What’s Next?

studio wallAfter a dearth of studio time for the past year, this week I dove in. Paint– sumptuous, full of promise, easily jumped onto the canvas. What a feeling! Although I knew that the-ease-of-doing would be short-lived, I relished every minute and chose not to doubt. Canvas, paper, board, some fresh, some with prior attempts, offered places in which to wander.

Whenever a painting starts to look good and starts to mean something it’s easy to get too careful. Signs of discovery are replaced by marks that are not energized and searching, but cloying and timid. Uncertainty takes the place of intention. Not good.

So what’s next? Let me confirm, there is no easy formula. The closest I can come to describe reliable next steps would be to say that it’s about creating a mental, emotional and physical environment for creativity to grow. And then take time to look.

On this particular day I have five paintings in various stages of completion. One is from an underpaintng that has been used for everything from a demonstration to a door mat. It is the next big one to tackle. There is some good mark-making in it, some fine painting “accidents” and pretty decent form over all. It reminds me of walking in the swamps in South Carolina, a lacy, draping density allowing beads light to bounce over congealed water. Sun rays peak through low-hanging moss. At least that’s what I see in this black and pink mélange. A landscape of contrasts. I’m intrigued, but not enough to pick up a brush.

Then there is a piece that came from two sessions (months apart) of laying-in a structure of lights and darks. The palette in each pass was completely different inspired by different landscape photos. Within an hour of beginning magic occurred–no idea how it happened. A painting appeared. I didn’t/don’t totally trust it. But I think I’ve finally learned to be patient and let them sit a while before over-reacting. It’s too easy to kill the spark. It’s close, but not quite there. A honed eye will most likely inform the next move—eventually.

There is another work on paper that is representative of struggle and gnashing of teeth–scratched, rubbed, scrubbed, gold leafed–nothing but doubt on that piece. But somehow I love the random way it’s become organized and how my frustration has turned into boats and a storm. I love this painting. But it isn’t right yet and I keep looking at it out of the corner of my eye–mentally cropping, imagining color shifts–nothing for sure yet.

I have a small one-foot square canvas that has been the recipient of leftover paint randomly placed on the surface over months. A studio mate came in and complimented. Enough to get me to ponder. I get it? Maybe. But am I fooling myself? I didn’t really pay attention to it. Is that it’s only fault? Does it matter, such a small thing? If an artist like Angelina likes it, is that enough? So I watch that one with the other eye.

Then there is a small scrap of paper that was left in the classroom. It started as someone’s first attempt at figure drawing. Very tentative minimal contour lines of the standing model were left on a long, gray rectangle. I turned it horizontally and filled in each area of negative space with a random light. It started the week we began cleaning out the stacks so it went up on the wall for anyone to mark in it. Week two of that process I blithely scribbled charcoal on it in rhythm to the music and eventually turned it back to a vertical. Shawn walked by toward the end of class and gave it some much-needed red that was left on her palette. I began to see something in it. Wasn’t sure what, but I put it in my studio. After staring at it for a while it began to remind me of photos of Scotland daughter Kate took on a hike when she got engaged. With cell phone hanging on the wall (bad practice) I began to render that scene. I like it this one.

Mid-week and one day thus far was just for looking. Seriously. Lights on. Lights off. Hours. Not sitting and just staring, maybe a little clean-up or answering an email, writing this post, glancing at Facebook, all the while trying to catch the paintings by surprise to see if they will give me a clue as to what they need– annihilation or coaxing? A flourish or a bath?

I can’t wait to get into the studio today, turn on the music, light a candle or two, make some tea. Perhaps if I sneak up on them they will reveal a path. If not, I’ll look to other artists for their directions to borrow. I’ll read some poetry.  Daydream. Eventually, and this is the important part, I will commit to have some faith in what comes next and just wait.


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