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“Reaching for the Canopy”, acrylic on 300lb rag paper, 22×30

Ever since my epic failure attempting abstraction with Bert Seabourn last summer, I have been trying to figure out how to break through the block. Why do I suck at abstraction? Did I always?

In the workshop with Rick Berry (see this post), I started scribbling in the oily mud, so to speak. That experience and Rick’s brilliant talk seemed to have opened the door up just enough.

I recently finished the online workshop with Abstract artist, Betsy Dillard Stroud. The idea of letting vision or the Muse do the work was taken a bit further using an additive rather than subtractive approach with transparent layers of acrylic.

If I didn’t understand where it needed to come from in the last workshop, it would be impossible to tap into it and maintain any transparency. Too much control cancels it out. Betsy shared a wonderful quote that I mentioned in January from one of her friends, artist Fujito Kato that I think bears repeating here:

There are no mistakes, where my brush goes, that’s where I am today, and I’m dancing in my own landscape.

It was with this in mind I started to really break through the proverbial wall.

This time, I gave myself permission to fail and opened up to the Muse. I figured I have some skill as a painter, if I screw up it’s partly her fault, right? Show up. That’s what Elizabeth Gilbert says in order to overcome fear and perfectionism in her creative myth busting book Big Magic. I found this video interview introducing the book right after Rick’s workshop and the timing couldn’t have been better. Gilbert shatters some very unhelpful misconceptions about the process of creativity, deceptions that hold us back from finding our voices. Interested in making any kind of art, writing, performance or anything creative? Read it.

Diving into the Mountain, acrylic on 300 lb rag paper, 22x30

Diving into the Mountain, acrylic on 300 lb rag paper, 22×30

I forgave myself in advance for maybe sucking.The exercise was to start with nothing, just begin applying washes of paint. I let go and stepped into that mysterious journey deep into the mountain I feared.

Like Kato says, there are no mistakes. The brush took the lead and danced it’s way across the paper, flowing light and dark, swift and subtle. Like an underground river, each bend a mystery. “Diving into the Mountain” was the result. A waterfall appeared within the composition, the one whose mists and flow penetrated the very deepest parts of the painting. The landscape of the mountain, surreal.

For the last exercise, we were to use something figurative as inspiration and anchor. A photo I shot in the California Redwoods fell on the ground in front of me. I had wanted to do something with it years ago when I first took the photo, but I couldn’t get past its general amorphousness for a realistic painting. I sat down with it and the strong lines made by the tree trunks became the anchor. A relatively small tree (and I say relatively because this thing was still well over 40 feet tall) reached for an opening in the canopy, a space to call its own. The curve and flow of the lower part of the painting became like a river (water is a symbol for emotion, dreams), like the creek that gently wandered beneath the giants that day, their roots coaxing it here and there.

There was a strong theme of water in both paintings, that flow that journeys both above and below ground. There are some things I could correct in this piece, but it will stay as it is as a reminder of the lesson and as that loose thread at the edge, an imperfection. And I may attempt it again, or something similar on a larger canvas instead.

Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking of them as triggers for experiences. ~ Brian Eno

One of my classmates commented on how it reminded her of a walk in the woods she took as a child. She was chasing her dog and got lost among the giants. Unbeknownst to her, a search party was building to find her and as she came upon them, she saw the opening in the canopy, where the light comes in.