As I learn more about art and oil painting, I’m learning a lot of other things, too. I’m learning about the role our emotions play in art, both in how we respond to a painting we see, and in how we approach our own artwork.
In recent weeks, I’ve been practicing what I call intentional painting, which means having a plan, knowing what colors I will be using, and thinking about brushstrokes before I begin putting paint on canvas. My intentional paintings often become accidental paintings, however. Rarely do I come close to reaching my initial vision for a painting. More than once I’ve wiped away a morning’s worth of painting and then re-used the canvas to create an entirely different scene. So much for good intentions, I suppose.
Although thoughts, moods, emotions, and feelings may seem diametrically opposed to the concept of being intentional in art, I’m finding that these qualities do play an important part in my planning and in the activity of painting, as well.
More and more, I’m coming to understand the idea of painting from the heart. I think not only about what I intend to do, but also about what I want to express. I think about colors not only as elements of color theory — light, dark, warm, cool — but as portals to emotion, doors that open feelings for me, and maybe for a viewer, too.
Painting from the heart is a bit like meditation, and it presents one of the same challenges we face in meditation. If you’ve ever practiced meditation, you may be familiar with the experience… it’s a quiet moment when you suddenly realize it’s happening. You’ve reached that blissful state where your mind is still — and, of course, the moment you realize you’re in that state, you’re out of it once again. The very thought itself breaks the stillness in your mind.
So it is for me with painting from the heart. There’s a fine line between letting go and thinking about what I’m doing. I need to give thought to what I’m doing. Art doesn’t come naturally for me. Yet I also need to give voice to what I’m thinking and feeling as I paint.
Here is one recent painting where I tried to apply both concepts, rolling them together into the act of being intentional in what I want to express through my art.
This is a scene I’ve painted several times. I have yet to get it just right. Earlier this summer I wrote about the childhood memories my sister and I share from our summers on the farm. We visited the farm — where our great aunt and great uncle lived — each summer, and we have so very many memories. It’s in a small little place called Indian Grove, Missouri. If you try looking it up, you won’t find much. It’s far too small to be called a town, and it doesn’t even have a post-office. When we were growing up, Indian Grove had a small store and a farm supply store where farmers could purchase equipment, seed, and feed.
My sisters and I loved going to the little store. It was down a well-worn path which ran past one of the many ponds. Although you can’t see the water in my painting, the pond was there on the right, and my sisters and I walked this pathway to the store at least once each day.
The pathway isn’t right. It’s actually in the center of the grassy area, not at the edge. Try as I might — and I did try several times — I couldn’t get it right. Finally I just wiped it away again and settled for a small little path toward the left.
So, what emotions did I hope to express in this painting? What do I want a viewer to think or feel?
Defining my emotions for this painting was a tremendous challenge because of all the memories surrounding Indian Grove. In the late afternoons there’s a heaviness in the air. There’s sunlight and shadow. There’s a dusty feeling from the heat of the day. There’s also a sense of anticipation as the bull frogs begin to croak and the chickens come home to roost. The long day is nearly at an end, and the coolness of night will soon bring comfort and peace. It’s time to sit on the porch for a while before going inside, saying good-night, climbing up the stairs, and slipping into bed. The windows were always open at night to let the cool breezes in, and we’d fall asleep listening to the sound of those frogs croaking rubber boots, rubber boots… at least, that’s what our grandfather said they were saying.
But how can I get all of those emotions into a painting? If I were to sum it all up, the keyword, of course, would be nostalgia, but that doesn’t seem nearly enough. I just wanted to capture an impression of the summer days I spent in a place I loved. I truly painted this from my heart, and I hope a little of my love comes through on the canvas.