. The latter pursuits provide the artist with a certain level of stable income that sales of paintings alone (as many of us know) isn’t always able to provide. But Gordon sees this as a boon in many ways. “This allows me to freely explore and experiment in my personal work without trying to make my paintings more ‘sellable’.”

Gordon also greets commissions with an openness and ease because it provides her a bit of a challenge—a chance to explore how her abilities as a painter collaborates with someone else’s vision.

Likewise teaching painting to students is a reward in and of itself for Gordon. “It gives me a chance to deeply internalize all that I have learned,” she says. She makes the additional point that inspiration goes both ways in her classes. She gains a good dose of inspiration from her students as they learn from her.

The Power & Magic of Goals

The buzz word around every New Year is “goals” and Gordon certainly has no fear of them. “I always have so many goals,” she confides. “There are little ones that form the small steps leading to the big goals, and there are big goals. I really believe in the power and magic of goal setting.”

The Unicorn by Kristy Gordon
The Unicorn by Kristy Gordon, 30 x 40, oil and glitter on canvas

Key to understanding Gordon and her relationship to goals is that the latter are quite specific. Her goals for this year revolving around creating a body of work for exhibitions already scheduled in 2020 and 2021.

She is also rolling out the next phase of her online mentoring program based on user experience and feedback. Gordon’s goals also have timing attached to them: goals that are year-long feed into monthly goals and are even supported by daily accomplishments.

Inspiringly, the goals Gordon focuses on are not just pulled out of thin air. Instead, they align with the most important aspects of Gordon’s career at this time. For those of us faced with uncertainty about how to set goals, Gordon provides a good path forward.

A Goal Two-Step

  1. Sets goals that are reasonable with equally reasonable timing attached. No building Rome in a day!
  2. Sets goals that make sense. If you work a steady full-time job with no plans to give it up, don’t mourn your art. Instead, align your goals to what you can actually do and what makes sense for you. A goal of finding and participating in two workshops this year at your local art hub, for example.

The Best Way to Learn New Techniques

Learning and processing new techniques is not always the same as learning something brand new. Gordon is attuned to the difference. When she was a student-artist, things she was learning were easily described by a teacher. As a result, she was able to learn somewhat quickly, though refinement of any given technique could occur over months and years.

Everything Happens for a Reason by Kristy Gordon
Everything Happens for a Reason by Kristy Gordon, 24 x 18, oil on canvas

For More Advanced Learning

When techniques are not so easily taught, bestowed from a teacher to a student in graspable way, you are in a different sphere of learning. For Gordon, her current pursuits in the studio—finessing how to compose a multifigure composition or designing a painting with strong notan (arrangement of light and dark shapes)—are ones she’s had to pursue solo. They taken years of experimentation, failure and research to figure out how to do it. Yet the ‘how’ of those pursuits stay the same as she teaches herself. Her method:

  1. “First I study everything I can about the subject.” Reading articles and even entire books on the subject she is pursuing. For example, multi-figure compositions.
  2. “Then, to integrate that knowledge, I study [the work of] master artists like Michaelangelo…” And Gordon does not just mean studying as in looking. No, she will create small pen and ink sketches to follow in the footsteps of the artist she is analyzing. Then she’ll sometimes go on to complete color copies of masterworks. This helps her to further understand the principles she is trying to apply in her own work.

Essentially, Gordon practices what the best teachers always preach: learn, and then do. Even as a professional, there is a good deal of time devoted to the journey of art. You really never stop learning. Cheers to that!

Be Creative. Every. Single. Day.

As an artist pursuing painting close to 365 days of the year, Gordon is a trusted source when it comes to being creative and staying that way. Here are eight ways of enhancing and leveraging your creativity, so you keep yourself going strong in the studio.

Cooper by Kristy Gordon
Cooper by Kristy Gordon, 14 x 18, oil on canvas

8 Ways to Harness Your Creativity

  1. Jumpstart your creativity with three pillars—foundational skills, art history knowledge, and experimentation. With them “you gain the facility to paint anything you can imagine” and you will be able to experiment more confidently and develop your own personal expression.
  2. Seek a safe and supportive atmosphere for learning. As an instructor, Gordon attests that this is the most important quality that leads students to successful outcomes.
  3. Explore multiple art forms and creative outlets. Gordon explains, “I enjoy being in the beginner’s mindset, learning something new that’s way outside of my comfort zone. Recently I have been learning hip hop dance, breakdancing, and gymnastics. I love it because it brings me back to the raw vulnerability of learning something new. I think about that when I’m teaching painting classes and have people coming in who are completely new to painting. It takes so much courage to show up to a new class and try out something completely new.”
  4. Embrace whimsy and the unknown. Gordon thinks of creativity somewhat like a scarf, always changing shape, floating and dancing around as she seeks to grab on to its tail end. So don’t feel obligated to control your creativity. Instead, observe it, move with it. When does it spark and kindle into full-blown inspiration? Follow that spark!
  5. Trust yourself. “I trust that I will resolve the ways a painting doesn’t feel true later,” Gordon says. “But in the moment I just continue to follow my gut and see what evolves. That is when I feel most creative.”
  6. Recharge. For Gordon, that means being alone and especially being alone in nature. What does recharging mean for you? Leave a comment and let us know.
  7. Commune with your artistic role models, heroes, and sheroes.
  8. Seek out your favorite “art” place. For Gordon, one such spot is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. She’s spent countless hours there and had the opportunity to copy Rubens’ Venus and Adonis in the Met’s Copyist Program. Where would you go to steep yourself in art?
Interconnected by Kristy Gordon, 18 x 24, oil on canvas
Interconnected by Kristy Gordon, 18 x 24, oil on canvas

When Creative Block Strikes

Having been there a time or two, Gordon recommends not fighting creative block. Instead work around it by pulling back to realistic goals. Rather than forcing herself to paint eight hours a day and getting sick of the studio as a result, Gordon would instead choose to paint every day for 25 minutes, no matter what. “That was super do-able,” she says. “Although it felt like 25 minutes of torture, eventually I started to make progress and it became a regular part of my day. Gradually I enjoyed painting again and the time I sat down to paint increased.” 

Never sure what brings on creative blocks, Gordon does caution that perfectionism can be a snag for a lot of artists including herself. Instead of striving for perfection, she reminds herself and her students that thinking “it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be finished” can be a big help when it comes to making progress.

On the Horizon

As an art business entrepreneur, practicing artist, and instructor, Kristy Gordon has a lot on her plate but her creative wellspring is the source of it all. If you’d like to explore oil painting with her as your instructor, consider:

Be sure to check out this oil painting demonstration; this article from Gordon, where she shares how she got into her first art gallery; and watch our new and free 20-minute video taught by Gordon featuring detailed explorations of the glazing techniques she uses to make her paintings glow. Enjoy!

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