I have just completed a weekend in the embrace of my Sanctuary, my Studio Off the Grid. Far away from the city, with much thanks to precious friends, I am privileged to take up residence in an old store with living quarters in the back. The residential section is centrally heated, but the front store room relies on a small heater. Temperatures early Saturday hovered in the thirties and it was difficult heating the front of the store where I prefer to set up my easel and paint the interior. So, much of the day was devoted to reading, writing and reflecting in the residential quarters. I had over two hundred pages left to read in Steinbeck’s East of Eden, and by the afternoon I had finished it with shudders of deep feelings hitting every mark between sadness and satisfaction.
In addition to Steinbeck, I read much about Martin Heidegger, finishing Adam Sharr’s Heidegger’s Hut and resuming my reading of Rüdiger Safranski’s Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil. I also read from Heidegger’s 1934 radio address “Why Do I Stay in the Provinces?”.
Once the front of the store was warm enough for painting, I entered my studio sanctuary and resumed work on a watercolor I started a couple of weeks ago, but abandoned because I had trouble rendering the objects surrounding me. I am increasingly dissatisfied with painting from photographs, and though I cannot avoid the practice when painting myself, I found it much more satisfying to look at my actual surroundings in this store instead of copying the objects I see in the photo. My struggle between photographs and live models goes back a few winters, when I made my first stabs at watercoloring still life objects from my garage. The antique doors stored there have given me a very satisfying grounding, first in the actual garage, and more recently dragging them into my living room studio. They are worth the physical effort. The door I painted months ago in this actual store also yielded some great advantages, much more than if I had photographed the door and worked exclusively from the photo in my home residence over three hours away. The same goes with the antique objects I’ve collected over the decades: my paintings of the objects are far superior (to my eye) than objects I’ve photographed and painted. I have trouble explaining why I feel that painting from life offers benefits beyond painting from images. My problem explaining this reminds me of Heidegger’s struggle matching words to his ideas:
On a deep winter’s night when a wild, pounding snowstorm rages around the cabin and veils and covers everything, that is the perfect time for philosophy. Then its questions become simple and essential. Working through each thought can only be tough and rigorous. The struggle to mold something into language is like the resistance of the towering firs against the storm.
So now I try to wrap words around my resisting issue of making art from photographs vs. the real objects before me: I find much more satisfaction from my watercolors and drawings done from three-dimensional subjects rather than two-dimensional photos. Granted, there is much more work and anxiety involved in editing a 360-degree environment and translating the three dimensions onto a measured two-dimensional picture plane, I feel that something special emerges from that struggle. When I work from a photo, I feel that I am doing paint-by-number, merely struggling for a one-to-one correspondence from one square inch to another. When looking at a real world before my eyes with depth, changing colors, light shifts, etc., I feel that I am actually recording a world onto the paper before me. And in viewing the watercolor months and years later, that world still pulsates on the surface, to me. This never happens with my works of art transferred from photos, even if I feel that the skill levels are sometimes higher. I don’t know that this is making sense to a reader, but it’s the best I can do for now.
Thanks always for taking time to read me.
I make art in order to understand.
I journal when I feel alone.
I blog to remind myself I am not really alone.