|Dead Horse Mesa 10x24|
Artists get in ruts. Sometimes we seek the ruts because they seem to be demanded of us. Galleries want a Body of Work persona they can market. When they sell one of your paintings they don't want you replacing it with something new! They want another very much like the other. After all that sold didn't it. And when you submit to exhibits and fairs they want your five submissions to be a submission in and of itself. You have to not merely demonstrate that you can paint but that you can advertise and display yourself.
So you stop painting in a certain palate. You narrow down your subjects. And in the absolutely worst possible result you start cookie cutter art. For last year's Rio Grande Holiday show I did cactus flowers on panels - eight 6x6, six 8x8, and four 10x10. I did them because I sold out of the cactus blossoms I had done in a much smaller number at a summer fair. I sold none of them at the winter show.
And so began the winter of my discontent with myself. All along I have painted things I wanted to paint but never taken them out to shows. The gallery I was in seemed to shun them even when what I came to call my dark work won prizes. And because it won praise and sold out of my studio I painted more of it and less of my ever popular New Mexico missions.
Dead Horse Mesa above was a departure. It began as an idle sketch in my "work book" because a patron asked if I ever painted horses. I have several pages of tiny thumbnails of horses and horse heads sketched between photographs of paintings of others I had clipped out of art magazines and pasted in. Eventually I got a sketch I liked.
Hadn't a clue about colors or placement on the canvas or what I was going to do with my foreground. But I decided on a proportion and stretched a canvas. Then stared at it for a week or so as I hung the tracing of the drawing over it in different placement.
Working in my usual sequence I poured the sky and then painted in some of the foreground and decided I had boxed myself in. This sequence works with churches because I know what colors I am using on the church. I hadn't a clue about what color the horses were going to be. So I studied it some more. Hey, it was a study, right? I do all my departures as a study first. Sometimes they never get beyond that stage. Sometimes they never get beyond the stage above. I have three paintings in that place at the moment. I have lost interest in them frankly. Considering taking off the canvas and beginning again. But this painting was garnering positive comments from visitors to my studio and to my fan page. And it had a hold on me.
It remained on the shelf over my painting desk and haunted me. And little by little I would fill in more space until I was left with just the haunting horse heads and skulls. The more I painted the less options there seemed to be for the colors of the main subject and focus of the work.
|Major milestone - all color blocks laid in|
In the time I had been working on this departure I have finished a triptych, a study for another departure and the finished 24 x 36 painting it inspired, and Canyon Celebration. Finally I refused to let myself work on anything else. When I got to the above stage I almost stopped again. After all it was just a study. I could make notes on what I liked and didn't like, figure out the proportions for the full sized work, and rework the sketch. But at this stage a customer of mine wanted to see it done.
So if departures are such a big problem why do them? Because I learned so much out of doing this. Certainly more than I learned out of all those cactus blossoms.