Happy New Year! I’ve been doing some spring cleaning, and redecorated the place, enjoy!
My first post of 2016 may seem a bit dismal, but if looked at through the rose colored glasses I like to sport, it is really a call to action to forge on and overcome that which can hold us all back!
Fear is a funny thing. When given in to it can keep a person from realizing their full potential, and finding new confidence in things they thought they couldn’t do. Artist’s have fear in spades, many mirror life in general; like rejection, failure, and even success. Some of the more specific and unique fears can be interesting and even enlightening. Sharing these battles can be validating and inspiring to other artists… many of whom may think that they struggle alone… you don’t, sisters and brothers of the easel, you don’t!
This is a list of my personal fears in painting. Many artists (especially equine artists) will probably find some, if not all of these familiar. All of these I have spoken to other artists mutually about facing. And please note that each item on this list I have actually chosen to face (to one degree or another) rather that give in to fear with avoidance.
Ok, this one’s pretty darn specific, I know. I’ve mostly conquered this one, but for years there was a reason all my full bodied horse paintings had the subjects standing in tall grass. I had nightmares of horses standing on pavement, feet fully exposed or worse… in full action with hooves flailing at strange angles and shaped oddly. I finally decided enough was enough… I would make the extra effort to paint the hooves and get them right, no matter how long it took. Some critical problem solving and hard work made this one a former fear. I leave it on here for others to know it can be conquered… grass is a beautiful setting but a lame crutch!
Of course I love a beautiful landscape or scene, on it’s own or as a backdrop for a subject. But sky and clouds and foliage… oh my! There’s such a clear difference between landscape done right, and landscape done wrong. I can get a lot of depth and richness with the shades of browns found in most horses… but light blues and greens are hard to keep from looking garish and just plain wrong in my hands. I’m working on it, with some success and even more failure, but I will never give up, never surrender!
#4 Poor Photo Reference
This is one where there’s little substitute for experience. It’s always challenging creating a portrait that is a true likeness of a subject when the photos you get to work from are of poor quality (especially, as is often the case, there’s no way to meet the subject or get better photos). Developing the critical eye that’s needed to glean the relevant info out of a fuzzy Polaroid from 1983 is as important a skill as that of knowing how to control the pencil or brush.
Not near as scary as cats (see #2), but I always have to take a deep breath before attempting. If anything, it can be the expectations that are most feared with dogs… if the dog is a purebred, especially one that is show worthy, it can be additionally hard to please the owner who can have a long list of very particular points – not always about the animal itself, but the presentation (grooming, pose, coat etc). Still, I love dogs (I have three, something you don’t usually find with people who don’t like dogs) and find capturing their expressions and personality in paint a delightful opportunity!
For some reason, painting cats is just plain hard (for me). They are my kryptonite. I guess it fits with the nature of the beast, so to speak, as cats are every bit as mysterious and unfathomable as dogs are open and honest, wearing their hearts on their imaginary sleeves.
Occasionally I get a spark of bravado that leads me down a path of inevitable struggle and sporadic cries of “what was I thinking!!” – another well meant attempt to paint a cat. Well, I’ve firmly planted myself right back in that regretted position again.
A dear friend of my mother has so wanted to have a portrait of her beloved cat, and I agreed to do so. It was a necessary favor to the woman who put up with me for quite a bit more than the 18 years it should have been. And in spite of her brave and mighty attempts to fashion me into a teacher, or a vet tech (which did stick for a while)… I eventually, outside of her influence, reverted to my natural state as an artist. Sorry mom.
My own cat, Cabot (see photo), has been assisting me with this piece. I’ll know I’ve arrived in the “comfortable painting cats” department when I have the courage to attempt to paint my own. And that brings me to number 1…
#1 My Own
For some reason painting an animal that you own (or a person close to you) is different. Having that face there day in and day out is a never ending reminder of how far off your painting is. I honestly believe I’m too close to “see” my own animals, or kids, with the same sort of perspective needed with other subjects. This was never more obvious that when I tried to paint a self portrait last year. If I could, I would still be working on it. It was a constant battle of finding that elusive “me”, never quite right, like painting a moving object. Maybe this is the next hurdle to overcome; heaven knows I have plenty of material to work with!
Shake It Off!!
So it’s not easy being an artist, but it is awesomely fulfilling for those that have the gift of the desire to do it! Sure, it’s far from the worst struggles we face. But art, a valid and valued profession, is not for the weak of heart, or those who like things to come easy.