So I stated this new painting at the end of June (small detail shown above). I struggled with it. I was unmotivated to work on it. It was an interesting idea for a technique I’d never seen used before — one of those meaningful, high-concept projects that typically gets picked for juried art shows. Also the type of project that is very much out of my comfort zone. It seemed like I should be excited to work on it, but I just wasn’t.
After having it sit there unfinished on my easel for a few weeks, I finally realized why I couldn’t muster the ambition to keep working on it. It’s all about anxiety. The first layer of this work is a montage of images of things that generate anxiety. Working on it, while artistically fascinating, was emotionally disturbing. I couldn’t look at all those illustrations of anger, angst, hostility, and excess without absorbing some of the negative emotional energy it contains.
I’ve put it away for now. I haven’t decided if I should complete it, or paint over it and start something new on that panel. It would be good art, but certainly not the sort of art someone is going to hang on the wall in their favorite space and gaze at all the time. I’ve definitely decided not to spend long stretches of time on it. If I finish it, it will have to be in small increments interspersed with work on more peaceful and uplifting images.
Some artists use painting to pour out the emotions they are feeling onto the canvas as a cathartic exercise like journaling for writers. I thought that was what this was going to be for me — expressing the way I feel about the way the world is going this year. It turned out that I was absorbing emotion from the painting instead of emptying it into the painting. Not at all what I expected when I attempted broaden my artistic horizons.
Here’s an update on the art I’ve been creating for the past month. It’s been a month for drawing practice. A painting doesn’t get very far if the artist’s drawing skills aren’t up to the job, and really painting is just drawing in color anyway. Above are a few of the ink drawings I completed this month for the Inktober 2018 challenge. I did them all in my miniature sketchbook that I carry around with me in my purse, so most of them are only about 3″ x 3 1/2 inches.
I’ve done other challenges — National Novel Writing Month (50,000 words of fiction in 30 days) for November and the National Poetry Month poem-a-day challenge for April — and those were interesting and fun, but also frustrating. I think that’s because I write well, but I LOVE drawing and painting. It’s my gift. Also, because I’d never heard of it until November 1st and I jumped in on a whim, I didn’t feel guilty when, about two-thirds of the way through the month and I stopped and only did two more for the rest of October. I just didn’t want to do any more. It was a liberating thing, actually, to abandon it, because it was good practice for a time but was no longer of benefit to me. Never keep doing something just because it’s what you’ve been doing.
I did these two drawings in an art group that I meet with at our church. The group leader stopped at a roadside produce stand to get the props to set up the still life. The drawing of the old man was from a photo she clipped from a magazine, and the rest of the page was cut away, so I don’t have the information to properly cite the photographer. I am particularly pleased with the hands, which are much harder to draw accurately than faces.
I finished two paintings in October too. The first was the acrylic version of that still life. I’ll share a picture when I finish the oil version, so I can unveil them together. The other was the abstract below titled “Vineyard” which started out as just a loosening-up exercise, but it went well enough that I refined and finished it so it’s ready for framing. I plan to paint three companion pieces in the near future titled “Orchard,” “Field,” and “Garden.” If you are interested in purchasing “Vineyard,” see my gallery page for more information.
Still plodding along with the still life. When I used the wrong mixture for glazing and had to set aside the oil version (on the right) back in August, I expected that it wouldn’t be dry enough to paint the next layer until Christmas. But it surprised me, and it appears that only a couple months was necessary. In the meantime, I started on the acrylic version of the same still life (on the left) and it has been going well… mostly. I’ve experienced some frustrations with the paint drying too fast on the canvas. (That’s situational irony, right? My 9th grade English teacher really tried, but I’ve always been a little unclear on that.)
So it wasn’t the subject matter that drove me to give up temporarily on the first canvas, it was the medium. And while working on the second canvas, the medium is making me itch to go back to work on the first canvas. I’m learning a lot, and relearning some too, about my mediums. (Or media, if you prefer–both plurals are correct in an art context; I checked.) That was pretty much the goal of this project–to learn the properties and possibilities of my materials.
So, even though I’m not finished with either version, I’m already thinking about Still Life with Hydrangea No. 3. I’ve got a whole room full of art supplies. I could do watercolor next. Or gouache. Or ink. Or watercolor over ink. Or pastels. Or charcoal. Or colored pencil. Maybe Crayola crayons will suit my mood?
OH, HOLD THE PHONE! I just recalled that single sheet of art paper that I bought on clearance this summer. (Only 15¢–I’ll never get out of an art supply store that cheaply again.) That paper is a rich muted red and that would be the perfect support for a pastel painting of that still life! I think it maybe the time is approaching to try out that box of pastels.
So that still life is still sitting on a closet shelf drying…or not drying. The fingerprints just keep adding up. I’ve been mulling over what to paint next while I put coat after coat of gesso on the next canvases. (As soon as I make a sale, I’m going to start buying better canvases that are actually ready to use.) I decided on … the still life.
Lots of famous artists painted the same subject many times. Monet painted those haystacks so often that the farmers got annoyed and tore them down, just so he’d go away. I’m making a few small tweaks to the composition and this time I’m using acrylics. Maybe I’ll do another in watercolors or pastels.
My little supervisor in the tuxedo apurrrrrrrooves of that plan. So far, I have the object outlines re-drawn. I was kind of wishing I had traced it the first time, then I could trace it again. Oh well, it’s like I always tell the students at school when they forget to save their work on the computer — it’s faster when you do it the second time.
That second canvas in the background is bigger, and I have plans for it too — inspired by looking out the window at the full moon last week as the sun was rising at the opposite end of the sky behind me. More on that to come.
So, my new drawing tool — a proportional divider (also called a scale divider) — arrived from Amazon on Friday. It’s the X-shaped tool on the left, and it’s used for enlarging a reference photo or increasing your accuracy when drawing from life.
When new art supplies arrive in the mail, it’s just like Christmas. I was tracking the shipment with Amazon, and I also signed up for that “Informed Delivery” service with the postal service, so I was ready to ambush the mail carrier when she arrived. (I may or may not have startled her a bit.)
I found it to be very useful. I am grateful to Stefan Baumann and his Youtube video for letting me know about something I didn’t even know I needed. I may have over-used it a bit on this canvas, but it definitely helped my drawing accuracy, and probably saved me some time too. The longer you use it the less you are supposed to need it, because it doesn’t just measure for you, but trains you to measure visually on your own.
I will also be trying out a new set of oil paints that have been sitting in my studio waiting for their first squeeze. That’s why I’m doing a nice, simple still life — don’t want everything in one project to be new and/or challenging. Also, I’ve heard that when you can’t decide what to paint, you should paint your lunch. The cherries were delicious.