Winter at Sundance II
An artist friend called me today to describe her frustration: she took a wonderful class, learned a new technique, turned out a few fabulous paintings, and now, back in her home studio, she can't seem to recapture that same level of excellence. Nor can she return to her old technique. She's caught between two processes - the one recently learned and practiced, but not quite assimilated, and the old process, which is no longer satisfying.
I could identify with her dilemma because I've been there, not only as an artists, but in other learning processes as well. Anytime we learn something new our brains go through a process that is as awkward as a baby's first steps. We first recognize what we want to do - a vision - which may be similar to a demonstration or example shown to us by an instructor. But often our brains are conditioned by habit to paint a different way and it's hard to break that pattern. With practice, we start to retrain our brains to think/do it a new way, and we may have some almost accidental successes. But the process isn't complete until we have practiced enough to fully assimilate the new way of thinking/doing. The time that takes will vary with each individual. The key is not to get discouraged but to keep "playing" with the new technique or process until it, like our old process, becomes second nature.
The sense of "play" during this process is very important. Last year I made the mistake of trying to learn a new process while I was building a collection of paintings for a new show. I felt pressured to have the paintings ready by a certain date; I did not feel the freedom of play. When we play, we can waste paint and paper. We can look at "failures" with the attitude of "oh, that's interesting" and move on to the next piece of paper. But if we're pressured to turn out ready-to-frame pieces, we're setting ourselves up for frustration.
So along with "play" we need "patience" and "practice." Isn't that neat - the three "Ps"! Patience with our predictable learning curve with any new process, and practice (and lots of it) to shorten that learning curve as much as possible.
If we go at it with that sense of play, it really isn't so painful at all.
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As show chairman for the Utah Watercolor Society Fall Exhibition, I proposed using a theme - "Inspired by a Book." My reasons were numerous. First, our exhibit coincides with the annual Book Festival sponsored by the Utah Humanities Council and I imagined we could cross-promote our events. Second, I enjoy creating a series of paintings around a theme and I thought others might find it fun and challenging to be given a theme, even such a loose one that could lead in almost any direction. And, finally, I figured other artists are avid readers, as I am.
I was approximately right in my suppositions. We are cross-promoting with Utah Humanities (please visit their web site: http://www.utahhumanities.org/BookFestival.htm). While some artists were inspired to paint about a book, and we received some wonderful entries, the number of entries was lower than usual, suggesting that other artists were a bit intimidated by the challenge. And, finally, I discovered in conversation with several artists that some are not the voracious reader that I am. The books that "inspired," in many cases, seemed to be the books that best fit a painting already conceived! But I'm not complaining; it's also a creative process to look at your painting and think, "This reminds me of that old classic..."
I've been working on my own new series of paintings for some time and I'm now facing a deadline for holiday shows. The theme is "free to be." No, it's not patriotic fluff, but, rather, paintings that capture the desire for liberation from the things that hold us back from our dreams; for example, traffic, jobs we hate, caregiving responsibilities, and so on. They are whimsical in style, using mixed water media in a rich layering of colors. I'll post some another day, but for now, I'm pleased to present my painting, "Topaz," inspired by Julie Otsuka's book, "When the Emperor was Divine," which chronicles a Japanese family's separation and internment at camps in Utah, Texas, and Montana during World War II.
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