Decisions, decisions….it’s all about decisions. While still recuperating from my illness, I managed to finish the second painting for this project. I posted an image of the underpainting in my last update but then got stuck. What you see in the last posting was as far as I had gotten before ending up in the hospital. My dear friend who kindly came up to my studio daily to feed my animals and keep an eye on things was kind enough to make a little video for me to show me that indeed my house was still standing, even without me. When she shot the main studio space, I saw the painting up on the easel. It was just kind of a flash by image as she moved around the room. For some reason I was horrified by what I saw. I thought the painting looked terrible and so for the whole time I was in the hospital and convalescing with friends I worried over whether or not it was a mess and I needed to start over or if I could fix it. When I was finally back at home I put the painting where I could see it all the time and simply tried to figure out what on earth I could do with it. I couldn’t figure out why I was unable to make a single decision about what to do next, which is not normal for me. Usually when I reach a hurdle, I just go work on another part of the painting until a resolution reveals itself, but this just wasn’t happening. Finally I brought in an artist friend to have a look at the piece and have a constructive conversation with. Gratefully he validated that it wasn’t a mess. That was the first good news. Then we just discussed the possibilities. It was then that I realized that the whole holdup boiled down to the decision making process that was stalled. I decided to write in my journal about it and see if I could figure things out, and it was then that I realized what the problem most likely was. When I got sick, it was a matter of collapsing in pain, being picked up and put in to an ambulance and then stuck in a bed behind a blank curtain for weeks. I had absolutely no control over my life. Everything had to be done by somebody else. This is definitely not me!!! I’m normally a pretty decisive person but I had that right taken away from me for about a month and I sort of lost the ability to do it. The painting process involves thousands of decisions. Every stroke is a decision. Even just throwing paint down on the canvas requires the decision to do just that, decisions about color selection, decisions about placement, etc. Apparently that part of my brain got sick along with my belly! Finally I just started slow, making tiny little adjustments that eventually gave me enough visual information to decide how to go forward…. and forward I went. I call the painting “Rain Dance” because the day I did the gestural drawing I used it was a grey, rainy day in the dance studio of Balleteatro Nacional. It created a wonderful atmosphere… silent drops falling past the windows while dancers flew through the air, sunshine coming from their guts. I knew this project was going to be evolutionary because of the time it will take to complete it. But I was thinking in terms of the scope of the project and not about personal life lessons that would fuel my own evolution. Be decisive. Move forward. And, um, stay healthy.
Well, I’ve started work on the second painting of this project. This one is also based on the time I spent with the Balleteatro Nacional in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Among the many things that fascinated me were the shoes, with their sashes and an apparent import to tying them correctly. That’s what inspires this painting. I am including an image of the gestural drawing done during my session with the troupe, and the resulting underpainting. I actually did the underpainting over another painting I had started but didn’t like so I put it aside. I needed a long, narrow canvas for the correct format for this piece, and when I looked at the half finished painting, the lines in it reminded me of the sashes and the criss-crossing way they’re tied. Sooooo…. the work begins.
I have been painting my whole life, which is a lot of years. I consider myself to be an accomplished artist. But even after all this time at the easel, it never gets easier! I start off with an idea and I’m excited and optimistic and charged to go. Then, without fail, I reach “THAT POINT” that’s about midway and nothing seems to be working. One by one I have to start throwing things away…. parts of the painting that I really liked when I did them but further on in to the painting just don’t work with the whole. I have to let go. But before I do that I have to decide what I’m going to put in the lost part’s place. This is the hard part!!!
First I have to make myself let go. I have to convince myself that what’s important is the painting as a whole and not just precious little pieces of it. After I made my first brush stroke the painting took on a life of its own. I have to honor that. Then I start beating myself up for getting in to the mess I’m in. I suck. Who do I think I am thinking I can paint? What’s the point of it all? Everyone else is better than me. Yada yada yada. Mind you, when I say I go through this with every painting I do, I mean EVERY PAINTING I DO! It’s excruciating.
I try to walk away from it. I prop it up somewhere else in my studio and just live with it and try and figure out what to do next. I start other projects. But my heart isn’t in them. My heart is beating inside the mess I made for myself sitting over there on the chair.
Usually the solution involves taking a big breath, psychically closing my eyes and just going for it. This usually involves a big brush and covering something up or changing something that goes against my whole initial plan. I know. I know. It’s just a change of plans. ARGHGHGHGHGHGHG!!!!
So the next time you watch someone paint and you think it looks so easy, or that that person is blessed by god to be able to do what you think you can’t do, remember what I just wrote. The process tears out your heart at the same time you’re trying to give the new piece a chance to live. It’s hard. It’s never easy.
But I can’t stop myself.
To find out why I’m putting myself through this, please visit http://www.usaprojects.org/project/heartbeat.
Mistakes are good. I once had a teacher tell me that there was no such thing as mistakes, only changes in plans. Believing this has served me well. The problem with mistakes is that, aside from the horror we feel when we think we just ruined our painting, is that we become myopic and so focused on fixing the mistake that we either beat the bejesus out of it or we consider the work a failure and walk away from it leaving it unfinished. Just before packing it up for the day the other day I had this brilliant idea to use gold paint and make the small “swirls” I had done when underpainting in to large swirls, thinking they would tie the painting together. They didn’t. Instead I felt they fractured it. I thought that in order to fix them I would have to paint over areas of the underpainting that I wanted to keep transparent. I forced myself to just set the painting up where I could see it all the time and live with it for a while before deciding what to do. I had to change my plans. What makes mistakes good is that they take us out of our comfort zones. Creative people are problem solvers and therefore mistakes stimulate creativity. We should learn to embrace them. I went about working on other areas of the painting until I had the idea of simply changing the color of the swirls to see if that would help. I also started tucking parts of them behind the foreground and in some areas behind the lavender background, so that they could enhance a feeling of dimension. Voila! I think it’s working! Now I’m moving forward again instead of obsessing over the mistake. It’s critical for artists to understand that the creative process is a symbiotic one between the artist and the thing that’s being creative. Once this concept is embraced, you start to work WITH your painting and not ON your painting. This symbiosis is the breath of life that turns a work of art in to a piece of your soul.
Things are moving along well with my heartbeat project. I’m making good progress on the Balleteatro painting but it’s slow going. Lots of decisions to make before each step. I’m very happy to see that elements of my experience in the dance studio are coming in to play, even though they weren’t represented in the gestural drawing. I’m working with a different palette than is the norm for me and working in a much higher value key than I normally do…. at least for now. With this painting process things are always open to change. At the end of the day it’s the success of the painting that matters and not any preconceived notions.
I find that my color selections are definitely influenced by the environment I was in at the dance studio. Soft, neutral tones, rainy days, sounds… they’re all finding their way in to the painting. I’m not really sure where the selection of lavendar for the background came from. Something kept poking me and telling me to use it but I resisted. I don’t want this painting to be too “sweet”. But I gave in and used it and I’m loving the overall effect. Gotta trust the gut!
I had the opportunity to spend a few hours with the Balleteatro Nacional in San Juan one day last week. What a great experience! To be able to see the dancers up close as opposed to from the audience made a huge difference in my perception of their process. What looks so effortless from the audience translates to quivering muscular strength when up close. The experience also gave me a better appreciation of the volume of space taken up in just a single dance move.
It’s been difficult trying to communicate to people what the process is that I will be using for this project. Most people think I want to simply paint the dancers but that’s not the case. What I’m trying to attempt doing is to capture the essence of the dance movements themselves. I’m hoping that by posting images as I go along it will be easier to understand. If anyone has any questions, just pop me a comment and “we’ll chat”.
The plan is to use this blog as my official “Heartbeat” website where people can come to see the progress I’m making on my project. I plan on uploading images, video (if I can figure it all out) and text about my experiences. Please follow along on my journey and by all means share it with your friends!
I’ve received my funds and now it’s time to bring in supplies and get to work. I’ve already made connections with some dance studios here on the island and one up in North Carolina. I wasn’t able to convince the New York City Ballet to allow me access to their rehearsal halls in July, so I moved on to other options.
I attended my first dance session this past week at the studio of Luis Lizardi, who teaches all forms of latin dance as well as ballet. The class I attended was Salsa and some samplings of Merengue. I can’t do a painting project about dance while living in Puerto Rico and NOT include Salsa and Merengue! It was the perfect first step on my adventure.
Next week I will be visiting the studios of the Balleteatro Nacional de Puerto Rico. Laura Valentin, a prima ballerina with the troupe, has opened her arms in welcome to me and my project. She’s given me free run of the classrooms and I’m thrilled!
I think the evolution of this project is going to be really interesting because I have a feeling that by the time I’m done there will be musicians and artists from other disciplines involved as well. Can’t think of a better way to generate positive energy….something the world is sorely in need of.
Blessings to all!
“3 Sisters” Oil on Canvas
Never thought I’d be saying these words, but my project “Heartbeat” with USA Projects has been fully funded! Who woulda thought??? With a week left until my April 29th deadline, I can still accept donations that will be added to the fund. If you would share this link with your friends that like to support the arts, I would greatly appreciate it.
) In the meantime, the work begins!
Essential to this project is to create a series of gestural drawings that will be the basis for my underpaintings. For those that don’t know, gestural drawings are very quick line drawings meant to capture the movement and dynamics of the model. By quick I mean less than 2 minutes. Being “up close and personal” with the dancers is important to this process, which is why I want to work right there in the studios with the dancers as opposed to doing small sketches in a book while sitting in the audience of a performance. (Although I will do that too when the opportunity presents itself) I’ll then take these large drawings back to my studio and using a very large brush and thinned down oil paint, recreate them on canvas. Thinning down the paint will allow it to flow and drip and naturally mix with the various colors I’ll be using. This is when life begins on the canvas. This is the heartbeat.
From this point on, after the underpainting has dried, I will no longer look at my drawings but will simply work to honor the dynamics created during the underpainting process. I believe that the truth of the subject or artist always surfaces so I no longer need to emphasize the subject. It’s already there. I just need to make the painting work.
When I first got involved with this fundraising project with USAProjects, I honestly thought I didn’t have a chance of raising the amount I had budgeted to get the job done. But I figured “what the hell. I have nothing to lose” so I went ahead with it. I am now only $350.00 away from making it!!!! Nobody is more surprised than me! In addition, they extended my deadline to April 29th, so if the donations continue coming in, I can keep those as well. I crave the luxury of time for doing work such as this, so anything that will give me more time is a godsend.
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of my spamming, the purpose of my project “Heartbeat” is to create series of paintings that will induce a visceral experience with dance as felt through my painter’s heart. I don’t want to simply show you how dance looks, I aim to show you how it feels. I plan on working up close and personal with dancers from different disciplines by attending their rehearsals in the studio. I will work only with gestural drawings done during this phase which I will then translate in color once back in my own studio. The paintings I’ve done using this technique are explosive, dynamic and embracing.
In order to produce enough paintings that will culminate in a multimedia event I need the luxury of time. As a self supporting artist, time to focus on things other than commercial endeavors is rare. Mortgages have to be paid. By raising funds to support this project, I will be able to devote the time needed to “get the job done.” Your support is tremendously valuable to the success of “Heartbeat”, whether it’s a donation of money (any amount is precious) or simply sharing this link with friends who believe in supporting the arts.
Please visit http://www.usaprojects.org/project/heartbeat to learn more about what I believe will be a life enhancing experience for all involved.
The image I’m posting today is another example of a painting inspired by dance. In this case it was 3 female dancers caught “in flight” that inspired the underpainting for this piece I call “Nature Rising”. Once the underpainting has established itself, I no longer look at the models and concentrate instead on honoring the dynamics established by the underpainting. Because I believe that in art, the truth of the artist ALWAYS surfaces, I have faith that at the end of the day, the explosive movement of the dance that originally inspired me will shine through.
My project “Heartbeat” will give me a chance to explore this philosophy even further. We’re making GREAT headway and almost to my goal amount needed to fund the project. Time is coming to an end so I’m hoping people who want to participate but for some reason or other have been procrastinating will realize it’s time to donate!
Visit http://www.usaprojects.org/project/heartbeat to learn more about my motivation and direction. Thank you!