April 22, 2013

For me, nothing beats the wordless joy of globbing paint onto canvas. It’s all about the trance of letting go. Stop thinking. Do it.

Overthinking kills spontaneity.

Overthinking makes me miserable.

Overthinking obstructs the truth.

Overthinking is a bad habit ingrained by my control freak Chinese immigrant parents.

Haha, you knew I’d work in that last point somehow. But seriously, painting frees me from the reflex to conform/obey because it’s all about celebrating my feelings. To create a painting that gives an audience pause is a chance for them to step back too. If they can connect with their own subconscious emotions, even if only for a fleeting second, then we’ve got magic — making my work an act of generosity, my gift to the world.

Well. That certainly was a very confident paragraph for me to write! It flows from fingers to keyboard following an inspirational Saturday in a Frank O’Cain workshop at the Art Students League’s bucolic Rockland County suburban campus in Sparkill, N.Y. 

Some of you might remember my first O’Cain workshop experience from 18 months ago. In an earlier blog post, I explained that going abstract with Frank was a huge stretch for me. And going back for more over the weekend was very exciting.   

Once again, Frank delivered. This particular quote is my new mantra: 

It’s not always about what you want. Sometimes you have to give in to desire.


On that note, here are the six feelings that surfaced from me on Saturday:

I’ve never done so many paintings in a single sitting. Then again, it actually took me more than 50 years to do each one; that’s at least how long I’ve been on this quest for uncensored self-expression… 

The workshop ran from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It was a marvelous cocktail of painting technique and emotional release. Frank sets up a canvas using the golden section theory. He favors a small palette of white plus only three more colors — either two warms and a cool, or two cools and one warm. I also took notes on using a variety of mediums and materials, which will someday get me to my real passion: Collage.

On Saturday, though, all I wanted was pure painting. To make the most of the time, I brought along a bunch of little 6″x6″ canvasses, each one no bigger than a slice of toast. Their small, snack-y scale minimized the pressure to feel artful.

After doing a few of these thumbnail paintings as a warm-up, I switched to a larger, 10″ x 10″ canvas that instantly triggered self-doubt about Making A Statement And Not Wasting Expensive Art Supplies. I began wavering, second-guessing every brush stroke.

Of course, Frank knew what to say, leading to the next mantra:

Most artists struggle with their own bad habits, and breaking them.

Thankfully the canvas survived that brief panic attack. Now all my babies are safely in the house, drying out behind a closed door in a cat-free zone. Sometimes, I peek in on them. Ssssh, they’re sleeping, resting, curing:  

As for Mommy’s favorite:

When Frank walked by my easel and eyeballed this one, he took a paper towel and smudged the lower right-hand corner to create dimension. As I questioned how the golden section might work on this canvas, he reached for my palette knife and scratched out an explanation, leading to more depth. Suddenly, we were looking at an expression of increased movement, mood and texture.

The moment also helped me as a writer. Like many superb teachers, Frank is a great editor. With a few deft, simple actions, he showed me how to transform my work. He also had respect. We both loved my decisively angled red line on the left. That section of the painting, he never touched. The best editors know when to stop.

So there you have it. Painting takes me full circle back to my writerly self. It’s all the same thing, actually. Whether I communicate with words or images — or both — the challenge is to be authentic and original. What is my question? How do I answer it? 

I have a hunch I’ll be painting a lot more in the days to come. Until then, I’m wondering…do any of these thumbnail paintings vibe with you? If so, which ones and why?

By the way, if there’s some heart-of-hearts you need to get to, please feel free to write about it in the comments below, saying as much as you want. Sometimes, publicly articulating a wish makes it realer, sooner. It’s one of the secrets of blogging. :)

Let us be true to ourselves.   xo