Yesterday I spent four hours finishing a painting for a show—finishing a painting that some would say was already finished. I’m not really complaining since I am delighted to have been chosen for the exhibit, but the task is certainly not glamorous and likely not one that a collector or even exhibit curator thinks about (unless they are also an artist).
By finishing a painting I don’t mean putting leaves on a tree (not to negate something I can’t do well). What I mean is checking the sides for marks, sanding a few spots, repainting those, repainting again when I miss one, waxing, then finally wiring (and making sure the wire is heavy enough for a large painting on board). Our social media posts seem to only show us smiling with several brushes in our hands and painting with bright colored oils or acrylics —not furiously trying to match a paint color or see through dust spattered glasses with hair tied up on our head.
Finishing a painting is a pretty mundane task, and I’m willing to bet not many artists have assistants to do this. But it must be done and is part of completing a painting for a show or collector. Sometimes I fuss and worry too much over highly textured areas, wondering if I should smooth them down more. But everything most of us do is by hand so it will probably never look perfect. Of course, this isn’t the only routine task we perform. That’s for another blog.
But sometimes I wonder if we shouldn’t show more “real” work pictures (no I’m not brave enough yet) or at least put our glasses and work cloth in the frame (that I can do).
Having spent my recent Saturday night at a minor league
baseball game, I have begun thinking that as an artist I am no different than
one of those players dressed in a striped uniform. I too must warm up, size up
the opposition, determine how to play the game, learn from and correct my
mistakes, and still pull off a win before the 9th inning.
Last Saturday we got there a few minutes early and everyone
seemed to be frantically throwing balls to each other. But I could tell something
else was also happening. I knew that with every throw they were also checking
out the opposing players as well. It’s what I do every morning in my studio. I
look at what’s on the easel or table and hope I’ve left myself a note as to my
thinking the day before. If not, I miss the ball and have to chase the grounder.
Do I start by reviewing new art by artists I love? Do I write about the art I
am working on? Do I sketch? Do I start with a collage or just random painting?
Sometimes it feels pretty frantic, so I imagine it looks that way as well. And
yes, at some point during the day, I will definitely check to see what other
artists are up to, though they are not opponents since no one is keeping score.
Right Off the Bat
It is always important to determine direction—to know what to do next. Am I working on a new painting or finishing one that is not yet complete? If I have made mistakes (never…), can I correct them easily or will it stretch into overtime. Every once in a while, a painting will come together quickly. It is probably because I have carried the image around in my head subconsciously for days or weeks. You would think that such a painting would be my home run.
Out of the Ballpark
But my home runs are different. It not a hit the first time I come up to bat. It’s the third or fourth time with 3 balls and 2 strikes. It’s the painting that I struggle with the most and that finally comes together. The others are just base hits, a double or a triple. When you put hours and hours into a piece and it finally feels right—when you know it’s good, that is the home run. Then you really feel as if you’re floating around the bases to home.
Sometimes I do strike out. And every once and while, I give
up on a particular piece. It seems overworked and tired. But I immediately
start again, sometimes on the same piece with a different twist. You see just
like baseball, art gets into your blood. It becomes essential to your everyday
life. There is no season; it’s a year-round pursuit. You are always in
training, always playing the game.
One of my favorite books in the 1980s was Alice Walker’s
“The Color Purple,” and I was even more impressed by the movie. In this particular
case though I am literally talking about Golden’s liquid violet dark. It isn’t
a color I use very often, but I think perhaps I should.
What else can I say about say about the color purple? If it is dark, it is the color of eggplant. If it is pale it is the last wisp of sunlight on a summer evening. Besides the violet dark, you find both a light violet, a medium violet, and a pale (which I quite like). But as you know, it is just as easy to mix it.
So purple is a color that many believe is feminine. But I
would counter that purple is also the color of bruises—bruises perhaps gained
from athletic endeavors (and yes, plenty of women are athletes). I would also counter that using purple
requires a lot of imagination.
The Advantages of Purple
Purple is becoming a color I turn to when I am not satisfied with what I see on my easel. When a painting’s too humdrum (For now, humdrum is still in the dictionary, still a word.) I also try to use purple when a painting starts to look too realistic. I am not criticizing realistic, I just don’t do it well. This is pushing me into a new habit: using purple in place of colors on what I call a “messed up painting.” If there is a dark brown or dark blue, I use dark violet. If it’s a neutral gray I mix an amethyst and if it is a light green or gray a light or pale violet.
Purple Has An Attitude
I believe it really helps to change to colors that you aren’t as comfortable using. After all, painting is about experimenting. For me, changing colors can mean that instead of an abstract landscape that leans toward realism (and not good realism), suddenly I will have a completely different painting, one that has a bit of an edge, a slight attitude. It’s smiling, wearing sunglasses, and also has a definite smirk.
So 2019 is upon us, and it is time to make those changes,
those new year resolutions. And I have decided to occasionally be a “front row
girl.” Now this is a term I heard in yoga class, when I teased another woman
about moving up to the front row. She replied, “I’m not a front row girl. I
don’t like the attention.” (I go to the front row because I can’t see.)
Wearing A Hoodie Through Life
Now, if you look up “front row girl,” you will get blogs and stories about a Milwaukee Brewer’s fan named Amy Williams who comes to most of their home games and sits…well on the front row. That’s not the front row I’m talking about. I’m talking about a different type of “front row,” one that includes taking more risks and being more involved in the things that matter to me (or to you) whether it is art, education, affordable housing, or fighting those who insist on speeding and running red lights.
Too often I find myself not doing things because it makes me uncomfortable— even though I realize that it’s something that could make a difference in my life or someone else’s. If it is a problem, I complain, but still take a back seat because I’m an introvert and don’t like making a fuss. And sometimes even when I believe I have a good solution to a problem, I don’t speak up for fear that it can’t really be that good or someone else would have proposed it, or even for fear of rejection. A hoodie is nice when you’re cold, but it may feel good to throw it off once in a while.
But this is the year. At least once a week I will be doing something I haven’t done on a regular basis—whether it is as simple as introducing myself and talking to someone I haven’t met (but should have), or speaking in a more public forum. Already I am pushing myself to change my paintings, adding more contrast, more color. I am also pushing myself to write more, about art and about life.
While winter is just beginning, I’m going to pretend it’s spring and that I’m always a “front row girl.” Some of us are late bloomers, admittedly very late bloomers. But our flowers are just as beautiful.
I’m really glad I went to church today. I discovered an incredibly inspiring artist who painted more than 7 decades ago.
I’m really glad I went to church today. Yes, it’s always a comforting place where I can find friends and words that normally uplift me in this crazy, confused world. And today, I found an incredibly inspiring artist: Finish artist Helene Schjerfbeck (1862 – 1946).
I guess I should explain that in our Unitarian Universalist Church we use art, music and poetry every Sunday. When we removed a hand-made tapestry from behind the pulpit several years ago and added a large projection screen, I was concerned that we were becoming too computerized and maybe a bit cold. But they use this wide-screen to project poetry, words of songs, and yes, art every Sunday!
An Artist That Inspires
My newest artist that inspires painted more than 7 decades ago, and while she is best known for her early realistic paintings, the ones that mesmerized me are her later paintings that are nearly abstract images.
While unknown to me, Helene Schjerfbeck is a Finnish national icon. Her early style was very naturalistic, honed during her studies in France. Her talent was recognized early and she was widely traveled However, in her later years she spent much of her time in a quieter atmosphere.
Next year (2019), the Royal Academy of Arts will exhibit over 60 of her portraits, landscapes and still lifes. Their exhibit publicity calls this a “long-overdue survey that traces the evolution of her remarkable career.” They plan to highlight a sequence of her self-portraits, which they believe reveal her “lifelong fascination with the physical and psychological process of aging”—what lies beneath the skin and bones.
Influences of My Current Work
I too have found that as the years pass, I am simplifying my paintings. While a lot goes in at the beginning, much gets covered up and painted over. I am finding I must be honest and clear about my intent, and I must spend a lot of time journaling and observing. It is not linear, but rather a process that allows for overlap—a back and forth, a push and pull, an addition and reduction approach.
In particular, I am observing women artists because I believe they are best at distilling ideas and objects to their essence. This is a challenge I have given myself: to find what means the most to me and to simplify the imagery until only the important elements remain.
All of these are magical places. Transforming places. Since childhood, these were places that opened me to myself, soothed my soul, and offered me solace, inspiration, and just plain happiness.
It is a very hot July day, and I have just hiked two miles over a moderately difficult trail. Of course I hear it before I see it. That’s always the case for waterfalls, but I do not expect it to be so large and powerful. As the trail flattens out at the last rise, there is a railing. I stop immediately, finding myself being cooled and tickled by the spraying water from Rainbow Falls. It is difficult to believe something like this is in the middle of the forest in a gorge in North Carolina. A discovery all my own; a discovery shared by so many.
Peter Wohllenben, author of “The Hidden Life of Trees,” believes trees speak a “silent language,” one that communicates via smell, taste, and electrical impulses. But it is not just forests. I have also seen the ocean speak. I see people sit and stare at it for hours, bathe themselves in its saltiness, and walk its sand looking for reminders of their visit to what can only be called a sacred place. Now I know waterfalls also speak.
All of these are magical places. Transforming places. Since childhood, these were places that opened me to myself, soothed my soul, and offered me solace, inspiration, and just plain happiness. So, you can understand why I have a difficult time understanding those who would destroy it for their benefit and who would try to convince me they were actually doing it for mine.
Artists have either painted or used almost every aspect of our natural world as model or inspiration. We are quite indebted to its beauty and power. I am particularly indebted and have made a small gesture acknowledging my thankfulness. I know it’s a small gesture; “a drop in the bucket” would be the term. However, as I have noticed in many plumbing events at my house, many drops do fill a bucket. So I have aligned myself with a generous site called For Mother Nature—which links artists with those who love nature. It is not a direct sales site, but rather a network of artists who support various environmental causes with a percentage of their sales. As part of their network, I have pledged to donate 10% of all my sales to Friends of the Earth.
Friends of the Earth (https://foe.org) has been around for almost 50 years working to protect people and wildlife through systemic reforms and collaborative effort. They have grassroots groups in 77 countries and currently focus on clean energy and solutions to global warming, protecting people from toxic and new, potentially harmful technologies, and promoting smarter, low-pollution transportation alternatives. They also believe that the fight for justice and the movement to protect the health of the planet are part of the same struggle.
We all know you can’t prepare for everything. We want change that is gradual and slow so we can see it coming, but life has way of sideswiping you when you least expect it.
Almost 6 years ago my husband had a “heart incident” as we like to call it. His heart fluttered, skipped a beat and threw a small clot. Even the paramedics could find nothing wrong when they arrived, but he felt a pain like “toothache” in his chest. So just to be safe he went to the hospital. While there was no damage, we discovered that sometimes he has an irregular heartbeat. “Sometimes” was really hard to deal with at first, but now after so much time he just exercises, eats right, and carries nitroglycerine in his pocket.
I was reminded again of how slowly, and quickly, things change and could change, while hiking the trails in Stone Mountain State Park. The large rock faces with layers and splits big enough for climbing were formed by geological exfoliation. While they seem impenetrable, as if they will be there for thousands of years, the reality may be different. The change to these rocks is climate related and normally happens very slowly, but according to the park rangers because we don’t know the depth of the splits there is always the risk that rocks, particularly those with vertical and horizontal cracks, will shatter and slide. Of course, should there be an earthquake, they could crumble very quickly.
It’s both a bit scary and a bit comforting how human life parallels nature. Mostly, the changes are gradual, but we are all shifting.