Monthly Archives: January 2014

Forest Photowalk + Loudness of Silence

Forest Photowalk | Saltwater Birch Studio

The nice thing about winter is you can walk through the forest without the fear of ping-pong-ball sized barn spiders landing on your shoulder (yes, that’s happened!). So I took advantage, and headed on a photowalk (though it is -20˚C outside, so it was a short one).

Forest Photowalk | Saltwater Birch Studio

Fresh air and exercise aside, it gets you to observe your surroundings, notice the small things, like a piece of moss dangling from a branch, or the chaotic pattern of tree trunks. To see the world through a lens is refreshing, sometimes challenging, and, often the photos from these walks end up as references for future paintings.

Forest Photowalk | Saltwater Birch Studio

The best photowalks are those that are purposeless – just wandering, looking, thinking. Solitary walks have long been a recipe for creativity, and I can see how that’s true. Walking without a destination lets your mind wander, without feeling idle, or pressured to be someplace. Which gives you time to sort through ideas, and digest information you’ve absorbed.

Forest Photowalk | Saltwater Birch Studio

Though you do have to be comfortable with silence, particularly when in a forest in winter, where, some days, there is literally no sound. Depending on your mood and mindset, such complete silence can either be welcoming or frightening. Those times when it’s daunting may be because your ears are straining so hard to hear something, anything, that the silence becomes strangely loud and deafening – you start hearing white noise, a static, that doesn’t really exist, but your mind is creating. Which makes you want to talk out loud or whistle, just to get rid of the static.


But, often, it can be a positive experience – those occasions when your thoughts run rampant in answer to the silence. It’s like it beckons your mind to fill the void, so you soon become so occupied with your thoughts, and internal vibrant chatter, that you don’t notice the stillness. Which is very good for creativity (and I’ve gotten a lot of ideas for paintings and projects from these walks).

But it does make you wonder – can you ever, truly, appreciate complete silence? Or is it like a white, blank canvas, only appreciated for its potential?


Next week: New paintings and some tips on how to get past dreaded creativity blocks.


Painting Playlist and a Little Motivation

Brushes and Paint | Saltwater Birch Studio

Since I’ve been painting a lot this week, I thought I’d share something a little different – my motivation line-up.

January Painting Playlist

I love music recommendations, but hate that you have to interrupt your painting to keep changing the song, so I made it into a playlist.

And when your brain needs a little food: (each segment is under 30min)

The CurrentBob the Cat: Homeless People & Their Pets. Notable line: “It was almost like caring for your child I suppose, that I had to take care of Bob, and that kind of changed everything about me. I was no longer invisible…” Suddenly people saw you for a person.

Interview with Xavier Dolan (writer + director of Laurence, Anyways). Notable line  “..words can’t define us, or tell us how to be. Only emotions. And behaviours.”

Untitled by Vanessa Pesch | Saltwater Birch Studio

QTV interview with Kevin Smith. Notable line (ok, paragraph – sorry, but it’s just too good to exclude) “The only validation as an artist that you can ever trust is your own, is what you get from yourself, because that’s why you do it. You sit there quietly, I would like to see something that doesn’t exist. And you start this journey to get there and make it happen, and to realize that to see it, that’s what matters, it’s not how much money it makes. … I watched movies and watched TV, and finally got to a point of like, Why them? Why not me? Sooner or later, somebody’s gotta start somewhere, and if you start on your own and create something that you want to say, that’s what people are interested in. Everyone’s currency is their own voice.”

Untitled by Vanessa Pesch | Saltwater Birch Studio

The Current: Why Scarcity Shapes Our Lives In Profound Ways. “Scarcity is feeling like you just don’t have enough of the things you feel you need. It could be in food, friends, time, or very often, money.” Notable idea: “we have very limited bandwidth, or limited capacity, at any moment to juggle things we are aware of and thinking about.” So when people spend so much of their focus on juggling their finances, there is just less mind left for other things and they start making errors in things that matter (ex. taking out a high interest loan). It also mentions a psychological study that showed the cognitive effect of low income earners when thinking about a financial scenario (where a car repair costs $1500 instead of a more manageable $150) is a loss of 13 IQ points. 13 IQ points is “enough to take you from average to borderline gifted, or if you go down, from average to borderline deficient. It’s a big effect” (which, interestingly, is also the same drop in IQ when you pull an all-nighter).

Life Of An Artist

Well, the weather outside is a special blend of occasional sunshine and dreariness, but I’ve caffeinated myself to happiness, so life is fairly good.

Coffee | Saltwater Birch Studio

I know a new year usually spawns a reflection, or a series of highlights of what your past year has been like, but honestly, it’s been (on the surface) very uninteresting. Slowly building a career from scratch doesn’t sound fancy, and involves no exotic vacations or roadtrips. It’s a lot of saving, and spending wisely, and writing applications, and hoping you’ll catch a break. It doesn’t sound very appealing, so instead, I’ll share a story.

Contemplation by Vanessa Pesch | Saltwater Birch Studio

Contemplation, oil on 9″x11″ canvas paper

Over the holidays, my sister mentioned to me that she couldn’t do what I do. To create paintings, that hold a part of your soul, and leave them open for the public to see, judge and criticize.

I honestly never thought I’d be able to do it either.

Hanging paintings | Saltwater Birch Studio

It took me a long time to sell my first painting – not out of lack of interest, but because I was emotionally invested in every one of my pieces. To sell one, would be like selling a memory – something personal, but intangible.

Then, something changed, I learned the person who was interested in one of my landscape pieces, said it reminded him of a place he always used to go to as a child, and would really love to have it if I could ever part with it.

Hogs Back Falls by Vanessa Pesch | Saltwater Birch Studio

Hogs Back Falls, oil on 9″x12″ canvas (sold)

It took me close to a year, but I began to realize that the painting is an entity outside of myself. That it’s become a thing in the world that others now form attachments to, find meaning in, and this meaning can be entirely different from my own.

Now, internally, I think there’s a little switch, where you pour your soul into a painting, and look at it critically, and once you declare it finished, or open to viewing, then the switch is flipped and it’s no longer a part of you. It becomes a product out in the world, instead of the raw, pictorial, emotional manifestation of your unvoiced thoughts. I’ve learned to detach after a certain point, usually once I think the painting is finished (which happens when I can see no way to further improve it). And it sounds strangely cold, or unartistic, but there’s no way you can put your work out there without some form of detachment, at least not without losing a part of your sanity in the process.

The Leap by Vanessa Pesch | Saltwater Birch Studio

The Leap, oil on 20″x24″ canvas (sold)

I should mention it also helps when the response from people who buy and view your paintings is almost entirely positive. There aren’t many trolls in the real world. Just people who, even if they don’t like your style, appreciate the art, and the work that went into it. And that’s all you can really ask for as an artist.

Sidenote: I want to include a description I wrote for The Leap, as it’s rather fitting: “It’s a figurative interpretation of a feeling that arises from rumination about my life situation: that pursuing a career in visual art most of the time feels a lot like jumping off a cliff – you hope that the dream is large enough, that the water is always too far away. With its saturated and colourful hues, the painting is hopeful, even as her toes leave the precipice.”