July 13, 2019

before spritz
Backyard flower meadow (no spritz), July 8, 2019 (Inktense and watercolor pencil on watercolor paper, 6 x 8 inches)
after spritz
Backyard flower meadow (with spritz), July 8, 2019 (Inktense and watercolor pencil on watercolor paper, 6 x 8 inches)

Last week I attempted to paint this amazing display of flowers in the backyard using my “just add water” technique. If you read that July 6, 2019 post you might remember that I said it was a total disaster and threw it away. Thankfully, I was distracted from that epic artistic failure with the sighting of the first ripe tomato of 2019. (It takes so little to launch my attention into another seemingly random direction.)

But I didn’t give up on my backyard flowers. Here they are! I thought of not painting this right away, waiting longer as I was still a bit concerned I would blow it again. But as the warm summer temperatures begin to climb here in SoCal, I knew it was now or never. Those bright balls of color are going to get crispy quickly. The first image you see is what the color sketch looked like before adding water. I normally wouldn’t reveal something I am working on in it’s “ugly” stage, but took the picture anyway. What is the “ugly” stage? It’s when you’re adding the bones of a piece and it doesn’t look like anything. Of course such a notion is truly up to the artist and rather subjective. However, it has been my experience that all the art I create goes through a kind of “ugly” stage and I know I need to hang onto my final vision and work past it. Or, I need to trust that it’s not going as planned and I want to see where the color and design lead me. A really good example of this stage for me is when I paint with oils. The “ugliness” begins when I first put in large areas of the under colors, or non-colors. At that stage my landscape looks pretty crazy—with the sky in bright shades of lavender and/or the rolling hills a kind of a red or even ochre. And this “ugly” stage hangs around on my easel for a few days as I like to wait for the pigment to set before I add the over colors. This approach is very different from Van Gogh’s later landscapes done in oil. He sat right there in the weeds and slapped on the paint, not waiting for anything to dry. I sometimes wonder if we were looking for a similar effect with his colors layered side by side, and my non-colors peaking through the top coat. Either way, your eye mixes the side by side or upper and lower colors, and the desired affect is achieved. As I have said in the past, I would never compare his skill with mine, but I have always liked looking to the masters, attempting to understand and use certain techniques.

For this one, I had a clear vision of the finished art and took a chance that it would turn out all right. Needless to say, I am happy with this one and it was not tossed into the recycling.  For my previous “just add water” pieces (2/23/19, 4/13/19, 5/25/19, 6/9/19, 6/22/19) I used a spray bottle that was a bit of a blobby gusher when I squeezed the trigger. For this one, I remembered that I had a small atomizer. I’m glad I still have it because it emits a much finer spray. I had bought it for my son and he used it for his trombone. (Don’t really remember what he used it for, but I do recall his trombone teacher being adamant about the size and type of bottle. He even told me where I could purchase it.) I really like the relative control I have over the amount of water that I can layer on. It’s almost like using airbrush, but unlike airbrush the spray of water goes on in spurts, rather than an even flow. I like that I could get the soft pink and yellow “afterglow” effect with a single plunge, compared to a wetter application in the darker blue areas.

It seems to me there could be a couple themes for this week’s art and story. First, it’s important to never give up. And second, and probably more important, it’s key to actually start a story or piece of art, and not wait for some kind of inspiration. I have never really believed in writer’s or painter’s block. At some point you just need to start (an oxymoron?). Anyway, I am reminded of a couple times I have heard, or read, words of encouragement to keep going and to keep trying. Years ago I read the book Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. In it, she describes the process of writing and how some get bogged down with reasons not to write, but that such excuses were a waste of time and to just get on with it. I can’t find the book on my bookshelf right now. (Last week I said the same thing about another favorite writer/story teller, Garrison Keillor. For two weeks in a row now I have been relying on my memory of words written by favorite authors. I should definitely reread Bird by Bird and Lake Wobegon Days as soon as possible.) But getting back to Anne Lamott’s words of wisdom in Bird by Bird, I remember her saying that sometimes beginning writer’s want to first know how to get his or her work published. It seemed she was surprised by such interests and/or requests. She reminded them that the writing was the thing and you must do that without worrying about getting it published. She added that the wonderful feeling of being published was pretty fleeting. It was so funny to see in print her words that told the reader and/or writer to just get on with it and that she was OK with her books beginning with a “shitty” first draft.  In a way this reminds me of not being afraid of my art going through what I call an “ugly” phase. As artists maybe it’s just hard not to second guess what we are doing—like it isn’t right somehow, or I should have done it this way or that, or no one will understand what I am trying to say. I guess it’s hard not to second guess our decisions. 

There’s another nice example of “just getting on with it” and it comes from the first few minutes of the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun.” The opening scene is of a young writer in a bookstore thanking his mentor, Frances Mayes, for some advise she had given him. Of course I can’t remember it word for word, but it goes something like: “Don’t worry if you think all your ideas are bad ideas. Take one of your bad ideas and work on it.” Even if you are not an artist or writer, I think those are words to live by. I don’t think I can add anything more here, except to do the work and enjoy the flowers.

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