Last week, I sat down in my backyard to begin my first painting of the season. While I experience some level of anxiety when starting a painting, it’s mild compared to what I feel when starting a design project. With art, I’m not trying to solve any communication problem; I’m simply expressing a sentiment or emotion or vision. Excitement tempers most of the unease. I think this year’s harsh winter enhanced my joy about finally getting outside to paint again. I usually have more than enough ideas for what I want to paint, and those ideas fuel my anticipation. Any apprehension I do feel has little to do with the actual blank canvas. It is more related to the logistics.
I have a studio, but I paint outside because the pastels are so dusty and they would make a mess of my indoor space. It’s taken me years to develop a logistical “system” for gathering my materials and getting them to my painting location (see my blog post, 10 Tips for Pastel Painting En Plein Air). All of my supplies are ready to go at a moment’s notice. I pack everything into an ArtComber, which is a large waterproof bag on wheels, with an attached chair.
The anxiety arises when I think about the preparations. Once I’m actually in the midst of preparing, I feel fine. Painting en plein air is more complicated than painting in a studio, where you can just launch right into a new project or pick up where you left off. I have to pack, go somewhere to paint, unpack and set up my work space, paint, pack again, and return home. I might paint in the backyard, or I might drive an hour or 2. Even though my logistical process works well, it does present a sort of barrier between the desire to create and the actual creating. There is a delay between the wanting and the doing.
My pastels lie dormant for the entire winter. So, the first painting of the year has special meaning for me. It symbolizes my breaking through an inertia and getting back into the rhythm of artful activity. I wonder if birds have any anxiety before taking their annual migratory flight north?
I usually do a small painting to launch the season and get the creative juices flowing. Like the bees, I am definitely attracted to flowers in the spring and it’s easy to find some beautiful ones in our own backyard, thanks to Peggy’s (my partner) gentle care. Last week, it was the bright magenta azaleas that caught my eye. I sat very close to them and began marking the blank paper with the shapes. Since azalea blooms are rather small, I had to make choices about which ones would be fully rendered, saturated, and activated in the foreground. Other blooms were drawn darker with more vague shapes, to push them to the background. Some contrasting colors were added for shadows and leaves. On this quiet, sun-filled afternoon, my day’s purpose was found and I lost track of time. It was most restful and satisfying.