Getting Good at Being Bad

This isn’t about the time Buddy got into the garbage and left a collage of ripped up food wrappers on the kitchen floor.  Or how he runs into the studio while I am teaching classes and hides under the chair of the person who happens to be very allergic to him… (Sorry about that!). Or how he recklessly jumped out of a canoe to catch a fish last summer. Despite his very naughty behaviour I still love him so much and find him easy to forgive. I mean look at that face. 

                         Taken moments before the silly boy attempts to jump into the lake...

                         Taken moments before the silly boy attempts to jump into the lake...

It has not always been easy extending to myself and my artwork the same love and positivity I extend to my doggie, especially when a painting is bad (pee on the carpet bad). My process incorporates a lot of trial and error.  I get an idea, and very impulsively begin to play (it's a bit like jumping in a lake trying to catch an elusive fish). For a long time, a very long time, the paintings that ended in disaster, were very discouraging and upsetting.  My self-worth and quality of my day hinged on the results I achieved in my studio. Talk about pressure!

It's still frustrating when an idea doesn’t materialize, or when days spent on a piece results in “doggy collage".  But over time, many of these mishaps have led to some exciting work, so I’ve begun to cut myself some slack, or gotten good at being bad. Reading and watching movies about successful creative people, in different fields has been impactful. The first time Julia Child made Coq Au Vin, it wasn’t cookbook ready. Lots of tinkering took place before being ready for  “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”. There were so many decisions Julia needed to consider. How much salt? Burgundy or Chianti? How long to sauté?  It’s similar in many ways to painting. How much red? Which red; pyrrole or cadmium? How much value contrast? How large should this shape be? How much wax to achieve the right translucency? Julia could answer her questions through cooking and tasting, and then cooking again. I try to create, taste and create again, just as Julia did. (NB: do not taste your paintings).

As a result, a bad painting is no longer a bad painting, it's actually a wonderful painting, because it is a valuable learning opportunity. I like to ask myself questions as I spend time with my challenging works. I wonder what to do next. I consider the process, my state of mind, the techniques. I wonder if my feelings are because it doesn't work, or because I just don’t personally connect to the piece? I have learned that trying to paint like someone else, or feeling bored with the subject-matter all result in bad work. From studying my work I realized that I needed to (and have) improved my ability to work with value. I learned that the music I paint with, influences the mood and energy of my work. From spending time together, I discovered that the work speaks to me, and tells me things about myself, that I have long since forgotten. The paintings that aren't quite right, are the ones I spend the most time with, learn from and grow from.  

I recently read up on Paul Cezanne, who seemed to work in a manner entirely different to Julia Child. He was known for leaving many of his paintings behind, in a field of all places, because he found them inadequate. Perhaps he was so good at being good, he did not need to be good at being bad.

This recent work, evolved from several trial and error pieces, that I first tasted but have since left behind in a field.


Seasons and the Creative Mind

Have you ever heard that dogs know their human is coming home, well before they arrive? I have no concrete evidence to prove this is true, but I am pretty sure my Buddy perks up a few minutes before my DH gets home. 

Not wanting to compare myself to the greatness that is my dog, I do think I have that same feeling about Spring getting closer. Just the thought of Spring makes me happy, it’s been the coldest February since I was old enough to care. I’m not blessed with dog telepathy, but there are little clues that spring is near that I’m picking up on; morning sun, longer days, and well, I’m starting to think about flowers again. 

It’s been a bit of an artistic crisis, because I haven’t painted any flowers since October. I wondered if I was bored with flowers, or if I was just ready to explore new themes. I didn't connect the dots this winter, as the theme I began exploring in my paintings was quilts, which I painted in deep dramatic colours I typically ignore. This got me thinking of Eastern Wisdom as well as the Traditional Chinese Medicine principle of “nourishing yang in spring and summer time, and nourishing yin in autumn and winter time”. Perhaps painting flowers in the winter is not in harmony with nature.  They don’t nourish the yin, the way a warm cozy quilt might, which is better suited when the weather is so cold and dry. 

Another theory is that creation is about reflecting on what we see. Wintertime, has much beauty to offer, just consider the recent excitement over a frozen Niagara Falls, or the beauty of The Group of Sevens' paintings of Northern Canada. Winter is beautiful, albeit not floral.


With my feeling that spring was closer, and with sun rays beating through my window insisting I wake up, I entered my studio and without plan or intent, began collaging flowers, and in one moment, my crisis ended, and understanding of the seasonal nature of my art emerged. It was a great painting session, I imagined that I was invoking spring, in the same way Southern Native American tribes would dance to invoke rain. Since painting these flowers, the forecast hasn’t changed, it’s still freezing outside, the ground is still covered in snow, but I am starting to feel more energized, happy and am daydreaming of springtime strolls. We will be creating abstracted florals in my Mixed Media Class tomorrow, I’m hoping that my Spring Fever is contagious! (If you are interested in classes or future updates, sign up for updates on the contact page.)