How about you. Fill in the blank and share in the comments: The more I ______ the less darkness I see.
It’s all self-portrait.
The rawest material
Of an artist
Is their soul.
What gathers on the page?
It's all self portrait.
Acrylic, giftcard, soulstuff
Recently I've thrown myself at watercolor like a toddler throws herself at her own Mommy's ankles. Truth be told, my mother was a beautiful water-colorist, and. every now and then, I feel her presence as I paint. Not always, but sometimes. So, why on earth would I stop?
My journey as an artist did not begin with watercolor but with a strange and vibrant liquid called Alcohol Ink. Since June 4 2015, the day I first dripped ink onto tile, I've been creating art or planning art or thinking about creating art every single day! True to form, I threw myself into creating with inks for two years and eventually (in April 2017) I inked a field of poppies and a blazing sun. These two pieces led to a children's book, and then, in September of 2018, a full gallery show.
Fast forward to autumn, 2019. I still come to the table every day, but now my focus is with watercolors. Dipping brushes into pigments, making friends with them along the way, I am trying to go as far as possible in this precious time life has to offer. However, an increasing awareness was creeping into the bliss: I was chasing something yet unnamed.
Much as I enjoy the watercolor, I'd been having trouble capturing the heart of my art. Despite obvious enjoyment, growth, and successes, something was missing and had been replaced by a nebulous sense of separation.
Where was the thrill that I'd felt moving ink across ceramic tiles? My approach to inking was atypical, using forced air, centrifugal force, gravity, and even fire to move the ink, avoiding brushwork as much as possible. I missed the feeling that came from those earlier sessions with alcohol ink and one morning, staring at a blank page, it hit me! Who ever said I had to give up my process completely? NO ONE, that's who! The solution was easily within my grasp.... maybe my two skillsets could be mashed together.
The poppies seemed like the perfect place to begin. The first version had been painted with alcohol ink on tile, using fire to achieve the vibrant blooms. Of course, fire was out of the question on paper, but what about forced air? I'd created the original grasses and stems by blowing ink across the tile. Could I use this same exciting technique with watercolor? Would the colors hold their own? Would they even budge on the page? There was only one way to find out.
Sometimes we have what we are looking for but don't know because we expect it to look a certain way. If we practice gentle focus, giving space, stepping back, and asking our eyes and heart for an honest look, we may discover that the kernel of truth we set out to lay down in paint is right there on the page.
That's what happened to me with a painting I later titled Path of Light. The thing is, I knew it's name before it developed into a painting and, this is just a guess here as I'm not fully clear on how inspiration really works, maybe that's the reason it all came together. I'd been reading from The Tao of Watercolor, by Jeanne Carbonetti. She was talking about focus... about knowing what we want to say. I found that so interesting because she wasn't saying to focus on knowing what we want to make. Her emphasis is to first know what we want to say or what story do we want to tell. There is a difference. Can you feel it? She also says that beginning artists often judge a painting too soon - that maybe it needs more paint. Both of these ideas influenced what evolved the next time I picked up a brush.
I headed into my studio late one night. Clean water and brushes were waiting for me, as it has become my practice to always make things ready in this way. It occurs to me as I write to you that this is a welcome ritual where I am planning ahead for my own return, preparing to say "Hello, my friend. I knew you were coming and have brought fresh water, cleaned your brushes, topped off your spritzer bottles, and taped some paper down on the glass..." or board... or other sturdy surface that didn't already have something already taped to it.
That night as I wet my paints, a thought arrived for the first time ever - I want to be known as the lady who painted light. Typing it now gives me goosebumps so I know this comes from my deepest heart.
The paper seemed happy to receive a nice even wash of clear water. I sopped up the transparent yellow from the well with my floppy rigger and let it slide onto the page as exploding sunshine - it seemed eager, like it couldn't wait to be there. I left the upper corners clear of yellow and filled them with manganese blue, swabbing out a few light clouds. Gradually, easily, I added colors to the page - quinacridone gold and transparent pyrrole orange in layers across the bottom of the still wet yellow page. The gold and orange shot fingers up into the yellow that branched out like limbs in a whole forest of trees. As I went along, teasing out tree trunks along the bottom few rows of woods, dabbing the fall leaves onto the still damp yellow, I started to feel a little lost. What was happening? Where was this going?
I paused and remembered I wanted to be a lady who paints light. Ahhh,,, that's right. Light. So that's what moved me forward - the promise of light, not trees. I wanted to tell a story of how every path, no matter how dark it seems, contains light and that light will lead us to more light, away from the dark places. What resulted was a forest in autumn with too many trees and perspective out of whack and needing a lot of work. I'd begun devising complicated plans to regain control and fix this haywire overgrowth. Still, even thought my forest was out of control, but the path of light was strong. I went to bed, deciding to let it be until morning.
That night I dreamed of painting. There was too much pigment floating in a swatch of water on the page creating a hard line of color where the wet met the dryness. Calmly, I pressed out the moisture from my brush and, when it was good and thirsty, gently eased it down into the puddle of paint. The brush sucked up the excess paint like a straw until the once hard line softened to a lovely hue. No need to panic.
In the morning my coffee and I sat quietly with the forest, loving that path of light. Oh, how it spoke to me. It was glowing as it streamed it's way through the overgrowth. I'd remembered that cropping can be used to rescue paintings that seem to have gone off course. I looked up on my wall and saw some old mattes dangling on a clothesline, grabbed a 4x4 square and set it down on my painting. Suddenly, it was just right. I didn't need to beat the forest into submission with desperately contrived plans and fixes. What I wanted was already there. What was needed was to get rid of everything else. And so, I did. And it was good. And I was, in that moment, the lady who painted light.
And, while I'm thinking about it, this reminds me of a song I wrote two years ago. Living Light:
I am currently reading The Tao of Watercolor: A Revolutionary Approach to the Practice of Painting by Jeanne Carbonetti along with a wonderful group of artists over at Angela Fehr's Fearless Art Community. Sometimes you just know, ahead of the first chapter, even, that a book will inspire and change you. Posts related to this book can be found by clicking the Book Notes category in the sidebar.
A memory of how something or someone looks can be inaccurate, and so very stubborn. Maybe I keep that 'edited' memory for sentimental reasons, or maybe the memory is a composite of multiple exposures to or interactions with what is visualized, or maybe memories can come from first impressions. Whatever the reason, it shows up in my art. This is not to say that's a bad thing, in fact it's probably what makes every artist's work unique. This is only to say that a stubborn memory can be problematic at times.
I've been trying to paint water lilies with watercolor this week. As I've move through my varied renditions I noticed some key problems. Not in the colors, or the brush load, or the paper. They aren't even in my ability to create imagery of petals or lily pads.
You should know I have been using a reference photo... several in fact. The flowers I have been trying to represent aren't only in the misty recesses of my mind, filed with sweet memories of summer visits to the water lily ponds of Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania. I had pictures... many many pictures. My husband and I took dozens of photos, giving cover to the other as they lay flat on the sidewalk to capture the sun illuminating the pale pink petals, or hang ten at the edge of the pool to shoot down to snap shimmery reflections of blooms atop stems skimming the surface of motionless water.
It was somewhere around the fifth iteration when I noticed my orientation was confused. The flowers had been painted as if I was peering eye level across the water at the spiky bowls of color. Meanwhile, the lily pads beside them looked like they'd been painted from overhead. Okay. Now we were getting somewhere I thought, providing the encouragement to try again.
The next was better, yet something still wasn't working. The petals seemed off kilter. After staring back and forth between my photo to my painting to my photo in vain, I walked away. When I returned with fresher eyes my expectations were revealed! I'd been anticipating the blooms to look like the lotus flower held in my mind. It was a side view, as if often seen on yoga posters or mindfulness memes. The flower in my photo was nothing at all like my automatic association with "lotus" although, by definition, they are the same flower. My perception was tilted. I'd been seeing, but not really accepting, the actual shape of the flower.
These competing images were disorienting to me and my painting. I couldn't see the flower the way it was. It was a bias, actually. Bias is usually considered as a societal issue, or a researcher's worst nightmare, but I'd never thought about it as a stumbling block in art. I took a new approach. Pulling out paper and pencil, which feel quite uncomfortable in many ways, but are much more solid and seem to require intentionality. I tried to study my photo gain, but this time with fresh perspective. Finding the shapes, proportions, and shadows, I scratched them out slowly, one petal at a time. I wanted to get to know the flower better. How are the petals related to the center? Are they all the same length? What is it's anatomy? I laughed out loud to realize what was tripping me up was me, and I continued to fill page after page with water lilies! Finally, having let go of the unconscious insistence that a water lily always looks a specific way in spite of photo evidence to the contrary, it was finally possible for me to more closely represent one on paper. It wasn't perfect or very artistic, but it's more accurate. My painting is still not 'there' yet, but it is getting closer.
Seeing first hand how my inability to represent this bloom was caused by a rigid impression was very powerful and, because I have a tendency to over think things, I wondered where else bias was influencing my perception and judgement. Maybe I don't know my own biases as well as I thought I did. How often do my perceptions masquerade as what is?
Art has a way of shining light into shadows I didn't even know were there.
"giving a bias to, causing to incline to one side," 1610s literal; 1620s figurative; from bias (n.). Compare French biasier. Related: Biased; biasing. https://www.etymonline.com/word/bias
August 23, 2019. 10pm.
My morning practice doesn't just happen. It has to be prepared... a way must be made.
Tomorrow morning when I awaken there will be fresh paper, clean water and brushes, and six brand new colors waiting to strut their stuff carefully arranged in my studio. I'm not even sure I'll be able to sleep knowing what's waiting there
Everything changes in a sometimes sneaky way.
My mother used to lay out my clothes.
Now, I lay out my paints and think of her.
This life is new, even as it grows old.
Days before my husband and I moved more than one thousand miles away to south Georgia, leaving our young adult sons to hold down the fort in Pennsylvania and step into their lives, my Mom scolded Dad for warning me I would not even believe how much I was going to miss them.
"Don't tell her THAT," Mom said, giving him a look that stopped him flat. "You know," she turned to me. knowing full well what it felt like to be far away from your own children, "Everyone said I was going to be miserable in an empty nest," She paused, smirked and patted my hand. "I'm still waiting."
We all laughed and although my dad looked shocked, I felt so comforted by her confession. The truth of the matter was I was kind of looking forward to discovering who we all are on our own, to watching our sons blossom as we got out of their way and they learned to take care of their own lives, and to seeing who I am without my hallmark kneejerk caretaking and constant planning. It was not an easy adjustment, but it was necessary.
Yes, I miss my boys so much it hurts. I can feel it deep inside.
But, that's not all there is. Surprisingly, I am also not miserable. Mostly.
There is joy. Often.
It makes me happy that Mom had time to discover things she wanted to do and then do them - to travel with Dad - to meet new friends - and especially, to develop her art. At times I mourn the fact that I never really discovered watercolor while she was still here to share it with me. I could have learned so much from her.
But that's not all there is. Surprisingly I am, in many ways, meeting my mother for the first time in the paints. This is such a gift.
Good night. Sleep tight. I will try to stay in bed 'til the morning light... but oh those paints are already giggling in the pallet.
10.21.2019 MONDAY FAC
I intend to continue exploring my self through my painting and strengthen both in the process. And I intend to keep saying weird things like that even though they seem off the wall... because if I can't accept that what I want to say is what I need to say, how will I ever say it? Just because what I need to say isn't what others need to hear doesn't mean it's not worth saying. That goes double for all y'all! ;)
9.30.2019 MONDAY FAC - 10.4.2019 FRIDAY
I was going to say I didn't manage to meet any of my intentions. I could neither find or remember my Monday intention, either... but I went searching.... and there it was: I intend to view the Fall Foliage videos (a la Angela Fehr) and work up a new version of Three Brothers, my tree friends from home. So, I half did it. I did not watch the videos because I got distracted by getting the entries ready for a show in November... but I did work up Three Brothers again, and I really like it. :)
I've recently joined the Fearless Artist Community for watercolor artists under the guidance of heart led watercolorist Angela Fehr. Angela's stated vision is to empower watercolor artists to become their own favorite artists by learning how to lead with their own hearts. She invites us to set weekly intentions on Mondays, and offer up reflections on how we did with them on Fridays. This is a record of those intentions (FAC), and any others that come up along the way. I realize these intentions are probably only of interest to me, but this seemed like a good place to keep track.
On a Path of Color is dedicated space for recording my journey deeper into art; what it can teach me, and where it may lead. You are welcome to peek in or come along. Maybe you are on a journey as well and perhaps you'd like a little company. Whatever the reason, I'm happy you're here.