Paint, Stop, Repeat: A Lesson in Perseverance

Man, titling this post was really tricky! So right at the top, let’s just say that what I want to do today is show you a painting I finished recently and talk about the process – specifically, the amount of time it took, why, and how hard it is for me to concentrate on one project for an extended period of time, as well as how persevering through that process resulted in artwork that I’m pretty happy with. (Note to self: revisit this post next time you undertake a time-consuming piece so you can remember that it was worth the effort!)

Since the art I make is for my own joy, practice and benefit (for now, heehee), I have the luxury of not having to hurry or work up against a deadline. Which should be a good thing, but I like to work quickly and have always had a hard time walking away from an unfinished piece. If I’m honest, this is probably Reason Numero Uno why I neglected making art in recent years, especially once our son was born. Even now that he’s old enough to be able to do most things without assistance, I still get the occasional, “Moooooommy! Can I have a glass of apple juice?” and though I don’t have to get up to get it for him anymore, the question itself is enough of a distraction because I don’t want to lose that precious mojo! This has always made me feel super selfish, but should it?  Who feels me?

So anyway, after having bought a few 16×20 canvases in recent weeks I unwrapped one and set it up on the ol’ easel. No plan, no idea or concept in mind. (Pretty routine for me.) I just sort of stared at it for a minute, turned on some tunes, looked at my paints and waited for colors to talk to me. (Also routine.) This is what I had after the first sesh:

Once I had the big background blocks of color down, a loose graphic/icon concept was brewing and I knew then this was gonna be a time hog. I had to put it aside for a few days but was able to come back to it and make a few more marks:

At this point, I really knew I needed bigger chunks of time to work on it, so it sat untouched for a couple weeks until I had a Saturday where I could spend most of the day putzing with it. And even then it wasn’t quite done but what remained was mostly just touch-ups, line straightening, etc. I think I was able to go back Sunday morning and finish it off. Here is the basically finished product, which says “Done!” because I’m a dum-dum but I only added a few more small deets after this photo was taken:

There were a couple other aspects of this project that were out of routine. The first is that navy blue paint. I typically don’t mix my own colors because I’m afraid of not mixing enough and then not being able to match it if I have to make more and that’s exactly what happened here. I wanted a duskier, deeper blue than what I had in my pre-mixed bottles. There wasn’t even that much paint in the bottle of the base I started with, so I just used what was left to make the color, certain that I wouldn’t need any more later. Sure as shit though, I needed more and panicked – there were a couple days during the 2-week interim that I had a little time to work on this piece but didn’t because I didn’t know what to do! Luckily I had kept the bottle and was able to scrape juuuuust enough out of it to make a little more and match it. Whew!

The second thing was that I made a couple stencils to get some of the shapes I wanted. Highly unusual – I like to freehand everything without help (and stupidly feel like if I can’t manage freehand, then I have no business even trying. Dumb, right?) But holy crap! What a time-saver they actually were! I didn’t use them a lot, just for the big oval-ish humps coming out of the bottom corner of the red square, the (forgive me) hump-y white outlines along the top left and bottom right edges, and the vertical eye shape just right of center. Everything else was done freehand. Stencil or no stencil though, getting the lines straight (or straight-ish) takes a lot of time and most of them were gone over multiple times to get the opacity right.

I’m happy with how it all came together and love that I could take separate elements out of it to use elsewhere when I learn to digitize my work. The mister thinks it’s really cool, and it got a spot of honor perched on top of the TV cabinet (for now, until he builds me a frame and I can hang it all proper-like in the dining room, which I lovingly refer to as “The Gallery.”) This was probably one of the most time-consuming pieces I’ve ever done and it’s cool to know that it’s something I’m capable of doing, even if I usually prefer to be more instantly gratified.

Moral of the story: do the things you think you cannot do! (And make some goddamned stencils if you need ’em!)

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