Now, With Feeling

The other day I was moving around the piles in my art area–pretending I was cleaning up–when I came across my first “real” watercolor painting. It is about 12 to 15 years old, and seeing it again surprised me in many ways with the memories it holds.

First, I remembered how disappointed I was when I had finished this painting. Somehow, it did not look the way I had intended. But now that I can no longer remember what I had in mind, I think, “well, it’s not so bad.” Years later, I find I can be easier on myself.

Then I remembered how much effort I had put into this painting: I had taken a recent photograph of my own, enlarged it on a copy machine, then traced it, transferred the tracing to watercolor paper, and then finally started painting. Whew! And the painting had taken hours–when I think about it, I can still feel the tension in my back and shoulders from hunching over that piece for longer than I should have. (It didn’t help that I had no art desk at the time and worked on the coffee table in the living room while sitting on the floor.)

No wonder I stayed away from watercolors for a while!

Today is different. In the past 12 or 15 years, I have learned that if working at art isn’t going to make me relaxed and at peace, I shouldn’t bother. As a result, my style is very different from what I attempted before: simple, sometimes abstracted, and only what I can create in the brief span of time when the kids are occupied with projects of their own. And instead of trying to achieve realism, I’m more interested in expressing feelings and emotions.

Yes, I may have given up my efforts for technical mastery, but I have found what enjoyment art can bring to my life. That seems like a fair trade to me.

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Drawn to Dreamland

A detail from the Unicorn Tapestries.

Sometimes, the stress of everyday life seems too much. I race from meeting to meeting at work, race around helping to take care of the boys when I get home, and by the time my body collapses into bed, my mind is racing. Sleep can seem a long time off.

So I’ve started taking 15 to 30 minutes at night once the boys are asleep–no matter how tired my body feels and no matter how many dishes are in the sink–to draw. I find an image from an art book at home and copy it (or just a portion of it). It works wonders for relaxation!

Because I am copying another’s work, this exercise is both good practice and pressure-free. (I don’t have to spend mental energy trying to be creative or original.) It must also be good for my mental health, because once I close my sketchbook, I immediately drift into a trouble-free dreamland.

Ahhh…

From the movie set model for Gormenghast Castle.

From William Moriss's Chrysanthemum Wallpaper.