Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Satisfaction Of Expertise.

I have worked in one artistic medium for almost 30 years,  and developed a level of skill which allows me to realise my imagination with a fair amount of accuracy. Switching mediums has put me into a different place entirely - that of beginner.

I'm finding watercolor a fiendishly difficult medium in which to work. Years ago I painted with acrylics, with which one works from dark to light - watercolor is the precise opposite, one works from light to dark. It requires an about-face in how I plan a painting, and also that I always be aware of where the light is, because I cannot plop a streak of highlight in later on, after I'm finished painting the shadows. Once it's gone, it's gone, and I'm left with the distinctly unsatisfactory business of trying to lift paint from the paper, in order to restore a highlight.

It's maddening, and because of that, engrossing. It's a voyage of discovery, frustration, botched paintings, and the occasional "aha" result. I sit down, try something, see how it works - it doesn't, just makes a mess. Okay, try something else, see how that works -  oh dear, that creates a sort of medium nothingness, doesn't it? Bland and boring. Hmm, how to get around that?
Why did I put that tree there?

I'm having a marvellous time with it, and none of my paintings so far have been worth a jot, but oh the hours of pleasure I've had in creating those messes have been a godsend. I was talking to a friend today about painting, and she laughingly said, "Girl, you are wierd, to enjoy being frustrated."

I pointed out that something like this meshes perfectly with my character defects - obsessiveness, stubborness - and turns them into forces for good. Those determined aspects of my nature keep me plugging away, carrying me through the parts where another less willful person might give up, and never reach the point of having some mastery of the medium. In art school, one teacher used to say repeatedly, "Every bad painting is a good thing, it's one more out of the way."

On another subject, today I realised that something I had at first seen as a constraint, has turned out to be a protection. A clear and bright example of the limitations of my own vision. When we moved here, I was irritated by being asked to sign a year's lease on this place. What if we found the perfect house at 11 months? Today the landlord came over to tell us he's putting the house on the market in 2 weeks. That lease I muttered and mumbled about, will protect us from being evicted, being told we cannot have the dogs here, or a rent increase.
(Thankyou, Higher Power. I'm sorry for complaining earlier.)


  1. It is like that alot for me too. I am slowly learning that when I hit a brick wall, I can either wait for my HP to remove the wall or I can turn left or right. Took me awhile and a really bruised head from all the banging. Great post..I needed to hear it.


  2. Those things happen when we least expect it.

  3. Really insightful post to my way of thinking. I've been painting in watercolor for over 30 years and it's still new and exciting to me much as you're described. The hours of the pleasure of learning & experimenting are what has kept me sane these many years. Happy painting!