Well, it has been a year since I finished my last painting course. At the time I thought I was going to continue painting on my own. Alas, that was not to be -- I was even less self-motivated than I had thought! At the beginning of this year I signed up for another painting course with Rebecca (my teacher from the last course), so that I could actually paint again.
At the beginning it felt a little like rehabilitation after knee surgery, as I tried to recall how it was to paint again. I started with setting up a still life, with the sole purpose of remembering the painting process. Memories came back pretty quickly, perhaps more so to my hands than to my brain, and I was excited to see the paint I dabbed on canvas bearing a good resemblance to grapes!
My next project was still aimed at remembering -- this time the style I was trying to paint with at the end of last course, somewhat influenced by Georgia O'Keefe. My subjects were three Bosc pears (the kind of pears with the most curvaceous form, in my opinion), which went from totally fresh at the start, to utterly wilted when I was done with them.
Having exhausted with my supply of real things to paint with, I next tuned to photographs. I took some photos of these tulips which I had wanted to paint but did not have time to -- at the time of their blooming I was still preoccupied with the pears, and besides, tulips last a lot shorter than pears. I was still trying to paint in the style of my earlier paintings, with thin paint and analogous colors.
At this point I was ready to try something new -- something other than still life and flowers. Perhaps a portrait? As a child I used to draw nothing but people, or "ghosts", as they were known in my family. And I drew a LOT of "ghosts", all of them female with fancy dresses, now that I think of it (this is starting to sound like material for some psychological analysis). But since I started painting, I had never attempted to paint a single human being, or even an animal, for that matter. Was it because I just lost interest in portraying people? or was I traumatized by having my creations labeled "ghosts"? or maybe, I do not need to draw females in fancy clothes anymore because I can see them in the real world, or at least in magazines? I wonder... In any case, it was time to turn a new leaf! I chose to do a portrait of Emily from a photo of her playing the violin. Having never done a portrait (not counting the "ghosts" from my childhood), I was at a loss as to how to start. Rebecca suggested I do it with the Grisaille method -- glazing color over a monochromatic underpainting, so that I can worry about one thing at a time. It is a good idea; except that glazing is a pretty slow and tedious process, aggravated by the fact that I was painting my very cute niece, which means I want the portrait to not only look good, but actually look like her. Everyone in my class seems to like the portrait and comment on how cute she is, but then, none of them actually know Emily in person (and how cute she REALLY is).
It was said that Rubens would glaze maybe 40 layers of colors on his portraits, but he also had dozens of assistents, and of course, I am a far cry from Rubens. As I was slowly glazing layers of colors on the portrait of Emily, the impatience in my nature started to get hold of me. Besides, with the smooth glazing, the portrait was starting to look more and more like a tinted photograph. What if I paint the background and her clothes in a different, more painterly style? This I tried, but I found that as soon as I put a brushful of colors down on the canvas, I felt the urge to smooth it out like the rest of the painting. Do I just not like the more painterly style, or ... could it be that I do not know how to do it? I guess it is a combination. It is not a good idea to develope a style just because I do not know how to do things otherwise. So for my next painting Rebecca suggested I copy a master whose style is very painterly. Poplars is not one of Monet's chunkiest (for lack of a better word) paintings (like his crusty cathedrals), but it is all about layering brushstrokes. So I put Emily aside for a while (I went back to her from time to time to finish the painting). Copying the poplars was quite liberating -- it seemed so much easier compared to doing a precise portrait. And as I know I was copying Monet, I did not have to think too much. I painted a lot faster and I could stop -- one hard thing for me to do when it comes to my own paintings, I am never quite sure when I should stop messing with them.
I was so glad to find that I could actually paint fast, that I took on two paintings at the same time: beach scenes from photographs I took in Thailand and Kauai. And I tried to apply my newly acquired "broken brushwork" on these paintings, with various degrees of success. I still found myself wanting to smooth out a lot of areas, and still unable to put on really thick paint. But now I am more sure that in general I just prefer to paint more thinly, and that is OK. One thing that Rebecca said really made sense to me -- she said that it took her years to realize that, when she is painting, she is not painting her master piece, but just her next painting. No need to obsess with it too much.
So the course ended. Surprisingly, I did a lot of the things I said that I wanted to do a year ago: still life, portraits, more painterly style... (see my blog entry
from last year)except non-representational painting, which I want to try next. There is so much more territory to explore! But will I actually do it on my own (there is no course in the summer and Rebecca is going to teach in London this fall)? I hope unlike last year, I will continue to paint. We shall see...
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