Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Day after Stopping by Fields to Draw, part 1

It is now a little over a week since the day I wrote "Stopping by Fields on a Sunny Morning," and I've been meaning to write what happened next. That is, what happened the next morning.

Inspired and energized by sitting in the sunny field drawing two very quick sketches (that really don't even look like much), I was determined to go out the next morning to paint. Honestly, I'd been thinking of doing this for several days if not weeks, but just hadn't really pulled myself together to do it. Partly, I am guessing and confessing, because of a subtle undertow that had kept me from painting outdoors since the fall of 2008--something that might sound silly and insignificant, except for the fact that it really did keep me (or became an excuse I used to keep me) from doing something that I had really loved doing from April to October of that year.

I am almost embarrassed to admit this--and only do so because perhaps my being honest will help someone else not to get so stuck or caught in a similar way--but I put the brakes on painting outdoors largely because I had had the brilliant idea of showing my outdoor paintings to a noted landscape painter whose work I admired, and he wasn't exactly highly complimentary. He did say some positive things about my sense of color, eventually, after having spent quite a bit of time critiquing (or was it criticizing?) my totally favorite painting, the one dearest to my heart that I dared to put out there first, and then showing me images on his laptop of famous artists' work to illustrate what he was trying to say. I really couldn't hear anything positive after the not so good stuff he had said up front.

And did I mention that I paid, and paid good money, for this privilege? Oh well. (I had recognized, and David had asked me about, the potential for investing too much authority in this guy, not trusting my own felt sense of delight and vitality and passion for painting as guide enough for my work at that time. What did I expect of myself, anyway? I had squeezed oil paint from a tube for the first time in my life only eight months before! )

Because it was November, when the weather in Maine is rather cold for painting outdoors, I probably would have taken a winter break anyway. At least that was my "cover" for the month going on two, even three months, in which I refrained not only from painting outside but even from painting at all, other than showing up for the last few sessions of a class I was taking at the time. After which I cleaned up my brushes and shut down, not with any sort of conscious decision to stop (how could I possibly have explained that?). I just stopped painting and told myself, if I told myself anything at all, that I was taking a break.

Perhaps this didn't sound so strange, especially given that there were Thanksgiving and Christmas to attend to, and one thing and another, and soon January became February. But given that the undeniable high water mark of the previous seven months had been my falling in love with oil paint and my subsequent steady yet passionate devotion to painting outdoors, simply to stop really was rather odd and highly questionable behavior. An outsider looking in might easily have smelled a rat; I was a little too close to the matter to observe or think about it with clear eyes.

All of which is to say that it was no small matter that stopping by fields on a sunny morning finally provided sufficient fuel to get me outside to paint the next morning. And in the process of getting ready to head out, I remembered just how much work it really takes to do just that: all the steps and pieces that are essential to being able to paint somewhere (paints, solvent, brushes, a surface to paint on, rags, a palette knife), plus others that might not be essential but assist greatly, like an easel, a hat, sunscreen, bug stuff, water, a snack, and a car. And then there's deciding where to go to paint and hoping that the conditions are interesting enough to get your creative juices flowing.

So before I even left the house, I was marveling that I had done this very thing so many times two summers ago (many times I simply painted what I could see in my own back yard, or in our neighborhood). And I was appreciating all the devoted outdoor ("plein air") painters I know who do this on a regular basis. It is no small commitment.


meredithjordan said...

For me, it is harder to commit to my own pleasure in the act of creating something beautiful than to any other person or obligation in my life. I do it, as much as I can anyway, because it too is a spiritual discipline: this coming to the table as the whole-hearted, excited, joyful person I am when creating (even if no one else appreciates the beauty of what I've made). This puritan ethic of no-enjoyment, or not too much for too long, is a stickler! Banish the thought...

Sukie Curtis said...

Meredith, I recognize that same pattern in myself--finding it harder to commit to (and believe in the value of) my own pleasure in creating something beautiful than to another person or obligation. It raises the question (still a live one) of the value of beauty, art, etc. Or the "usefulness" of art and beauty. If they heal, cheer, soothe, offer solace or joy, are they not of great value and even usefulness?

I too believe it is a spiritual practice/discipline to create (and to be open to joy!).

And the painting that I loved (and still love), which was not so well-received by the "art authority", I loved not only because of the way it looks but especially because of the pure exhilarating delight I had experienced in painting it. A sustained (45 minutes? more?) experience of allowing a creative force to move through me--myself as conduit and "translator" if you will of a joyous exaltation at the light dancing in the trees. And I knew when I was done that I was done. No second guessing.

In fact I loved the painting so much that as I drove to meet the art authority--feeling rather scared--I had that painting on the passenger seat where I could see it. And from time to time I looked at it and said out loud, "I will always love you!"

It may not be technically the best painting I've ever done, but that matters very little.

It both astounds me and saddens me that I essentially abandoned myself and my own experience of the painting for the opinion of another person. Though not entirely and not permanently.

YET said...

I'm glad you stopped by the fields on a sunny morning and that by doing so it led you through the thought processes you've described and that you went back out to paint. To me, what you described is like falling off the horse and getting back on -- stronger, with more strength and determination.

I have master procrastinator tendencies & also have listened too much to my harsh inner critic. One of my favorite maxims to counteract the 'but firsts' and the self-criticisms is "Go Anyhow. Just Do It! It's not the destination, it's the journey...."

I've done a lot of terrible paintings but memories from each and every one as well as the journey itself, all wonderful.

Thanks for your honest and inspirational post and Happy Plein Air Painting to you!