Saturday, September 10, 2016

Just Paint

Back in college, there was a professor who taught a course called "The Teaching of Reading." Many years later, his favorite line still rings in my head: "It doesn't matter WHAT you read, it matters THAT you read." His idea was to instill a love of reading in kids and not judge them if they read comic books instead of literature.

A small abstract with layers of paint, painted deli paper, gesso and matte medium.

That is a pretty good idea to live by. An artist--or a writer or designer or any creative person--is constantly bogged down by the inner critic, who judges the work and squashes creativity. I recently took a day-long workshop with Dina Wakley; it was great fun and very productive. Dina is really funny and inspiring, urging us not to waste paint (wiping it on her apron instead of throwing it away). Dina has her inner critic's mouth taped shut. She would look a a work in progress and squeal "oooh, I loooove it!" One of her mantras is "done is better than good."

StayCation series of abstract art experiments using Dina Wakley's painting method.
On my recent summer PaintStayCation, I pulled out my paints, board, paper and tools and just created without too much thought. Lots of experiments, a few successes, and a few failures. A voice from another workshop rang in my ear...Julie Fei-Fan Balzer saying: "knock it back." Unlike working in watercolor, where it is hard to do things over and make corrections, with acrylic you can just gesso over areas that you don't like. Sometimes you get a shadow or hint of the underlayer, sometimes it is completely covered up. I kept layering and repainting until I kind of liked what was there.

Another goal with my art--in addition to shushing the inner critic--is not worrying about what anyone else thinks. Painting in public has always made me uneasy, thinking I am on display and need to be brilliant. On a long Amtrak trip, I pulled out my journal, watercolor pencils, watercolor set and a little koi paintbrush. The brush has a well that you can fill with water and squeeze, which makes a water jar unnecessary, and is idea for travel. I put in my earbuds, cranked up the music and painted away, ignoring my seatmate and other passengers. Here's the journal page that I made:

Abstract swirls and thoughts on a journal spread done while traveling.
Back in highschoool, I knew I loved art but didn't know who I was as an artist. I was experimenting with drawing fashion figures, painting and sketching interesting old homes, and trying to find the right box to fit in. My art teacher looked as some things in my sketchbook and pointed me to some freeflowing, swirly designs and said: "this is what is really special, unique to you." My doodle, my swirls, my musings and random thoughts are now part of my "toolkit" and what I incorporate into a lot of my work.

The journal pages were started on a recent Amtrak trip, and finished at home, with several layers of writing, paint, gesso, watercolor and markers.
It is still hard to squash that inner critic, easy to compare myself to other people, well-known people. Easy to feel discouraged. I remind myself often that art is more about the process than the product. I think of my long-ago professor's words and say my art mantra to myself: "It doesn't matter WHAT you paint, it matters THAT you paint."

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