Saturday, January 12, 2013

Koi 2 (or how I got over painter's block)

Koi 2
Acrylic on Canvas
36" x 36"

Before I show some of the other portraits, I feel like this one is an obvious next picture even though I started a few pieces before it. (apologies for the fuzzy shot - I forgot to retake it before I hung the show, and now I'm out of town)

In my art show post I mentioned I had painter's block and it took an unrelated piece to break it. Normally, I have a few paintings on the go. If one offends me or stalls out - no worries, I just move to the next while I'm thinking through the issue. In the spring last year, this started to happen. Then the pieces I was switching over to started to not work and I couldn't figure them out either.

First they lived on the easel in my living room (where I think through my next steps with them). Then, when they started to make me feel guilty, I turned them to face the wall. After a few weeks, the back of the canvas started to convict me so I banished the worst offenders to the basement. (usually a basement canvas never reemerges to be finished, they tend to come up only to be painted over).

It was a good thing I had linocutting during this dry spell or else I wouldn't have done anything. I find sometimes too, when you are playing in another medium (one with zero expectations and the stakes are nice an low) it works out some of the creative knots even though you don't realize it.

Eventually, this looming show overruled me and I knew my strike had to end. But how? I had all these unfinished pieces with no solutions.

From past dry spells, I knew I'd have to try a whole new piece that was "easier" and unrelated just to break myself back in. I had been looking at my reference shots and noticed I had a pile of koi shots I'd never revisited (I went through a koi phase a few years ago). Even though it wasn't part of my plan, it seemed like a fun place to start.

It's a bigger canvas so I took my time drafting the base cartoon and filling everything in. Since it felt low pressure, I just spent time enjoying how the colours felt next to each other.

Then it happened. Around this time, I was in my car accidents. They were minor, but they messed up my back enough so I couldn't sit longer than 20 minutes and my arms and neck were locked up enough that a big canvas was too much to work on an easel. So I moved to a table.

I'd not worked a large piece flat for years. Like, since high school. Back then, I used to do thin layer after layer of subtle washes to bring up colour and add depth. It was time consuming and I became enamoured with chunky impasto-ey paintings when I was at NSCAD,so that technique dropped to the wayside.

This time I had my image mostly drafted with more opaque brushwork but it was lacking what the other pieces were lacking. So, on a whim as I was heading out the door, I laid out some areas of wash (they looked like phthalo blue puddles) and left them to dry.

They worked. So I kept doing it. Then I would partially bury it with thicker brushstrokes and do some more washes. This was quite engaging for me.

Then I got brave and tried that on a blocked piece (knowing full well that this could wreck it permanently). It worked. It worked really well, actually. So I kept going.


Carol Allen Anfinsen said...

We are so hard on ourselves, aren't we? Reading your blog was like seeing myself. I had a major block because I was rejected from a juried show. The comments of a very rude judge made me feel like a piece of you know what! Took me over two months to get over it.

Now I'm back in the game again! I hope you are, too. Great blog and I love the Koi!

Michelle said...

Glad to hear you are back at it. Other people's words (intentional or not) are sometimes the hardest to recover from.

Thanks for your kind words!