About Inspiration

A few months back I signed up for a weekly portrait drawing group which had changed their practice from in-person to online due to the COVID situation. A weekly inspirational photo is sent to members and the portraiture begins. Participants send images of their pieces to the coordinator a few days later and they are shared by email and social media. I thought this was a fantastic way to maintain group practice and cohesion while we are all safely distanced. I was inspired to join!

A few months later and I had received all the emails and photos and yet I hadn’t participated. I wasn’t inspired.

Why? What is it that inspires me and what leaves me lacking? I wish I could say it was one thing or another but it’s… complicated. It’s about the subject and a spark of interest or recognition of familiarity they present to me. It’s also about what I’ve got already going in the studio that I want to maintain or complete. It’s about the stresses of work and life in general. It’s about my health and the way it wanes and waxes. And sometimes I think I will never be inspired again and will always have to push myself (or trick myself with a novel medium or challenge) to get work done. I did stop making art for 8 years at one point while I was back in Uni and building a career in IT.

And then it happens. It’s like my creative spirit needs to hibernate and gain strength but then jumps out of the cave like “Rrrrooooaaaarrrrr!” I’m back! That feeling of excitement and anticipation and hunger lit me up and I was already planning a strategy to get it done. Clear out my calendar, I’m gonna paint!

The photo of the week of Tommy Douglas and his face was begging to be expressed in a more animated way than a black and white staid photo (beautiful photo, just very traditional). I also liked that I knew my little brother could tell me more about Tommy Douglas than I already knew, what with his encyclopedic knowledge of everything Canadian.

Initially a monochromatic portrait came to mind because the photo is black and white. But when I sat down and painted, the palette expanded.

I’ve been working hard at landscape painting for the past year. That diligent work needed focus and dedication so I had not done a portrait for over a year. But I’d developed a process for practice which was working for me so I used it for this portrait; I find a subject of interest and prepare my tools to begin. Then I imagine what I’m looking for in this piece; how I want it to feel, look and say. With that in mind, I browse through the work of the artist who MOST inspires me, Richard Schmid.

And it keeps me on track. I know how I want to paint, what I want to express and Richard Schmid’s work reminds me of the level of professionalism that I am striving for. His work reminds me that I am working towards something, not just painting another painting. Because honestly, sometimes it feels like I’m just creating more work to put into the basement storage area. Even if some of my work is selling well, a lot of it goes into the bowels of mediocrity. C’est la vie.

With the Schmid inspiration process, I am striving to get to his level of quality work. It’s a DREAM and a very presumptive one. I’d rather aim high and eventually hit higher than I could have without that inspiration.

Blah blah blah. Enough words. More paint!

Later.

The Lazy Artist’s Guide to Subject Matter

I do believe that a good amount of the reason I love plein air painting is that it helps me avoid having to choose a subject to paint. You arrive outside in the wild (or semi-wild as the case of Victoria BC), and all you have to do is isolate a part of the landscape, weather, atmosphere and lighting which is of most interest to you. Then and there. Whereas in the studio, I tend to get bogged down in the theoretical WHY of painting, which can lead to conceptual angst and even worse… An existential “Why bother!?”. (Oh the conceptualists I have seen in this state! It is not pretty.)

So much art is in the process of being created or has been created that ifimage I stop to think about it… and consider what my fellow graduates would think…, what could I possibly add to art history!? (This is the scar of having attended art school – twice – too much contemplation). After all, I simply will not be a Tintoretto, let alone a Kandinsky!

Therefore, letting go and allowing myself to be en plein air, with all the tools at the ready, what else is there to do BUT paint!?

Just paint; The Buddhist’s solution to painting… Breathing in, I paint. Breathing out, I smile.

And smile.

Rejections in New Directions

Atop Holland Point  Plein air oil, 10" x 12"
Atop Holland Point
Plein air oil, 10″ x 12″

The other day I opened my email inbox to find one of those R-word letters; the dreaded rejection letter. All artists deal with rejection more or less if they choose to open the studio door and let the little beasts they’ve been nurturing out into the scary art world all on their own. I haven’t seen one of these R-word letters for a while so to receive one was a bit of a surprise. Especially since my husband received an acceptance letter for the same show. (I’m not competitive, no, not at all)

However, I say it was only a bit of a surprise because I am actually my own best R-word letter writer; Every 2nd or 3rd painting gets recycled or put in the bin. Having started a new direction with plein air oil painting, to a certain extent I am like a young, new artist just experiencing their first bouts of self-doubt and gallery rejections.

I haven’t really found my own true voice yet in plein air painting. It’s taking longer than I thought it would and so to receive an R-word letter did hurt more than usual. Well, it didn’t hurt per se, it just made me question my direction. You see, I’m starting to get nervous. I can see in my work part of the direction I want to go and then it slips away. I taste it and then it dissolves. I set out on a certain path with a painting and end up at a different destination.

I read an anonymous truism the other day: “I thought painting was easy, until I tried it.” Well, I am going add something to that (kids, cover your ears);

Painting is fucking hard!

That said, in yesterday’s plein air painting session I felt good. What good felt like was noticing that I was tight in my brushwork and intentionally loosening up, seeing some marks that needed working into the background and working them in, checking my values against reality and seeing them match. Then again, I still sometimes feel like I am painting pretty little pictures, which is not what I want to do.

So just as I and every artist will receive the occasional R-word letter, I will stumble along my path towards a destination which may always seem barely within reach. That’s art, and that’s the path of the artist.

So R-word me, see if I care! (I will, I’m human).

In the field at Holland Point Park
In the field at Holland Point Park