Think about what happens when you set out to start a painting. What is your approach? Do you have an idea you want to express, something clever, political or something fun you thought of while doing something else? Are you trying to honor someone or something—a tradition, a time gone by, a loved one, or a place of beauty? What visual images and elements move you?
How do you start? And if your idea is proving difficult or unsatisfactory, how do you proceed? Are you frightened, just a little, of being wrong, of making a mistake, of putting down a mark that is awkward or just not what you intended? What if you prepare and be willing to be “wrong”–knowing that being wrong is completely subjective? Or better yet, what if you try to withhold judgment and just observe?
Painting is one of the few activities where right and wrong and good and bad matter little. Awareness, connection, authenticity, curiosity, imagination and letting go of expectations are all FAR MORE IMPORTANT! Let’s say you draw a tree that you intended to look like a mighty oak, or the tree that held Newton’s apple, or something you saw a young Polynesian climb to retrieve a coconut and instead of any of those, it looks like a lollipop. What do you do? The first likely impulse is to feel embarrassed. And one of the things I see people do so often is repeat the same moves, pressing harder with more paint making the “flaws” bolder, then giving up in disgust.
What if instead of self-flagellation you just get really curious? What if you observe your marks and your shapes and ask questions about them? Ask questions about why—why does it look like a lollipop? why doesn’t it have the power of an oak? and how does the color, the quality of line the brush work, etc. effect what you are seeing? And what can be done differently? Don’t answer your questions at first, just look and ask.
Imagine. Instead of trying harder you try something different, even very different. Ask yourself about possibilities. If your skillset isn’t quite there yet to make something look like what you want it to, what else can you do? Can you simply stay curious about options rather than “fixing”?
There is a time for judgement and fixing. But it isn’t early and it isn’t often. That’s one reason we do exercises that take control out of your hands. By following unexpected, even startling strategies, you are forced to let go. And in turn, possibilities arise.
A reminder of some things to try– glazing, working on the piece upside down, working with your non-dominant hand, etc. Imagine repeating your lollipop tree until you have a forest of them. Take a tool and scrape the paint over the page. Maybe you end up with a mess—or maybe not. Maybe you’ve discovered shapes and color that remind you of something else and your idea changes entirely. Or maybe you just end up with a thick layer of mixed color that looks like not much and then you use a tool to carve a tree/ trees into the fresh slab of paint. Then ask how you can connect to that new concept. What other things can you add to this list to change a piece of paper or canvas—collage; sanding; scrubbing, dripping, spraying, etc. etc.?
Be like Picasso who said: “I do not seek; I find”. Be willing to just “do” until you “find” a way.
(He also said: “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” Which is why we bother in the first place. And this: “To draw you must close your eyes and sing.”)