Ramblings on Been There Done That

I have recently been working on the fifth iteration of a painting that has never been to my liking. I would show the progression to you from the first to the last evolution, but I am afraid that I would be embarrassed if I see the first couple tries were much better than the last. It has happened before. 

I get into these situations because I have not really done my homework. Just because I have reached a comfort zone in any of the many themes I have explored, does not mean that I will continue to be able to achieve the same emotional involvement I used to have.

Comfort zones involve the ability to do anything, not just painting, with less physical and mental effort.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean the quality of the work continues to meet my personal expectations.

We are not talking simply experience levels.  Creativity is different. If I intend to continue to paint a theme, I know I must change something. Change could involve my approach, my technique, maybe my canvas size, maybe even changing the medium.

But you all know what happens. By the time the public catches up with you, and trust me that takes a while and lots of pieces of art, boredom has already set in. The series continues in its same way because of many factors including (and quite high on the list), the ability to sell those works or to win awards with them.

I cannot criticize those artists who have to sell their work in order to continue to paint and make a living doing so. I have been there.

The problem – boring repetition, same ole color palettes, even same sizes all leads to worrying that you will never again do anything new and exciting. You remember how great it felt even when you were stumbling around learning how to paint. Then embarking on a newer series and seeing that evolve. Then after many years it seems the excitement well dries up.

People suggest changing media- try oils or go back to watercolor or what about ceramics, clay, 3D and sometimes it works for a little while. Great artists do it. Paul Simon cut Songs of the Capeman, Neil Diamond The Jazz Singer, McCartney an Oratorio.

I created a small 3D shoe series, some black and white paintings, and a few collages using computer parts. I will publish my cartoon series called Equal Time. I am now blogging as well (as you are now reading).

But there is a part of me that feels that there is something else -a painting something else- out there that I am meant to do. The activist in me wants to make a social or environmental statement, but my skin is too thin. So I hold back.

Well, take these thoughts and we can all stick them where the sun don’t shine. However, something positive is bound to happen. I have to make it happen. So l will persist. Stay tuned for how that something might happen. 

Not my mother's shoes

How My Music Series Started

Now that the novelty of staying at home has worn off, I can honestly say screw cleaning and organizing! Even the idea that I will actually do any of it, including cooking from scratch, is gone. So I may as well just sit in the sun, read, and blog.

Life in the time of Corona Virus comes close to what I imagined life in a retirement village without the socializing might be like.

I wake up late, have breakfast, read the newspaper, and amazingly it is almost lunch.

I don’t have to run errands. In fact I am told not to by authorities and family – although I have joined the masked brigade at Costco.

Maybe now is a great time to tell you how I started my music series.

Letting Loose Jazz After Midnight 36x48 from my Music Series

Letting Loose Jazz After Midnight 36×48

For years I dabbled in watercolor and my subjects were from my environment. I took a class while Luke was at Duke University. There I learned the variety of colors and tones I could make from French Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber to Payne’s Gray. I painted boats, barns, beaches, etc. That worked for a while. As did all my drawings for the Daily Press. A subject for another time.

Then I launched into acrylics because I was too impulsive to plan my moves to achieve my painting goals. Besides oils messed with my asthma. With acrylics, I enjoyed the freedom of being able to paint and repaint and scratch out and gesso over.

It was the 1980’s and I had campaigned for women’s issues. This led me to think about doing art related to women of accomplishment.

But who to paint.

I didn’t personally know anyone outside the newspaper industry. I finally decided on JoAnn Falletta, music director for the Virginia Symphony. I knew about her and how well-liked and well-respected she was (and still is today!).

So how difficult could it be to ask her if she would be my first subject. A lot. Well it was difficult to even get in touch with her. I left messages at her office that were never answered but I persisted.

Eventually one evening I got a call from Long Beach, California and it was JoAnn on the line. I tried to impress her with my art credentials and I guess I did not appear to be a total deviant. She invited me to take photos of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra onstage at the Chrysler while they rehearsed the Buckner Fourth. No flash of course. This predated the ease of the iPhone camera so I tried to be unobtrusive with my non-digital, old school film Nikon.

Not so easy when I really wanted to be a part of the orchestra. Even behind the violins, crouching on the floor,I just wanted to do nothing but be a voyeur. But I had a self-assigned job; To capture a diminutive conductor guiding a hundred instruments played by a hundred professional musicians.

And me with a film shutter speed of 400 using only available light so I could not freeze frame. When JoAnn waved her baton the camera captured the motion, the sweep of the baton through space.

When I finally developed the film I saw photo after photo of blurs and darkness. Very little detail and little to work with or so I thought. However the loss of the crutch of detail forced me to use whatever my imagination could generate to fill in the blanks.

Motion became my signature.

Joann ConductsAction and emotion grew more important than defining my subject.

My work with VSO lasted several years. My series began and ended with Ms. Falletta. But it was my start. I carried the blurriness of motion into other subjects including other musical forms like jazz and bluegrass, and then sports, and people in the street. Even now when I find myself leaning towards harder-edged realism I look back at those early paintings and tell myself that just because one learns how to technically achieve painting realism, maybe it should not be one’s ultimate goal.

Ramblings: My Miserable Painting Day

Artists know that we can really mess up big-time. Sometimes we just have a miserable painting day.

And it happens much more frequently than we’d like to admit.

The other day I decided to attack a painting that I had done several years ago.  While the painting was pleasant to look at and interesting to a lot of people, it lacked what I would like to see  my work represent.  In other words, it lack the wow factor. 

I looked at the painting for a long time,  I realized I hated the design.  I kind of liked the colors.  I found the figure was fairly well done, but it was overall just pedestrian.

In retrospect, I should’ve taken photos of the painting throughout the whole course of the day to document all the stupid decisions that I made.

To start, I thought the figure was rather lonely so I enlarged the figure.  When she still didn’t have a life, I gave her a partner. That didn’t work, so I added another figure.  But three figures weren’t any better than one smaller one. So I kept on doing what I tell people not to do –  rework some things without really thinking about the design, the shapes, and the color.

There was no sense of movement left.  I should have just left it or gessoed over it so I wouldn’t have to look at it anymore.

But now I still had paint on my palate, my water wasn’t terribly dirty, and I wasn’t at a point of true exhaustion. So now I sit staring at a painting that is a whole lot worse than the original.  I am kicking myself.  I know I will paint over it and be frustrated again. I never learn.

Having said all that, I do understand that failure is part of the learning process. Some attempts are never meant to succeed. I still wish I had the presence of mind to photograph the whole process. Time sometimes lets those closed doors open again. New insights?

Old work sometimes includes little gems one can build on. But if it is all painted over it is gone. 

jittery jazz revised - not used for my miserable painting day

Ramblings: Brilliant Creativity

Out in the March done with brilliant creativityI think there is a general misconception by the public that people like me, who tend to get involved in what we loosely called creative pursuits, simply plod along.  We engage in brilliant creativity.  We progress from one brilliant idea with a beginning, middle, and end,.  There is a pause and then we go to the next brilliant idea.

Well obviously every idea isn’t brilliant, but when we are in our inspiration phase, sometimes we feel that it may be creating the best work we’ve ever done. However, the pauses can be a lot more lengthy.  During this intermission, we feel not just uninspired, but scared to death that there will be no more brilliant ideas! The best we can hope for is to regurgitate the things that we’ve done before, the tried-and-true and perhaps the successful (monetarily speaking.)

I say we and I probably should not. Because this is just the way I feel.

So this was a lengthy lead into the feelings I am having right now.

I can always go back to painting the themes that people seem to recognize from me. But that is playing it safe. And you don’t learn and you don’t excel by playing it safe.

But then a painter, like myself, sits back and says,

  • All right so how do I not play it safe? 
  • What do I do differently?
  • Do I change my theme?
  • My subject matter?
  • Do I change my technique?
  • Do I get more rigid or more exuberant?
  • Do I paint larger or smaller?
  • Do I tell a story or paint a feeling?
  • Do I paint more abstractly or with more representation?
  • Is the best really yet to come?

I don’t know those answers right now, but I have to believe that the best is yet to come.

Fear not! I will continue to paint, because I can’t not paint.

And you will be the first to know if I succeed in becoming inspired again. And it may be in the realm of technique and approach.

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