I’m feeling a little discouraged this morning. It didn’t help at all that after my less-than-stellar results at the easel today, I followed a Facebook notification to one of our local art groups and saw this gorgeous painting of the Christmas tree at Union Station:
Tammie is one of the most talented artists in our Tri-County League. Her work leaves me speechless. Of course, it also leaves me feeling a bit disheartened. We should never compare our art to anyone else’s, and it’s not that I’m drawing comparisons here. It’s just that art comes so easily to Tammie. I’ve often said that “everything she touches turns to art.” I’ve said, too, that Tammie “doesn’t create art… she is art.”
For me, though, art will always be a struggle. It’s getting easier in some respects, and in other respects, it doesn’t matter so much anymore. I’m not striving for perfection. I’m mostly content to just do the best I can and let my art be whatever it is.
But then along comes a morning like this one. I settled into the studio eager to get started on today’s project — painting a simple cylinder in primary colors. In some ways, this painting project was similar to one I completed two years ago — to the day, in fact.
Here was that “pot” — the first element of what would become a simple “potted plant” still life:
At this stage, I had not yet painted any shadow, but all the same I was proud of this pot! It’s lopsided. I know this. But, all the same, it’s recognizable as a pot. You can see that it’s rounded, and I think you can see, too, that this cylindrical pot is hollow.
When I painted this pot two years ago, I happily sat there looking at it, smiling, and thinking, “I painted a pot, a real pot.” Today, I’m sitting here looking at another painted pot, but I’m not smiling. I’m thinking, “Well, from a distance maybe it’s not too awful…” And then I’m sighing, shaking my head, and wondering if I will ever truly be an oil painter.
Want to see today’s “Primary Pot”? Actually, this isn’t a “pot” but a solid cylinder, and I’m not happy with it.
In this exercise — unlike the “Potted Plant” painting — the wall and table were deliberately left unfinished. The assignment was more about (a) drawing on the canvas with paint, and (b) mixing shadow colors. I think I succeeded with the shadow colors. Maybe the shape of the shadow is a bit wonky, but — from a distance, at least — it’s slightly realistic.
I’m not sure how long it took me to complete this “unfinished” painting — it’s done on half of a 9″ x 12″ sheet of canvas paper — but after making the final strokes to add a bit of highlight to the left side, I turned away, feeling utterly exhausted. How could painting something so simple be so hard? Not only that, but look at the results. I put a lot of effort into this, and this was the best I could do.
That’s when I took a break, logged onto Facebook, and found Tammie’s gorgeous painting. Discouraging, yep. Disheartening, for sure. But, for me, this is what art is. It’s about learning what I can. It’s about doing my best. It’s about being who I am.
Today, who I am is a struggling artist who paints wonky-looking, lopsided pots and cylinders.
Sometimes I wonder how it would feel to be one of those artists who can draw or paint anything they see, easily and effortlessly. I think of how delightful it must be to have that sort of talent. It must be nice. I’ll never know.
Art will never be easy for me. I’ve had to work hard to get where I am today, and as you can see, even wonky, lopsided pots and cylinders are a challenge. So why do I persist? Especially, why push myself to learn more detailed techniques and more realistic styles when that’s not how I want to paint?
I do it because I want to learn, yes, even techniques I might not use. I want to know how to create details, how to accurately and realistically depict objects in a still life, how to draw cylinders, spheres, cones, and other shapes that aren’t wonky-looking, lopsided, and ready to topple over. I want to develop whatever skills I can.
So, I’ll pick up my paintbrush again, and I’ll move on to the next practice exercise — painting a sphere. It won’t be easy, but I’ll do my best.