Friday, February 18, 2011

Painting: Technique vs. Subject

I had a laugh as I was blocking in a new painting. It reminded me of a painting I made in 1975. I was in a painting class at the University of Cincinnati, College of Design, Art and Architecture. I was officially studying fashion design (humorous, no?) and my true gift was for fashion illustration.  I'll always be grateful for this because I was given a pretty sturdy education in rendering the figure. Our core-curriculum for design included graphic design and painting. In the graphic design course we used Color-Aid to create all sorts of transparency effects and shadows, etc.  It was a real education in seeing color. But painting was another issue. During my childhood, I wanted to be an artist, but it seemed too impractical and I did not have a particular message to sing out from the canvas.  I have to say, even though my technique was not bad, my paintings were pretty stupid! One day, I was painting along featuring an inane collection of objects and the painting professor suggested I just paint over what I was working on. So, I did. In no time at all, he came over and said, "Stop! Stop! Leave it like that."  So that is how the painting to the left came to be.  My stepmother liked it sufficiently to want it in her house for a time.  So the prof was on to something for sure. Technique will only take you so far.  Passion for subject is what ultimately makes a painting.  It would take me another twenty years before I discovered my calling to paint the landscape.  It is that love and passion for the landscape that informs me how to paint. Painting is a lot easier now!

Friday, February 11, 2011

In Praise of Dead Wood

 While eating breakfast at Clover Slope the other day, I looked out to see a Red-headed Woodpecker on the tree right by the deck. This was a beautiful specimen, rounded with full-blown markings and a brilliant red head (of course!)  I am sorry that I was not quick enough to get a photo. Between the snow and the bare trees, woodpeckers have been very much on view.  The elegant and improbable Pileated Woodpecker, which I can hear but not see all summer long has become a ho-hum sight this winter.  The more camouflaged Northern Flicker is a regular, too.  There are Downies up and about, and Red-bellies and certainly many others I have not been quick or knowledgeable enough to officially see.  The point is that there seem to be more woodpeckers in these parts than anyplace else that I frequent.  No doubt this is because of the deed wood that is part of our landscape.  We are encouraged by Virginia Kingsolver to let deed trees be, for this very reason.  It is working beautifully.
     This reminds me of recent studies suggesting that part of the prevalence of allergies and asthma these days might be due to growing up in an overly clean interior environment. Apparently, we need pet dander and a general smattering of germs to help build up our natural defenses. The detergent  that kills 99% of all bacteria is working against us!
     And from there, I take the step to the number one solution for everything these days:  clear your clutter!  Believe me, I have some clutter to clear.  "Too muchness" is a drag.  I have not seen any of the hoarding shows that abound, but I imagine they would set me to sorting pronto!  But perhaps this constant need to purge, to rid ourselves of everything that is not of use to our own personal life plan is another sort of "kills 99%" detergent.  Maybe this is just an attempt at complete control over our lives (and sometimes others'.)
     The problem is, this limits us to only our particular gifts and allows no room for the genius of the world to enter.  May I always have room for a little dead wood in my life.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Lessons from the One Day Wonder Workshop

 As I was preparing to leave for The Corner Studio to set up for my One Day Wonder Workshop, I was treated to a special message from the "This I Believe" segment of Bob Edwards Weekend. The speaker told the story of how, at an early age she was judged to have a poor singing voice.  So, she did not sing for many years until she was a mother with a child who had a lot of pain.  To comfort her child, the "bad singer" was called upon to spend many hours each day holding and singing to her daughter. Sometimes, after the child had dozed off to sleep, the mother would stop singing only to have the baby request more from her vocal goddess.  What a good message to receive right before facing a room full of intimidated, but hopeful artists!
    Just about everyone who had signed up for the workshop (where we were exploring painting with watercolor/pastel) professed to be wholly under qualified.  I had to assure them that all of us would be trying new things and learning.  It is funny how we believe we have to be perfect before trying something. How can that happen? All this worry and concern made me think about what I appreciate most in other artists.  It is always their distinct view of the world that engages and enchants me.  I don't believe I've ever bought a painting because it was flawlessly rendered.  It is always: "What an interesting way of seeing the world!"  It is the humanity that we fall in love with, not the perfection.
    We set to work.  Sure enough, each participant in the workshop had a different idea about how the world looks.  Even while some of them were using watercolor and/or pastel for the first time, their special voice came through.  It was very exciting! We had a room filled with uniquely beautiful creations.  Since everyone had selected their own images to paint, we were able to learn what was meaningful to them personally and how they would interpret this offering to the world.  And, as I had predicted, I learned as much as anyone and had a light shown on beauty I had not seen before.  It was very human and humane, these wonderful, experimental paintings.
   So keep it up!  Keep painting, singing and telling stories.  You never know when your particular beauty will be the needed balm to an aching world.