The Heart of Deer - session II
I’m not talking about the song recorded by the Surfaris back in 1962. I’m not even referring to “fall badly and painfully.” Nope, I’m talking about the technique of using a rag to wipe out passages in a painting that aren’t working, to get back down to the texture of the canvas. It’s a technique I used last night during Session II of painting “The Heart of Deer.”
The session started well. I knew from looking at the photo I took of Deer after Session I that I needed to go back in and soften her ears, redefine her face, redraw her back leg, warm up the background and “carve” out her neck and chest. I was also bothered by the dark patch on her back and sides; the shape seemed too regular, too sharp-edged. I also noticed some areas where the color had gotten a bit muddy.
At some point in my learning process working in oils, I switched from using Viva paper towels to wipe my brushes with to soft cotton painter’s rags. My initial reason for doing that was to save money; it seemed like I went through an inordinate number of rolls of paper towels! But then, because of an “accident” where I had to wipe out a good portion of a painting, I discovered that the rags did a great job lifting the paint without leaving behind fibers like paper towel does. And, once I let the rags dry, I can wash them and reuse them, which appeals to both my penny-pinching side and my “green” side.
As I looked at Deer last night, I knew I would have to go backwards before going forward, and would have to wipe out some of the painting I’d done in Session I. This is always a scary thing to do – I want to leave what is working and wipe out what’s not, but sometimes it is difficult to determine which is which. In this case I knew that dark patch was calling way too much attention to itself, and it had to be take down a notch or two. I also needed to wipe out some areas on the neck that had gotten muddy looking. And I needed to do something about the legs. In my reference photo, the deer is standing in deep snow, so her feet are hidden. But I didn’t like the way they just faded out in the painting. As I was wiping, I decided to wipe out the legs, pulling them down off the bottom of the canvas, exaggerating their spindly nature and partially obscuring the words written on the bottom. As soon as I did that, I knew it was the right move. The painting felt more pulled together. I have to admit that sometimes I get attached to my reference photo and let it be more important than the actual painting. This was a case where I was able to subjugate the “reality” of the photo and paint the reality of the painting.
I finished this session feeling satisfied with the progress made. Deer is revealing herself slowly, cautiously – different than Wolf with her confidence and desire to impart knowledge. With Deer, the message is about containing nervous energy, holding the heart still long enough to let the mind assess the situation. And then taking appropriate action.
The Heart of Deer
I wondered last night when I went down to my studio what inspiration I would find after over a week of not painting. So I went through my usual rituals: I put on my painting shirt, opened up the container of my “secret blend” painting medium, scraped away old, dried paint from my palette and added light cadmium red, cadmium orange, cadmium yellow, cadmium green, sap green, ultramarine blue, radiant blue, brown-pink, quinacridone violet, brown-pink and titanium white. Before my week of not painting, I had done the preliminary sketch for Deer on the 10x10 canvas using quinacridone violet. I kept my mind open to the possibility that I would not find inspiration in Deer, but as soon as I saw the drawing I could hardly get my palette set up fast enough! The paint seemed to flow off the brush with a mind of its own; my job was to let it be.
When I paint, I usually listen to music: my current favorite is Loreena McKennitt’s “An Ancient Muse.” But some nights, and last night was one of them, I’m treated to live music. My husband’s band, Trash Kings of the South, was practicing, and much of what they play could be considered “head” music, in that it is improvisational and full of interesting space. Perfect music to paint to! Listening to music seems to click off my fussy, analytical mind and let the intuitive side play.
In an earlier journal entry, I think I wrote about how important it is for me to get the eye of the animal correct, so that it has a personality on which I can focus. Sometimes I hear words in my head as I paint. These words also help me to focus on the essence of the painting, and reveal something about the nature of the Animal. Sometimes the words become the title. In this series I’ve been painting the words on the canvas.
“The heart of Deer shows its true colors.” As I was painting, I thought about the nature of Deer, and how that corresponds to people born between May 21 and June 20. Think of Deer as she moves quietly through the forest, ever alert for the subtlest of movements, the slightest of sounds that will warn her of impending danger, and yet her own flightiness often leads her straight into the sights of the Hunter. One who has Deer as her Birth Totem must learn to calm her restless nature and quiet her frantically beating heart which sometimes causes her to get into the very situation her nature wants to avoid. By first accepting herself, embracing her “true colors,” she can then spread this acceptance and begin the manifestation of an Integrated Universe.
I was almost able to finish this painting last night – and maybe I did. I’ll have to look again tonight with fresh eyes. I’ll let you know…
A Deer study
For the past week, I have not been in my studio to paint. Nor have I written in my Art Journal. A weeklong visit with my youngest daughter and my two-month old grandson kept me happily preoccupied. But that is not to say I haven’t been thinking of painting; I’ve snuck into my studio a few times and looked at the Wolf painting, which waits patiently for me to be ready. I don’t feel ready though. The work I need to do with Wolf requires limber creative muscles! So tonight, my first night back to brushes and paints, palette and canvas, I’ll start a new painting and wait until Wolf howls with clarity.
My plan is to continue with my Birth Totem paintings. Deer has been wandering through my dreams and emerging from the shadows of my peripheral vision. Perhaps Deer will materialize tonight on my canvas. As I write this, I have to chuckle a little, having just read Keith Bond’s latest article in Fine Art Views about being so focused on what you think you are inspired to paint that you miss the opportunity to paint what truly inspires you. So I’ll make a promise to myself to not have tunnel vision, and to let myself be open to possibilities.
I’ll let you know how it goes!
Abundance, prosperity, standing one’s ground and protection of resources are just part of what Buffalo represents on an energy level. In Ted Andrews book Animal Speak he says in reference to Buffalo that “The Lord helps those who help themselves” and that the Lakota Sioux believed that right action combined with right prayer resulted in the manifestation of all that is wanted or needed. How many times has anyone heard that someone wants something, be it money, a new relationship, a new job, etc. and yet the person wants someone else to do it all for them! When Buffalo appears to us, it is at this time that we ourselves need to take action on our own behalf and then and only then can we provide a channel for the manifestation to flow through to us from the Universe.
Painting aftr Session 3
Session Three: When I started painting tonight, the rear legs still looked off, so I re-drew again and then painted in some darker and lighter values in the legs. I’m still not thrilled with how they look, but decided I was putting way too much emphasis on what is “wrong” and not looking at the big picture, which is mostly “right.”
I had a hard time tonight getting into that space where the painting talks to me. I couldn’t seem to relax into the painting process. Even though I felt like I was painting with some confidence, using thicker, bolder strokes. I’ve covered up much of the transparent under painting, with its beautiful rivulets of pure color. The painting looks more like the study now. I decided to keep the painting part of Session Three short, and spent some time on the couch in my studio (with dogs Jackson and Taahlyn laying next to me) just looking at the painting.
When I paint Animals, I am trying to initiate a dialog between the Viewer and the Animal. I paint realistically, in that the Animal is correctly proportioned. But I’m not going for an exact representation of the Animal as it appears on the physical plane. I’m more looking for a way to reach into the soul of the Animal, and for the Animal to reach back into my soul so that communication, true understanding, can begin. And then hopefully that will transfer to the Viewer and open in the Viewer a pathway to the Wild that lives within.
Wolf Painting - close up
I’ve been thinking a lot about focus lately. It is all a part of my attempt to simplify my life and my paintings in order prioritize and focus (there’s that word again!) on what is really important. One of the best ways for me to gain clarity is to journal, and so I’ve been keeping a painting journal – writing about the process of painting. There are many blogs out there that tell you how to market your work, how to stay motivated. But I haven’t seen many – or maybe any – that provide insight into the creative process of the artist.
Last year I started writing about the journey to becoming a full-time artist. It quickly became apparent that I had to focus on finding my own voice, my identity. I worked hard on painting from my heart, letting go of the pressure to produce art that would sell, or art that was popular, or what someone else was doing. What happened when I let go truly astounded me. That is when my totem animal series began, and through the series I continue to refine my voice. What follows is an excerpt from my journal as I work on my latest Wolf painting.
The first excerpt is from my second session painting the Totem Animal Wolf. I am working from a reference photograph and a small 8x8 study that I painted. In the first session, I had sketched in the basic pose of the wolf, and had blocked in values using transparent washes of Gamblin ultramarine blue, quinacridone magenta, brown-pink and napthol red.
“ Session Two: As I was painting tonight, it felt like the Wolf was communicating with me – encouraging me, like a Teacher. I started the second session by painting in the eyes. I’m not sure yet what gender Wolf wants to be. But it doesn’t seem to matter; both aspects of masculine and feminine are present. The eyes, one leaning toward a green-gold and the other a reddish-yellow, seem to look right into mine. But not in an intimidating way; rather, an open, confident, accepting way.
I knew at the close of Session One that my initial drawing was off, especially in the rear end. After painting the eyes, I worked on wiping out areas that weren’t working and re-drawing, getting angles and lengths corrected. And I thought I’d never use high school geometry! (The concepts of wiping out whole passages of painting and re-drawing were learned from both Michelle Torrez and Patti André. It took me a long time to be able to wipe stuff out without feeling a sense of panic.) When I felt myself losing concentration (that’s when I start dabbling paint…) I quit for the night.
I feel a sense of this barn being on hallowed ground. Something about the shape of the barn, and the white cross bars on the hayloft door, remind me of a church. I guess to me, Spirit can be found here in the silence. The only sound is the breath of wind rustling the drying grasses of late summer as a cloud builds with afternoon moisture.
The barn is on the Crossed Sabers Ranch, just off the road to Imnaha, outside of Joseph, Oregon. As soon as it is dry enough, I'll sign it and do a preliminary varnish (with retouch varnish) and ship it up to my gallery in Joseph - Kelly's Gallery on Main Street.
"Crossed Sabers Ranch" is a 20x20 oil on gallery-wrapped canvas.
In my last e-letter I wrote, “This is the time of regeneration! Open your mind to any and all possibilities. This is the time to start all over again, this time from the inside out. It is not too late.” Little did I know that as I wrote that, my sense of optimism was about to be tested. A few hours after sending my e-letter, I received notification that my gallery in Fort Collins is going out of business.
When a gallery that has done everything right, from good location to advertising, from encouraging the artists in the gallery to grow in their art to bringing in top-notch national talent, from creating a welcoming atmosphere in the gallery to communicating on a regular basis with collectors…and the gallery still can’t make it…it is a sad statement about many things. Certainly the present economy plays a big role. But a subtler role is played by a society that has, in a large way, stopped valuing art.
I think we are so bombarded with cheap imitations of art – from $49 sofa-sized “originals” to cheap prints of mediocre art from Hobby Lobby. It always kills me that people will spend $400 on a beautiful frame to hold a $20 poster. And yet these same people wouldn’t even consider going into a local gallery to purchase an original painting from a talented local artist. It has been suggested that many people feel uncomfortable even stepping into a gallery, much less purchasing art from one.
There is a mis-conception that galleries are snooty shrines to Art, and that the novice art lover will be ridiculed upon entrance. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve visited galleries from New York to Laguna Beach, Santa Fe to Joseph, Oregon and have seldom, if ever, felt that I was not welcome in the gallery. Even though I make it clear I am there to appreciate the art but not to purchase. Most gallery owners know that everyone is a potential art buyer – if not today, then maybe next month or next year.
Why do people feel uncomfortable in galleries? Because many have had little, if any, art education. What’s the first thing to be cut in a school budget? Art. Music. Drama. Children who may love art but not show a lot of “talent” are discouraged from learning more about appreciating art. If only we could adopt the same attitude to art as we do to sports, maybe we would value the things art brings into our lives. After all, there are many more “armchair athletes” than professional athletes. But that doesn’t stop the armchair variety from learning everything they can about their favorite sport. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were as many “armchair artists?” People who learn everything they can about art in general, about the artists whose work they love in particular? Lots of people are willing to scrimp on other things so they can afford a “ticket to the Super Bowl” or season tickets. How wonderful it would be if just as many people would scrimp on other things to buy original art! Even in a down economy, the sports arenas are full. But the arts are pushed aside and forgotten – even though to my mind you get a much better value – a painting or piece of pottery that you can enjoy for years.
Of course, I “get it” that comparing the consumption of sports to the collecting of art is like comparing a McDonald’s hamburger to venison. One is available anywhere, anytime and doesn’t take a whole lot of effort. The other requires work and is somewhat of an acquired taste. (And since I neither eat McDonald’s hamburgers or deer hunt, it’s probably a silly comparison!) But my point is, sports are easily accessible. Just flip on the TV and there you go. No effort required. And you can get more of it than you can possibly digest (although I know some sports enthusiasts who would disagree!) But the arts – well, you’ve got to try a bit harder. Oh sure, there is PBS. And quite a few art magazines. Or you could make a trek to a museum. Or visit an art gallery. But if you want to learn more about art, you’ve got to make an effort.
And back to schools – sports are revered. Athletes are like campus gods. The local papers write about school sports on a daily basis. The local networks carry coverage of school athletics. When was the last time you saw a segment on network News about a high school art show, or play, or music performance. I’m not saying you never do, I’m just saying its rare.
So how can we expect children to grow up and appreciate and value art and purchase art if they have never been taught the value of art? How it elevates us as a species. How it reflects back our passion, our sorrow, our elation, our wonder, our confusion, our motivation, our inspiration, our highest ideals and our basest elements. How it opens our minds, our spirits, our souls to rejoice in the collective experience of humanity. Art unites us. If we don’t value art, how can we value ourselves?