You know, every year my friends sit down and pull up their art for the past year and review it. They talk about how they've grown, what they've learned and how they've changed. It's always about growth and improving as an artist, and I've been avoiding years in review for.. well.. years. Mainly because so much as been happening in my life that my chances to actually art are few and far between.
Today I'm doing a review, but it's a little bit different. I've only done a handful of paintings this past year. Seven, to be exact. That's not really enough to 'improve and grow as an artist' in any sort of drastic ways. But I have changed *as an artist* on a fundamental level, so I'd like to think about that a little bit.
The year started out pretty bad. I had just moved into the condo and left my family. My art was all over the place and I was doing it more out of a requirement from therapist then any actual real desire to paint. The first few months were pretty much following
around and painting the dolls she needed done, making wigs, and just kind of clinging to her to hide behind. I got desperate after a while of no personal art though, and started the sketch craze. There were some fun sketches (and then I lost the list and had to contact the people who didn't get sketches, so there will be more sketches coming soon), but I felt lost all over again. It didn't serve the purpose I wanted it to, which was to trigger more art.
So once again I went into hiding, thinking and brooding and not drawing a damn thing.
In the process of cleaning up my studio space, I discovered an old painting that I had loved but then utterly ruined in the coloring process. I looked at it, thought about it, then completely redrew it from scratch. While it's not a 'new' painting in the sense that the composition was figured out years ago, it felt good to start coloring again and try my hand at drawing without having to think too hard about what I was drawing.
What started out as this:
lept and grew and changed into something I was much happier with here:
I can see improvement in my skills, and yet.. I still feel the same. I am the same artist, not growing by leaps and bounds, but my understanding of color has grown.
Hard on the heels of this new painting, a dear friend came to visit and we played a lot of video games together. During the course of one of those games, we reached a shocking conclusion. I may be somewhat 'tone' blind. I can see a huge range of colors, but give me a greyscale image and suddenly everything becomes large chunks of one shade. Where others see lots of variety and change in tone, I see a vast expanse of just... grey. It made me realize that many of my paintings lack depth of light because I just can't SEE it, and I feel uncomfortable portraying the light because of this. In an effort to challenge myself to overcome this flaw, I once again turned to reworking past paintings. An older painting that I had loved overall, but it was flat for reasons I didn't understand and just... the woman looked OLD in it. And so in may this painting came to be finished:
Now I find myself in a really unusual position. I feel impatient with the concept of growing in technical skill, and find myself turning towards growing as an artist on a philosophical level. I found that I wished to draw new art, and yet... I couldn't quite trust myself to do new concepts just yet. So I stepped back to yet another painting that I had been dissatisfied with in an effort to explore the concepts *behind* the paintings. And so Strife began to be reworked:
An interesting thing I learned as I worked this, is how diametrically different many of our thoughts and beliefs are. I come to use symbolism and religious interpretations out of a desire to express a concept that I cannot easily voice... but I found that in using pre-existing religious symbols, all the weight of their interpretation that has been personally defined by the viewer will skew the statement I wish to make. I found an argument about if an artist is not truly the one who makes the statement, but the viewer defines what the painting is about. I felt frustration that I was not being allowed to express myself without being told I had to sacrifice my personal interpretation if someone else felt that theirs was right. It was a very frustrating time for me, and nearly caused me to stop painting again. Not to be told someone disagreed with me and how I feel, but to be told that *as the artist my painting did not mean what I painted it to mean because someone else decided it should mean something different.* Because why paint if your voice will not be heard? Why express a feeling or thought, if everyone wants to shout THEIR thoughts over yours? I felt voiceless once more, my words from my paintings taken from me and twisted to suit other people's words and I felt betrayed. Pretty rough to deal with as an artist, when your only way of expressing yourself is through your art, no?
So I went back to the technicalities. Gone was the desire to make a statement with my art, instead I focused on 'how do I improve on a technical level'. This did not bode well for me as I grow as an artist very organically. I do not learn through repetition, I am one of the few artists who doesn't have piles of sketchbooks lying around because I loathe sketching and it hurts my hands to no end. With my arthritis I must be careful about what I draw and when, every single moment has to count. I can't take the pain to sketch endlessly anymore. And so I sat down and began to talk about the dryad series of the mushroom peddler with my friend Sarah. Now years ago when we had discussed the business, and we did the book 'the mushroom peddler's handbook' together (so this was a very, very long time ago) we had discussed business names. Sarah has always been enamored of dryads, and I confess a bit of a fondness for them myself. So it was decided that the mushroom peddler would be a dryad. However when I returned to the fold, so to speak, we needed a way to blend what she had taken the mushroom peddler and created, vs what I originally envisioned when I started the mushroom peddler book and had wished the story to become. This was a difficult exercise because they were two very, very, very different visions and while the past four years Sarah has worked and developed her side... my side was left to stagnate and decay. To try and both improve my artistic skills and to draw something that *wasn't* a revision of past years, I created the Magnolia dryad as a companion to Sarah's Willow dryad.
Oh I was in for bad times with this painting. The eyes captivated me. I had been studying eyes in general, how they are shaped and reflect light, and I really wanted to FOCUS on them. But I found that I focused so much on the eyes, my interest in everything else was lost. In the end I walked away from the painting, finished, but feeling unsatisfied with what I had created. There was a lack of depth of STORY behind it, and I realized that I could not content myself with just improving technically, it was absolutely vital that I continue my exploration of expressing thoughts and feelings through art.
And so we come to the infamous Crap Fairy. She began as an exercise in just... drawing fabric. I started with the technicalities, wanting to show my friends that I can draw fabric when I chose to, and to give a lesson in pattern on fabric to another friend. But she drove me crazy because I could see my technical flaws left and right, and I was so frustrated with the mistakes that I was making that I KNEW better than to make. In a fit of irritation I complained to
who said the words that let everything come together. "Looks like you're getting a visit from the crap fairy. Ignore her. She's just a bitch."
It clicked. It clicked and I knew what I was painting. I was painting my frustration and self doubt. I was painting the woman inside my head who looks at those drawings that I've been repainting and goes 'Of COURSE you're revisiting that old piece, you don't have the creativity to do anything new. Oh look, you're so cute, you think you're improving.' I was drawing her, I was drawing everything I loathed and I was acknowledging that it was a beautiful seduction that I was paying far, far too much mind to.
In the end, while the painting has it's technical flaws, I felt satisfied. I also felt confident that adding my words and speaking out my thoughts was an OKAY thing. Even if people look at my art and go "Well *I* think it actually represents blah blah blah", that doesn't matter. I am the artist, this is my thought and emotion and feeling.. and it's okay for people to be blind to what I am. It doesn't change ME at the heart. I owe a huge debt to Sophie for this, as I really think this was the moment that I just... stopped freaking out about my art and the lack of improvement. I am not stagnating, I am simply growing in a different way.
And so October rolled around and with it Octopodicon. It was my first con in years, and thankfully it was VERY small. I had a breakdown at the convention, and went into an anxiety induced fog. About five hours later I came to myself, wandering aimlessly through the streets with no idea where I was or how I got there. Zeus was with me and pulled me back to the hotel, stopping and refusing to cross streets when it wasn't safe and growling at people who got too close to me. It was interesting to say the least. I changed doctors and my health took a bizarre twist, to where I was beginning to be afraid that i will not be able to live alone anymore but I have no family to take care of me. Dark times, and yet for the art? Not so dark. Sarah and I sat in our hotel room and I just let it go. I said 'fuck it, I'm not here to do anatomically correct art. I am not here to improve and impress people with my oh so perfect drawing skills. I WANT TO DRAW CIRCLES.' and so I started scribbling. I scribbled and scribbled and somehow out of those circles and loops came Woops.
The great thing about this painting is it is the most drug induced, addled, freaked out, I don't know wtf I'm doing painting I've done yet, and somehow I got a phoenix out of it. I don't know how, I don't know why. But somehow in those circles and scribbles it started to be this bright, happy, adorable bird lizard thing that I really like. I backtracked in my anatomical studies on pretty much EVERYTHING, and yet I didn't care. It made me happy. And the odd thing was? It got a DD. It made others happy too. What more could I ask for in a painting? Somehow by just screwing around, I made a painting that just makes me smile. I feel like this is the highlight of my year.
And so we roll to the end of the year, and the last two paintings this year. One finished, one not. But in these two I am finally reaching out to step back into where I should be as an artist. The first is Made of Earth and Stars. This is a return to trying to express concepts and meanings and to give myself (and maybe others) a little light in the dark. Many friends send me proverbs and thoughtful statements to remind me that I am, what
likes to call 'shiny'. That I'm not all the bad dark things I think when I'm alone, but that I have a spark and something unique inside of me. One of those proverbs was a simple enough one. Be humble for you are made of Earth. Be noble, for you are made of Stars. I love that phrase, I love everything it says and implies, and it fills me with joy. So I didn't just take on that statement with that painting. I tackled my blindness to light and tone as well.
I am told it has a TON of subtle lighting moments, I am doing it mostly by feel. I spent hours with a friend, a color wheel and a light scale, and we laid out colors along the light scale according to how bright my friend said they were. Rather then use tone to portray light, I tried to use *color*. To change my colors where it was brightest. I also tried to control the washes that I did for the hair and any single color element, to just count the number of washes I did in order to know what was 'light' and what was dark. It's a change in how I do art and I'm not real sure how successful I'll be with it, but I like where it's going.
So I end this year with just a single piece. Nothing finished, just a sketch. But I'm putting all my hopes and dreams for the next year into this drawing. I am doing all I can to try and say "I know who I am as an artist. I know where I am going. I may not have grown in amazing leaps and bounds the way my friends and colleagues have, but I know I am not stagnated and I am not dead. I am just growing in another direction." Like that song that every movie seems to be using these days, you've gotta have roots before branches. I just didn't realize my roots weren't being tended to and that's why I wasn't flourishing.