I close my eyes and begin drawing the line. I focus on the sound of shattered graphite crackling as I rake it along the paper’s porous surface. Silence fills my studio, occasionally interrupted by a passing car or birds gossiping in the tree by the window. The line now wades in and out of itself, printing a record of its journey as it stretches across the page. My mind wanders, flipping its focus from my hand’s movement to my imagination expanding, creating new space for me to explore.

Heather Day: Four Years as a Full-Time Artist

With my eyes still closed, I sense the line as it strays towards the edge of the paper. I can’t see where it is but I feel it just as clearly.

Four years ago, I took a big leap. I left my salaried job at the Design Center to pursue painting full time. The weight of large life decisions can hide behind small moments, lying dormant until you update your online resume and glimpse your reflection in the computer screen, wondering who that silhouette would become.

Heather Day: Four Years as a Full Time Artist

The line that connects the past four years to today is not straight. I’ve watched my bank account drain dangerously low on the way to building a stable, growing income in the most expensive city in the country. I’ve experienced paralyzing heartbreak before falling in love again. I’ve woken up in the back seat of my car far from friends and family but closer to a new adventure. Now, I’m able to inhabit my dream studio and invest in both my practice, and my community. I have found pride in introducing myself to strangers as a working artist.

The sheen of a polished, public image can obscure all the late nights, tough lessons learned, the weeks and weeks without a day off. That struggle isn’t as visible as my paintings but it is foundational to my work today. I’ve only recently reclaimed weekends with the help of a small but mighty and growing team that helps with the logistics of my practice.  

An artist’s work is never limited to the studio. There are paintings to ship, commissions to field, and shows to plan. I’ve learned to delegate tasks in order to focus more of my attention to my studio practice, but I’m still learning how to work with this new found freedom.

My last two solo exhibitions gave me a perspective on process and an opportunity to share what I’ve learned from these investigations, from filling the pores of my once vacant canvas.

What happens when I climb an 8-foot stepladder to drop Cadmium Red pigment into a pool of water below? What happens when I inject Phthalo blue washes of color slowly into a slab of cotton paper? When the water spatters, when pigment begins to bubble, when the pool of water grows still and reflects the window above it, I see this new freedom. These whirling enigmas are the root of my obsession.

Heather Day: Four Years as a Full-Time Artist

The line is more than the shape it takes. It’s a record of my work evolving from sensory interpretations of the natural world and into a growing vocabulary. I create phrases from internal, emotional experiences and heightened senses.

I understand the way pupils dilate after a shift in glaring light, but can I depict the texture I see when I close my eyes tight, and open them? I want to bridge these moments between what is known and what is felt. At times the two worlds eclipse, like the synesthesia of color I experience when my emotional state changes rapidly or when I taste particular flavors. I focus on taking a visceral emotion and capturing it in a way that not only exposes it to the world, but makes it understandable to others.

Drawing on a pad of paper with my eyes closed, I can’t see the paper’s edges. But over the past four years of my career and practice, I’ve become comfortable with this degree of uncertainty. I can sense when the graphite meanders towards a cliff. Coming to terms with disorder and chaos in changing plans is a part of a line’s journey. When all else fails, I open my eyes and try again.

Heather Day : Four Years as a Full-Time Artist

Inspiration from Year 4 and moving forward:

WATCH

Anish Kapoor : Hirshhorn Talk

Jessica Stockholder : Play

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold

Paradox

Time

READ:

A Complicated Marriage: My Life with Clement Greenberg by Janice Van Horne

Bluets by Maggie Nielson

City Poet : Life and Times of Frank O’Hara by Brad Gooch / currently reading

Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.

Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter, A Life by Patricia Albers

Read more about my journey in the previous essays I’ve written over the years: Year One, Year Two, and Year Three. Sign up for my newsletter, here.

Heather Day : Four Years as a Full-Time Artist

Special thanks to my hardworking team that makes it possible to spend more time painting this year: Lauren Hsia, Heidi Stubler, Claire Astrow and Margaret Austin. Thank you to the gallerists and galleries who have continued to support and provide critical/constructive feedback: Athen B Projects, Part 2 Gallery, Hashimoto Contemporary, Lilah Aubrey, and Cait Brancovsky.

Written by Heather Day. Studio photo 1 by Margaret Austin, Photo 2 (portrait) by Domingo Antonio Robledo.