Do you ever struggle to get going?
A very rough start to a new year.
The transition from last year to this new year was a bit hard for me and my art. There’s been physical material road blocks, sickness, a bit of depression and a lot of stress. I know everyone has been through similar trials and supposedly these trials only make us stronger.
In December of 2016 I wrote down in my goal book to not work on any major artworks in the month of December. (Major being planned out paintings – but doodling in sketchbooks and such is always fine.) At the time, I probably thought it was a good idea but when I turned to December on my 2017 calendar and saw the instruction I thought “What – no way!” In hindsight I should have listened to myself but I had just completed two large paintings and was anxious to get back to my other projects that got put on hold. How could I possibly wait another entire month?
Well, here's how it all went down. I started working on a Lion painting but the colors were all wrong. I worked and reworked them until I got frustrated and decided I needed to clear my head. This is about when I started choosing art for an upcoming show. This is usually quite enjoyable but when I grabbed the frames I had in stock I was one short (only had 5 and wanted 6) and of the 5 I had one that was of a different wood and slightly wider. Yea, so in reality I only had four good frames. Ugg! I would need to make more. This need turned into multiple trips to the hardware store for needed supplies. All separate trips of course because it seemed like I wasn’t thinking clearly. I felt a bit off.
While I was out getting the wood for the frames I also picked up extra wood for new canvas stretcher bars. These would be for the 36”x36” dog with yellow scarf painting I was dying to get started on. So, while I made frames I also built and prepped this canvas. And yes, I was also working, Christmas shopping and all the other stuff we all do this time of year. I’m starting to realize why I had written “no art in December” on my calendar! I know it’s all self-inflicted work but my desire to do art kind-of out ways my desire to walk the shops and fighting crowds while looking for gifts. Is that bad? Maybe next year I’ll put on my calendar to buy all Christmas gifts in October AND no painting in December. Think that’ll work?
The canvas for the yellow scarfed dog was ready and I was anxious so I started it. Simple enough, right? Actually not. I had purchased a new white from a trusted paint manufacturer because it was called “Fast Dry White.” I was thinking this new fast dry white was the next evolution to my art. Nope! That stuff stayed wet for soooooooo long, there wasn’t anything quick about it. The advantage of painting with oils paint is the colors don’t dry quickly which gives me time to move, manipulate and blend the paint. The disadvantage with oil paints is they don’t dry quickly. Is this a Conundrum? There are ways around the long dry times though. I use an oil based alkyd white which is dry to touch usually in 24 hours- depending on thickness of paint. Mixing this with a regular slow drying white makes a product I can control based on what percentage of mixture I make. I also use a lot of earth tones which naturally dry quicker than other colors. After 20 years of painting, I know what to expect of my paint in 12 hours, 24 hours, etc. Well, this new “quick dry white” changed all I knew and made me feel like a struggling painter back in art school. Boy did I get frustrated! And you know what else? Christmas was just a few days away and I hadn’t wrapped anything and I started getting what I though was a cold (the source of my prior non-clear thinking remark). I think this is where my holidays started spiraling out of control.
The little cold turned out to be a butt kick’n flu. It was horrible. And while dealing with being sick I was also called into some buildings I help manage for emergency repairs. I swear the phone wouldn’t stop ringing. This was going on the week between Christmas and New Year’s. I haven’t been sick like this in a long time but I eventually got feeling better after New Year’s. Do you know what I do when I start feeling better? I go back to the studio of course. I must be a paint - o - holic!
Back in the studio I sat and stared at my work. My body still hurts, my head still hurts but I want to paint. I started with more paint on the yellow scarfed dog then remembered the slow drying paint – dang it. I then went and smeared some paint around the lion in the snow image – still not getting the colors right. I thought starting a new abstract would help me get going gain. It didn’t, my sense of color seemed way off. I took a day off and then came back at it again but I just didn’t really want to paint much anymore (depression?). I slathered more paint on that abstract but it looked horrible. I picked up an older unfinished abstract and started working back into that one. I completed it but thought the contrast was too great – the darks too dark and the lights to light. At this point, I’m hang ‘in my head wondering what’s wrong with me. I’ve been back in the studio for a few days now and have so little to show for it. I think I need to get away or maybe go back to bed.
The next day I went out and cleaned the yard, rebuilt the chicken coup fence, trimmed some trees, pulled weeds and even planted more nectarines in our orchard. I worked until my body was limber again, I breathed in fresh are until my head cleared up and I warmed myself by a fire until my bones were warm. This is good medicine (along with the shots of whisky around the fire). This is what I needed.
The following day I was back in the studio looking at that little failed abstract. I added a glaze of color over it and started wiping it down, revealing the textures of the many layers of paint I had previously applied and unifying the colors. I thought – “Now it’s finally coming together.” I even showed it to my daughter and asked, “What do you think? Should I call it done?” “Yep!” was her reply.
I sat looking at the painting. I could feel my mind focus, I could feel my creative juices run through my veins under my skin. I could smell the paint, see the infinite details, I could finally see with my artists eyes. I grabbed a pallet knife and started scrapping the picture. I grabbed my scratching tool and started scratching. I loaded more paint, I stenciled patterns, and I rubbed and sanded portions of it off again. I had finally risen from the dead, was feeling good and actually making art.
And just to make sure I was all good, I painted this:
-because I needed to make sure I could still paint believable dogs and that I could relate to details.
And then I painted this: