First day of freedom to paint. But, how to start, blocked energy – first the fear that I don’t know how to paint anymore. Second the choosing of what to paint – so many unfinished paintings already in the studio, so many ideas that were stopped by other pressing matters in their inception. Third – the unwanted, traitorous thought – do I still want to paint, have I fallen out of love with painting?
The tried and true ice breaker – find an old unfinished canvas or a yucky failed painting and just start mucking about. No judgement, no anticipation of success or failure, just muck about with paint.
I pulled out a painting of willow tree at sunset just before a serious thunderstorm on the St. Lawrence. It is an image that arrested me with its drama, and the strong design elements for composition. On that day, sunset was underway, and I realized I had limited time; also, within minutes, it was clear that a violent thunderstorm was quickly moving into the area. I worked fast, establishing the bones of the composition with the first strokes, getting the color themes down over as much area as I dared, and then packed up quickly with terror as the storm broke around me. Although it was no way near finished – just barely started, I never could relegate it to the scrap heap of canvases to be painted over. It has hung on the works in progress wall for about two years.
This would be my material for a “mucking about” canvas. Laying down the rest of the tree trunk, the grass and gravel of the foreground covered the blank parts of the canvas. Then I could start to adjust the colors, and work over the rest of the canvas. Because it was such a vivid image, and such an emotion packed evening when I started it, I retained a very strong visual memory of the tree and river behind it. I Mucked about with the sky and water. It was becoming not just a warm up exercise, but a successful painting. I consulted some photo reference material for the branches and the leaves. No photo from that evening was a perfect match for what I was painting, but it was enough to verify that my tree was willow like enough to give me confidence to continue. Fantastic little image, very exciting!
That little painting revved up my engines. After a snack, I went back down to the studio, and made a third pass on the huge landscape Tully Dawn. Started one morning at least three years ago, and abandoned because of the complexity of dawn colors and atmospheric perspective, subtlety of gradations of color from foreground to far, far distance, and magnitude of large canvas. This is truly a monumental and daunting task it needed a lot of courage and a good warm up to return to it.