My Painting Process

IMG_0239Floral Pink

Day 7 of 30 Paintings in 30 Days Challenge

Acrylic on 10″ x 8″ Stretched Canvas

I belong to an artists’ cooperative gallery and Wednesday was my turn to work my shift. It takes about an hour to drive to Cedar Key from Gainesville, the gallery is open from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. and with another hour to drive home I wondered  “How could I possibly get a painting done for the challenge?”

I packed an 8″ x 10″ canvas, a couple of brushes and a few tubes of paint so I could at least get a painting started. Once I got the gallery open, I set the little canvas on the counter and opened three tubes of paint. I choose the colors randomly with different reasons for each choice.  This time I wanted a dark and a light and a surprise color  I chose Light Red Ochre for the dark color. It could be described as brick red which makes a lovely dusty pink when mixed with white. For a light color I chose Toning Grey Pinkish  – a warm off-white.  And finally Yellow Ochre, an earthy organic yellow, for my Surprise.  The Surprise is often a color that at first doesn’t seem like it would work with the other colors and sometimes is added later in the painting process. But this time it called to me right away.

Just as I took the lids off the 3 tubes of paint, a group of browsers entered the gallery. At an earlier time in my life I would have put the paint away and felt frustrated that I couldn’t do what I had planned. Now I am learning to ask myself “What is the opportunity in this moment?” I asked them if they would like to see how I start a painting and they watched as I squeezed paint directly from the tubes onto the canvas; a few drops of red here and there, a puddle and some drips of white wherever they would fall and two little blobs of yellow. Next I took a brush about an inch in width and smeared the paint in random directions to cover the canvas, including the sides, watching the colors blend, swirl and interact with each other. The objective at this point is simply to cover the canvas with paint. If there is not enough paint to generously cover the canvas I grab a tube (without worrying about which one) and add a few more drops of paint.  This is the point when I start paying attention to feelings I have while moving the paint on the canvas. I was already getting the feeling of flowers. (The pinks that were forming were delicious!) But the feeling was not yet clearly defined.

The browsers were fascinated. They had never seen anyone paint without a palette before. I have found that most people who visit the gallery are either practicing artists who want to paint more, or confess that they “used to like to draw or paint but haven’t done it in years.” There are many people who say that they don’t have any talent and can’t make anything at all but these people don’t usually visit galleries unless they’re dragged in by someone in the other two groups. It turned out that one of the browsers, a gentleman in his sixties, was the one who used to paint. His wife tried to encourage him: “Look honey!  You can do that!”  Then she said to me “he’s too critical. Everything has to be just perfect or he won’t finish it.”

That was my cue!  How can anything be perfect if you don’t follow it to its finish?  And what defines perfection? And how does one know when something is finished?

I have my own answers which I am always eager to share. Perfection is a feeling I get when I use my senses to experience something. A perfect piece of music is one I experience through my sense of hearing, that stirs my heart and evokes such strong emotion that makes me feel that nothing more can be added – it is complete. The same would apply to looking at a painting, or a sculpture, reading a poem, watching a dance performance or eating a delicious casserole or touching the soft fur of a kitten. Perfection is always present, even when I am not conscious enough to experience it.  But I have also learned to sense that this man did not need to hear any more preaching. He needed to be reminded of the possibilities of his own creative experience. The process needed for each of us to overcome our blocked creativity can only be discovered on our own through practice. He only needed a catalyst. My advice to him, as to everyone, is Practice Every Day, no matter what. Making art every day is what is leading me to overcome my own unique obstacles and to discover my own unique style of expression.

With the entire canvas now completely covered in paint, I leaned the canvas against the wall and stood with the browsers to view it from a different perspective, turning it in all directions, listening to what it wanted to tell me. The painting invited me to discover images already forming, to explore movement and direction of the flow of the paint. I saw that the colors were so blended that it felt a little boring, not very inspiring, and called out for something daring. I responded by adding 3 more blobs of Light Red Ochre and used the big brush to change the shape of the blobs without too much blending.

“Flowers!” the browsers said in unison.  And my heart skipped a beat. There was still more to be done with this painting but the feeling of cooperation between me and the browsers was Perfection.  The man who used to paint looked different as he headed for the door. His eyes were sparking as he told me he was going to buy some canvasses and paints as soon as he got home and from now on, he was going to paint every day, no matter what.

When I got home that night, I finished the painting, adding some forest green for contrast, following the lines of the brush strokes to bring out the shapes of the flowers – they were already there – they just needed discovering!  I added a few spots of Cadmium Yellow Deep to what appeared to be stamens. I don’t know if such flowers exist anywhere in the world, but they do in this painting. It reached its own perfection at 10:35 p.m.

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