Do the Best You Can with What You’ve Got

Monday morning last week was not the best of mornings. It started off all right, but then I came down to the studio. I eagerly opened my browser and headed here to the blog. It’s a fun part of my day – checking comments, seeing that my daily post has published, and glancing at my stats. It still amazes me to see how many readers from all parts of the world visit Artistcoveries each day. Thank you so much!

On Monday morning, however, my browser went nowhere. I tried several times and finally realized that I had no internet connection. I rebooted the computer. I restarted the router. Nope. While I was connected to the network, the network showed no internet access available.

Using mobile data on my smart phone I was able to get online, log in to WordPress, and reply to a few comments. As for attempting to write a post… no, not on my phone. That could wait until my internet access was back.

So, I busied myself with art projects that didn’t require online access. I did my daily watercolor warm-up but it wasn’t easy. Nothing was easy. The studio is currently undergoing renovations – yes, already – and my husband has moved everything out while he paints the walls. And, let’s be honest, that could take a while. He means well, but he’s got a lot of things he’s working on, so painting my studio is mostly going to happen only on those days when it’s raining and he can’t work outside. In other words, it’s going to be a real mess for who knows how long.

I can live with it. I look at the mess, then shrug and go on, determined to do the best I can with what I’ve got.

After practicing graded watercolor washes, I moved on to my 100-day project. As you know if you’ve been following along lately, I have a sort of ambivalent relationship with Aubrey Phillips and his watercolor paintings. Maybe it’s not quite a love/hate relationship, but my feelings about his art are always a bit hesitant and uncertain.

My project that day involved “Stormy Evening”, another of his watercolor paintings, one that I happen to like. I like the drama of it. I like the colors in his palette. I like the roughness and ruggedness of the waves crashing against the rocks.

Preliminary Study by Aubrey Phillips (2)
I’m unable to get a photo of “Evening Storm” by Aubrey Phillips, but this is a photo of his “preliminary study” for the work.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you might remember similar scenes I’ve painted in the past. And yes, summer is approaching, and I’m already gearing up mentally for my annual re-reading of Treasure Island. So, of course I like anything connected with sailing and the seas.

The first part of the project involved a quick value study. Phillips explains in the text of Watercolour Painting with Aubrey Phillips that it wasn’t possible to complete a painting en plein aire on a stormy night at the seashore. So, he, too, did the best he could with what he had. He spent a little time observing the scene, making notes not only of the masses/shapes but the colors, as well. He made note, too, of the sounds, the atmosphere, the mood. He then hurried back to his studio and made a charcoal sketch.

I wasn’t standing near the rocks with him watching the sea rolling in to the shore. I couldn’t hear the waves crashing against the rocks, or feel the spray of the surf. I couldn’t sense that heaviness that so often precedes a storm or feel the ominous chill that must have been in the air.

Well, I’d just have to make-do, which is another way of saying that I’d have to do the best I could with what I had.

What I had in this instance was a photograph of a charcoal study printed in a book, and, of course, my own imagination. Like Phillips had done, I spent a little time observing the scene, paying attention to the shapes of those massive rocks, looking at the lights and darks in his study. Where he held all the information in his head until he returned to his studio, I didn’t have to rely on memory – thank goodness. I could make my own sketch by using his as a reference.

Off I went to gather up my charcoal drawing supplies.

Oh, dear. Where are my charcoal sticks? I can’t answer that question even now. They weren’t with my pastels. They weren’t with my usual drawing supplies. Maybe they’re put away in the supply cabinet and I’m just not seeing them. Maybe they’re… well, they have to be somewhere! The last time I recall using them was the day I visited Lord’s Park, so most likely they’re in one of my “go-bags” of art supplies. Not to worry. I just made a note to pick up a new set of charcoal drawing supplies. Meanwhile, I’d use my conte sticks. That would work just as well for my purposes, right?

I started with gray toned paper from Strathmore, working on a small 6-1/2 x 8-1/2 inch sheet. When I opened my little set of Conte a Paris crayons, I was shocked to discover that several were missing. The set doesn’t always close tightly; the others must have fallen out. Of course, the ones that had fallen out – or maybe I put them somewhere else – were the ones I use most often, the black, the gray, the white. These were the conte sticks I wanted to use for my “Stormy Evening” sketch.

Oh, well. Just do the best you can with what you’ve got. I took a deep breath and got to work on my sketch, using a dark brown, a russet, and a creamy yellow crayon. I was wanting to capture two things – shapes and values.

Conte Seascape Value Study (2)
Conte Value Study

I actually enjoyed the project. A lot. I took my time, studied the reference sketch, and paid attention to the various shapes I saw. Not just the big masses of rock, but the essential shapes formed by the reflections, the shapes created by the lights and darks of the scene. I had fun doing this somewhat unusual seascape sketch.

I learned about shapes and values, yes, but I learned another lesson, as well. It’s easy to make excuses, to think we must wait for a better time, wait until we have all the proper materials, wait until the moment is right. It’s very easy, but getting where we want to go isn’t about making things easy all the time. It’s about making do and making the best of what we’ve got. That’s how we truly make progress.


    1. Wait until you see the actual painting 🙂 I was quite pleased with how it came out. It’s scheduled for the blog — not sure which day. It’s probably my most successful watercolor so far. 🙂 I think having the value study to work with really helped. I kept it at my easel as I worked on the watercolor.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Good post!
    Interruptions happen in art, creation, life and internet.
    I think it takes patience to be fine with what one has, especially in this pandemic situation.
    Deliveries are also somewhat disrupted. I was waiting for paints for 5 weeks, finally got them, and I’ m really busy in the garden now.
    I personally never panic if there’ s no internet for a while. It eventually comes back.
    Good luck with your art projects!

    Liked by 1 person

I'd Love to Hear Your Thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s