Today has been a somewhat frustrating day as far as my art goes. Nothing has really worked out quite the way I’d hoped. It’s my fault in many ways.
To begin, my mind — and my peace of mind — is invested in drawing, not painting, so my choice to work with my oils this morning was probably not a good idea. I made matters worse by attempting a painting that was a bit beyond my skill level. I like pushing myself from time to time. I think it’s an important aspect of my growth as an artist. But maybe today wasn’t the right time.
The scene I chose for my inspiration was one of a young girl with a broad-brimmed white hat. She’s sitting somewhere — a grassy field, a sandy beach — but the background is hazy and indistinct. That suited my purposes. I wanted to concentrate on the girl.
I’ve done a girl on the beach before in watercolor. California Girl is a portrait of my daughter, Elisabeth, from a photo taken soon after she and her husband moved to San Diego.
I wanted — intended — to do something similar in oil. In fact, I wanted — intended — to be very intentional, to think about what I was painting and how I could best accomplish the tasks involved.
Let’s just say I made some wrong decisions from the start.
After a time, I realized that what I was doing and where I was going simply wasn’t working for me. It was one of those discouraging moments when I had to stop and ask myself “What’s the point in trying to paint?”
I countered that with a quick reassurance that learning what not to do is a necessary step, but I didn’t find much consolation in those words. I seemed to have learned a lot of methods that don’t work. I’m still searching for ones that do.
I played around with the canvas a bit more. I was basically trying to create a background so I couldn’t really go too far wrong, could I? I thought I could turn the time into something constructive by using it to practice. I grabbed a few different brushes, a few different colors, and I tried out a few different brush strokes.
Soon, I became frustrated again. That same nagging question returned. Seriously, what’s the point in painting when I really have no clue what I’m doing or how I’m supposed to be doing it?
Through the process, though, I was noticing one thing — a consistent flaw in my painting techniques. Whether I’m painting with oil-based paints or my new water-soluble oils, I tend to get my paints too thin. Splotches of canvas show through. If I don’t thin my paints — a lot — I find it hard to apply them. My brushstrokes get too thick, too heavy.
I spent a little time practicing with thicker paints, scumbling in a blue background for my girl on the beach project. It’s never going to be a work of art, but I do want to finish it just for the practice of painting a person.
At this point, I called it quits, then looked at my oil paints. Earlier in the morning, I’d read about creating accidental masterpieces. This is part of the guidance in Awakening Your Creative Soul. It comes from keeping a canvas close at hand and using it for left-over paints. I’m always frustrated when I come to the end of a painting session and still have lovely daubs of paint on my palette. Yes, I’ve tried saving them. It hasn’t worked well for me.
So, I loved the idea of simply using that left-over paint on a canvas that has no plan or purpose. Except that I did give myself a purpose. Once I started putting paint on — in a random, haphazard, accidental way — I still saw all those splotches of white canvas shining through.
“Just cover the canvas!” I instructed myself. Actually, I think it was more like “Just cover the stupid canvas!” or something similar. You get the point. I was going to do whatever it took to get rid of the white canvas peeking through.
I actually like the result:
It’s nothing. That’s fine. I like it. I like what I learned from it, too. Not only did I find a way to cover the canvas, I realized how much fun I was having in doing it. I love using this particular brush, putting different colors on it and poking here and there. I love making twisting, turning, rolling brush marks.
As I had fun playing with this “intentionally accidental” painting, I thought again about style in painting. A huge part of our personal style in art has to come from doing what we enjoy. I know that I will be working with these scumbling techniques more and more.
Of course, I want to learn — and become proficient in — more painting techniques. All the same, it’s good to feel I have a technique that is in some way mine, a technique I can use to good advantage, and most of all a technique I can enjoy.
What it means for me as an artist is that I’ll be making thicker, more textured brush strokes, I’ll find more ways to apply scumbling techniques, and with each painting I think I will see more of my true style emerge.
More than ever before, art is becoming a quest for authenticity for me, an opportunity to be myself, and to share my view of the world with others. Sometimes it might be intentional, but sometimes it’s going to be purely accidental. That’s all right.