On Interrupting the Process

“Socked In”  15 x 22 inches

Making art and becoming a better artist is a process.   This process, above all, must flow.   That is to say that every event in our painting experience must follow another event . . . . and another and another and another.   Each and every event counts toward the eventual outcome of every painting we make and our reach for artistic mastery.

Translated, the statement above simply states that every mistake, every path not taken, every thought ignored, every comment from others are all part of the flow of the progression of mistakes and events that are the process of ‘becoming.’

That may sound like mumbo jumbo to some of you who are seeking artistic growth and seeking beautiful outcomes in every painting.

Look at how you feel about the painting just completed.   No joy about it?   Really?   Do you go into a negative funk of thinking “I am not talented enough?”   Do you dwell on the thoughts of “I wish I had made it differently?” . . .or “Of only . . ?”

When our mind and inner voices are speaking to us in such negative streams, do we really benefit from those thoughts?   Not just “no,” but Hell no !!!   We, as artists, must learn to profit from every event that occurs in the process of artistic becoming.   Yes, EVERY event.   Every mistake.   Every wrong move matters. Everything we encounter in our path is significant.

As was said in a previous post, the obstacles ARE the path.

If, indeed, the obstacles ARE the path, then we must learn to care for them as though they were prophets there to deliver profound learning experiences.

We simply need to step back and allow the unexpected events that thwarted our expectations to speak to us in the mode that a carefully concerned teacher would speak.   That is we need not interrupt the process that has unfolded before us.   To interrupt is to cause the flow of progress to halt.

We must allow the process to unfold and to accept the minor events as they occur and pay careful attention to those events, though not always welcome, as profound lessons so that the flow of the process might continue.

Let me translate for you . . . . the painter painted a shape that seemingly was not going to fit with her expectations of how it was supposed to look.   She was repulsed by it.   She could have stopped in disgust and begun again.   She could have thrown the work into the waste bin.   She could have completely turned away from the experience.   I watched her pout and complain and produce a lot of negative energy.

She absolutely halted the flow of energy and events that were lined up to light the way to solutions and new, fresh thinking. What she encountered was a perfect lesson to sort through alternative solutions to a big challenge.   It is these sort of challenges that arise in every single painting . . . .problems!! . . . .blunders . . . .which must be resolved.   Because we are confronted with this sort of problem solving, we must develop our skills and habits to be the solver.

We don’t learn by throwing the lessons away.   We don’t train our instincts or our skill set in problem solving by becoming disgusted or giving up.

We learn and improve by doing the hard stuff.   We succeed through struggle.   We achieve mastery by confronting and finding paths over, around, under or through the obstacles.   While our successes feel marvelous, we learn little if anything from them.

Interrupting and stopping the process is NOT a solution. Interrupting the process invites those same unexpected events to come visit us again and again . . . They revisit because we didn’t take the time to discover the solutions to the problems that appeared.

Our development as painters / artists depends on our ability to accept and respond to every artistic challenge as they come before us.

As a post script, your friends or your teachers do not necessarily have the solutions you desire.   Finding solutions is an experimental process that we must endure alone.   We learn from that process of experience, too.

A Different Perspective . . .

“Abstraction in Whites”

Recently, I completed giving giving a workshop and acting as a juror and awards judge for a large watercolor exhibition.   While I was ready for the task and the possible embarrassment if I failed, a realization came upon me that I have changed my perspective.   That is to say I have entirely revised my attitudes about being a painter.   For many years, I lived the part, but all the while chewed on the notion that I was still an amateur . . . . .and didn’t want anyone to discover that fact!!

I am not sure when the shift took place.   Somewhere, sometime my attitude was one that I had never carried before . . . . .I didn’t give a darn about what anyone thought.   Okay.   If I make a mistake, I made a mistake!  Get used to it world.

Yikes!   That is awfully cavalier!! . . . . Or, is it?

I cannot account for how the mental change happened, but I became aware of it in the midst of my recent workshop.   One of the participants was painting (obviously) and was loudly voicing her displeasure with what she was doing.   She attempted to start over again . . . .and I advised her NOT to begin a new painting . . . .to stay with and finish what she had begun.

Of course, she was even more upset.   I could not verbalize to her what I was feeling and thinking (not about her!).   What my mind was doing was quietly trying to comfort her and let her know that she was experiencing exactly what she should be experiencing.

Eh?  What did you just say, Mike?

She was rejecting the fact that she was confronting obstacles to her hoped for success.   She refused to accept that the obstacles were part of her training to become a better painter.

A great philosopher once said something to this effect:   Obstacles in your path?  The obstacles ARE your path!

That statement totally sums up the current state of my attitude!   I have accepted that mistakes, failures, blunders, faux pas, etc. are the the very places from which our best lessons are learned . . . .and that it is not only ‘okay’ for them to be out in the open, but that they are expected and welcome!

Think about your path to becoming a painter for a few moments . . . .

Was it an easy journey?   Did it happen over night?   Were there acres of canvas or paper wasted and ruined along the way?    Were you ever embarrassed about a painting?   Did you ever find that a painting simply would not come to fruition?   And . . . .did you ever experience one painting just falling into place so automatically that you didn’t know how it happened?

And here is another question . . . .Aren’t you proud of how much you have overcome to become the painter that you are?   Aren’t you looking forward to the rest of the journey?

Of course the answer is an unqualified “Yes” to all the above questions!

Somehow, somewhere and sometime we not only accept that struggle is the formula for success as a painter, but we eventually relish the delicious challenges that confront us along the way.   Our perspective changes from resistance to acceptance.

And so it is, my friends.   Be with the obstacles !!


OMG! A New Post!! Plein Air Painting . . .Getting through the problems

Everyone is frightened of painting outdoors! You have heard the cries and complaints: Yikes! The bugs! Oh! That wind !! I just couldn’t finish! There was too much to pay attention to! It’s sooo confusing! I don’t understand composition. Yadda yadda yadda !!

It is much easier than you would think! I can show you how to compose your painting in less than two minutes. Yes !! Really!! All you need is to have the right tool!

The light always changes on me! I can’t keep up with it.  Another easy solution. All you need is to have a gentle coach to guide you into taking the right steps at the very beginning to stop that from happening. Get your composition down so you know where everything will fit on the page or canvas. Then sit down with your sketch book and work out a value sketch recording light and shadow (Not details!) Just simple shapes of value in the picture space. That locks in the light . . .that is IF you follow the value sketch.

But I hate value sketching!!! Too bad. Do it anyway. ( I know. Tuff guy teacher.) Not really. I have found through many many spoiled paintings that all I had to do was take five minutes and RECORD where the light and shadow was before I made my painting. The light could change any way it wanted to and I still had what it looked like when I finished my sketch. It is a perfect road map. Just follow it.

These and other skills will be taught and assisted in Maine this coming August. We’ll be painting in the early part of the day, having lobster or sea food for lunches (if you want) and maybe a glass of wine to go with it . . .then resuming the painting activities in the early afternoon.  (Sounds really rough, doesn’t it?)  Oh, yes! Did I mention that the scenery (the stuff we’ll be painting) is jaw dropping beautiful? Once you go to Maine and see that coast line, you want to go back summer after summer!

Interested? Contact Lynn Donovan at info@cmaworshops.com  or go to https://cmaworkshops.com.  August 21-25, 2017

We’ll be there having a blast!   Hope you can join the fun!


Swallowing My Pride (GULP !!)

Garrapatta Stumps
Garrapatta Stumps 15 x22

Mind you, the painting above was finished on site at Garrapatta State Park which is very near Big Sur, California . . .I believe it was in February. . . . .and I haven’t been out to paint much since then . . .two months without being at the plain air easel !!

Today, my painting Buddy (Scott) and I decided to grab at the nice weather and go out to paint.   I must admit here, out in the open, that I do have a clear sense of pride in my painting abilities.  After all, I have reached some milestones at fairly high altitudes . . . . .but you would not have known that today.  Let me explain (as I hide my face in embarrassment) .. . . .

Scott and I typically “drift” into our painting spots.   That is to say, that we rarely start the day knowing where we will be going to paint.   We head out in a direction and stop where it suits our fancy.   And as a painter who lugs around a lot of pride in my paint box, I typically opt for the places that offer the most challenge.   Usually that is a place and/or a subject in which I am unfamiliar . . . . mainly because I enjoy a good challenge.   Today, we chose the commercial fishing fleet at Moss Landing.   Many years ago, I would go there to paint boats and all the accompanying equipment that goes with commercial fishing . . (read as clutter!)

Normally, us painters are restricted from going out on the docks near the boats . . .but today, we got lucky.   We could go out on the docks and literally immerse ourselves into the subject.   I selected a place for the perfect view . . .I am usually quite impulsive about this and grab the first place that seems good because I know that what ever isn’t there, I will be able to create.

My spot was at the very end of a narrow floating dock.   I didn’t realize it at the time I went to set up, but the dock moved . . . .up and down (no big deal) . . . but, also rocked.   That is if I stepped to the left, the dock sank a bit on the left and similarly for the right side step.

I could feel the difference at the moment I began to sketch in my sketchbook (a deeply ingrained habit) to make my value sketch prior to painting.  Something was off!!   I wasn’t comfortable!!   The old flow and ease wasn’t present.

A breeze was blowing catching my umbrella (used to shade my work) enough to threaten to carry my easel into the harbor . . .which put me on edge.   Worse, the long shaft of the umbrella was directly in front of my work surface.   Translation:  it was in my way!!

I began my layout work . . .it just didn’t some out right . . .the eraser was hard at work, too often!   I got my paints out and began to put wet paint on the paper . . .and the damp breeze blew . . .and the dock rocked and rolled (as did my easel and work surface.)   My brushes weren’t behaving, the colors weren’t mixing with the usual split second clarity of value and saturation . . .I wasn’t getting the right colors !!!

As you can gather by now, I was having a hellishly bad time of it . .  .and as the time wore on, it became progressively worse . . . .until I threw in the towel and said “To hell with it!!”

I am a professional artist.   This is what I do.   But not today !!   There are lessons here:   If one expects to carry the mantle of professional, then one MUST PRACTICE doing professional.  That’s right!  You read it correctly.   One must DO professional in order to BE professional.   Yes, I have heard it before:  Do Be Do Be Doooo!     Joking aside, the upshot is that if one expects to be able to paint well under any circumstances then one must be in practice . . .one must be out there doing it at least a few times a week.  To do anything well, we must do it often.   By doing so, that sense of ease . . .that “flow” which seems to musically course through us as though everything is effortless will come as naturally as the sun rises daily.

If we don’t paint often.  We should not expect decent results.   That is EVEN if one has reached high altitude awards and honors.   Fine, well accomplished work only comes from one place:  Work.   Lots and lots of it.   Unless the gymnast is limber and warmed up and overwhelmingly familiar with the routine ahead, he can expect to falter.   I should know better than to expect much after not being at the easel for two months.   The fact is that I DO know better.   I really had to swallow my pride today!   Even though I do know better, swallowing one’s pride does not go down easy!

Surely you can guess what I will be doing over the next few weeks!  I NEED to get back to that flow !!

Scatter Brained?

Planely Scattered-72

“Planely Scattered”

Watercolor, 15 x 22 inches

Begun as demonstration for making textures, this piece was brought to the studio to see if it could be trained into something interesting.

Concerns:   1.  It must be a balanced and unified composition,  2.   Thee should be a strong color harmony and, 3.   It must have a sense of shallow space.   These were the goals I set out to accomplish . . .with nothing from which to copy. Abstracts, or non objective paintings, are challenging to the artist because there is no model to follow.  Everything that happens to the painting must come as a result of careful thought to ensure that every mark fits  into the context of all the other marks already made.   That statement also goes for ANY painting of any subject.

As you can see, most all the colors in the painting are grayed down or ‘unsaturated’ in order that there be a clear sense of fitting with all the other colors in the painting . . .save for the area called the center of interest.   Similarly, the shapes must follow the pattern or character of all the other shapes in the painting, in this case geometric, flat shapes.   Had I put in a curvilinear shape among all the other geometric shapes, it may have stuck out, or seemed as though it did not belong.   As with all paintings, we attack the project with high hopes of success, but move forward with the sort of abandon as though we don’t care.   Some would call this attitude one of courage.

My mantra with all paintings in progress is this:  It’s only a piece of paper !!

As long as I remind myself that no one is going to get hurt, if I mess up, and that it is, indeed, only a piece of paper, then I can dream up just about anything I want to do without worry of bad result.

I pull out a spray bottle full of dark sepia paint . . . . I step up to the painting table, spray bottle in hand, wondering;  how dark is it?  What if it splatters?  What if the sprayer drips?  My answer to all of these questions is the same:   We’ll see !!   The fact is that the artist cannot expect great things to happen to the progress of a painting if fear will prevent him from doing some things.  In short, as artists, we must be willing to fail.   We must be open to allowing the unforeseen to show up and challenge us.   We must open ourselves to being willing to repair if something “bad” happens.

This demonstration was to show class participants how to make various sorts of texture and how to use them.   In the course of the demonstration, different marks were being made all over the paper . . . with each mark came the statement that “you cannot make a mistake!”   That is to say that mistakes are not possible!   A very wise artist once told me “If you make a mistake, repeat it several times in the painting.  Then it won’t appear as a mistake!”

That brings up one last thing . . .the idea of repetition.   This is something every artist must understand and how it affects unity in a painting.   Just know this, repetition with variations makes for interest and helps hold the sum of the parts of the painting together as a single unit.