Are you waiting to be ready before you share what you know? We humans often think that we’re not ready to share what we know or what we do, because someone else does it better and, well, we’re not quite good enough “yet.” That kind of thinking is the result of comparing yourself to others. And since thoughts are what create beliefs, if you think you’re not good enough yet, well then you don’t believe that you are.
I’m a student in a studio class that’s offered by a man who routinely gets paid $15,000, and often more, for his paintings. He does beautiful work. He’s also a great teacher, and every week he shares his expertise with me and his other students. I will never paint like my teacher paints, because I’m me. I’m different. My hand is different. I hold my brushes different. My brush strokes are different. My eyes see color differently. I choose different subjects to paint. It’s my very differences that make me uniquely different from my teacher.
You’re unique, too. So don’t compare. Share. Share what’s unique about you, because you’re the expert. Never mind what you are not. Decide on what you want and stay focused there on yourself and your flow.
Insist on the beauty of form and color to be obtained from the composition of the largest masses, the four or five large masses which cover your canvas. Let these things above all things have fine shapes…Let them be as meaningful of your subject as they possibly can be. ..Remember that the greatest beauty can be expressed through these masses, that the distinction of the whole canvas depends on them.
~ Robert Henri in The Art Spirit
I passed by this stand of tall, slender pines while driving on a back road in Wisconsin a couple of summers ago. I stopped and took a couple of photos and had every intention of painting them—until tonight.
Every composition is an arrangement of shapes, but the shapes aren’t always obvious. In the photo above, the trees are full of interesting details, and those details disguise the big shapes. That’s when making a notan (the process of reducing everything to two values—black and white—can be a best first step before diving right into a painting. The notan eliminates details and leaves only large shapes.
When the 30-minute notan study was done, I felt less than thrilled with the four large shapes that remained. There is nothing outstanding or beautiful about any of the shapes and I decided not to do the painting
I still love the scene and the memory attached to the photo, but creating a painting requires a significant block of time and effort. So, I’m not disappointed about letting go of the notion. The 30 minutes it took to do the notan drawing was a good use of my time.
Wisconsin Farmstead – 2018
Cloud – 2015
Don’t try to paint good landscapes. Try to paint canvases that will show how interesting landscapes look to you — your pleasure in the thing.
~ Robert Henri in The Art Spirit
When I passed by this Wisconsin farmstead on a summer day in 2015, I had to stop the car and just take it in. The cumulus clouds floating above a field of ripening grain was, as they used to say, “A Kodak moment.”
The small 6×6-inch oil painting was done on a birch board in 2015. I leaned into this painting, using a palatte knife to paint the field. I say “leaned in” because I’d only started painting again after setting aside my paints and brushes for 30-plus years. But something about this landscape gave me the courage to try. I gifted the painting to a friend, and it remains one of my favorites.
I’m painting the landscape again. This time on a 9×12-inch linen panel. The house is hidden, protected behind the windrow of trees. The small barn and silo, once so common in rural areas, are an anomaly in today’s world. Many of the older barns and silos have fallen into disrepair, or they’ve been replaced by sheet-metal barns and shiny aluminum silos. My motive for painting this little landscape (which still needs a little tweaking) is reason I stopped my car and took the photo — it was a beautiful summer day for watching clouds sweep past, high above the field.
An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail. ∼Edwin Land
I painted in my twenties and thirties. Then I put my paint box on a shelf in the basement and went on with life. The “idea” of painting sometime in the future never left me, but as time passed, fear set in and I began to believe painting—an activity that I loved—would remain shelved, like the supplies I’d left in the basement.
Three decades passed. I felt the urge to paint a couple of years before I actually picked up a brush and mixed paint on a palette or applied it to a canvas. But by the time I acknowledged to myself that I wanted to be the artist my younger self had believed in, I was too afraid to paint. So instead of painting, I got interested in polymer clay.
I didn’t want to use the clay to make jewelry or cute animals. I wanted to paint with clay. I searched the internet for examples and artists who used clay the way I wanted to use it and found few who had tried. In the meantime, I learned about the tools clay artists use and I started making small landscape clay paintings. The one above is 4×4 inches. I developed some skills with the medium, and then I hit a wall. I couldn’t make the clay comply with my vision. Clay, like every medium, has its limitations.
Working with the clay had shown me that I wanted to paint landscapes. I also knew I couldn’t realize my vision using polymer clay. I needed to use paint. So I put aside the fear of failing and began again to paint. My “clay period” showed me some things about myself. It was an important and necessary step to take. But I’m so glad I decided to move past the fear, because that decision opened doors to new communities of people, new experiences, new confidence in myself, and it reconnected me to my joy, which is painting.
What brings you joy? What do you want to try doing? Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from trying.
If I had only …
forgotten future greatness
and looked at green things and the buildings
and reached out to those around me
and smelled the air
and ignored the forms and the self-styled obligations
and heard the rain on the roof
and put my arms around …
…it’s not too late
…it’s morning. I have been given
another day. Another day to hear and read
and smell and walk and love and glory
I am alive for another day.
Today, I don’t want to live for,
I want to live.
Anxiety is the realization that I might not reach the
rung on the opinion-ladder which I have
just set for myself. I fear death most
when I am about to exceed what others
expect of me; then death threatens to
cut me off from myself, because
“myself” is not yet.
Meaning does not exist in the future
and neither do I …
Hugh Prather wrote Notes to Myself in 1970.
In the forty years since I bought Notes to Myself in 1976, my life has “happened.” It’s easy to took back and feel regret for what was abandoned or never realized, and to want time back so different decisions could be made. Regret, a by-product of living and of aging, is useful, though, in small doses. It reminds us that all we can really do is live in the present and with right intention. Prather’s words remind me to do that, and to use all the skill and experience I have to create now.
Field Geometry, a 6×6-inch oil on gessoed panel, was painted from a photo I took near New Prague, Minnesota, last spring.