1. Get the Paint Down. 2. Fix It.

When I’m teaching writing, I follow the two rules I learned from Miss Fidditch years ago:  1. Get the words down.  2. Fix them.

As far as I’m concerned these are the only two rules for writers.  The “fixing” part is sometimes called editing and it comprises all the other “rules” we learned in school about grammar and spelling and syntax.  But the first, and most important thing, is to get the words down.  You can’t fix what you haven’t written.

Now that I’ve segued from writing to visual art, I find that Miss Fidditch’s rules work here, too.

In my last post, I included a photo of a recently finished piece that I titled First Blush.  I liked it, but over the next few days, I experienced a “felt difficulty.”  Something was wrong with the piece (with my inexperience, many things could be wrong!) but I didn’t know just what.

Now like a lot of writers, I wanted to think that my first effort was my best effort, and I know this is almost never true.  But I also know from experience that too much fiddling around with our creations can lead to one kind of mess or another.  Deleting an entire manuscript or grabbing the gesso for an unfortunate painting are both options, but neither really solve the problems.

So I put the painting back on my work table and looked.  I had the paint down and now it was time to fix it. One small area at a time, I was able to see a problem – a color, a texture, a shape – and to fix that problem.  The grammar and syntax of art are not unlike those of writing, and like revising the manuscript for a novel or a poem, it happens a bit at a time.

Revising a painting or a piece of writing is about exactly what the word revision means:  re-seeing.  Patience will be required.

In the end, the biggest and best thing happened when I played with the orientation of the painting.  I had fun turning it this way and that until I could see quite clearly that its best face was not vertical, but horizontal.  The image – and its new title – came to me then in a flash.  (No pun intended.)

Here’s are the two versions.  See what you think.


First Blush


City of Strangers, World War III, Day 2


Following the Headlights


First Blush
Acrylic, 16 x 20 on canvas

In the gardening world, there’s a phenomenon known as “second flush.”  This has nothing to do with anything that happens in the bathroom, but involves a second round of blooms on flowers, shrubs and trees.

I thought of this today as I considered the paintings that surround me and are encroaching farther and farther into the limited space of my little apartment.

I’m not a kid.  I have grandchildren your age.  I have a couple of careers under my belt and a few additional “odd jobs” under there as well.  Painting is perhaps the last dance for this old dame, but painting it is, along with a sprinkle of teaching.

In order to think more fully about beginning an art career this late in life, I went to trusty Google to learn more about late starts.  What I found was not the least bit encouraging because the articles about artists – or anybody else – starting “late” focused on individuals ranging from 28 to 40 years.

I’m so far out of that ballpark, I can’t see home plate.

So I Googled “starting after 70.”  My search yielded nothing but information about Social Security and when to start drawing on my IRA (if I had one) and topics more medically inclined.

I’m reminded of Tom Lehrer’s great line from one of his comedy albums:  “It is a sobering thought that when Mozart was my age, he’d been dead for two years.”  I can only imagine how many great artists were long dead by the time they were my age.

From my view, it’s never too late to start painting or anything else you’re passionate about.  I don’t subscribe to the “do what you love and the money will follow” line of thinking, although money is a terrific fringe benefit.  It’s the “follow your bliss” line that appeals to me more.

The painters before me followed their bliss.  Theirs is not my bliss.  But I’m grateful they led the way.  I don’t expect to see my work in big, expensive books of art or museums, but that’s okay.

Painting now is a gift to myself.  Think about the gifts you can give yourself.  We deserve them at any age.

Writer E.L. Doctorow once wrote:  “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night: you can never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

I know about writing novels.  Now, I’m following the headlights with my painting.



The Right Color and the Almost Right Color

Mark Twain once wrote that the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.

This week I had an artist’s equivalent dilemma.

Working on a new painting, I had come to a place where much of it was pleasing to me, but for one remaining large section I knew just the color I wanted.  You’d laugh to see the number of tubes of paint I have in every color of the rainbow.  And I laughed at myself, too.

How, out of all those tubes of paint, could I not have – or mix – the color I wanted?

But paint colors, like words, are specific.  The chemistry of paint is a fascinating subject and variations among different manufacturers are equally fascinating.

I often experiment with the paintings and try out combinations that work or don’t, that please me or don’t and then get busy layering on something different until I’m satisfied and stop.

In this case, however, there was no experimenting to be done.  In my mind’s eye, I knew exactly the color I wanted and why – how it would balance the rest of the work and why I could not just mix up a batch of the “almost right color.”

The particular color I had in mind is Golden’s Azurite Hue, which has some magical quality that a paint chemist could explain.  I’m not that paint chemist.   I use this color often, sometimes full-strength, but in this case I wanted it as a glaze over underpainting that I didn’t want to cover.  And the tube had run dry.

So, I put aside all ideas of mixing and took myself to my favorite art supply store, Artist’s and Craftsman in San Diego, to pick up a new tube of Azurite Hue.

The almost right word is never as satisfying – or as accurate – as the right word.  And neither is the almost right paint color.

Here’s the finished, so far untitled, piece with two coats of Azurite Hue glaze on the left.  Once in a while the mind’s eye and reality match up rather nicely.