Wednesday, November 5

Performance Anxiety

The blank page is not what it used to be.

As a child, I relished with exaggerated delight the delicious feel of cool, smooth blank paper at my finger tips. My fingernail-bitten fingers lingered on the surface, smoothing it slow-motion from the center out. It was beautiful. It was enormously energizing and existed only for me to draw on it. I believed that paper - no matter its source (cardstock, butcher, notebook, papa's business stationery, reverse sides of junk mail, etc.), was meant for me. The blankness of it was a personal invitation. It was a comfortable relationship. I hoarded stacks of blank paper of all types, and prized them for their destined potential. People knew this about me, and sometimes old ladies at church would bring me a box of old paper or yellowing packets of blank greeting cards. The quality of the paper was a non-issue; I had no concept of real art paper. I was easily satisfied.

Now everything is different. The blank paper is a specific make of hot-press watercolor paper, and still holds great appeal ~ yet my ability to respond to it has changed. I am lost and hesitating to the point of rejecting my lovely blank paper. It requires an exhausting reaching deep inside myself gently asking my self-confidence to please come out, if I don't mind . . .

I resent the effort. It is stupid. I feel stupid. I miss my younger self; mostly sweaty from galloping outside in my beloved acre California yard and breathless with anticipation of one of multiple daily drawings I would execute with fearless conviction and absolute confidence. It didn't matter that 99% of my subject matter was equine; variety was not important. Everything was about my freshly sharpened number 2 pencil ~ and the paper.

I am too impatient to do studies. I pencil, then I paint. This time, nervous about my brand new collection of amazing Daniel Smith watercolors ~ (a true milestone for me since the 30 year old pallet of student-grade watercolors has been retired) I forced myself to do a preliminary study. My goal was the Church-wide art competition. I think the theme was, "Remembering the Great Things of God". This is study # 1:

Two Chipping Sparrows, a Forget-me-not and some kind of frothy thing, Queen Anne's Lace I think. The snail shell was just for fun. The masking agent I tried was a colossal waste of time, and the birds turned out too fat; I made note of it.

Study # 2 resulted in a much more successful drawing, but when I attempted painting the stormy sky - disaster: (image darkened to make pencil visible)
Final piece: the grand juxtaposition of nature's glory in concert with classic evidence of man . . . (scanned in sections since the paper is too large)

I struggled with plausible proportions of Anasazi petroglyphs and the diminutive Chipping Sparrow. Having never seen either up close and certainly not together for comparison, this was tricky.
The nest, eggs and Hedgehog blooms were O.K., but the dry grass turned out to just be a mess. Much like the foreground before the foothills. This was not what was in my head. Oh well.
Globemallow hopelessly lost in a flat, one-dimensional world. Again, the grass mess ~ now coupled with a truly hideous, busy sunset. One saving grace however, is that today I saw real, live Chipping Sparrows on my walk with Ellie in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve! The down-side of this lucky observation is that they are much smaller than I have depicted. I need specimens like Audubon, but it's probably illegal.

After disciplining myself for the first time to actually complete 1 full study, a second partial study and then the final piece in a fit of constant self-talk and a frustrating middle-age vision handicap, I discovered it was all a melodramatic mistake. I missed the entry dead-line by remembering the wrong date. This merited a go-to-bed-in-the-middle-of-the-day moment.

Following an appropriate grieving period, next I explored heretofore untried subject matter. I added the mudcloth hanging on the wall, took out other people milling around in the background and exchanged the man in my reference photo for a woman in a print dress. I was forced to guess about the larger foreground continuation of the plastered wall to the right not shown here.
The colors did not scan true on any of these examples. They are much brighter in person. This last piece surprised me. The paint spread easily across the paper. It smelled good. It felt good. And, I finally felt a small sense of the 9 year old me transporting myself into what came off the end of my pencil, and of course, paint brush. I very badly want to take these 2 little boys home with me. But their pretend mom would miss them, I suppose.

Too bad.



I really appreciate this warming is very serious topic.

Cynthia said...

I have "go to bed in the middle of the day" moments once in a while. Glad I'm not the only one. I was hiking in the Phoenix mountain preserves the last couple of days too. I didn't see you. Maybe because there seem to be about 7,348 trail variations. Luckily they all loop together or I would get hopelessly lost.
You have an interesting perspective about childhood artistic expression. Why did it come so easily then and not as adults? Interesting thoughts.
Your studies are more finished paintings, they look frame-able to me. Sorry about the deadline issue. That stinks. I always love your artwork.

Kirk Hays said...

There all great of course and show an ability in 'studies' that most people can never hope to achieve no matter how much they 'study'. The last one is really great though, I love it.

Yaj said...

Those sparrows don't look too fat to me. They look just like those that come to feed on our deck. They love the finch food!

As to the question about childhood artistic expression --

Give a picture of a squirrel in a tree to 4 year olds and ask them to tell you what the picture is about. They will tell you the whole story - why it's there, what it's name is, where it's coming from and going to next - and on and on. You'll get the whole story.

Give the same picture to most 17 year olds and ask the same question. What do you get in response? "It's a stupid picture of a squirrel in a tree..." or some variation of same.

What happened between years 4 and 17? What happened to the child's natural, innate creativity? What got in the way of all that wonderful, creative thought?


And if you were doing watercolors like that as a child you were, are and will be genius!

No stoppo!

two forks said...

LOVE the last one. do you need me to send you some of my favorite mozambique pictures i have?

Tiffany said...

Hello! Thanks so much for your comments--great and wonderful ideas! I was wondering myself about having to re-sew larger sizes of everything. I'll have to see what I come up with. After the meager costumes we've had anything will be better!

I love all your paintings--always have!