Dark Water, Bright Light
Lately I have struggled with painting, producing turkeys - whether from a lack of enthusiasm for my results, general ennui surrounding the coming months of rain, or maybe just the heavy anchor of inescapable aging. Whatever the reasons, it is discouraging to feel not just a lack of progress, but a loss of ground I thought I had gained. This feeling is compounded when I do a little straightening up and encounter the stacks of failed and miserable canvases and panels that I know I should just paint over and ready for a new attempt, but then the idea of having those dozens and dozens of waiting canvases seems too great a burden, and so things are just rearranged, old work stacked like cordwood. This piece above feels a little like a success (I am happy with the tones, the composition, the original idea and the mood) but it lacks finesse and feels clunky in the brushwork. It was a departure from my normal process: I worked mostly with the panel on a table instead of upright on an easel, and I tried to work up a soupy underpainting into which I could add delicate passages. But as often happens with me, I get caught up in color, or temperature, or some other specific element and my brushwork becomes crude and unpleasant. I think I could have gone back into this one after the paint had a chance to set up just enough to be blended or modeled to improve things, but unfortunately Life got in the way and by the next day things were dry and it was too late to make those kinds of improvements.
What I often do when I hit these walls is just keep plugging away, doing portrait sketches in notebooks, honing the ability to quickly capture likeness, hoping against hope that the miles of brushwork will eventually lead down a path with a pot of gold at the end. What is my destination? Why, again, am I devoting so much of my waking life to painting? My intention was never to become a "painter"; Originally, I simply wanted to get better at occasional painting so that when the mood struck I could entertain myself and end up with something good enough to hang and announce "There, I dabble." But as I encounter the endless challenges, all the things one must learn, I am caught up in the struggle, I love the mental exercise, and I especially love the way my eyes and mind are awakened to the beauty that surrounds me in ways uncommon to the average Joe. Painting is a beautiful way of being. I feel it keeps me connected with a better way of living - with attention and focus and purpose. It is a meditation, a spiritual quest, and I am as unlikely to give up on it as one is unlikely to walk away from a religion. But I suppose that doesn't mean there won't be times where I question the existence of God, where I wonder if I will ever bust through these walls.
One of the many sketches I have worked on recently. I am playing with the ability to arrive at likeness by using various beginnings; this one was started with a big brush and broad plains of dark and light, avoiding all detail at first, slowly pushing paint around to arrive at a face. I now have three notebooks of multimedia paper that I first gesso so that I can work in oil without the paint being sucked into the paper. It keeps me from worrying that they need to be anything other than what they are - practice - and it also is a tidy way of keeping track, a record of my journey that doesn't have to be stacked up in a corner.
And sometimes Nature is just beautiful in a way that doesn't lend itself to being captured on canvas and I need to learn that that is okay, too.