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The Longest Shortest Year

“Runner Up” 8×10, acrylic on wood panel (Sold)

I know, it’s been simply ages since I have written… well, published anything. I have written, several times. I simply never hit that publish button. I’m determined to do it today. I’m determined to go forward into 2021 with a renewed sense of, well, something. Anything, really. However, to truly go forward, I think it’s important to look back. (I realize this is long, but I figure better to get this all out and then look forward!)

Is it just me, or was 2020 the longest shortest year, ever? Some parts of it dragged on, and a week felt like a month. Other moments had me desperately trying to figure out why it was so easy for so much time to just slip through my fingers with nothing to show for it. I had actual days where it was evening and I couldn’t figure out how that could be because breakfast was just a moment ago (wasn’t it?) and what had I even done all day?

My last post had me closing out the prior year. I’m embarrassed that I’m at that point again, with no posts between, but here it is. This is my painting quilt for 2020.

I was disappointed about 2019, having produced so little. My intent was to turn that around, and instead of including every little painting I managed to squeak out, that I would include only the best ones because there just wouldn’t be enough room. Production was my goal, along with gallery coordination, and it not only stalled out in 2020, I’m pretty sure it went flaming over a cliff and exploded in a ravine somewhere. So, this is (again) every single painting in 2020 that I completed – whether practice or not.

What I learned this time around is that setting a production goal that was fairly high also set me up for feeling like a failure. This has given me a lot to think about. Why did I want to produce so much (a MINIMUM of 52 “complete, not practice” paintings for the year)? I think it all came down to the fact that with painting you tend to improve the more you actually paint. I realize now that I left out the idea that I could grow and evolve without a high production, but rather an attention to process and technique as well.

I got mired in the 2020 swamp, and barely painted at all. I think we’ve all read and heard enough about all the things wrong with 2020, so while I have my own stories, I won’t elaborate. I let it get to me. I had no excuse, and people even said to me “Aren’t you artists supposed to LOVE this stuff? Paint your angst, and all that?”

Which takes me to a side note: I wonder how many artists/writers/musicians and the like created during massively horrible events, and how many created in the aftermath. It’s not something I had really considered before, what with the art we see depicting other hard historical times. I admit that even I bought into the tortured artist idea a bit… but that’s stupid, really. The idea of the artist slapping paint on canvas, the author furiously scribbling, or the musician composing while the room is on fire all around them? Oh, I’m sure there’s a few… but a majority? I’ll bet not.

There is art meant to protest, and that is most certainly in the moment, of course. However, when I started looking through the lens of when EXACTLY, when it came to works about tough times, it seems that they were usually created in the aftermath or in the long lull between. This makes sense, if you consider that the artists are incorporating their experiences in their work. If you don’t experience and process it, and then continue to process or tell in the creation, you’re not really capturing it. Which means, possibly, there is a reason for my pervading sense of an inability to create.

Whatever the reason, I had an extremely difficult time putting brush to canvas. I pushed through a couple paintings (like “Runner Up” at the top, for a gallery show before there were no more gallery shows), and when lockdown was new I tried live streaming a basic class on facebook so people could paint along with me step by step and have something to do. This is the painting from that video:

I have to admit, I wasn’t very keen to be on video. I find being on camera hard, even if it’s just pointed at a canvas and I’m instructing how to do something. (Awkward people, unite!) People suggested I do another, but I let that one kind of slide away.

Not long after that, we remodeled my studio. I said to my husband that we may as well get it done, because painting wasn’t happening. This took a while, and ripping out flooring and such is exhausting! Plus we built an easel wall (not shown in the pictures) that is great for hanging much larger canvases while I work.

Studio, before and after. That before floor was an absolute MESS (the photo doesn’t show how bad it actually was.)

In order to MAKE myself paint something, after tooling around my new studio and not accomplishing much, I finally decided to try out alla prima (wet on wet, usually finished in one sitting), because I figured I’d give myself the chance to finish something – anything. I posted on Facebook and said “send me a picture of your pet, I just want to practice.” I figured they’d be throwaways, since I’d never tried alla prima before, but at least I’d be sitting with brush in hand. I decided to add unusual elements to the pets (asked for info on personality) to make the painting more interesting for me so I’d want to try.

I discovered that instead of making throwaway practice garbage, that I didn’t totally stink at alla prima!

Hound, 4×6 oil on canvas, alla pima (sold)

This basset hound was one of my first attempts, and I have to say I absolutely love him. More, I did it in just a bit over 3 hours. I finished something that I LIKED for the first time in a long time! There is something a bit “alive” about painting alla prima, because you can’t layer in tiny fine details as much as you can with other techniques, and it gives it a rougher energy that seems to work with my little practices. And, it gets DONE!

I ended up painting quite a few of these. The one that makes me giggle, was when I was asked to paint a wet dog. I didn’t know how that would go, but I love it:

“Wet Dog” 4×6, oil on canvas panel (sold)

I painted a bunch of dogs, and eventually this led to me trying alla prima with a figure. That is where my “Skater” came from:

It was another test, alla prima, and it took about nine hours – one sitting. It has been a long time since I painted a figure, and honestly I haven’t been all that thrilled with my figures. But, I like her. I see a TON of room for improvement, but I like her – and I am usually unable to say that.

Part of writing is processing for me. I sat down today with my intent to close out 2020, but to also figure out what my goals should be for this year. Usually, I have a good idea, but I confess that this time around I’ve been pretty lost. I realize that I learned that high production goals aren’t for me, and that I have a new avenue of painting to explore. I have a lot of things I want to learn, and with galleries still shut down and the world still in nightmare-mode… maybe that’s the goal this year instead.

I want to learn, develop, and grow. I want to fill back in the empty spaces I left in my own life as I shrank away in 2020, and then I want to grow beyond them!

How about you?

2 thoughts on “The Longest Shortest Year”

  1. Yeah, you can’t aim too high with goals. Failure is the only option then. Some people I’ve talked to say they would rather it be that way because it motivates them. Me? I get depressed and then other goals suffer. I’d rather aim low and surpass!

    Liked by 1 person

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