Painting comes in waves


A hint for the next art project

I think I mentioned earlier that I’m simmering a new art project, one that will explore body image and self-presentation. I’m not ready to bring it out into the public yet, but if you’re a Facebook friend, you can read my note from April 10… and the figure drawings I did a month ago (like the one at right) give a hint about where I’m going and the kind of tone I want to strike. I envision this as a large project that I’ll be working on for a while and possibly traveling with, and it will certainly involve many other participants. The scope is much bigger than anything else I’ve done with my drawing or painting. I’m excited.

After my wake-up moment with my parents, I did a lot of thinking, and realized that as dedicated as I am to writing my family history, that project is not really a work of self-expression; it’s a labor of love and a gift to my family. It’s a gift I am honored to be able to give, but after articulating my personal creative commitments and starting to embody them through my IWL work, I’ve realized that it’s not a good idea — personally or philosophically — to start my creative career by working exclusively on a project that is for/about others. I don’t mean that I’m not going to work on the family history. I want to and I will. But imagine: if I spend three or five or ten years on that project, putting all my creative energy into telling others’ stories… even if it becomes a success, where does that leave me when it’s done? I’ll have a solid chunk of creative work under my belt, I might even become well-known for it, but I still won’t have expressed my own voice. In fact, it might even be necessary to submerge my own voice in the creation of the family history, so if I’m not actively using that voice on other projects at the same time, I may emerge from the family history without a strong sense of my own artist self (and with resentment toward my family for occupying years of my voice). So that’s what this other project is for.

African woman, cool

African woman, painted in cool skin tones

If this sounds like my old pattern of taking on too much, I understand your worry — but I assure you it feels different this time. Now that I know what my creative commitments are, now that I’m learning what feels most right to me as an artist, I am feeling strong and focused in my work. It’s really inspiring, actually. I have a clearer vision now of what I want to make, and that enables me to say no to everything that’s not that. And it’s much easier to get to work, too, because I know just where my practice is going; I have a much more concrete understanding, now, of the rewards of what I do in any given day. It’s the pivot piece that was lacking from my earlier goals!

African woman, warm

African woman, warm skin tones

And so, with my new project in mind, I’ve been doing some practice with portrait-painting and skin tones. I did an exercise from James Horton’s skin tones book, painting the same woman’s skin tone using warm primary colors (red, blue, yellow, and black) and then again using cool primaries (see above and right). I had been using a lot of earth tones for my previous skin-tone sketches, so it was a revelation to recognize that I can produce good skin tones with only the primaries. I made three portraits in two days and I think you can really see improvement (they’re chronologically placed in this post, top to bottom). Of course there’s still much to work on, but I’m looking forward to it!

Asian woman

Asian woman

Last night, after finishing on the portrait at left, I wrote on Facebook that I “cannot get enough painting this week.” I felt like all I ever wanted to do was paint and paint and only just eat and sleep as necessary, so I could keep painting. Well, I started a birthday card and finished that this morning… and now I’m feeling pretty glutted with painting. I think I’m done for now, and that’s as it should be. I’ve been ignoring the rest of my life for a few days, and now it’s time to get some exercise and wash some dishes (and my hair) and see how the garden is doing!

Tomorrow: glorious, glorious photos from anna Saini on the Open Mic! See you then — you’ll be glad you stopped by. 🙂