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Reminiscing on the Seeds of an Art Practice

When I lived in Colorado, I took courses and did drop-in life drawing sessions on a weekly basis at what is now the Cottonwood Center for the Arts. At that time it was founded and run by Sparky Lebold, who is a charismatic and talented artist. It was by chance that I started at Cottonwood, by finding a posting for courses in the mail room at the condo complex where I lived. I remember well the first night of a drawing course. The studio was in a small 2 story old brick building just a 5 minute drive away from home. As soon as I opened the door of the studio and began the climb up to the second story studio, I smelled the wonderful aroma of oil paint and a familar feeling of both comfort and excitement came over me. Ah boy, I hadn’t made art for quite a while (8 years!) as I focused on my career and I was looking for a little culture in my new home, having moved from Utah shortly before.

I was new to the group and nervous about that as well as about the challenge of drawing after such a long dry-spell. I looked around to get my bearings and determined that I needed to find a space among the other easels and horse benches. The first session was unremarkable as I found my bearings again but my skills returned slowly as the course progressed. I remember Sparky remarking that I kept getting so much better with every session. I wasn’t learning to draw, I was stretching familiar old muscles!

That first session led to years of mostly dropping in to life drawing sessions. I fell back in love with drawing. And I got to know a man whose work, character and passion for being an artist was incredibly inspiring to me. Sparky lived his love of art making and I was certainly jealous of that commitment. I didn’t have the courage to take that leap of faith and the financial choice, to quit my day job. I still don’t. However… as retirement nears, I imagine a time when I can just paint. Andrew and I will likely move up island (Vancouver island, that is) to retire to a smaller community and we intend to choose a town where there is a vibrant arts community. Perhaps we will open our own little studio/gallery. Perhaps the spare bedroom will simply be our studio. Either way, I will paint!

And lately I’ve been exploring the joy of painting pets. The seed that inspired that decision will be the topic of my next post. Another seed planted by Sparky. I owe him a lot. And I miss his passion for art and life. I know he’s still painting, which pleases me very much.

Painting of two cats
Sisters, oil on paper, 15″ x 22″
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Smelling the Roses

I’ve started to see some rewards for my focus on charcoal drawing lately; I have figured out what my tools are and how to manipulate them to achieve a desired effect (more on those tools in a later post). And while I am not entirely happy with my ability to nail a likeness on every portrait, I am satisfied that I can work a drawing past a failure point (where I would have given up in the past) and on to a successful piece. When I am drawing someone I know, a likeness is preferred but when I’m simply using a photo or photos as a starting point and structural guide, I’m not interested in a likeness.

This weekend I took on the challenge of drawing from an old photo of a friend when she was a toddler.

Sweetheart
Sweetheart, charcoal on Stonehenge paper, 16″ x 20″

I am very satisfied with the drawing itself but when you directly compare the two, it’s clear what needs to change.

Comparison of photo and drawing

Her eyes are too far apart and the shapes are not quite right. Her nose is too large. Her lips are not quite as pursed. The shape of her head is slightly off at the top… I could go on. I may decide to rework the piece and I may not… I don’t want to lose the lovely marks and textures of the drawing. The question is, will I be satisfied in the long run if I don’t rework her?

What’s interesting is that I’ve never done this kind of direct comparison as a part of the drawing process and perhaps it’s what I should be doing. At least until I get better at finding a likeness… much like how I’ve practiced to the point of understanding the tools, perhaps this is just another tool to use to find what I want to find.

Interesting.

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Oh, the Humanity!

I recently watched a documentary which has stayed with me and for the reasons I talk about below, I hope will stay with me for a very long time.

Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable evoked (or perhaps “invoked” is a better word, in this case) very strong emotions as I watched piece upon piece of stunningly beautiful artistry rise from the sea. Up until the very end of the story, I was sucked entirely in to the romantic notion that humanity was capable of such incredible beauty and emotion – captured in such stunning pieces of art and the passion it would take to create and transport such a collection.

And then the end of the documentary arrived and I was stunned that I could have been so naive.

And yet what stays with me and makes me sad, are the expressions of emotion on the faces  and in the gestures of some of those sculptures. That’s what I respond to and was so awed by on the screen – it’s what I strive for in my own work. And now that I’ve seen that movie, I know that I have been too timid; too afraid to put real emotion in my work; afraid that people will not be pleased by my work (will not want to BUY it!) when what I really want is for people to respond the way I responded to the Damien Hurst artwork and story – with awe and strong emotion. If it doesn’t suit their life or interior decoration – be damned.

I need to make the work I want to make, especially given that I have chosen NOT to live my life as a full-time artist because I’m not cut out for that type of struggle, I damn well better make the art I’ve sacrificed that dream for!

What am I doing creating work which doesn’t strive to effect the human experience?! It is time for me to get to real work.

See, she’s too timid:

Portrait of a Young Woman
Portrait of a Young Woman, charcoal on Stonehenge paper, 11″ x 14″