Robin Hood’s Barn

My dear father-in-law had a saying about occasions when it seemed that a person was taking too much time to get somewhere or had deliberately made the trip longer than necessary or just seemed to be lost on the way or was telling some convoluted and long-winded story.

“That fellow went all the way around Robin Hood’s barn to get there.”

The phrase came to me again today as I thought about my progress as an artist.  Or anybody’s progress as an artist – or a writer, dancer, actor, musician, anything that requires some creativity and imagination to find the place where one feels – I don’t know – a spiritual connection with one’s work.

That sounds pretty high-and-mighty, I know, and I’m not given to using such words easily, but let’s face it – if the spirit ain’t in it, it ain’t nuthin’.  (I didn’t steal that from anybody.  I just made it up.)

You can use your own definition of “spirit.” There are plenty to choose from or you, too, can make up one you like.  But I think anybody who’s serious about the work will get what I’m trying to say.

When it comes to creativity, spirit can be elusive.  I knew I was headed this direction when I realized after several moves that the two things I always packed first were my books and my art supplies.  Art supplies I hadn’t used in years but could not bear to leave behind.  Then I made a move and left most of my books behind, but not the art supplies.  That was the clincher for me.  I hadn’t found the spirit yet, but I knew there was joy in just being with those brushes and paints and pieces for collage.  And when it came to living in my little studio apartment where space was beyond limited, I chose art instead of books/writing.  Truth to tell, I chose art over just about everything but my bed!

Spirit watches and waits for our commitment.

I’ve been painting a lot of things over the past year and a half that I found satisfying and that other people liked, too.  I’ve sold some pieces, but I knew I was not there yet; I was out of the fledgling nest, but still flying like Bob Dylan’s rolling stone, “no direction known.”

A couple of weeks ago I ran onto a Dutch abstract painter on the web, a painter and a jazz saxophonist as well.  I watched and listened and especially paid attention to Jan van Oort’s lesson about painting tools for abstract art.  Something resonated.  Then I set my brushes aside and went to the art supply store and the hardware store where I picked up all kinds of things.  For me, the tools were the key.

Not only do I love hardware stores, but I also now love the freedom to do what spirit has been calling me to do all along:  Be brave, be bold, have fun, take risks, speak your own piece.  Listen to the music.  Color is an animal that not only wags its own tail, but also sings its own song.

I may have been around Robin Hood’s barn, but I made it home.

Here are the first results.  All 20 x 24.

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It Tastes Like Ingredients

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Yesterday I finally had to admit that “messing around” can sometimes just lead to a mess.

The new painting I so happily worked on last week and over the weekend became, finally, something I did not love. I was happy with the colors and the balance and the design.  But something was wrong that no amount of tweaking seemed to fix.  I’d added some pastel touches and liked the affect until I didn’t.  The more I looked at it, the more I knew I’d gone too far in one direction or another.

I was reminded of a friend’s effort years ago to make his own beer.  When he had a gathering to give us all samples, one of the others said hesitantly, “It’s not bad, but it tastes like – ingredients.”

The painting looked like ingredients.

Like every artist I know, I’m still learning.  This week I learned that messing around can lead to something new and rewarding, but can also just result in a mess.  I also learned that making a mess of a painting when you were hoping for something beautiful is part of the course.  (And, yes, what you learned will be on the final exam.)

In the old days, when writers messed up a piece of writing, they yanked the paper out of the typewriter, crumpled it up and tossed it in the wastebasket or – more  often – on the floor.

I can’t crumple up an 18 x 24 canvas and toss it on the floor, but I can grab the gesso.  Which I did.  Today I’m starting over, lessons learned, with a brave and happy heart eager to try again.

As the I Ching says, “No blame.”

 

 

A Small Jump and then a Big Leap

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A couple of weeks ago I made a small jump, which I’ll just call a segue, from my Frank Lloyd Wright series.

I used essentially the same format – vertical colors with the circle near the bottom – but this time I had no reference in mind for the colors and I ditched the horizontal panel on which the circle rested in the previous paintings.

As usual, I had a vague image in my head – colors I thought would work – and also as usual, I ended up with something quite different.  I’ve fallen for Golden’s Azurite Hue and have been using it a lot.  This time, it’s definitely the leader of the color pack.

See above. So much for the small jump.

The big leap happened today and is still a work in progress.  I’m still attracted to the vertical and the circle, but I went a few steps farther. I began with the vertical colors, then realized I was working with colors that didn’t feel like me. I had wandered away from the blues and lighter shades and found myself in an uncomfortable place with an 18 x 24 “something” I didn’t quite know what to do with.

I’m beginning to recognize this sense of discomfort.  In other parts of my life, I seek as little discomfort as possible. I want a comfy bed and not a plank on the floor.  I want a tasty meal and not porridge.  I want shelter from the storm and not holes in the roof on a rainy day.

But when it comes to the painting, I’m getting it. In fact, this is how the Frank Lloyd Wright series began.

I’m learning that the discomfort, the unfamiliarity is likely leading me to something worth doing.  So today, I pulled out the pastels and began to draw on the vertical acrylic colors.  Drawing has not been part of this so far. Today it is.  Swooping curves to pull in that circle shape I like so much.  And then I started messing. Messing with glazes and other colors and ideas.  If someone had walked in and asked me what I was doing, I would have had to shrug my shoulders and give them what a friend calls my pirate smile.  He describes it as kind of goofy but also kind of “I don’t know.”

There’s a quote from my favorite book about writing that goes like this:

“If we suppress our wackiness we’ll seal off the source of some of our most truing impulses. Our potential will dwindle. We’ll no longer feel the sweet daze and speed of the push of it…We’ll move only in straight, strait lines, turning only at right angles or in rigidly measured departures from them. No use to tell ourselves then that we are conservative, for we save nothing; or that we believe in classicism, if we don’t enliven its continuation. We’ll be conceitedly atrophic.” –David Greenhood, The Writer on his own

I’ll let you know next time how things turned out.  But I know for sure I like being wacky a lot more than atrophic.