At this point in my art journey, I’m all about learning. I think I’ve developed a few basic skills after three years of painting, so I’m eager to spend time practicing and improving those skills. I think I’m teachable now, that I have a solid foundation upon which I can build.
So it is that I spend most of my art time doing painting exercises. I’ve painted dozens of skies, tried out various brushstrokes, and practiced with the principles of light and shadow. I’ve played with still life painting. I’ve played with portraits. I’ve played with lines, colors, shapes, and forms.
As I finish my painting sessions each day, I see lots of practice pieces but nothing finished, nothing I can show to family or friends and say, “Here’s what I just painted.” And that’s all right.
But while I may not have a lot to show for my time, there’s one thing I always have at the end of my painting time. Left-over paints. Lots of left-over paints in lots of different colors.
I read once about an artist who simply scraped off all the left-over paint, put it all into a glass jar with a little medium, and used it whenever she needed a nice, neutral gray. I actually did that for a while, but since most of the time I managed to turn my entire canvases into not-so-nice, neutral shades of gray, it seemed a rather foolish idea.
Now, I’m finding something much more fun to do with my left-over paints. I use them for fanciful little scenes, like this spur-of-the-moment winter scene:
I haven’t yet decided if I want to put snow on all the trees. What do you think? I liked painting this little scene — totally unplanned. I just looked at the colors I had on my palette and thought about how lovely those violets would look as a morning sky. I used a big brush and bold strokes of gray and white to create a snowy foreground, then — the following day when I had more deep greens and blues — I painted in the trees.
I have another small canvas panel — a little 5 x 7 — that doesn’t know what it’s going to be. Here’s how it looked yesterday:
Oh, so dramatic! But then, this morning, it changed. It now looks like this:
And what will it look like tomorrow? Who knows.
What I do know is that messin’ around with left-over paints has become a lot of fun. As often as not I put on a bit of classic music while I paint, and I just make marks. It’s more opportunity for me to try different brushes or even play around with a palette knife.
The idea of just messin’ around came from a recent article I read about the importance of being messy in art. The article was referring to our sketchbooks, chiding us for that tendency we probably all have to think that our sketchbooks should always be neat and perfect. It’s the same for those who keep journals. You just don’t want to make any mistakes!
Well, make those mistakes! That’s what the article was all about, because art is a messy process. Any form of creativity gets messy. For me, making a mess with my paints each day is a little like keeping a painting sketchbook. It’s a fun place for me to doodle with my paints, to wonder aloud what might happen if I did this or tried that.
I do my practice painting each morning. I take it seriously and learn as much as I can. And then, I stop being serious, grab my left-over paints, and just mess around for a while. I probably learn even more when I do.