I’ve been wanting to challenge myself for a while, so this month, I decided to take the plunge. I signed up for the Strada Easel 30-Day Challenge, which has an added twist in that you must draw or paint from life each day (not from photos or imagination). Well, it’s been hard, but here’s what I did. It should be noted that many of these are not finished, nor ideal. The point of the challenge is to discipline yourself to paint every day. Even if you don’t feel like it. Even if you think you don’t have the time, because you can almost always find time. I probably made it a little harder on myself than it had to be, by painting more complex subjects every day. I also painted more paintings than are show here, lol. What can I say, I’m a glutton for punishment! What are you doing to challenge yourself artistically?
Truth be told, most every plein air painting I’ve ever done has been a struggle. Even though I spend a lot of time painting figures, I do feel like plein air is worth doing. For realist painters, plein air (painting “live,” directly from observing nature, rather than in a studio) is great for learning composition and also for learning how to carefully observe, because the brain does play tricks on us. Side benefit? Painting plein air means you get to hang out in the fresh air on a sunny day. But it’s hard. Damn hard. Usually my internal mental dialogue has gone something like this:
What a beautiful day!
Should I paint this? Or this? Is there shade?
Is there a bathroom nearby?
Make a decision; you’ve got to paint something.
Wish I could set up faster.
Horizontal, vertical or square?
Forgot to get the paper towels out.
What am I looking at? Am I going to be able to draw this?
Forgot to get my glasses out.
No room for my glasses on my setup. Top of the head, it is.
Maybe I need the umbrella after all.
Hope the umbrella doesn’t tip over.
What am I looking at?
How am I going to simplify that?
What color is that? Why can’t I mix that green?
This painting sucks.
Why are other people so good at this? Will I ever get good at this? Why am I doing this to myself?
Oooo, the light just got brighter. So pretty. Let’s capture that.
The light changed. Keep going or quit?
Oh, man, people are approaching. I hope they don’t stop. This painting sucks right now.
Damn, they stopped.
They must be so disappointed. I’m so embarrassed.
Will I ever get good at this?
Keep going. Light is back. Besides, you’re here already.
How come I can’t mix that color? Why is paint so inadequate for light?
Is the shadow as blue as I am seeing?
I’m sweating. I need another shower.
My canvas is in full light. Gonna affect the color.
Move the umbrella. Again.
Warm or cool?
Is that a bee?????
Contemplate if I can Epipen myself. If not, wonder how long it will be before anybody finds me.
Fresh look at painting. How is it possible for that tree to have too much detail and, at the same time, too little? Amazing.
Am I getting sunburned?
Out with the crazy lady flap hat. Protects my neck and face, but looks batty.
What am I looking at? What color is that? How do I separate the greens?
Titanium or flake white?
Flake white replacement.
Shoo mosquito. Get bit anyway.
The Liquin is getting sticky.
That green. Cad yellow and cobalt? Viridian and cad red? Why can’t I mix the right grey? Is that shadow really that blue?
Too much detail. Scrape.
Better. But still awful.
Maybe not totally awful. I like some things about it.
Why is everybody else so good at this? I feel like such a failure.
Why don’t the other painters I know struggle with this?
Okay, most do.
My feet hurt.
Values. Are they right?
Of course not. Fix.
I feel like someone is watching again. Should I turn around?
No, sir, painting is not relaxing.
Hope that dog is friendly.
Wait. The couple who’ve decided to make out and are blocking my view, will hopefully move. I was here first.
Stand back; assess.
Light is going.
Panicked last few strokes to capture the light. Am I ruining it?
Light is gone.
Sigh. Time to pack up.
Better scrape the palette and clean the brushes now. I won’t feel like it later.
I hate this painting. Why do I do this to myself?
Should I scrape it out now?
Wait. Sometimes I change my mind later.
I’m sweating. I do not look attractive right now. I hope I don’t run into anybody I know.
It’s a beautiful day.
Carefully stow wet painting.
Where’s the bathroom?
NEXT MORNING …
Guess I should look at yesterday’s painting to see if I can learn anything.
25% OF THE TIME:
It’s so bad. I suck.
49% OF THE TIME:
Hmmm. It’s not as bad as I thought. Put aside until I decide if it’s salvageable.
20% OF THE TIME:
Huh. This might actually be good with a few tweaks. Who knew?
5% OF THE TIME:
Shocked. Good as-is. Why do I beat myself up so much?
1% OF THE TIME:
When I finish, I think it’s decent.
What’s your process?
Fellow painters, weigh in. Does this sound familiar, or is your plein air experience different?
Struggled with this session. Model’s skin, her dress, and the cover on her chair were all similar tones and values. Plus she was sick and kept saying she might hurl, which was distracting to the big sister side of me, as I ran round trying to get her mints, Coke and a bucket in case she lost her cookies. Other challenges: room was hotter than hell and glare on my palette made it hard to tell what I was mixing. The beauty of painting live, I guess. First world problems. Still, one of my favorite models and the painting does look better than the photo was able to capture. This model reminds me of Ophelia, an idea which I tried to incorporate into the painting conceptually. Looking forward to refining this study further. 11×14, oil on linen. Painted at the Scarab Club of Detroit. 2 hours.
Forced to take a couple months off due to that all-encompassing life drain known as moving. I’m a bit rusty, but happy to be getting back to what matters: painting. Great pose yesterday but difficult because lighting sources were not well controlled and she was lit all over. Still, there are things about it I like. 12×16, oil on linen.
Trying to share the journey as honestly as possible. That includes paintings that are not always the best I can do. Yesterday, we had two models who moved a lot. I don’t quite have the skill level to compensate for that. Yet. Something to work on. Still, I think the costumed one (14×11) is a decent start and I rather like the nude (12×9). Both oil on linen.
This one is close to my heart. My family at the beach at my grandmother’s cabin. It is also the largest painting I’ve ever done. “The Search for Sea Glass,” Whitestone Point, Au Gres, Michigan. Oil on canvas, 24 x 36.
It’s important to paint a lot. Some studies I throw in a drawer forever; others I finish later. Working at it is what matters most, not the result. I will likely finish these, though the nude will be hard since there’s no reference photo. There rarely is for nudes. Most models, understandably, do not allow photos for nude sessions. Great model today; it makes all the difference. I do not envision taking these paintings much tighter; I rather like them the way they are.
Three years ago, I started painting after a couple months of messing around with colored pencils. I was stuck and needed some guidance. So I took my first classes. Truth be told, the instructors were rather surprised at how well I did, considering I had zero painting experience and had not drawn at all since high school. I remember the great Roumen Boudev, my instructor, asking me, “which one of these is medium?” and replying, “What’s medium?”
I was a total rube. Despite that, I plugged along and did some passable portraits. “You have a natural gift,” people would tell me. At the time, I considered that to be a huge compliment.
A different perspective on painting
Flash forward three years. Lately I’d been finding those words, always said with good intentions, to rankle. I wasn’t sure why. But one day, my life drawing instructor pulled me aside to discuss my work and my grade. And he said something that pinpointed my annoyance for me. After talking about his reaction to my work, he said, “You are an extremely hard-working and motivated artist.”
I was rather taken aback. I honestly hadn’t thought about myself that way. Sure, I knew I’d worked hard, doing hundreds of paintings in the past three years. But I didn’t really appreciate how hard I’d worked or that it was noticeable. I thought most painters worked as hard as I do. But … some do, some don’t. And focusing on inherent talent alone discounts the value of the hard work I’ve chosen to put into my paintings.
The case for hard work
Consider these two paintings of mine. The one on the left was my first figure drawing and figure painting ever. It was done in 2.5 hours. While I do still like the colors, otherwise it is utterly incompetent. I remember being super angry when class was over; I knew I could do better. And I could. Compare that to the painting at right, which I did a couple months ago, also in 2.5 hours. Huge difference; right? But both were done with the same amount of innate talent.
Do I think I have a natural gift? Probably. But I think that it’s only about 10% of the equation, maybe less. Most people possess some degree of creativity. It is the cultivation of that gift that makes an artist. Because, even with talent, painting is HARD. Damn hard.