How did this painting Destination Unknown,
become this painting?
The simple answer is, “I had to let go.”
Most likely you have heard the statement, “You need to let go,” many times throughout your life. I know I have, particularly from painting instructors. My internal response was always, “…and how do I actually do that?”
No one ever gave a good explanation to the process of letting go – at least to my satisfaction – until I took an abstract painting workshop from Joan Fullerton about three years ago. She literally made us become unattached to our work. Joan is funny and a great teacher, as well as creates beautiful paintings.
How did I learn about letting go? It took practice and belief.
During the workshop, we would start an abstract painting with gestural mark making, and then we had to turn our canvas 90 degrees. Next, we applied paint using various tools and collage papers. Once again, we had to turn our canvas 90 or 180 degrees. If there was a color combination or shape we really liked, we were to cover it up! There was a lot of groaning from fellow students and a few gasps, as we were stretched artistically. You could feel the resistance in the air.
This process was continued for several more layers until we individually could see a painting to start to develop. From there, we continued working on our paintings until we felt they were complete. Let me add, it took me over a year to become comfortable with turning my paintings and to freely apply paint without over-thinking it.
The feelings of uncertainty have evolved from nerve-wracking to exciting anticipation. Often I am rewarded with delightful outcomes. This happened in the demonstration below.
Letting Go to Learn a New Medium
As you may remember, I have been learning how to use cold wax medium with oil paints. From those who have not worked with cold wax, it can appear to be merely a new technique. However, it is similar to learning a whole new medium. For example, I went through this long learning process when I went from watercolors to oils, oils to pastels and pastels to acrylic.
The tools are different, oil paints are messy (which I had forgotten!), and timing is another factor to take into consideration when working with cold wax. Consequently, many experiments are necessary – and continue to be – to obtain a rhythm and deep understanding of this medium. In order to do this, I have had to become good at letting go!
You should see my studio. (Maybe I will do a video of it.) Every surface is covered with paints, tools, papers, books, good and bad attempts, rags, examples, etc. I can’t remember the last time it was this messy nor that I spent so many hours in the studio.
Progress is happening, which makes me do a happy dance periodically, yet there is more to learn. Meanwhile, I wanted to share my process with one painting.
In this example, I am experimenting with combining one of my mixed media paintings with cold wax. This meant I would be painting over an existing painting. Hence, I chose letting go of this 20″ x 20″ painting on panel.Once I honored it and acknowledged parts that I liked and some that I did not, I moved to the next step.
As you can see below, I painted black – it is black gesso – over areas of the painting. Embracing my fear of letting go and engaging in the excitement of trying something new, were on my mind. It was invigorating to tackle the unknown, despite thoughts of doubt. By the way in my mental dialogue, I have decided to change the phrase letting go to moving forward.
The areas that I left visible were chosen intuitively.
Next, I chose and mixed the colors I wanted to apply. They were based on the colors that were peeping out from under the black. Below, are the stripes of colors I applied thickly. This approach is something I came up with. In other words, I had not seen a demonstration or video of what I was doing. It was a risk and I had no idea what the result would be. I dove in with curiosity.
To blend the paint I used one the squeegees – probably the red one – and began moving paint around.
My intuition led the way. However, I was conscious of not creating muddy colors. I added some white here and there as well. After the cold wax paint set for a couple of hours, I then went in with some scraping tools. You can see the lines where the paint from underneath shows through. It felt a bet like a mess, yet I liked the colors.
Next I turned the painting 90 degrees and I put it on my easel. (My first layers are done on a flat surface.) I couldn’t believe what I saw! A burning candle. It was a sign of hope during this trying time of COVID-19 and made me smile.
This is the point when I begin to have a conversation with the painting. Now I further develop its content and focus on its composition. More layers were applied in various areas.
After applying more layers, I took a stop back realize, it looked too much like four separate quadrants. Therefore, I applied more paint and blended colors. Below is the finished 20″ x 20″ piece entitled Cake and Ice Cream.
One unanswerable question, “How is the pandemic influencing my ability to let go?” What do you think?
I believe it is at some level, because we are being asked to change many parts of our lives during this crisis.
FYI, there are several books available about subject of letting go, as well as inspirational quotes. Another book is Comfortable with Uncertainty, as well as this classic The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. How do you deal with letting go and uncertainty?
Please leave your thoughts and comments below.
Gratefully and colorfully yours,
PS This blog only provides an example of letting go with an abstract painting. It is applicable to any and all styles of painting.