Thursday, March 22, 2012
Becoming a Better Painter with Baby Steps
Yesterday, I got a haircut, ran a billion errands, and ended up at Hot Shops in Omaha for the painting group hosted by my amazing art teacher, Jean Mason. When I got there, the room was already filled with painters who were working on all kinds of interesting projects. I took a seat next to a guy from my former painting class and stared at a blank canvas for about 20 minutes. Inspiration? I didn't have it.
Because I spend my days coming up with original content for work, the painting class I took at Joslyn was exactly what I needed -- someone else gave me an assignment, and I followed through. I knew that an open painting class might be difficult for me because I would have to figure out something to paint all by myself. It's not that I can't do it, it's just that I get lazy and tired after I've been working too much and need a push. I didn't actually work yesterday. I spent the whole day AWAY from my computer. But I was somewhat exhausted from all of the errands -- and somewhat overwhelmed by the talent that surrounded me.
I got up and wandered around to look at other people's work. Almost all of them had brought a printed out copy of something they saw online or a photograph to work from. Oh, so it's normal to bring something to work from. AWESOME. I admired my peers' work. They are all talented in their own, special ways. It was fun to see everyone working on something different and personal instead of us all working on the exact same painting, like we had in the class. But it was also intimidating. My internal monologue started: You are a poser. You're not a painter. What are you doing here??
But then I got to chat with Jean for a few moments, and her bright smile and enthusiasm are so contagious that I felt right at home. She and some other women taught the group how to stretch canvas onto your own wood frames. I ignored the lesson because I know I will NEVER have an urge to make my own canvases. I will buy them, yes I will. So I sat down again at my own little station and faced the white, pre-made canvas I had brought with me.
I thought about imagery that I like. Trees. Nature. Orchids. Gardening. Then I also thought about things that are important to me. Stability. Solidity. Anchors. Roots. So I threw on a background of light blue and made a an anchor out of an orangey brown color. Then I added green velamen roots along the bottom of the anchor. Velamen roots are green and thick -- silverish when not wet. They grow out of orchid pots and will attach to just about anything. They are not the normal, white or brown roots that you see on the bottoms of flowers and plants. These types of roots are special. I realized that people who look at my painting won't know what they are, but who cares? The painting is for me. Then I added some brown branches coming out of the anchor and a green, blotchy background to start off the leaves. Just when I was getting into a groove, I realized the time, felt an overwhelming surge of TIRED, and cleaned up to go home.
I was disappointed when I got home and really looked at the painting. It looks like a child made it. It's got waaay too much paint on it (I'm a paint waster), and it doesn't look at all like I imagined it in my mind. But if there's one thing that Jean has taught me all this time, it's that you can basically fix anything if you work on it long enough. You just have to have patience and dedication. Me? Sometimes I lack the patience.
I don't want to sound like an a$$hat or anything, but I'm naturally creative. It's usually not hard for me to feel good about things I've created. Painting is a challenge for me. I'm NOT naturally good at it. I have to work at it again and again to figure out how to make something look right. I want to keep learning and growing in this new way -- to stretch my brain out and force myself to keep trying even though I want to throw away the canvas and be done with it. No.
No, Blondie. You will keep working on that painting. You will make it look like how you want it to look. You will not quit. You will learn.
As we age, it's easy to get into our zones and decide we don't need to try any more new things because we already can do quite a bit and are busy and stressed and blah, blah, blah. But life is about throwing down challenges in front of ourselves (well, usually, they get thrown down in front of us and we have no choice in the matter) and rising to the occasion. And even though I really want Jean to come over to my house and watch every single stroke I make and tell me what's wrong and how to fix it, I must learn these things on my own. I can get gentle guidance in life from all kinds of teachers, but I have to do the work. Then, when I succeed, I can be proud.
So I will keep working on my anchor/tree/root painting. My camera battery is dead right now or I would show you a picture. I'll try to juice it up and get some progress shots. Right now, I want to tuck the painting into the bottom of my garbage can and pretend it's not there. But I won't. I will keep trying. And maybe, who knows? Maybe it will become my favorite painting ever.