Painting on a Rainy Day

“Glum Gus” she calls me. I might be feeling pensive, preoccupied, mystified, fatigued, introspective, or any of a hundred ways resulting in what seems to me merely an expressionless expression–but to Ma these moods are all one: “Glum AGIN! Cheer up, boy! Always limpin’ around with a burr in yer ass! Smile, dammit!” I don’t think this is quite what Thoreau meant when he said “Simplify.”

David James Duncan, The River Why

Throughout this dark, cold, rainy Sunday I have been working through my latest watercolor commission and laughing my way through The River Why. The reason I posted the passage above is because I have felt my entire life the way this frustrated narrator did of himself. I’m not a laughing, jovial kind of spirit and my friends all know that. When talking a few years back to an artist friend about my difficulty meeting the general public at art festivals, I acknowledged that I love art and love talking about it to interested patrons. But at a festival, I feel cramped inside a 10 x 10′ tent with my work on display every time a stranger enters–I do not want to be perceived as a pushy, aggressive sales person hawking his wares. People at festivals should have the freedom and space to peruse and enjoy art without threat of hungry artists’ eyes burning through them from the shadows of the tents. When telling my friend of these issues, she suggested I make a sign to put out front:

I LOVE MAKING ART, AND LOVE EVEN MORE TALKING ABOUT ART TO INTERESTED PATRONS. BUT I DON’T WISH TO BE PUSHY. SO, IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT MY WORK AND WISH TO TALK, I AM THAT GLOOMY GUY IN THE CHAIR READING A BOOK IN THE BACK OF THE TENT.

The commission is coming along slowly, and I’m glad to be retired and not pressed by deadlines. The patron wants this one before Christmas, and I anticipate finishing it up today or tomorrow.

I have often been asked if I become bored with commissions if the subject matter is always the same. The answer is a simple No, and I know why: if I paint the same subject repeatedly (and lately, the subject has been suburban homes), the reality is that I never repeat the same steps as I create a painting. I do not have a set formula. The same is true if I do a series of workshops. I know how to take participants through steps in creating a watercolor, and I always formulate the steps to facilitate the process. But the order of the steps is never the same. There are so many ways to enter a painting, and I find no reason to fall into a boring routine.

Years ago, I watched a film of Picasso performating a painting of a seated female nude. Out of his more than 30,000 works of art created over a lifetime, there is no telling how many times he drew or painted a seated female nude. On this particular film, I watched the artist as he loaded his brush, approached the blank canvas, and began outlining his figure. He started at the small of her back, and the brush glided upward over her shoulder, up her neck and over the top of her head, then downward over the profile face, neck, breasts, abdomen, thighs . . . As I watched in wonder, I thought: if I were painting this subject, I would start at the very top of the head. No doubt Picasso did too, hundreds of times. But this time he chose an unusual place to start, and I will never forget that image. It was then that I determined I would never let myself become bored with a routine in drawing or painting subject matter; there are dozens of ways to proceed.

With this particular painting, I am working all over the picture plane, sometimes rendering in detail, other times laying down a wash, or picking up a pencil to adjust something further. But I am not bored with the subject, nor will I be if the next five or ten paintings turn out to be of houses. I always find a way to change it up. I’m very happy and contented this day, even if I’m not smiling. Trust me-I’m not gloomy.

Christmas Greetings from Studio Eidolons

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I am alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

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