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Prolific? Perfection? :: What does that mean for artists?

Janice Tanton's studio with works in progress at The Banff Centre.

Studio with works in progress at The Banff Centre.

How Much and How Good?

From September 10th – October 26th, 2012, I was a BAIR (Banff Artist In Residence) at The Banff Centre. During that time, I had access to incredible facilities, perfect studio space and the valuable interaction with other artists from all over the world.

Detail - Sketch - Bag Harbour, Gwaii Haanas National Park, Haida Gwaii.

Detail – Sketch – Bag Harbour, Gwaii Haanas National Park, Haida Gwaii.

I was focussed on starting to work through my research Gwaii Haanas National Park & Haida Heritage Site Artist in Residence. Things don’t always go as smoothly as one would wish. Delayed by a week getting into the residency because of an encounter with a deer earlier in the summer, our vehicles weren’t available. It was frustrating to want to “get at it”.

Just a few days after moving into the studio in Banff, due to extenuating circumstances, the Artists In Gwaii Haanas exhibition was going to be moved to late February. Originally, it was to open November 9th. Needless to say, this also caused a bit of stress and mental panic, as my well-laid plans were to work on Haida Museum exhibition first, and then move along to polish works for the CAMP show at OAG in early January, 2013, also hoping to include some of the work for Haida Gwaii in the CAMP show. Ey yi yi……now, while it looked on the outside as easier with more time, in fact, I had less time and more pieces to create! I also had to cancel plans I was making to attend a Master Class with the incredible Bo Bartlett at the incomparable Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts that would land in the last quarter of the Banff residency. Dang it – well, I’ll catch up with Bo another time. Priorities! Yes, I was disappointed in myself and the circumstances, but there’s only so much that’s physically possible.

“Downed Tree” – Sketch Detail: Bag Harbour, Gwaii Haanas National Park, Haida Gwaii.

Mentally, I think that was the button that put me into high gear, but sideswiped “plans” for works I wanted to create. This has an upside in that with shorter time, I didn’t have as much time to THINK too much and let that get in the way of the painting. After all, what I had really hoped for was some incredible time to experiment and explore as a painter. In the end, that happened anyhow. I did the largest, most expressive piece I’ve ever painted, now powerfully throwing out it’s energy in our living/dining room, waiting the final work on the figure.

Throw in two studio tours in that short period of time, and you have either an experimental recipe for disaster, divorce, high creativity or all the above.

I’ll let you off the hook and say that it was the high creativity that ended up working for me. Thank goodness – Kevin and the kids really were great at supporting the long nights, early mornings, laundry and household chores, although there was a lot of Subway meals going on. The only disaster that happened was the earthquake over the weekend in Haida Gwaii. Yikes.

I was a bit oblivious to what I was doing, I have to admit. Shutting pretty much everyone and everything out, I think I just became a painting, sketching machine. I didn’t realize it until several people that I really respect as artists and critics, on different occasions remarked at how incredibly prolific I was.

I still don’t see it – I admit hoping for more. 

While not everything is fully finished, here is the “count” which doesn’t fully quantify the intrinsic value of the residency for me, but sure does point to some kind of weird prolific production tendencies and desires, given the time and space of only 33 days. I think it’s good to step back and analyze your ability to produce work in some form. Maybe I need to give myself a break! Taking ten days now to totally rest and visit family and friends in Ontario….if I can get in through Hurricane Sandy.



Production Graph for BAIR Residency, Fall, The Banff Centre with Janice Tanton Total Number of Actual Working Days In The Residency: 33

Sketches : 129

Square Feet of 22K Gold Applied : 20

Embellished Giclee Works: 18

Yards of Belgian Linen Used: 17

24×36 Oil Paintings on Canvas : 3

Days Occupied In Studio Tours: 3

40×72 Oil Paintings on Linen : 2

40×60 Oil Paintings on linen: 2

72×96 Oil Paintings on canvas: 1



Time and Space : Priceless!




What does “prolific” mean to you?


Related Posts:

How Do We Measure? – 10 Meaningful Ways and 10 Stupid Ways to Measure our work as artists.

Artist Kate Smith: How do you measure success as an artist?

“Masters of Chicken Scratch” Blog by artist Dwayne Vance – “Measure Your Success”


Holding My Breath…Learning When To Stop Working On A Painting

I have times when I feel like I should abandon a work because I can’t quite figure out what it needs next, or how to approach it….or if it’s even worth it. Sometimes I keep going and end up totally messing things up when really what I should be doing is getting some distance and perspective on the piece.

Over the weekend, I was pretty sick. That forced “rest” meant no visiting the studio to see how “bad” things were in my mind with this work…and no chance to make a mistake out of impatience or indecision.

Not only did my body benefit from the rest, so did my mental attitude towards the work and I felt a bit more confidence in my approach to the painting this morning.

After a day’s good rest in bed, I hobbled upstairs to find “The Artist’s Daughter” not quite as poorly as I thought it at the last pass. In a couple of short hours of painting, I was able to bring it to a point today where I’m pleased and can clearly see the next few steps to get to the vision in my head for this piece.

Here’s where I’m at today and now I’m taking another rest, having learned my lesson.

"The Artist's Daughter" Work in Progress. Day 3. ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 18"x14"

"The Artist's Daughter" Work in Progress. Day 3. ©2012 Janice Tanton. Oil on linen panel. 18"x14"

To have a look at the progressions to this point, visit these related posts:

The Toughest Critic

The Artist’s Daughter – Day 1 (Video)

The Artist’s Daughter – Day 2 (Video)

On the Easel – The First Red Canoes of 2011!

Red Canoe Underpainting by Janice Tanton

Red Canoe #10 - Underpainting. ©2011 Janice Tanton. 36"x72"

Spring is in the air! I can smell it this morning, and this makes me happy. This has been a busy week, and I have some good clients who have long been waiting for me to deliver a couple of new paintings in the Red Canoe Series. Betwixt and between neck and arm injuries, a family vacation and a bout of pneumonia, time spent at the easel has been short since the beginning of the year. This week, I’ve been able to tackle a couple of underpaintings for these two large pieces, and hopefully I’ll be able to complete them by the end of next week. There. I’ve said it, now y’all will have to hold me to it!

A big thanks to Sue and Tammy at Rocky Mountain Rehab (once again), in Canmore, AB for putting me back together so I can get some of these monsters done for my ever-patient galleries and their clients, and work through the pain. I have to believe that the most frustrating things for an artist is not physically being able to paint and say what one needs to. It’s like not being able to breathe for me.

Red Canoe Series underpainting by Janice Tanton

Red Canoe Series - #11. Underpainting ©2011 Janice Tanton. 48"x60"

The good side of being “banned” from the easel while your body rests, it is that a lot of office work has been getting done. A special thanks to my new Executive Studio Assistant, Jacob Posacki, we are moving in the right direction. Keeping it “all in the family”, I can’t tell you how pleased I am that my son has joined me in the business. More on this fine fellow in another post.

Go well, friends.