Drawn to Paint
“Will I ever be able to paint like you do?” a woman asked me, “You make it look so easy!”
“Of course!” I responded enthusiastically. Positive thinking is very important, right? But the question hung in the air, or rather, in the scrambled chasm of my brain afterwards.
I wondered, was she willing to invest 20-plus years of painting in every spare minute she had? Could she give up TV time, computer time, and lunch with friends, to stay in the studio and paint? How about choosing art magazines over romance novels? What about placing her precious work in front of people and taking the criticism (yikes), then continuing to paint in spite of it? How about when galleries refuse her labor of love? And the clincher: Painting again after creating a string of really horrible paintings?
It’s not magic, this creation of well-received artwork. It may or may not even be “talent”, whatever that is. Painting successful work seems to manifest itself best in artists who have stubborn, fierce determination. Or perhaps utter and complete devotion.
If there is consistency throughout my entire life, it would be that I’m drawn (yep, excuse the pun…) to discover my world through placing marks on paper. People come and go. I move from place to place. I have kids, the kids leave. My hair color changes, my opinions change, and my body begins to feel old. But art is always there, like a constant companion (demanding at times), whose voice seems to understand just what I need to say. And because I’ve been doing it for long enough, I can direct that voice to effectively speak, in any language, simply by placing my brush on the canvas with a certain weight, stroke, or color.
I lose my voice sometimes, though. I had a string of pretty awful paintings recently. I painted for hours, and wiped it off the next day. Started again, mucked it up, and swiped it clean again. Eventually, I had to re-gesso the entire piece because it became so mucky-yucky and filled with confusion. This horrific event occurred to three paintings in a row. You heard me right. THREE paintings in a row! Was it time to hang up the paint-blotched apron? Throw in the pigment-stained towel? Pull my chemically-blond tresses from my head? I mean, this was REAL TIME that I gave up each day, hard-to-find precious time, painting away hours in which I could have been doing many things, but coming up, in the end, with three re-gessoed canvases that were the same as they were 10 hours of work, 5 days previously.
I know you hear me. You’ve been there, too.
Finally, after morbid rumination in which I thought I might be heading for a fourth disaster or a bald head, I created something that sang. It had a voice of unique beauty and it was perfectly in tune. That’s what people see. Collectors don’t see the disasters. They think it turns out beautifully every time. And they should, but it can be deceiving.
“Could I ever paint like you do?” Would she ever have the endurance to just keep after it, is the question.
Simply creating, again and again, is necessary. It takes seeing what you did wrong and trying again. And because you have spent hours studying what makes a good painting, talked with judges, jurors, artists, and curators about what works and what doesn’t work, and you’ve painted thousands of paintings before, you may just be able to imagine what is wrong, what to fix, and why it didn’t work.
Sometimes, though, the work isn’t meant to be. At least not right then and there. With all three of my disaster paintings, I ended up realizing that what I wanted to say just simply didn’t want to be said in the way I was forcing it to speak. Possibly the voice I heard was muddied and unclear, not fully realized or ready for the song. Or maybe I had picked the wrong tune/composition/theory in which to sing it. It became apparent that I needed to let it go and visit it later. I gave up on the entire idea and started something new. That’s okay, too. It didn’t devastate me or keep me from ever painting again. I actually didn’t even pull my hair out (okay, maybe a few strands). Someday, I may learn a new language or a new song in which I can say it more succinctly. Or perhaps it wasn’t that important to say and never finds the light of day.
I had painted enough to know that there still remained beautiful paintings haunting spaces of my brain and that they would eventually bounce out again.
What about criticism? How devastating is it to take precious work to a gallery or a showing and have it rejected and bashed about like mashed potatoes in a bowl? I once took a piece I was quite proud of to a group of art critics for what I thought would be a shoulder-clapping, enthusiastic round of applause for the blood, sweat, and tears put into my latest watercolor effort. No. Not so much. I took the work home, placed it in the corner, and didn’t paint for 2 weeks. But I learned from it. And I did pick up the brush again. Stubborn, much?
I give up many things to paint. My house can be dirty enough to grow a garden on the floor. I frequently give up cooking homemade meals (yippee! Plastic macaroni and fake neon cheese again!). Sometimes I hole up in the studio and forget to exercise or see friends. I’m not complaining, it is my choice, but over the years, because of my devotion, I have continued to improve my craft and hone it, which is something not everyone can, or is willing, to do.
So when people say, “I want to paint like you do!!” or, (and you’ve gotta love this one), “Huh. Anyone could do a painting like that. I’d make millions throwing paint on a canvas.” You can approach the answer with a smile. Not just anyone can do it. But maybe you can. Sarah B Hansen, NWWS
Words and Artworks: Sarah B Hansen
Read more by regular columnist Sarah B. Hansen …
Categories: Art Diaries