Just keep swimming

green landscape 8x10 painting
“Hide and Seek”, 8×10 oil on canvas panel

I go through this cycle of painting something that doesn’t turn out the way I want (quite often it’s that things are much darker than I intend), then diving into some painting lessons to try to figure out a solution, becoming overwhelmed with options, and trying something new once or twice. And then getting frustrated when an approach doesn’t work for me the first time. I thrive off of the learning part because it fills me with enthusiasm and generates ideas, but my patience runs out so quickly if I don’t execute on the ideas well.

On that note, I’m toying with the idea of choosing one palette of colors and one block-in technique to use for several paintings in a row to help give me a fair chance to see if I like them. My brain knows it’s nonsensical to think some new skill or process should be immediately successful, but I feel this sense of urgency to get these things figured out quickly. I try to keep in mind what I’ve heard on several painting podcasts, which is to slow down and savor the beginning stages of learning to paint — to enjoy this time because eventually the freedom of it passes and it becomes harder to just paint for yourself.

This week I started meditating for a few minutes before beginning my painting sessions. My goal is to help my body relax (I’ve developed a wicked knot behind my shoulder blade from mixing paints on my palette like my life depended on it), and get into a more open state of mind. I’m out of practice with meditation, and I spend most of those three minutes thinking about things I want to do, but at least I’m thinking positive thoughts!

For this painting, I started with a loose and washy block-in, aiming for cool colors in the shadows, warmer colors in the light, and the values in the right ballpark. This type of block-in appeals to me because by putting average colors in from the start, there’s something to respond to. I was finding that with a monochromatic underpainting, it put me in a mindset of premixing colors and then sticking to them instead of course-correcting along the way. I’m not sure why that would be, but I hope I can work past that hurdle because I love the process of making a monochromatic underpainting.

In any case, I decided to start this painting in a generalized and noncommittal way. It felt very out of control, but also exhilarating. The thing I liked about it was that there was no question that adjustments would need to be made — it was total chaos! But there was something there to build off of. One thing I found remarkable was how very cool in temperature this initial stage was. I didn’t notice it so much during the block-in process, but after taking a break and coming back into the room it really surprised me.

Thin, washy block-in

I had to remind myself to keep painting through the ugly stage. And I didn’t put a time limit on myself, or worry about thin, transparent darks and advice to “put a stroke down and leave it alone”. Maybe I would make mud, and there was white paint all over the canvas, probably making everything all chalky. There’s a ton of sound advice I pushed to the side while I focused on painting in a way that felt good to me. It was fun to work in a lighter key with colors that were not so intense.

Now, on to planning that focused practice challenge! I may need to issue media ban for myself to stay focused and avoid shiny object syndrome…