There I was. In the sunny cold of Cleveland wearing my trusty black parka, booted feet firmly planted in the snow. Face to face with a tree.
I must have looked a sight, if anyone cared enough to look out the window today. What was I doing you may venture to ask? Soaking it up.
I was never one to keep a sketchbook. In fact, I WAS the one who furiously filled up the sketchbook the night before it was due while in school. I always preferred to function without preliminaries. I still do. However, I’m finding another use for creating sketches. They are a way for me to absorb more, and ‘do’ more effectively. Not as a step by step to some finished painting, but as a method of keeping track of all the ways a mark can describe not only an an object, but a feeling.
I’ve put aside my figurative work for a short spell to focus on this. I decided to step outside and work en plein to start, and then to see where it takes me…well…usually back inside where it’s warm. (Not the die hard plein air painter that many of my artist friends are..)
I focused my attention on one area of the landscape. Truly, before I pulled out any tools, I literally did just stand there. I wanted to study it visually first, then, what the trees, the shadows, the light was generating in me. What I was hearing. What mood bubbled up, if any? I did not want to record everything literally. I know what happens to me when I do that, I zone everything else out and lose the WHOLE experience. But that’s just me. I’m not an experienced plein air -er. Could be different for others.
This first sketch had me thinking about the power of this oak, and my immediate reaction was to use my fingers to describe the shape. That went down first. The lightness of the branches around it were like whispers to it. Notes of encouragement almost. Then, I looked at the entire boundary of the page, and made sure I placed my visual attention all around to see if it needed anything. I did three more studies after this one.
This is not the oak tree. I wish I knew what kind of tree. Anyway…Then, I had an idea about color. Dove into my stash of supplies and found the oil pastels, and a small 8×10″ panel. Made a few quick marks, and had enough outside. My hands and feet can work while numb for only so long. While inside, I looked out again and thought, ‘wow, so bright’! How do I create the feeling of brightness in a minimal way? I didn’t have an answer. So, I grabbed my tube of white and squirted a blob right onto the panel, which was already pre-primed with burnt sienna. Swished that all around to see how it would respond to what I layed down in oil pastel. Yes, something clicked. Used brushes, my fingers, the back of the brush to scratch, and added a few hits of the orange pastel and boom, there it was. For me.
That’s the key. These sketches, studies, should make sense to me first and foremost. I need to let go of the expectation of having it make sense to others. Maybe that’s what was tripping me up all these years, the critic I created in my mind that lurked behind every tree and in every person I ever met that viewed my work. There. I said it. Insecurities always exist for me, but that’s also what propels me forward. To explore, to try. To overcome. To be open to new ideas when it comes to mark making, to art making. Not too afraid of failure. I do it a lot. Every painting fails at some point in the process, but I get to pull out a few from the fire and have it make some kind of sense. If I stick with it long enough. Perseverance is the ticket to all things worthwhile I’ve learned.
I plan on doing this excavation more often. Could be wild.
If you’re interested in following my progress with these, keep track of my facebook page to see more updates of the sketches (and other news).