Monday, August 24, 2015

On going back to work

On Thursday, my lazy days of summer will come to an end. Note the packed-up and much-too-neat space at right.

My teacher self will return: a.m. meeting on the East side, then across town for two classes. Afterward, prep for Sunday class at a third school, and Monday a.m. back on the East side. Alas, the dizzying work life of an adjunct begins. As summer ends I muse on the fact that as much as I complain (off the I-grid), I didn't look for another line of work. Alas #2, my watercolors, my laptop, will I have time for them?  

This is a luxury worry. To live a life that is aligned with creative arts is my dream come true. I treasure my painting tools in the way my mother swooned over the contents of her pantry. Each shelf filled with unbelievable goodies--jams, honey, dozens of cans of tuna, 7-up, nuts, and the list went on. An impoverished childhood and a war set my mother up to appreciate every morsel of food, till the end of her life.

My childhood wasn't a mirror of my mother's life. I had stuff: crayons and coloring books and sheets of oak tag which I loved turning into posters. Somewhere along the way though I stopped all those wonderful tactile activities. High school, adulthood, and many years of uncertainty of the kind of work that would fulfill me.

Today, my disparate selves are connected and alive. I place a plastic cloth over my supplies, but won't put them away. On the left, flowers I prepped earlier with masking, and right, my fifth miserable try at an impressionistic technique.

Epilogue: I awoke with an epiphany. Keep a sheet of clean paper taped and in the center of my table, water cups filled, brushes and paints nearby.  This is similar to writing advice: write the first sentence of the new chapter before shutting down for the day.

Friday, August 7, 2015

On returning to the page

I'm sitting at a cafe in Chelsea, looking out upon Gristedes, McDonalds, Duane Reade. Nothing cute and summery here--no Cape Cod or Tanglewood or similarly lovely August place. And yet, I don't long to be anywhere else. That could be because I'm in serious writing mode. The only place that counts is where I set my story, the one that is developing out of a remark by a friend; she mentioned a rundown restaurant in the Catskills. I needed to know more about it. I made something up and emailed it to her. She wrote back: tell me more! And, so here I am, finding out more the only way I know--by getting writing.

This has been my MO every morning this week, and it strikes me as oddly natural and somewhat significant. Oddly and significant because I haven't done much creative writing for the past year and a half, in fact, have not called myself a writer when people ask what I do. I believed my writing days had ended. I didn't feel upset about it, for I'd had a fantastically rich 20-year writing life. But I was very surprised. I mean, why end a fantastically rich thing?

Monday a.m. began with a Letter to the Editor of the NYTimes--a form of writing I love--and I almost missed an aerobics class that I also love. I was impassioned, fired up, so grateful for the ability to shoot off a coherent letter. Then I returned to the rundown restaurant and it's owner, a man whose family (it turned out!) hailed from the Tuscany countryside. I won't put a jinx on myself by revealing more. We'll see how it goes.

And so I fret that for this post there is no colorful artwork, no sharing about my joy in sticking with an art form that I am very bad at. But what I do share is understanding that time out from something I did all the time, while not taken purposefully, was good. I lolled about in another creative form; I opened up my doors and windows, off the page. I return a writer and a student of painting. I wait to see if the two will inform one another.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

On learning

I spent last week at my first painting retreat. I came home from Omega inspired and filled to capacity with new techniques in Chinese and American watercolor ("East Meets West" with Lian Zhen). My mantra all week: just remember three new things.

First, for the usual news: I haven't broken my record of being the slowest to learn. In a class of seventeen, three (including me) were novices. The two others blossomed (literally in spectacular flowers, fish, frogs, underwater fauna, lily pads, so much more). I was awed. Instead of wasting time in the land of compare and despair, I took photos of everyone's work for creative inspiration. To the right: flower paintings out to dry, before next step of filling in details.

Day one began with learning to paint with Chinese ink and colors. Below are my fish in progress: 



During this process I felt clumsy, over my head, and certain this class wasn't meant for beginners. Each day proceeded the same. (My inner voice--not for beginners. But alas, I carried on.) Fish swimming in a sea of coral (not my fish...but 16 others), frogs on a landscape of lily pads (photo to come), and flowers, where I did my best (photo, upper right). We blew on paint, dropped paint, poured paint, finger painted, and, for the hell of it, used brushes.

The thing about Omega is that there is so much there to feast upon. Lush vistas, a cute cafe (with wifi!), dance, plain old relaxation). At times, it was hard to sit in a class for six (!!) hours. Tiring, overstimulating, and yet, when I came home I felt that I want to take this course again. I felt on my way to discovering if talent can be acquired.

This week, one result of class, I'm putting myself on a color diet. I'm going to use only blue, red and yellow to create everything else.   

Sunday, June 28, 2015

On process (again)

I continue to tell people, I have no painting talent. They think I'm being modest or putting myself down. But it's neither. When I say I've taken up watercolors, I want it known it simply feels good to be immersed in process--for fun, for therapy, for mindless mindfulness.

This morning I played with YUPO paper, the slippery texture that my art peers say, does the work on its own. Not true. While copying a friend's painting (Jane Atlas on top), mine flat-out refused to do it itself. But what it did do wasn't bad. I then tried to copy mine on Arches paper. I was so discouraged with the results, I rubbed them out: Note blurs.

In a few days, summer school ends. The mixed blessing of endless time stretches before me. It's so easy to give in to laziness, especially when nothing is expected of me in this painting world. When I return to class on Thursday, after a five-week break, no one will check to see if I've improved. I'll set up my easel, palette and do something.

Now, I'm torn between wanting to begin a story (yes, writing a bit again), four more student papers to grade, and fixing the painting. A Lifetime movie tempts me with a story of twins separated at birth. It's so easy and pleasurable to take a TV timeout. Sometimes I wonder how I get anything done.  

Thursday, May 21, 2015

On letting go

When I took up knitting in the 1980s my stitches were loose and uneven. I prided myself on not fretting over dropped stitches; mistakes were part of my unique patterns. Instead of attempting designer perfection I went for what felt right in my fingers. I didn't even know what my mind was thinking. Perhaps because I had a natural ability, I never felt the need (or desire) to control my work. Not so with painting.

I'm not a natural. Thus, I hold my brush tight aiming to replicate images of work done by others. In class, my peers tell me to paint from a photograph, not someone else's rendering of a scene. The idea is that I'll learn to see on my own. But I like following the dots of someone else's gaze. I like being told what to do. I don't yet know my painterly style the way I immediately knew my knitting style and even more so, my writing style. And so I present two paintings that began painfully studied and then I let the water take control. Or more aptly, when the water took over, something interesting emerged.

If you're wondering what is happening in the left photo, those are trees.

Several hours later: I bought YUPO paper (slippery and unpredictable).The painting on the left is sprinkled with sea salt.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

On seeing

Since I started painting, the world comes to me in moments. I ride the #7 to Flushing and delight in being above ground, witness to the swish of trees and low-level houses. The multi-shades of green leaves are suddenly so obvious;  how could I have not noticed before springtime leaves have orange and yellow hues? Blues, too, tucked deep inside.

In real-life at my painter's table, I compulsively practice my trees. Wet on wet. Wet on dry. Flick my brush forward and back on a dry sheet. Mess it up with a spray of water. Try again with a loose wrist, dabbing my brush on a wet sheet. Sap green. Cadmium yellow. Ultramarine blue. Let it all dry. Dab some more. Trees are hard. This week I abandoned my lessons and had a breakthrough. My fingers leaked joy (even though the tree above looks a teensy bit like a broccoli floret).

While on my trek on the #7, clouds float by and I wonder, who painted them so perfectly? I try memorizing their wanton shapes, long and sinewy, puffy and proud, layer upon layer like a snowman's belly. Ah...clouds. They are my painterly undoing, now that I am getting the rhythm of trees.

The nuances of life. Yesterday afternoon two women practiced yoga in the courtyard outside my window. I wanted to run out my door and join them, as if I were eight about to play A My Name. I didn't go, but still, I felt a swell of happiness. Creativity is everywhere, including the muffin batter I prepared this a.m., filled with  bananas, raspberries, a little of this, a lot of that. Soon I will pack a tote bag and head for the Bronx; it's a working day of scoring essay exams. I'll carry with me a Mecca of goods--chicken and avocado sandwich, the memoir Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriquez, i-pad for obsessive and incredibly satisfying email checking.

A day in preparation. A day to bear witness.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

On trees

For the longest time, I didn't get the expression, "You can't see the forest for the trees." I'd close my eyes and picture trees, forests, and wonder, what am I not seeing? Should it be, can't see the trees for the forest? In fact, it would take me a long time to understand the tree/forest puzzle, and never with a clarity that allowed me to back away from said trees to see the big picture. This past week, though, I am in the forest.

After struggling to paint trees--my ongoing watercolor saga--I've decided to not throw away my paints, brushes and dreams of landscapes. A tree is just a tree. I didn't feel this way last Thursday during painting class. I was self conscious in front of a substitute teacher; he hadn't been indoctrinated to my seriously beginner status. Self-consciousness led to shame which led to gratefully allowing a superior painter to fix my trees (under the guise of teaching me), and showing the sub the painting I had not really done. When I got home, I tore up and threw away the day's work, which led to feeling bad about the entire experience.  .

Ah...being a beginner takes a lot of self-love, self-compassion, self-respect. Today, I begin again. To the left "Three Trees." Above, painting practice just for fun.