Saturday, March 26, 2011

Top of the World

When I look back on my life so far, it seems my destiny was to end up in the mountains. I grew up looking out my bedroom window at the mountain range where I would eventually live. Our house was on Mountain View Drive and I went to Top of the World Elementary. And that's the kicker in the odd synchronicity of these things. Little did I know that one day I would climb a mountain and stand on what felt like the top of the world to me.

Once you reach Trail Crest, you've gained most of the elevation on your way to the summit of Mt. Whitney. At 13,600 feet, you find yourself on a knife-edge ridge, where you can see forever. Valleys give way to ridges that march off into the distance, growing bluer and paler, eventually melting into the sky. It brings new meaning to bird's eye view. I had never been that high—on the ground, without pharmaceutical aids—in my life. I wanted to soar out over the ridges and valleys as I have in my dreams so many times.

Last weekend, it snowed like crazy. We were supposed to go camping, but due to the storm coming in, we cancelled. We had planned to go to the campground where we stayed the night before we began the hike up Whitney. It's my favorite place to camp and I was looking forward to seeing the eastern Sierra ridge and Whitney once again.

I was extremely disappointed, my moping increased as the weather outlook got nastier. So, since I couldn't visit my mountains, I painted them instead.

Top of the World I, Top of the World II
Panorama Set
8" X 8", Acrylic on Canvas

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cyclamen Dance

The dance is complete. With a sigh of satisfaction I signed this piece, which flowed from the first delicate pencil lines to the last brushstroke. Rendering the color, the pattern, the texture, was as satisfying as great sex, a wonderful meal, the sincere and deep hug from a small child you've just met. It felt so good to have a success after the frustration of the last piece.

Here is the weird thing though—or maybe not—yesterday when I was working out, I found myself looking at the creek painting once again, which had remained sitting in the living room, festering quietly. Forlornly propped against the television cabinet, I had ignored it for days. I think I even swiffered around it a few days ago, gathering up the dust bunny frame. That's how immune I'd become to its presence.

Now that my head has cleared, washed clean by watercolor, I noticed it once again. It may not be such a bad painting after all. Sure, it needs some work, but it isn’t the train wreck I thought it was. I'm going to take it back to the studio and see what happens.

Cyclamen Dance
12" X 16", Watercolor

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Back in the Saddle

I'm working on a new painting and I’m loving it.

It's a dance across a giant ballroom in a twirly gown. If there were a crowd, they'd be clapping at the grace and beauty of my execution. I’d probably be wearing a tiara. I know that sounds overly dramatic and well, kind of like I’m a swellhead, but I’m really happy and excited about what I’ve done so far. I’m intoxicated with the joy of a painting that's going well.

I know I risk great exposure here, telling you about it. What if this painting doesn’t work out as it progresses? What if I catch a heel in my skirt and fly a$$ over teakettle, my tiara skittering across the floor, spattering rhinestones in its wake? Oh well, that’s the risk I take. I live for danger, you know.

Recently, I realized that I went down the wrong path with the creek painting. Even before I started it, I had a strong urge to work with watercolor. Yet, I ignored that tug toward watercolor—and that's what started the entire mess.

Let's see if I can describe this. There are times when I approach my next art project from a sensual perspective. I think about the various media (rather than a specific subject) and how I experience each with my senses.

It might be the interplay of a soft brush whispering across paper, sweeping along the magic-magnetic tension of watercolor. Perhaps it is the crunch of a stiff brush dabbing at a canvas bouncing back in response. It could be the purity of transparent color I want, or the opacity of acrylic textured by brush strokes. Thin, thick—or a contrast of both? Do I want color granulating into the mottled crevices of paper? Shall I let the woven canvas shine through, or cover the surface in a thick impasto?

Is it the musty scent of sizing released by watercolor paper when it's wet (the more expensive the sheet, the smellier!), or the scentless sterility of a canvas board? Shall I immerse myself in the medium; spatter ink on my face, smear chalk on my forearms, or just tickle the surface with a delicate drawing?

And so, I realized I had to feed the need to explore again with watercolor. I started a painting of a cyclamen in bloom, (using one of my very special pieces of watercolor paper given to me by my sweet husband). I love the inside-out flowers—like wings fluttering above the leaves. I love the graceful forms, the brilliant color.

It was just what I needed. Ahhh, I feel so much better.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Love Affair Gone Very Wrong

I've been thinking about water for more than a week now. Cool, burbling, gold-glinted amber water swirling around the stones it softened on its way by. Bugs skitter and damselflies dab and lift across the surface, while fat trout kiss the underside and dart back into green shadows. Strands of algae along the banks undulate, stretching downstream with the current. There is the comforting river-smell of organic matter melting and returning to the earth.

I'm working on a painting of a crossing we made over Lone Pine Creek. It's been torturous.

Sometimes a painting is a joyous flow of creativity—a love affair. Other times, not so much. The love's long gone out of this one.

I started the piece last weekend, enjoying some time in the studio while snow fluttered throughout the afternoon. I was deep in remembrance of the spot; in love with the transparency of the color and the juicy emerald shadows framing the creek. The rocks felt right; the foliage natural and loose. I captured the glinting flow in golds and oranges and tinted ochre.

Then I took it too far, going overboard with colors that turned the piece into a ghastly nightmare. My lovely creek became an old whore in cracked make up.

Yet, I continued to work on it. I was the bleary-eyed truck driver on a hairy road in the rain who should really stop to rest, but doesn't. Things started to go ├╝ber bad. Cover-it-up bad. Make-me-give-up-on-the-subject bad.

I tempered the garish color, repainting and redefining elements in the process. It was getting late. Dinner was going to be way late. I took the painting to the living room viewing area to assess the damage. It was clunky, awkward, tight, and contrived.

A week went by while I looked and thought about it. I thought about it lot. The amber water was in my dreams. I resisted the urge to start a new painting and returned to the scene of the art crime.

With time and a fresh eye, I discovered the rocks appeared to be sitting on the water rather than resting in it. The foreground, bulbous blobs; the background a demented and haunted forest. But, I thought there was hope.

After several hours, I had painted myself back into an ugly corner. The painting was stilted and overworked; tired as a postal worker.

I painted over most of it, moving and removing elements. This was the third time. I dove in one more time. But, the day wore away and it was not getting any better. I had to start dinner (please, not so late tonight, sweetie?).

I was tremendously annoyed and discouraged. I wanted to snap it in half and throw the pieces out the window, screaming across the canyon in frustration.

No. Let it rest, Susan. Give it some space.

I think what is most maddening is when I spend hours on a piece that never comes to fruition. Too me, it is a colossal waste of time—like sleeping all day—a wicked, wicked waste of my precious little painting time. Although the reality is that even the failures are part of the art journey. It all counts, whether there is a piece in the end or not.

We'll see how this one plays out.