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From Sketches to Paintings

November 9, 2011

Some people have been asking me about my art again lately. I haven’t really been sketching or painting much in a long time (because I’ve been writing when I’m not doing many other things). In recent years, I tend only to work on paintings as gifts, to someone else (rare and usually as requested) or to myself (almost as rare). I like to do a painting for my birthday, or for Mother’s Day or for Christmas, if I can manage it. When I take a special day off for myself, I like to do a painting if I feel up to it. Of course, if I don’t feel up to it, I just watch a favorite movie in my PJs sipping hot cocoa in a favorite pretty cup. A perfect gift day off is a day when I work on a painting. Better still, it’s a day I finish a painting that I’ve had in my head for a while (or worse: one I started a year or more ago and just never got to for far too long!).

Well over a decade ago at least my youngest kids asked me not to sell my paintings anymore without their ‘right of first refusal’ because they wanted their favorite paintings to stay in the family (because there were some regrets about some that were long ago sold or given away… or painted over with something else!). And so, I started painting only what I wanted to, with no intention of ever selling – I wasn’t painting to sell, I was painting to keep – and I was painting more for fun than anything. So I just started doing paintings ‘for myself’ to fit into this or that space in my house, to fill up all the walls, and to add a splash of color with colors I love and wanted to inject into the décor.

During my childhood I drew ‘coloring books’ for years when we didn’t have but a few of them. I used scrap paper (the backs of leftover printed paper my Dad brought home from his work) and cheap or free newsprint roll ends from the local newspaper that my Mom picked up and brought home. Later I drew all kinds of things for siblings, cousins and friends. I went through a major paper dolls and costuming stage too. Then I began sketching in earnest as a young tween. I wanted to paint, but all I had was pencils and paper (I had graduated to actual sketch pads gifted to me when I was about eleven!), and then pens, charcoal, pastels and so forth. Finally, the paints arrived for Christmas: a little starter set of oils and brushes. I might have been thirteen or so. Canvas boards were hard to come by, so I only painted sparingly; well, except for tempera on heavy paper such as at school – but I really just wanted to paint with oils. And then I discovered acrylics in my mid teens. Besides continuing in pencil and ink sketches, acrylic was my thing for quite a while. I eventually learned to stretch actual canvas on frames. I still dabbled in oil pastels and paints, but I preferred acrylic because it dried faster and cleanup was easier.

I’d have to say that for a length of time I was much more a black and white artist than a colorist. Perhaps this was simply because I spent so many years without proper paints at my disposal, and with mostly pencil or ink to utilize. I specialized in sketches. That was what I mostly did, gifted and sold for a long time. I always loved the simplistic beauty of the black and white, the negative versus positive space and the boldness of that. I did a lot of black and white photography for a long time too. Yes, when I was younger, I swayed more towards the world of black and white. Maybe it was growing up with that black and white television set? I learned to love doing ink and wash art at one point, and then that generally prepared me for the world of watercolor.

In my twenties I really discovered watercolors – not the cheap compressed power cake stuff from back in early schooling, but the glorious concentrated color stuff out of the tubes. I stayed with watercolors for a long time, and that was the medium I probably sold the most paintings of. I loved doing winter scenes for Christmas sales, and I loved doing portraiture of interesting characters or cute kiddies for myself – but they all sold: all but a very rare few that I kept. There is one regret I have. I never took pictures of all those paintings. I didn’t find the time to take photos of my paintings before they sold. Back then I thought that I could always just paint more. More of the same, or at least very similar.

When asked about my art, I keep telling people that my best works are behind me and are long gone sold. At least that is true for now about my watercolors. You see, by the time I had a few little kiddies to manage, I put my watercolor paints away. When I tried to ‘ride that bicycle’ again, I couldn’t seem to do it right. I had lost my touch. I felt like I had lost the ‘fine-tuning’ magic needed to do the watercolors that I used to. I was rusty, very rusty. So, I started from the beginning, just having fun finger painting (with my kids) to begin to get ‘back on the horse’, and then, in acrylic, I started playing with color; not trying to paint the way I used to (more realistically) but I tried new ideas with a fresh attitude so that I wouldn’t compare my work now to before so much.

Most of my paintings in the way past were more reality based – like mimicking something in nature or from a photograph, and definitely mixing my paints on the palette to make ‘real’ colors that I saw; but I guess I was in a festive mood a couple of decades ago when I was trying to get back into painting. I wanted to create more dreamlike visions. I decided to pump up the color that I could see. I wanted to paint straight from the tube. More than one of my artist friends told me that it was going against the rules to paint straight from the tube with such pure colors, but I’m a rebel. A rebel with varying causes. I wanted to rebel against that art class rule. I was old enough to make my own rules about certain things like that. And besides, my husband loves bright colors. He was always asking for bright and strong colors. And, to paint some wild colors onto canvas just seemed better than painting entire walls. Well, I’ve done that since anyway, walls and rooms galore.

It wasn’t but a few years after I was playing with paint colors straight from the tube (and jokingly calling myself ‘a Tubist’ painter) that I stumbled onto a little corner of the ‘Brilliant Colorist’ world of paintings. Ah ha! This was what I was in to! Painting anything in the world around me in bright colors. Actually, it’s hard to find colors bright enough to do what I want. Or I will think that a color is bright enough but then it dries less so. Well, I’m still playing with whatever colors I can find that I like. And as I’ve played with color, I’ve dabbled in paintings inspired by ‘Tiffany Glass’ works of art (stained glass windows and lamps from the late Victorian period and since), and more recently Van Gogh has been as if my mentor in spirit. I’ve been feeling pretty expressionistic lately. And suddenly, I just want to learn from Claude Monet. As per usual for me, I am all over the place. I have some kind of AAADD (Aging Artist Attention Deficit Disorder)…

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