Tuesday, April 14, 2015

On being terrible

I've been thinking about the negative words I use to describe my artwork, or rather my skill. "This is terrible," I often say, or, "I'm terrible at this. I should give it up." In fact, last week when I painted at a studio--one that my teacher goes to--I said to her, "One day you're going to say, 'Sandy, this just isn't your thing.'" She shook her head. "Practice," she said. I wondered, what is she really thinking? 

When I began my writing life, words simply flowed. There was no thought, no need to tell myself to practice. I had to pry myself from the keyboard to go out and make a living, eat lunch, wash my face. I went from bed to desk and wrote until I realized at some point, I should get dressed. I was Creativity, one-hundred percent, whether writing, thinking, walking, sleeping. Stories consumed me. Things happened on the page that came from me, but until reading the emotions, the memories, I hadn't known they were mine. I never said, I'm terrible. I cried. I laughed. I revised like mad. I lived to write.

On a whim last summer I decided to take a watercolor class. I love Cezanne and gravitate to his work the few times I go to the Met (along with Chagall, not watercolor, but touches me viscerally). I signed up at the Art Student's League for a class ok'd for beginners. I bought all my supplies in advance and showed up like a girl in first grade with a new backpack and shiny cheeks. I set myself up at the table and waited for the fruit bowl, the vase with flowers, the other tentative beginners. Instead, there was a nude model, a full class of painters, most of whom knew stuff. I didn't know how to mix water with paint. No one showed me. For the four weeks I attended, my work was terrible. But I wasn't because I kept showing up. My work and I. We are not the same. Even when writing. But that's another story.

Lately I've been stuck on roses. My inexperienced self started by swishing my brush around, swirling cadmium red, then dropping in quin rose, then using a watercolor pencil.Then I recalled a student I'd observed who "painted" roses by crushing a tissue, making it damp, then placing it atop moistened red paint, right into the palette. He then stamped his roses. I did that (on the left, with touches of lemon yellow), but felt like I was cheating. Below left, swirly flowers ( copied from a Trader Joe's card (artist: Amber Alexander). Bottom is my first thought-out, painted rose.

Friday, April 10, 2015

On showing up

I awoke yesterday with the plan I'd been anticipating all week--three hours of painting at a nearby art studio. Thursday. I was certain it would be a great morning. But mornings don't always play out in the way I plan. Instead of happiness, I felt a deep aversion to going. My foray into watercolors has been exciting, fun, frustrating, and these past weeks, fraught with setbacks. My peers who took classes with me are painting luscious bouquets. I'm still struggling with a dainty rose.

I didn't want to face my inadequacy as an artist--not in public, that is. But if I didn't go it would be harder to go next week. And if I didn't go, I'd miss my walk down Fifth Avenue and my half hour at a nearby Starbucks for cafe au-lait and i-pad reading. As is often the case, when I get into movement, good feelings follow. And so, I packed up my tote bag with my beloved tools--pad, brushes, palette, plastic cups, paper towels and photos of floral arrangements to copy.

When I arrived at the studio I chatted with another student. "I'm so bad at this," I told him. "I didn't want to come." Without missing a beat he said, "That would be a good way to not get better." I smiled, thinking of how much I needed to hear that, and too, those were good words to pass on to my freshman comp students. If I/they don't pick up the brush (or the pen) and put it to paper, we can hide our not-knowing from others, but then what?

I chose a project: a composition taken from Watercolor Basics by Deb Watson. It's the beginning step of a vase lush with flowers. I chose Watson's early step  because of its whimsy and what I thought would be easy (I'm told, when it appears easy, it never is. Hence, it wasn't.) Below is a shot of four renditions. The two on the left are my messy and furtive tries. The top right is my instructor's. Bottom right, my last try.