Through my recent “art therapy” — my own personal experience at healing my hurt inner child artist — I discovered a lot of defense mechanisms, little tricks I’ve devised over the years to keep that hurt child protected. One of the strongest is the idea that “If I’m not really trying, the results don’t really count, right?” In other words, when I’m faced with an especially difficult task in art — a complex drawing, a detailed painting — I do it very half-heartedly. Even that would be a generous assessment. Less than half-heartedly. I make no attempt to complete the assignment because I know I would fail. Rather than face one more failure, it’s easier to shrug it off and say, “Well, I didn’t really try.”
This is an example of one such art assignment. It’s from my current 100-day oil painting adventure, in a chapter about painting the effects of weather. Here the idea was to show a rainy day, and specifically to learn how to paint the soft, rippling reflections on the pavement.
The scene was that of a young couple standing close together, staring off toward a distant skyline. A few buildings are slightly visible in the background. The man is holding a red umbrella — leading me to ask why it is that in painting, all umbrellas seem to be red except for those that are simply black.
I was supposed to draw this scene out, paint it, and then work on creating all those luscious reflections. I do love the reflections of a rainy day, but with one look at the young couple, the wrought iron railing, the distant skyline, I shrugged it off. This is not a scene I could draw easily. This is definitely not a scene I could paint. Never mind trying to get the reflections right! This assignment was far beyond my abilities.
Cue the defense mechanisms. Hear that inner voice saying, “Well, just put a few marks down. Do something but don’t worry about getting it right. Just grab a little paint and spend a couple minutes on it. That’s all you really need to do.”
So, yes, that’s what I did.
I started by roughly drawing in the figures, then struggled with that umbrella. I love rainy days, and I do love umbrellas — in all different colors — so why was it so hard to draw one? The ribs of my umbrella went in all different directions. It hardly looks like an umbrella at all — unless you use a lot of imagination.
The same holds true for the rest of the scene. I painted this very quickly on canvas paper with water-mixable oils that were thinned out. It’s not at all like the lovely image in Carolyn Lewis’s demo painting from Mood and Atmosphere in Oil Painting, but with a lot of imagination it is what it purports to be — a young couple standing under an umbrella, staring off into the distance through the rain. There are even watery reflections on the pavement, if you have enough imagination to see them.
Now, had I not told you what this scene is, would you have known? Would you have realized that you were looking at a red umbrella, a rainy day, and a young couple standing close together? I’m not sure.
Even so, I was pleased to see that — with imagination — I could tell what this painting was supposed to be, reflections and all. Maybe the next time I encounter a “rainy day scene” to paint, I’ll feel a little bit more comfortable, a little more willing to move past that old defense mechanism that shuts down any serious attempt before I can even begin. Or maybe not. Maybe I still need to guard that inner art child a little longer. As long as I can use my imagination, that might be all right.