What it Feels like to be an Artist

When I paint I feel like anything is possible. Sometimes I focus on the smallest things, but there is an air of possibility in my mind. I love to be surprised. And while a lot of the process involves planning and following procedure, I love knowing I will surprise myself. Ultimately the process itself isn't cut and dry even though some pieces are. I load many colors on my brush to create striations using this method. It's fun, colorful and a little unpredictable. I use this same method whether I'm painting cliffs, hair, clouds. It's the same and I can use clouds to remind me how to paint hair. I realize this sounds 'out there' but if you were in the studio with me observing and playing on your own I'm positive it would make sense. It's a visual and kinesthetic thing - the feel of the paint and how stiff or wet it is when it goes on. 

I spend a lot of time assessing brushes - can they make my magic happen? It matters. Your favorite artists can't make beautiful work with plastic 'kids brushes.' Why should kids have to use them?  You can buy really inexpensive professional brushes.  I have brushes I spent $1 on that I've used for 10 years. Isn't that crazy? And brushes that were $20 that lasted less than a year. Some things can only come with experience.  Loading the brushes and getting that kinesthetic skill down is one of them. That's why when you try, it's only fair you play at it and enjoy your experience. If you value the end piece that's great. If not then let it go. There's power in that ability. Learning can be like spending time in a (metaphorical) sandbox. There's no need to judge.

I like to try new things - shiny object syndrome. I'm also delighted to hone in on my skills and keep them fresh by remembering to play - remembering not to let the work get so precious that the end product feels stiff. 

Smithsonian Experience

I was at the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery in July 2016. I nearly needed a bed to lay down on and go to sleep. It was such a dry tradition - and this is coming from someone who is obsessed with portraiture, intending to write an essay but I literally couldn't stay awake, the portraits were all executed the same. And then I walked into one room and across from me was a portrait that was alive - as in practically leaping off the canvas. When I looked closer I saw brush strokes that held fun surprises, little peaks of color and energy unlike the rest of the rooms I saw - and to be fair i just didn't have it in me to see them all. I was intrigued by that one painting, however. I learned it was a self-portrait made by the son of one of the merchants who was supposed to receive tea - except the Boston Tea Party had interrupted that shipment.  This young man, a very skilled portrait artist was frustrated - with his fellow portrait painters! They set such an ordinary standard that felt drab to him. He wanted to take his skill to the next level and he couldn't find a supportive community in the US.  He wanted to be part of a network of artists who all wanted to take painting to the next level. That was missing. Shortly after the Boston Tea Party he packed his bags, went to Europe - and we all suppose - lived happily ever after.  All they let you know at the Smithsonian was that they acquired his Self-Portrait and hung it as the focal point of one room. He was surrounded by the wealthy and the politicians and the rest of the portraits had plaques that focused on the subject - as far as I know that was the only one that highlighted the artist himself.   Valuable information to know. 

I've met many portrait painters who are bored out of their skulls, but they're paid well and have a waiting list. In short, they can't afford not to do portraiture so it has become their 9 to 5.  People who know them talk about how proud they are of their portrait success, even as they acknowledge they are unhappy in that work.  It's like bragging about  your Dr. friend who is being treated for depression. What gives with this?  I paint custom portraits and I set clear boundaries on how many I will do in a year. I need the balance of playing with different subjects and also painting characters where there is freedom to change the way they look - to play. That helps me not only do a better job and be more engaged when I am creating a custom portrait where discipline of likeness is paramount. It also keeps me enhancing all of my skills and enjoyment of painting. And keeping the final portrait feeling alive and 'jumping off the canvas' for you for generations to come.

What is it like for you to look at paintings and to create them  yourself? Please leave a comment telling your story.