I used to paint in oils. But then I had kids and felt that it was too messy, too smelly, too toxic to have around while the boys were young. Watercolor became my dominant medium as it was none of the above and I could create small pieces in the short snippets of time I had available.
I hadn't painted an oil painting since 1997, but decided NOW was the time to try it again, so I ordered an easel since I no longer had one, opened up my oil paint box (ok, the paints are a little old, but they still work), and started painting a scene from the woods around my house. Today I worked on getting some movement and more value contrast in. Each time I work on it, I'm rediscovering what a joy it is to see the painting come together, as I add each layer.
I had forgotten how much I used to enjoy it as I messed around with it during my high school and college years and even into my early 20s. I had forgotten how hard it is to stop once things start rolling with the painting.
And just like reading and understanding a particular book at different stages of one's life, I'm bringing a different perspective to my oil painting, as the older me sees and comprehends various artistic elements much differently than the younger me had.
Painting in My Own Voice
Since I work in a variety of mediums (watercolor, pastel, acrylics, pen & ink, gouache, sometimes oils), I can't claim to be one thing or the other, not solely a watercolor artist or pastel artist or whatever. I call myself a visual artist, just to make things easier in a world that loves labels.
I don't want to paint like anyone else, but sometimes that happens regardless. However, when I work in my looser watercolor style embellished with pen & ink line work, or paint my tiny gouaches, or create a pastel painting with my slant stroke technique, I feel like I am painting in my own voice. I feel these are more my trademark pieces.
My newest work, Broken Falls, is an example of the loose watercolor with pen & ink line work I truly enjoy painting. It is one of several new pieces going into my solo show at North Country Art Center's City Hall Gallery in Glens Falls, NY this September.
Nothing stops the process of packing up for moving like coming across my high school yearbooks. They practically leaped out, and lured me into going through them, page by page. Equal parts laughing and cringing, I spent my sweet time looking through them, reflecting on who I was then and who I am now. And knowing that, at the very core, I'm not all that different now.
I was then, as I am now, an artist. This is my cornerstone. There was a period of my life, being too busy with trying to support myself, I did not paint a single stroke. This is what I had to do at the time. Luckily for my creative soul, my circumstances changed and I was able to return to my art. Even though I don't do it everyday, at least I always have a painting or project going, set goals for myself for exhibits, and I keep art in my mind and heart at all times.
Our yearbook theme for my senior year was Changing Tides. I don't remember who came up with that deep one; we were a creative lot. As art editor, I scattered my pen & ink drawings of seagulls and seascapes throughout the pages. I look at those drawings done 30 years ago, and first of all think that my skill has improved quite a bit since then (one would hope!). I vaguely remember drawing them, but mostly I remember how good it felt back then to see them in print, immortalized (albeit for a small audience), a contribution to a part of time.
The yearbooks are all packed in a box again, to be looked at the next time I happen across them. My memories are tucked neatly back to where nostalgia lives, a place that should only be visited for a short time and infrequently, so the real living and art making can continue. Not to mention the packing and the excitement of setting up my studio in our new home.
Watercolor, the Blank Page & Life
I’m starting a couple of new watercolors, the first two of twelve new paintings I plan on having ready for an exhibit in September.
In my mind, I can conceive of how I want them to look, but I know once the painting starts and the watercolor starts to do its own magical thing, they will turn into something a little different than the imagined. I start with a solid drawing, which I then transfer to my blank stretched paper, and then I start painting. Just like it’s a good thing to go forth into your life with some sort of plan, I find it’s important for me to start with a good drawing, one that is drafted well, and follows compositional rules – it’s important to start with solid bones.
The beauty comes when the painting starts. Adding the color, fleshing out those compositional bones, taking on the challenges of the unpredictable that watercolor presents, gives the painting life. The painting becomes an organic amalgamation of vision, chance, and irony, resulting in what was meant to be, and what I’m meant to learn.
And that’s alright with me.