Thursday, July 27, 2017

Yeoman's Work

Springtime, Reeds Gap 8 x 10 oil on linen panel. I painted this en plein air in central Pennsylvania's Reeds Gap State Park.

My first "real" job after I finished college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was a full-time gig at a non-profit organization in Madison, Wisconsin. Back then, I did web site development and computer programming. My job with the non-profit was a new one within the organization and it had nothing to do with my recently-earned degree in art, but it paid the bills and it offered a pleasant place to work.

Following my initial 6-month probationary period, I received my first performance review. It was positive. One thing that my supervisor wrote stuck out to me because I didn't understand it: "Sarah is doing yeoman's work."

I had to take my 21-year old self to the nearest dictionary and look up the phrase yeoman's work:

of, pertaining to, composed of, or characteristic of yeomen: the yeoman class....performed or rendered in a loyal, valiant, useful, or workmanlike manner, especially in situations that involve a great deal of effort or labor

I was grateful for the acknowledgment of my effort and the compliment. Fast forward all these years later, and that term still resonates with me. Throughout my career as an artist, I've tried to maintain this demeanor throughout what I do. Traveling to outdoor art shows, gambling on the weather and so many elements outside of my control is hard work, even beyond long hours logged in my studio to create my artwork.

This past week, our family lost a loved one following a valiant battle against cancer. Like so many others afflicted with this dreadful disease, he was far too young. Witnessing his death and supporting my husband through this loss got me thinking again about this phrase yeoman's work.

I don't have kids, just a couple of spoiled dogs. For me, my artwork is my legacy in this world. Indeed, one of the biggest reasons why I jettisoned my bright career in computer programming and web site development was because it all seemed so empty to me. I felt that the very next day, I could be replaced and the next person could come in, re-write the code, re-design my projects and poof, there would be no evidence that I was ever there. I wanted to make use of my intrinsic drawing talent and my creativity.

Losing our loved one last week reinforced and reinvigorated this desire to create and to do it well. For as the definition above indicates, being an artist requires a great deal of effort and labor. In the coming months, I'm looking to renew my dedication to what I do. As I saw all too plainly last week, life is short, life is fast. It's such a cliché, but there is no time to waste. And it takes a lot of work to maximize the time we have.

Shown here is a small plein air landscape that is a kick start to this renewed devotion to my work. "Springtime, Reeds Gap" was begun earlier this season in central Pennsylvania's lovely Reeds Gap State Park. I was really pleased with the start that I got on this motif, but I wanted to polish it up in my studio with the final details. I brought it home and I looked at it for days, then weeks, and then a couple of months.

After returning from a harrowing family trip to support others in a time of need and loss, I found that I was having a hard time getting back into the groove in my studio. I was emotionally drained. Suddenly, I realized that I was finally at the perfect point to finish this painting. I rarely sign my paintings with my full name. But following the loss of our loved one, I wanted to add an exclamation point to the first painting finished after the emotional turmoil of shock and grief.