Wet Stuff : The Art of Painting a Business

Work on Yourself with Loren Fletcher

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 In this episode of Wet Stuff, choreographer and dance instructor Loren Fletcher shares his insights on the psychological work it takes to make a living as a creative.


Neeley, “This is KD Neeley you are listening to the Wet Stuff Podcast, and today we are joined by Loren Fletcher. Loren Fletcher is a choreographer and dance instructor visiting us in Albuquerque here from, Loren where are you visiting us from?”

Fletcher, “I’m visiting you from North Carolina.”

Neeley, “North Carolina. Wow, thank you so much for coming and doing this podcast today.”

Fletcher, “Surely, surely.”

Neeley, “You can find Loren Fletcher on Facebook, and you’ll find links to his website on his Facebook page. So, Loren Fletcher, today we’re going to talk about being an independent creative person and making ends meet. So, how have you managed to do it?”

Fletcher, “You have to be creative. I mean you can’t just count on things continuing to roll in, you have to put irons in the fire and send out your proposals, requests, things like that. For me, a lot of it is word of mouth. It’s doing good work, and your name gets passed onto another individual, and then they’ll pass your name on, hopefully. But it’s similar to how many people seek their work. You’ll send out your resume, depending on what type of work you want to do and you’ll knock on doors and make calls.”

Neeley, “You’re talking about a lot of networking.”

Fletcher, “Yes, networking is big. You have to get out into the community and find out who’s doing what. And I’m glad you brought up networking because you need to find out- You need to understand who you are and who you have good vibrations with and who you might work well with together. So, hopefully, it’s a cohesive symbiotic relationship. And you know both parties can grow from there, and you keep referring. You want to bring more people into the fold, and again you refer people to others and things like that.”

Neeley, “Wow, I’m having this realization right now that the work you do as a choreographer and a dancer is all about networking because you’re working with the movements of other people, in unison, and designing a- Your work can’t be done in isolation. You need other people to make your vision come to life, and you need other people to complete your vision.”

Fletcher, “Yeah, so there is quite a bit of working together. And that’s another important part of it is finding those people who can articulate the vision that you have with their bodies. And again, that becomes the networking aspect of it. One dancer tells another dancer about your work, or a choreographer tells a dancer about your work and in turn, they want to try your movement they want to be a part of different projects and productions. Interestingly enough, there is a lot of solo work mentally in thinking about pieces and thinking about music and then sometimes spending time in the studio by yourself before the dancers come in so you can give them the material that you’re going to work on for that particular day.”

Neeley, “So there’s a lot of work in isolation. You still, as an artist, have to work in isolation to make your vision come to fruition at some point.”

Fletcher, “Absolutely. I mean it’s listening to pieces of music, very intimately and personally and spending the time to hear the particular orchestration in it and the nuances in it and allow imagery to come through you and what type of movement you want to do to the particular part of the music and things like that. And that happens with a pair of headphones or in a room with speakers alone and just really letting the music come through you.”

Neeley, “But working with others is such a vital part of your vision. A vital part of your vision. I think a lot of artists miss out on that, visual artists anyway, miss out on that. Because we just make our visual art by ourselves and then it’s complete and we have to force ourselves to get outside the studio and talk to other people and interact with the rest of the world instead of just being holed up making our creations.”

Fletcher, “I’m glad you brought that up and what I'm feeling here in the moment is inspired for myself to get out and talk to visual artists and see what that-- I’ve always gotten inspiration, a lot of times, from visual art. Yes you going out and talking with others, I know you do your work in solitary a lot, but I can just tell you that talking to people for me can be inspirational and insightful. It takes you out of yourself as well. You need to be focused on your work and the direction you’re going but getting out and away from it for a moment or moments can be refreshing.”

Neeley, “Refills the well.”

Fletcher, “Yes. I wanted to make another point, and it just escaped me. Hopefully, it will come back to me.”

Neeley, “Okay. How long have you been teaching?”

Fletcher, “Over twenty-five years I started very late for a dancer but I was driven and inspired, and it’s been over thirty years now.”

Neeley, “When did you go from being a da- How long have you been a dancer? How long have you been dancing?”

Fletcher, “I’m going to say thirty years. Thirty years. And I think you were about to ask me when did I transition from dancer to choreographer?”

Neeley, “Yeah.”

Fletcher, “It just happened to me. My whole career is a little bit backward. Because I started so late and early on I guess they saw something in me and they asked me to start teaching shortly after I started dancing, which is kind of unheard of. So I’ve been doing both back and forth. Obviously, I wasn’t very good at it or well versed in it, but I still had vision. I still had the creativity that I wanted to put on stage. It almost happened simultaneously, and I just went back and forth from being a student to being a teacher to choreographing and then a student again, and it happened simultaneously as well. I mean there were times where I was still studying dance and performing when I taught at universities and at the same time I was an associate professor at the university, so I was teaching, and I was choreographing. So it was all happening simultaneously.”

Neeley, “I’ll bet that made you a better teacher too because you’re in a place where you aren’t so far ahead of the students that you forget where they’re at.”

Fletcher, “Right. Yes, I gradually became a better and better teacher but again because I got into it so early I didn’t have that foundation that I realize now is pretty necessary fundamentally when you’re teaching younger dancers up to mature adults it does make a difference in having that foundation. Honestly speaking, I did have some trying times teaching because I was still dancing and because I was choreographing and because I was doing all those things sometimes I had expectations of the students knowing how hard I worked and that they just needed to hunker down and go for it. So I had higher expectations from them sometimes than what they were capable of. At the same time, the faculty appreciated how I did push them.”

Neeley, “Great. How has being a dancer and a choreographer and a teacher influenced your life? Could you imagine life doing anything else?”

Fletcher, “No. No, It’s interesting because when I was young, I want to say eight or nine years old I was encouraged just to get up and dance at gatherings. I was always shy and I would eventually get up and dance to cheers and applause but then that all went away for years. Until I was 24 years old and I stepped onto a stage to do a play as a dancer when I was untrained. And it was from that play that I got the inspiration to start training as a dancer, and I never look back. I quit a very well paying job for that time period, and it made no sense for me to quit except for the fact that I wanted to pursue my love for dance. There was a couple of things I would have done differently, but there was nothing that was going to stop me. I mean I quit that job after dancing locally in Illinois, and I went off to the University of Iowa, and things just kept unfolding pretty miraculously after that.”

Neeley, “Was that a frightening moment when you were deciding to quit?”

Fletcher, “It’s very frightening, and that’s some of what I wanted to touch on today too is artists and them making a living and choosing to jump out and want to make a living doing art or have a foot on both sides where they have a job and do art on the side. What I come to find is what’s important that I want to share is artists of all walks and genres and from musicians to visual to photography to film to the movement to whatever -you got to do your work on yourself. And getting a sense of yourself and learning who you are and learning how you grow and learn how you handle honestly speaking stress and social situations and spending time with yourself and again understanding who you are and what you value and what drives you. When you spend time with those things that’s when those things inform decisions that you make and directions that you go the people that you mingle with and the people that you seek to be around because you have a strong sense of you.”

Neeley, “I could see how strong this is embedded in you as a dancer because your body is the instrument of your work so when you work on your art you’re working on yourself.”

Fletcher, “Yes.”

Neeley, “You’re learning your limitations you’re learning how you deal with the stress of the movements over time.”

Fletcher, “Well, that and it’s a very vulnerable space. I know that you had spoken about being vulnerable when you’re painting on stage and things like that. But then when it comes to a dancer the dancer’s very vulnerable too because their emotions are being portrayed through their body and if you are truly an artist in the field you’re portraying those emotions and that experience as authentically as you possibly can. So as where a person might capture that in a photo or a person might let it come through their guitar or someone might put it on canvas, and they can do that personally-“

Neeley, “Right I can make a sad painting, but I don’t have to cry while I create it.”

Fletcher, “And you don’t have to allow other people to see you cry while you create it. Dancers, like actors, need to become and embody that to do the work justice.

Neeley, “You have to invoke that experience, and because you have to invoke that experience, you have to experience that experience.

Fletcher, “That is when you step into artistry. You can dance and have an experience on a minimal level and you can also do movement without really giving yourself to it emotionally or spiritually. But then that’s the difference between a dancer who’s dancing and a dancer who’s caught up in the movement and showing true artistry and mastery of sharing the feelings, emotion, and expression through movement.”

Neeley, “Wow, that is cool. Thank you so much for sharing that with us. I think the majority of my listeners are visual artists. I don’t know that for a fact though. I think there are about a hundred steady listeners right now and a lot of them are local Albuquerque visual artists, so it’s going to be unique for us to hear the perspective of a dancer.”

Fletcher, “With that said, I just got the visual of you know, for me to walk into a gallery and allow myself to be open to seeing what paintings or pieces might inspire me or make me think of movement or just inspire me in some way. This is calling me to do more of that, and in turn, I want to encourage artists and your listeners to go and watch movement and see if that informs their work somehow. I think, for us both, it’s pretty miraculous I was given the epiphany of how much of a miracle it is that when dancers dance- And of course the same thing applies to artists for you to open yourself to be this conduit, for you guys to see these visions. I mean it’s amazing that you can take a brush and you can take paint- Oh my god! I’ve circled all the way back to what I wanted to say. I’ve used the analogy and the reference teaching dancers saying that when a choreographer choreographs, it’s important that you open yourself and free yourself in the movement as long as it’s not overly uncomfortable or you feel like you’re going to get injured. You give yourself to that like paint does for an artist, the paint coming out of the tube and going onto the canvas. The paint doesn’t say why do you want me to go to that space on the canvas? And the paint doesn’t have feelings and emotions and reactions, so that’s the point I was going to make earlier. And sometimes that’s difficult as a choreographer because you’re working with humans with personalities and feelings and emotions and moods, so it’s even more of a task sometimes to get them to move and feel the things that you want them to move and feel. And I use that reference as that a painter’s paints do it’s there at their beck and call, and it will do the things that they’re asking them to do.”

Neeley, “That’s true when an artist learns how to prepare their paint for their style of painting. A lot of artists don’t know that, and they would argue with you and say that. 'Oh no the paint does not do what I want it to do.' But the fact is, you can change the viscosity of the paint with mediums, and you can learn more about how the paint functions and how the paint works. And it’s not going to change on you. The paint is what it is, and it functions a certain way according to physics, and people are much more complex it’s a much different medium to work with.”

Fletcher, “Interesting and for you, wow. I mean, I’ll just put it out there, I hope to have potentially more conversation with you in the future. The way that you talk about paint in that manner because, yeah. I mean I know that there are choreographers that it’s important too- I’m hearing it’s important to prepare the dancers mentally, spiritually, physically, to receive thus then they’re able to execute- Yeah that's very good point. Very good point and going back to artists watching movement I mean. I don’t know. I’m just having a sense and a feeling that it could be inspirational, not necessarily to paint dancers or figures. I’ve also used it’s interesting maybe if you’re looking at movement and you imagine, as I’ve said to dancers, you imagine the dancer having blue on the left hand and green on the right hand and red on the left foot and so on and so forth. So that when they’re moving in space they’re creating these spirals and swirls and different things like that. I know I like to think that way as far as movement and again I guess I’m just saying-“

Neeley, “She was my favorite model when I was doing figure drawing. Her name was Chelsea. This was in California. And Chelsea had a tattoo of Jackson Pollock’s work on her arm. I asked her, ‘Why Jackson Pollock?’ and at that time I was in a very snooty place when it came to art. I thought that there was good art and bad art and that good art was like realism and bad art was like abstract art. I used to be in that state of mind. I’m not there anymore at all, and one of the most beautiful things that I ever heard anybody tell me about abstract art was from Chelsea, and Chelsea said, ‘When I look at Jackson Pollock’s work I imagine ways to move my body. I see dances.’ “

Fletcher, “Interesting.”

Neeley, “Yes.”

Fletcher, “Interesting. Okay. Wow, okay. I know I want to have more conversations with artists now.”

Neeley, “Yes.”

Fletcher, “Just because in talking about movement and how because naively one would think that you just paint a painting, but there is the movement that’s going on within it. Yeah, I’m going to have more conversations about your work.”

Neeley, “There are so many different theories about it too. There was this one teacher who was very, I didn’t like him, but I do kind of like him, but I didn’t like him. He was like, ‘Painters who use a tiny little brush and they put the tiny little brush in the paint and make tiny little details with their tiny little brush don’t know how to paint! They don’t know what they’re doing! You need to paint with your whole arm!’ He was very into it like, ‘You must paint with your whole arm! Do not move your wrist use your entire arm!’ and that’s true for the kind of painting you’re trying to paint it just depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. If you’re trying to accomplish the glint in somebody’s eye, you’re probably going to do that with a tiny little brush and get it just so.”

Fletcher, “Exactly. Exactly, and where was that teacher?”

Neeley, “That was also in California. That was at the Los Angeles Institute of Art. I’m not going to say his name because I don’t want to say anything bad about him. That was his theory, and different teachers get so set in their theories. In visual art, it’s a strange plethora of die-hard rules that different people have that become completely different sets of rules that people have and you just have to learn how to break them.”

Fletcher, “That’s key right there. That’s an excellent statement that you just made because it connects to what I was saying earlier about knowing yourself. And when you know yourself when you’re not afraid of yourself then when it comes time for you to start breaking the rules you’re not intimidated so much by what people are saying, and you’re not second-guessing yourself as much as you’re continuing to become more of who you are. I’m going to step out on a limb and say that every person that’s born has the opportunity to break the rules and make new rules. That’s what should happen because that’s how we advance.”

Neeley, “It is exactly how we advance. The most amazing thing about our species, in my opinion, is our ability to teach and learn. And because we have this ability to teach and learn, as students we become the teachers we’re seeking. We become the person we want to learn from. And at the point that you become the person that you wanted to learn from all those different sources you can now impart everything that you have learned to one person who is also seeking all these other sources.”

Fletcher, “Can I just say shut up?”

Neeley, “Yeah.”

Fletcher, “That was great. Shut up. I mean that endearingly. So what you just said is the technique that I’ve developed over the years called Dance Logic Supplemental Technique is because of all the things I wasn’t getting as a dancer starting late. So I just created and developed ideas, approaches, techniques, and methods of getting what I needed to get out of my body and in turn, now I’m sharing those things with other dancers seeing their struggles but knowing that I have some of the answers. And I say that humbly, that I can recognize where they’re at as far as sometimes their self-esteem and when they’re struggling with something technical and things like that. That’s exactly it. I’m really glad you shared that.”

Neeley, “When you’re talking about learning who you are, starting to know yourself. That’s a challenge when it comes to making a living as a visual artist, and as a creative person in general, because you have that sense of who you are when you're doing your creative work, and you feel like you’re learning about yourself when you do your creative work, and you forget that- I say you, meaning me, I can forget that the rest of my life, every other aspect of my life is part of me too. I am not just my work. I am not just my art. I am also the conversations I have with other people. I am also the bills I have to pay.”

Fletcher, “Excellent point. Yeah. With that said, while you were saying it, the other thought was what was difficult for me was to learn things about myself as in what I just really wasn’t good at. So that when I was the artist. It’s turning and releasing now to someone else the parts of me, like when you’re saying paying bills and different things like that, having someone assist with the things that I don’t do as strongly as my art. So all those things that encompass you as a person. I want to say too that knowing yourself also can help you realize where you need to delegate and or ask for help instead of sometimes trying to do it all yourself. You can aspire to be in a position to where you can delegate things to other people who are excellent at some of those things, and that’s a part of knowing yourself as well. When you know yourself, and this is who I am, and I need to paint at this time, or I need to choreograph at this time, and these things that I don’t like doing these mundane- can I eventually relinquish them to someone else?”

Neeley, “And the big conflict with that is realizing what you need and fulfilling what you need. I mean our struggle is, what do you need more? Do you need time to yourself to do your creative work or do you need money to pay your bills and buy your groceries? A lot of times those two don’t mesh, and you have to learn how to take care of yourself so that you can learn and live. So that you can buy the supplies, you need to create your work or do your work and still have the time to do your work when you’re not making ends meet. And that seems to be our eternal struggle.”

Fletcher, “It is because you’re calling- Your art is calling to you, and you want to do that work. I know for myself outside of that there were areas where I felt inadequate and also just felt like I was failing if I wasn’t making it doing my work. If I was doing other stuff that was pretty unrelated it was difficult. It felt like failure, which of course it wasn’t.”

Neeley, “Our artwork comes out in everything we do. The kind of artist that we are comes out in everything that we do. I say this because I’m just thinking about my experience getting fired working for Certa Pro. One of the problems I had doing stucco was when I would mask something I would do it like I mask my paintings. And I can’t not do that. I can’t just have a crooked window I can’t just have a crooked line on the window and know that’s going to be permanent. So when I would mask things I would take longer, then they wanted me to take. I didn’t mean to, and I was working fast, and they could see that I was working hard and working fast but it still didn’t change the fact that I wasn’t the kind of worker they needed. And I couldn’t change myself and half-ass things, so to speak, I couldn’t do a half-ass job. So I ended up getting fired from that position because I couldn't be careless enough to be fast enough. Now over time, I only worked there for I think I was fired within the first two weeks, and I was also being trained, I was still being trained. Now had I continued that, I would have probably become fantastic doing stucco, I’m sure I would have. I just wouldn’t have done it as fast as they wanted me to do it for that company.”

Fletcher, “Okay. Well and there’s something to be said I mean there are so many stories about CEOs, and we’re not talking about wealth but CEOs and wealthy people who have been fired on numerous occasions that those firings just propelled them onto something different.”

Neeley, “Eventually, if you get fired from every job you have to be your own boss.”

Fletcher, “And that’s just part of everybody’s individual journey. Some people get fired, some people can succumb and give into- you know, 'I will take it like this, and I will only cook the food half-assed.' One of the things that drive me crazy is when they do make scrambled eggs on a griddle, and they pour out this puddle of eggs, and they leave it set. And they chop it up with the spatula, or they leave it set for so long because it’s all spread out and they fold it. And they chop it up, and it becomes these hard scrambled just I mean it taste different it looks different it’s unappealing as far as the visual aspect of it and they’re just getting the food out.”

Neeley, “And in the same amount of time that you were standing there you could have changed the way that you moved to manipulate those eggs so that they became soft and fluffy and delicious.”

Fletcher, “Exactly So we’re talking about, and so it depends on who you’re working for.”

Neeley, “I just had this funny idea in my head of a dancer bagging groceries. It also reminds me of Bruce Lee’s kitchen. Have you ever heard of Bruce Lee’s kitchen?”

Fletcher, “I have not.”

Neeley, “Bruce Lee rearranged his kitchen so that he had everything placed in the most optimal position for speed and accuracy based on the activities that were done in the kitchen. So he would have the cups near where the drinks were stored. He would have the plates and the silverware stored in a certain place so that you could grab the plate and the spoon simultaneously, something like that. So he had an unusual kitchen because he would rearrange everything in the kitchen and reconstruct the kitchen for the sake of his movements in the kitchen being optimal. So he would be fast in his kitchen.”

Fletcher, “I’ve never heard that but I’m glad you shared it because it just informed how, years ago, how my thoughts came to, I’m looking at this exercise in this dance class, and I’m thinking, 'There’s a better way to do that. And there’s something that will make it more efficient and more optimal.' When we were having the gathering on Friday, and we were listening to that little thing, and it talked about how twenty percent informs the other that Bradley principle. Yeah, thank you for sharing that it just reminds me again of the work that I want to do and why I want to do it.”

Neeley, “That’s great.”

Fletcher, “Bruce Lee’s Kitchen.”

Neeley, “Yeah, it’s in Zen in the Martial Arts. Is it? I think that’s what it’s called. There’s a little book called Zen in the Martial Arts. There’s a brief section in that book where- It’s written by one of Bruce Lee’s students, and it’s about applying martial arts to your life, and every aspect of your life and your way of being and your way of thinking. There’s a small excerpt in there where he just mentions how Bruce Lee had his kitchen arranged.”

Fletcher, “Interesting. I’m really glad you shared that.”

Neeley, “So what advice would you give to up and coming artists who feel intimidated by the idea of pursuing their creative endeavors as a lifestyle?”

Fletcher, “I want to go back to self again. It’s interesting I’m really glad that you brought it back to this again because I was thinking about it and what I would like to share when I came. Talking about self again, you want to check in and somehow figure out what level of self-esteem you have and what level of self-worth you have and how you evaluate yourself as far as worthiness. Because a lot of what we do as artists and as humans is we question, where we might have low self-esteem, which is going to affect what we feel worthy of. And then when we look out into the world- So again when I talk about self, we tend to look out into the world, and we create a sense of self based on what the world says we’re capable of. What we should have, how much of it we should have. That’s been my experience. A lot of people have that same experience. That’s why they buy the jacket they buy that’s why everybody’s wearing a certain style of shoe now with the leggings and so on and so forth is because they’re drawing from the outside. So when it comes to an artist and stepping out to following your calling and saying that you’re deserving of making a living, you want to learn to nurture yourself and say the things to yourself that you want your immediate circle around you to say. You know, to be patient with yourself. Take time to grow to make sure you take care of XYZ. These are conversations you want to have with yourself and I know for years I didn’t say a lot of those things to myself. Yeah, we hope that someone says them to us or we look outside when we look for validation and confirmation and a lot of things outside of us. I keep talking about that time with yourself and being able to come up with a vocabulary and dialogue that’s very nurturing on a daily basis because we can be good at doing the opposite. Saying I’m not worthy or you know I should have done this today, and I didn’t even paint today, and it turned into this dialogue of negativity at ourselves as opposed to learning to dialogue in our conscious mind and saying uplifting nurturing things to ourselves. So in pursuing art as a living and stepping out into that scary space. That’s probably one of the most powerful things. And then also surrounding yourself with people who are making a living to some degree, or they’re making their whole living- and just being unafraid to ask questions, and hopefully, they’ll feel secure enough to share with you. You know, 'What? You’re a friend. I mean I struggled too. I went through this, and I felt these things, and this is how I solved that problem, and I went for eight months before this thing happened and if you do this maybe you won’t have to go eight months it’ll only be two months for you.' So it’s seeking dialogue and interaction."

Neeley, “So developing healthy affirmations and pursuing the relationships with people who are doing what you want to be doing.”

Fletcher, “Yes. Which in turn will solidify your affirmations because you see it through them and now with your affirmations when you’re interacting with others now you have aspirations because you see what they’re doing and you’re aspiring now, so your aspirations now become motivation, and it just keeps building that way.”

Neeley, “Fantastic. Well, we’re getting short on time, so I think that’s a good place for us to end.”

Fletcher, “Okay well, I just want to say that I rearranged some things and I’m really glad that I came down and that I had this opportunity to speak with you because I know that I learned and I grew from this experience. There’s a part of it where I was going to step away, that part of me that I second-guessed what I had to share or offer for a moment. And then I talked to you on the phone, and I went no this, 'I need to make this happen.' I’m sharing this because sometimes you just never know where you’re going to be in a place and space where you’re going to have some beautiful epiphanies and moments that grow you as a person and as an artist. So, I’m really glad you had me down.”

Neeley, “Thank you so much for joining us and thank you so much for sharing with our listeners all that you have about your experience.”

Fletcher, “Absolutely.”

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