Even as work proceeds on “the Big Painting,” I still have other projects that need attention. One is this partly completed 30 x 40 inch painting of a moth. I am at a crossroads of sorts with it and must decide which direction it will go. And I must decide fairly quickly as I have plans for it — plans that have a deadline attached.
But the lovely thing is that every activity helps with all the others. Making drawings after sculpture at the National Gallery sharpens my drawing skills for my other work. And the Big Painting and this picture of the moth have more relationships to each other than might ever be apparent to an outside observer. So it all works together.
Even as I struggle to sort out where the still life objects will go, I realize there is still a way to get back into the painting: I can work on the flowers. They are the longing at the center of the whole.
If I find that I really need simply to paint, I can do that. I can paint the flowers. I can also work more on the landscape seen through the window.
But I must be careful because even these distant features are influenced by the still life that will sit below — they are influenced and they will exert an influence. The whole painting has to operate together as one comprehensive spectacle.
Paintings are backed up like automobiles at rush hour, waiting for their turn to be finished. The tall flowers in blue and green are almost complete — almost. The Moth is about half way there. Other paintings are stacked behind Moth. I got my work cut out for me.
My goal is to make my way through that stack. But I also have the Big Painting to do. Somehow it all works out. Bit by bit. I have discovered that incremental change is your friend.
This drawing demonstrates as well as any might how the mere act of drawing can become a walk through ideas. It’s the wrong format (it’s too squat). It lacks relevant detail. It’s just an exercise in motion. It’s me telling myself: this little bush is here, this span of light grass is there, and so on. And I hear my thoughts echoing back saying, “well, duh — tell me something I don’t know!”
I did already draw all these things in the painting that I’m trying to reenter. And there’s no new information in this drawing. And it’s not the right size or the right anything.
And yet it helps in its way. At least I think so ….
Or am I like the hapless drunk in Paul Watzlawick’s amazing book The Situation is Hopeless who looks for his car keys under the street lamp because “the light is better over here” (even though he dropped the keys over there).
It can be hard reentering a painting that you like. It’s not complete, but you’re not sure how to take it forward, and you don’t want to screw up the things that you already like. My recent crepe myrtles painting is giving me this sort of trouble.
You can add to my problem one that Mother Nature brings since it seems that she has her own blasé moods. And as the saying goes, “when mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Our Big Momma has decided not to freeze us to death (for which I am duly grateful), but she’s not bringing the sunshine out either. On gray days, it’s easy to feel blasé too — caught up in Mother Nature’s morose mood.
So how do you transport yourself into a world of crepe myrtles when so much conspires against you? The fear of failure, the somber light, a paucity of ideas — all make the once intrepid artist feel stumped.
I don’t know about you, but I draw. The drawing may be okay, prosaic, what evah — but today I am all those things too.
Nonetheless moving the lines around the forms helps me find a path back into the painting and it’s better to draw than to sit idly waiting for Mother Nature to get her act together.
If you’ve followed this blog a while, you’ve noticed a change in format. I’m often now posting things in apparent series, sometimes following the trajectory of a specific motif. And I’m also posting more frequently. If you’ve followed the post for a long time, you’ll notice that I’m not as long winded. I have chosen to go lightly on words and rely more on the pictures alone.
Everybody who blogs knows how difficult it can be to keep a blog going consistently, and mine has had long periods when it went dark. So I had wondered this year whether or not it was time perhaps to stop blogging.
Then I realized how even in its haphazard ways, the blog has helped me keep track of my art over time. Moreover, I’ve been reading a lot about goal-setting during the last year and I realized that the blog could become my means of tracking my progress through various projects. Indeed, it can be my spur to “get the lead out” and get projects done more quickly.
So the blog has a new purpose now. It’s chiefly a personal tool with a narrow and specific mission. But who knows, it might become more helpful and/or intriguing to outside observers. I hope it will. By lightening its load, perhaps this blog will become more entertaining for my internet friends — past, present and future.
As Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
My blog has a destination now — a place it wants to go!
I straighten it out periodically, but it quickly becomes chaotic again. The chaos almost never interferes with my working, but it does interfere with my being able to move projects forward smoothly. I have pictures that I literally forgot I did. They still need work, but hidden behind something else, they slip down the memory hole.
The koi painting above is one little painting that’s not sliding down the hole. I wrote a post about how I was finishing it, and indeed it’s gotten some more work (which continual rain prevents me from illustrating in a photo … I will have to show its progress another time). A new goal of mine is to find ways to organize projects more efficiently.
When I was learning art, the business world and the art world were assumed to be in strong opposition — almost like a war. To learn things from business was supposed to be very bad. (It corrupted your soul, made you a “sell out,” meant you weren’t using your feelings, etc.) But the books I read about business, in sharp contrast to the stereotype, make me wonder whether business people aren’t perhaps more creative than artists are. Some of the books have marvelous ideas and such spirit of daring-do. The business environment is constantly changing and business people have to respond constantly to the challenge that change brings.
My art is always changing too. For a different reason. I just can’t sit still. I’m not someone who likes to keep doing the same thing. But the restlessness also makes it easy to set projects aside before they’re complete. So I’m looking now at measures I can take to remind myself to return to projects, to keep them in a healthy rotation, to enjoy the variety without having pictures fall through the cracks.
Keeping a diary and writing a blog are two things that I find helpful. Putting plans into words makes a plan more definite than just thinking about it. When I reread my diaries I’m often surprised to learn that I had written about something before I did it because sometimes I forget that I had once envisioned it as a plan, as a far off “what if.” When at last I begin working on a project, it can seem like the idea just popped into my head. The earlier bit of writing, like the big drawing behind the canvases, can seem to have disappeared. What began as vague longing, what was rendered into prose, hidden in a diary, has finally remerged in a form that seems like a brand new idea! Oh, the vagaries of forgetfulness! The version I wrote has been forgotten, too. As you can see, there’s a lot of forgetting taking place. In retrospect, I believe that writing the thing down helped to cement its place in thought — even though I forgot having written it down! How can that be?
One can forget and remember at the same time because different parts of the brain are doing the forgetting and the remembering respectively.
I had a family member with dementia. Dementia is a complicated condition and can be as variable as the people it affects. Its appearance also offers hints about how the mind works when the mind is healthy. My family member lost short term memory and couldn’t consciously recall things very well when they were new experiences. I had given her a picture of my daughter, for instance, and she lost it. I was trying to help her find it while she was looking, while she was sorting through piles of stuff. It seemed hopeless so I said, “Well, it’s okay. Here’s another copy of the photo. Where do you want me to put it?”
She said, “Put it over there.” And when I was about to place it in that spot — well, you can guess what I found, the missing photograph.
Part of her mind still knew exactly where it was. Part of her mind didn’t know. The same thing can happen to us in health, too.
Our minds operate in ways that we cannot observe. I guess I take it on trust now that narrating ideas to myself in a diary will help advance some of the ideas I want to pursue. Usually you can’t do all the subjects that you think you’d find interesting. There just isn’t enough time. Somehow the ideas also get sifted and the things that you really want to do rise up to the surface. Other plans fall away.
Anyway, I read books on business now because the creativity of business solutions gives me ideas that I can apply to my work. And I’m trying to find out how I can make a more effective use of my calendar to move my paintings along to completion faster and to keep track of things in the midst of all the visual juggling and all the juggling of life’s chores that one must always do.
Outdoors, drawing ideas about the garden, some of which might make it into a painting — or not. But my eyes see the color and the brain has got to be learning something. So some of it will seep into a little landscape I began this week, my little pochade of the backyard.
Huysum our new dog snuck into the drawing, having found himself a piece of wood to chew. He’s still a puppy and has all those little shark teeth itching his gums as the big dog teeth begin to poke through.
A new dog, a pencil and notebook page, a glorious spring day all conspire toward making the heart glad. I’m the day’s stenographer, swimming through time, in this little patch of earth, here to follow the angles of shadow on buckets and barrels and the sinuous lines of the squirmy puppy in the bright light.