EVERYONE AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER faces trying times; financial, family, obligations, commitments, sudden tragedies and more. But sometimes there are struggles I’ve experienced as an artist over the years, and a few seem to boomerang over and over. What are some I have faced? I’ll tell you about a few then talk about how they applied to the painting posted here.
I Forgot My Tube of X
Every time I have company over for dinner, I forget something. It is usually the plates (yes the plates;) butter dish, spoons or bread. But it never fails. With all the planning I do ahead of time, I have to excuse myself from the table to get this or that.
This happens when I paint outdoors as well. I spend hours replenishing my painting bag upon returning from one trip so I am ready for the next. If driving, I take a spare bag of extra brushes, canvas and paint. But sometimes — oh brother — sometimes I forget just one color! I was really rattled the first time this happened. But now, no matter what colors I have, I paint (particularly true if painting with pastels.) When I finally had a firm grasp of how to mix color I could substitute and workaround my forgetfulness. When with a colleague to paint with it’s easier, especially if they are using the same media…I simply borrow from them or they from me. But when alone or using media different from my buddy this is what I do…
Say I have forgotten white (goodness knows you need this, even if it’s the last thing you add to your paint) I use the next lightest color, Lemon Yellow et. al. If missing Cobalt Blue, I mix Ultramarine (if I have it;) with a touch of yellow and white. It’s not exact. However, if I get the values right, the intensities and temperature right, it works. I’m no longer a slave to this problem.
I Don’t Know How to do This or That…
As a kid growing up, I learned how to knit and perl. It was fun until I “got it.” “But now what do I do, it’s getting boring?” Well, you buy a pattern and make something. So I did. First a scarf, then a sweater. I found it easy to follow the instructions that others had difficulty with. Point was, that all I needed to do was research patterns so I could use the two stiches I knew how to make.
When I was learning to draw and paint the same thing happened. I would take a workshop here and there, the lights would go on and I would “get it.” But once I returned home, I had trouble implementing what I had studied and thought I had learned. (I now tell my own students to practice as soon as they get home so whatever they learned “sticks.”) So that’s what I began doing. Once I really understood the technical aspects of painting/drawing, say, perspective, I could apply the same techniques/concepts to anything I rendered.
So just as with knitting, I can now pickup a book, view a painting, watch a demonstration, and learn how to do just about any technique needed on my own. That’s why I also tell students that “I am trying to work my way out of a job.” The job of teaching them “this or that.” Once I had a firm grasp of most painting concepts/principles, it was easy to add a new technique, material, medium or other to my growing artistic toolbox. That’s very freeing. Don’t know when that cross-over happened, but it was early on, after taking a Daniel Greene workshop and subsequently an Impressionistic pastel workshop with the late Herman Margulis. Being able to work through artistic issues is now a pleasure rather than a struggle.
Topping My List: Stopping & Starting
The most chronic difficulty I face is when I stop painting for even a day which can turn into weeks. Some would call this procrastination or laziness. And it is a form of both, but not all. After happening to me so many times I think I’ve identified the cause. Fear of success and fear of failure wrapped up into a neat little package. With a lifetime living with low expectations of myself, I often give into these artificial but very real emotions. I have talked to many artists and have found many who don’t even know what I am talking about, while others say it sounds dead-on with what happens to them.
When I paint every day, I have no problem – I’m on a roll! I can paint up a storm and not think about the outcome of how a painting will come out. I also derive pleasure from learning with every stroke thus building my confidence. So why, when I stop for a time do thoughts of fear or failure creep in to halt me?
It’s a blend of not feeling like starting a painting and fear of failure of the outcome. You might be saying to yourself, “That sounds dumb.” Well, you’re right it is. It’s silly. But it’s a very real event inside my head. I have nothing to fear from an inanimate canvas, brush or paint. It can’t speak, move or do anything for or to me. I am in full control – if I take that control. I use one of two options…
Instead of painting something important like a commissioned piece or a subject that means so much to me, I choose something simple to prime my pump. Something that imbibes no pressure to do mentally. It might be a small piece with a familiar subject, or something just for fun. This usually works. But if I have been away for longer than a week I reach for…
Ok, I don’t feel like painting. I paint for a living, so this cannot be allowed to threaten me. With brush in hand I just say with my will, “I will paint.” And as many researchers have proved, if you start an activity and do it for about 20 minutes with your will, your feelings will follow. It really works! When I do this, I sometimes don’t come up for air for hours! Voila, I’m in the game again. And most of the time, the paintings come out just fine or even better than I could have imagined.
Case in Point
The painting posted with this message is an example of all three of the above struggles wrapped into one. Rose’s Cottage, was created years ago on Salt Cay Island (in the Turks & Caicos Islands.) I had arrived to the 1 mile island a few days before conducting a plein-air workshop. I had to “warm-up.” I delayed a couple of days reluctant to start a painting, much less finish one. For some reason, I did not feel like painting for fear of making a mess of it. So I walked around and shot pictures (that’s always safe – hide behind another activity
Knowing I had to get crackin’ I took my portable paint box, found a wall along the island’s sandy one-lane roads to sit on and start with my will, to paint the old tattered cottage (later learning the owner’s name was Rose.) Took awhile to get going but things smoothed out until realizing I was missing a particular red. Momentarily halted, I decided to emulate the reds I saw using the only red I had, mixed with other colors (back to a very limited palette Bingo, second hurdle overcome.
Lastly, I had never painted the type of roofing this house had. Could not discern what the material was. “What do I do with this?”, I thought. Ok, no problem. What do I already know? I know that I can mix color, that I know perspective, and the way light operates on a subject. I did what I instruct others to do and was taught many times: observe and paint what you see, not what you think you see. View things as as shapes and colors not as a “roof.” Duh!! Last issue overcome.
I ended up having a fantastic session of painting on that wall. Folks strolled by curious about what I was doing. I painted a few more pieces that simply flowed from my brush. I was ready for my students and the piece became so popular at a gallery I could have sold a dozen. That’s incentive enough to paint more regularly
There are many other stumbling blocks to painting, but I’ll share more in a post down the road.