Happy Accidents

For over a year I have been trying with limited success to find a way of working with color that approximates what I have enjoyed about working with charcoal on paper. Finally I have found the technique I have been looking for, and as many great discoveries go it happened by accident.

Over the summer, I found a very solidly built nine foot by four foot stretcher that had been abandoned by a senior thesis student who had graduated. I kept looking at the stretcher, being attracted to it, and yet what was I thinking? What would I do with a painting of that size? How much would it cost in paint to cover the thing? After several weeks of ambivalence, I decided what the heck and brought it home. At a certain point I thought about abandoning it myself, but in the end I stretched some linen over it, put some coats of gesso on (which caused it to stretch and warp more than I thought it would, so I had to re-stretch) and then it sat in my studio for a month, leaned against a wall. Every time I walked by it, I had thoughts of self-doubt. Last week I found myself with an evening that included a couple hours of studio time and the energy/desire to try something new. I put some screws on the wall, attached the painting, and began to make marks and see where that would lead me.

I was enjoying myself, and the imagery began to emerge. At the same time, I became aware that I was going through paint VERY quickly. To finish the painting I would need to drive to the nearest art store, which meant a little over an hour in the car just in driving, never mind the time spent shopping. It became late, and I needed to stop for the night. I hoped to continue working in the morning, but feeling demoralized, I knew I only had enough time to either drive to the art store OR work on the painting, not both. In the morning I chose to work on the painting, with the thought that perhaps making due with the supplies I had would be an interesting constraint.

As I was working and running out of supplies, I started to thin the green that I was using, in order to at least get a base coat out to the edges of the canvas. When I was done, I realized that the wash I had created was acting as a counterpoint to the more heavily painted area. Then I began to experiment with wiping away parts of the more heavily painted areas to bridge the two worlds that I had created. The effect was exactly what I had been looking for all year.

Going out on an artistic limb more times than not results in dead ends and big messes. However, it also leads to major breakthroughs. I have had this experience many times, but somehow I still find myself hesitating, or being disappointed when an experiment does not “work” like I think it should. I have learned over the years to listen to the part of me that is attracted to a material, even if it doesn’t make sense to the more logical parts of my brain. This painting is too large for any wall in my house, it will be difficult to transport, and I don’t have anywhere to store it. People who would like to purchase my work ask if I make anything smaller, which I have not for a very long time, and this painting is as large as my largest drawings. Despite all this I am still glad I made it, mainly for the technical discoveries that it forced me to make which I can then apply to other work. This whole experience was a great reminder to be patient, have self-confidence, and keep trying new things. This is easy advice to give, and much harder to live by.

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