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 über 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.