To be honest, these last few weeks have been some rough ones for me.
One week – in particular – was especially challenging. During these days I found it hard to enjoy anything – even painting. Still, I pushed myself to put color on paper but after a few unsuccessful evenings I finally forfeited and went out on a Friday night with my neighbors. Sometimes it helps to push myself to be social even when I don’t feel like it.
The next day, I registered for studio time at the place where I took my first pottery class in March of 2013. My first night back in the studio was after accomplishing a major deadline at the office – I’d been stressed for days, working over the weekend, and although I was sleep deprived and hungry I caught myself smiling and belting out the lyrics to Just Like Heaven by The Cure. I got into the studio and jammed for two hours on some new pieces – it’s been almost one year since I’ve done any hand building in clay – and it felt so good. So good.
But I can only work in the pottery studio once a week so I went back to painting at home – but still, my paintings were particularly dull and lacked any coherent vision. I helped a friend pick out some arts supplies one night and to return the favor my friend bought me a rad panoramic canvas while we were at the store. So I planned to paint some moody storm clouds over the ocean with acrylic paint and got to work.
I don’t believe in perfection but I wanted them to look as crisp and awesome as possible so I kept working them: around and around, adding layers and depth and color.I’d been working diligently for two nights on the clouds. It started resembling some mildly interesting clouds but it wasn’t at all how I’d envisioned it – it was far more boring and structured than I wanted.
I knew I had to get messy, let go a little; maybe make a mistake or two. But, I didn’t want to mess up the canvas – I was scared. So I grabbed a small, cheap canvas and moved to it with less weighted expectation.
Soon after I’d started painting, I knew I was headed in a direction I could be pleased with. I stepped back from it, looked at it and I was correct. So I kept going. I got a little smug and started these sweeping strokes that blended the colors. But I noticed the variants changing too much; the colors were losing their individual strengths when blended. So I slowed down and went back in with smaller, more methodical yet looser touches: pouncing the top of the brush along the canvas, creating texture. I continued like this, incorporating new colors and finally put my brush down.
I’d been working for an hour but it felt like ten minutes. I’d logged about four-five hours on the other canvas but it felt like four-five days. On the big one I’d used ten different brushes but never found one I liked. On the small one I used one brush that I’d bought at a dollar store.
It became clear that tools were not my problem. I was holding myself back, fearful of the unknown, fearful of messing up, fearful of it not looking as awesome as I wanted to. My fear was so prevalent that it had become reality.
It was late at night so I decided to head to bed.
The next morning I woke up excited and set my easel outside on the patio with a cup of coffee, did some yoga and put my brush back on the canvas. I painted until it was time to head to class – my first painting class. Here it is (I think it’s almost finished):
Throughout this experience I began to trust myself, I let go of my sweeping generalizations of what I think it should look like and work with my mediums/tools not against them – which also feels like a metaphor for my current phase of life.
It’s time for me to move forward with confidence, knowing mistakes will happen and the end may not look like what I’d envisioned. A failed canvas is only a failure if it does not teach me something for the next one.
On another note, I sold my first painting – which is also something to celebrate. Life, albeit challenging, is such a wonderful gift. Here’s a look at what else I painted over the weekend: