On Christmas Day, my husband and I drove to St. Joseph, Missouri to spend a little time with my sister. While he drove, I gazed out the window, loving the beautiful scenery passing by. Trees, trees, and more trees, all set against wintry skies. All were worthy of being painted.
And then we passed by a stand of not-so-lovely trees. These were old, broken-down trees, with rough edges and ragged limbs. Oh, how I wished we could have stopped so that I could get a photograph. I wanted to remember those trees and put them into a painting.
So much of the time we paint beauty, and winter can be beautiful, indeed. But winter is also harsh, bitter, and cruel. I knew that if I ever painted those trees, I would call the scene Wretched Winter.
Yesterday I did paint a rather wretched winter scene, but it’s not the scene of those trees. It was painted from a photograph of a very lovely snowy landscape, and at one point, my painting looked quite lovely. At least, most of it did. But there were a few other parts I didn’t like, so I kept re-doing it, re-doing it, re-doing it, and yep, before long it was a horrible mess. That’s when I grabbed a rag and wiped it all off.
I ended up with a lovely gray canvas, so now I have a good idea of what colors I can mix to make gray, but it looked so sad. Where before it had been an almost good painting of a snowy hill overlooking a small, icy-covered stream, with trees in the distance, it was now nothing more than an ugly gray canvas.
“Why did I do that?” I asked myself, already regretting my hasty act. For me, the hardest lesson to learn when it comes to painting is that I shouldn’t wipe away my mistakes. I need to make those mistakes in order to learn, and even more, I need to keep those mistakes where I can see them — and then, hopefully, see myself moving beyond those mistakes.
Determined to have something to show for my efforts, I stopped caring about the end result and just started painting. I’m calling this one A Study in Gray, but it’s really a lesson about leaving well enough alone.
My initial painting wasn’t great, but neither was it awful. I shouldn’t have wiped it away. Now, instead of the soft blues and pinks and gentle browns of my original painting, I have only this sad-looking study in gray.
On a positive note, this painting did give me a chance to play with shadows a bit, so I feel like I made a little progress there. I played around, too, with brush strokes and varying thicknesses of paint. Overall, though, I’m disappointed in myself for letting my frustrations get to me — again. I’ve done it many times, and it’s a bad habit I want to break.
It’s all right to do bad paintings. I’ve only been oil painting for a couple of years, and I’m still struggling to learn basic techniques, still working my way through finding a process that suits me. I should expect bad paintings and not be upset when they happen.
And when those bad paintings do happen, I need to let them happen, but that’s a hard lesson for me to learn.