Invisible Strings

Invisible Strings, 18×18 acrylic on panel

“Here, where I am surrounded by an enormous landscape, which the winds move across as they come from the seas, here I feel that there is no one anywhere who can answer for you those questions and feelings which, in their depths, have a life of their own; for even the most articulate people are unable to help, since what words point to is so very delicate, is almost unsayable. But even so, I think that you will not have to remain without a solution if you trust in Things that are like the ones my eyes are now resting upon. If you trust in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge.”

– Ranier Maria Rilke (Letters to a Young Poet)

Alchemy

Alchemy, 18×18 acrylic on wood panel

The alchemists have a saying: ‘Tertium non datur.’ The third is not given. That is, the transformation from one element to another, from waste matter into best gold is a mystery, not a formula. No one can predict what will form out of the tensions of opposites and effect a healing change between them. And so it is with the mind that moves from its prison to a free and vast plain without any movement at all. Something new has entered the process. We can only guess.

– Jeanette Winterson

This painting has been on and off my easel since February. And although I wouldn’t call it gold, I can say that the process of making it had an alchemical quality. Put another way: I have no idea what I’m doing or why, but always have transformation foremost in my mind.

Are you an artist?

Works in progress, on location, Provincetown, MA

I came to painting unconventionally, with no memories of childhood painting aptitude and little painting experience outside of my elementary school art classes. I’ve always liked to draw, but my ability to render what I saw was never remarkable. Playing sports and being a good student were more my things. 

There is some photographic evidence that hints of my early interest in painting, but being an artist was never part of my identity. I’m not sure what it would mean to claim that identity at age 50. Nor do I really feel I must do so, at least not any more than I’ve defined myself in other ways. Am I a painter? Someone who likes to paint? Is there really a difference? 

I don’t know. I’m just curious about these sorts of things, most especially how each of us develops and claims aspects of ourselves that have been unknown or previously dormant.

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Moving Beyond the Known

The biggest challenge to progress is our resistance to move beyond the known. 

I’ve grown comfortable with blues and greens, a color palette that soothes me. But mixes of red tones have found their way into a couple of recent paintings, perhaps inspired by the spectacular sunsets of late.

Although there are things I like about the paintings, a subtle tension becomes evident when I look at them, an experience that reminds me how difficult it is to gaze upon the unfamiliar.

The painting shown above is one example.

Of course, it could also be that the painting doesn’t work well in some way, the reason I feel a bit off center when I look at it. But I also know that our perception about what “works” is largely determined by what we’ve learned that means. 

How do we know what we could like if we never try anything new?

I make this post – open to feedback about the painting, as always – but also as a conversation starter about moving beyond the known. 

Where do you find it most challenging to sit with the unknown in your life?

Title this abstract landscape painting!

Untitled, 10×10 acrylic on wood panel

I’m struggling to come up with a title and need your help. Any ideas?

What does the image evoke for you?

Thanks in advance for anything you’d like to share – critique, encouragement, title suggestion, or a combination thereof 💚

Painting the days as they come

Winter Windstorm, 11×11 watercolor

You know those days. When everything feels a bit off?

Yesterday was that kind of day for me. It started with a dental appointment. We lost power due to tree-bending, frigid winds. There were no candles to be found, at least ones not scented with the makings of nausea. You get the idea!

To be clear, it wasn’t a terrible day. I’m grateful for teeth, access to dentistry, and a home that usually has electricity. The day was just a bit askew. Much like a “fresh breeze” scented candle which, in fact, smells like nothing found in nature!

It’s not the sort of day that usually inspires me to paint. But with the power out, my options for escape were limited. Plus, I wondered if it would be possible to paint myself into an improved mood state.

Verdict: not really. At least, not this time! Instead, I painted this very unusual painting, which probably represents the day more than changed the course of it.

Truth in advertising: the painting looks best from a distance. But then again, so do those kind of days.

Watercolor Expressions: Freedom from expectations

Traveling, 5×5 watercolor (coldpress)

Some of my favorite paintings have been made from the passenger seat of long car rides. The time with nothing else to do and the light that streams into the car from every direction surely inspire me. But the absence of expectations and the willingness to improvise are the secret ingredients that make these paintings different, I think.

Folks in my life have wondered how I can paint in the car: Don’t you get carsick? How can you work with all the motion? How do you not spill the water or ruin the painting when you hit a bump?

Yes, I get carsick when I am not in the front seat. And I can only paint (or read) while highway driving. The paintings I make in the car are small, so the water is pretty well-contained in a cup holder. My travel paints sit on one leg; the paper pad rests on the other.

And the bumps? Well, they definitely happen! But, especially with abstract painting, the unexpected brush marks can usually be incorporated into the landscape.

And what a great metaphor! For when we keep our expectations loose – as ideas about form in a piece of abstract art – the surprises may add interest. The unintended marks might even inspire a major change in composition, impetus to create something better than we could have imagined.

The uncontrolled elements, and my unplanned response to them, may indeed be what makes my car paintings special. Maybe I like them best because they evoke the sense of freedom and flow I experienced while making them.

What frees you up to find creative flow?