Painting in a series and what it taught me

Painting in a series and what it taught me

I have always painted in series. When one subject or idea strikes the proverbial gold, I keep digging. But not in some organized, focused way. I flit from this to that. Some series have lasted years, others hours, and I tend not to focus on just one series at a time. 

It is one thing that frustrates me the most about myself. One of my deepest art insecurities is people walking into the gallery and not realizing all the work is by the same artist. But when I expressed that sentiment to my friend Carol at our recent artist book club meeting, she looked at me with shock. It is what I love most, she exclaimed. Your birds are nice, she said, but it is the figurative work that I really love. 

I heard ya, Carol. And I received it. Maybe what I am insecure about is actually my superpower. I’m an explorer of both “old” ideas (because they’ve yet to dry up) and open to new ones. If Walt Whitman said it, maybe so can I– “I am large. I contain multitudes.”

Do I contradict myself?

I’ve always wanted to try to focus exclusively on a theme or subject but my wanting always lacked the discipline to actually do it. People pleaser to my absolute core, I want to be all things to all people, so the thought of excluding certain subjects and digging deep into just one feels scary. As it turns out, I cannot be all things to all people. News to me. So I had a chat with myself about how if I want to try something, I should just try it. Since I plan to paint until the day I die, there’s no harm in investigating. There’s no timeline I’m up against. A series of paintings focused on hummingbirds felt odd and, truth be told, it started off as a repeat iteration of a similar small painting, but then, oh then, I really got into those tiny little shapes and they appeared in themes I’ve previously explored (portrait, abstraction). 

 In conclusion

 

Limiting myself to hummingbirds did the opposite. It gave me a diving board, but the pool still felt as vast as ever. I got started faster because I eliminated the “what do I want to paint today” part. I felt certain that one canvas would influence the next, and it did. 

I was sitting on my porch this morning drinking coffee and, in the neighbors oak tree, do you know what I spotted? Of course I did. So small, not at a feeder but in its own natural world entirely. I am not sure I would have noticed her without my laser focus this month. And, unconcerned with me entirely, I still like to think she whispered, “well done.” 

I know myself and I know that, like that hummingbird, I will likely flit from one project to the next– using brushes, knives, oil, and water. I will paint people and places and things and shapes that represent no objective thing at all. I will use bright, bold colors and a variety of greys. But, for now, I’d like to take on another limited series, and I’m hoping you might have some ideas for me. What subject or theme would you suggest next? Please drop me an idea in the comments! 

Hummingbird paintings hit the gallery Friday, September 9 with a wine/live music reception from 6-8 pm and the site on Monday, September 12 at 10 am. 

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Painting in a series and what it taught me

Painting in a series and what it taught me

I have always painted in series. When one subject or idea strikes the proverbial gold, I keep digging. But not in some organized, focused way. I flit from this to that. Some series have lasted years, others hours, and I tend not to focus on just one series at a time. ...

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Two words I use every day (in my studio and in my life).

Two words I use every day (in my studio and in my life).

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10 Things Saving My Life Right Now

In my 40th year, I have discovered the joy of lists. I make them on my phone, on scraps of paper, in my sketchbook, and now, here on my blog. Here are ten small things making a big difference in my life right now.  1. The Lazy Genius Podcast. A new discovery for me....

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Start small

Start small

We were sitting on the second story porch of a cabin built into the side of a hill looking down at a one-day-past-ten year old casting his fly rod into a catch and release pond. The mountain air was a relief to our tired Mississippi lungs used to breathing in only sticky heat. 

Hummingbirds visited the feeder on that porch most afternoons, or was it evenings? They blurred together as we figured out our meals and adventures in the moment without a whole lot of planning. 

Oh, yea, I thought each time I saw a hummingbird. Their small size never ceased to surprise me though I’d seen it a hundred times before. They really are that small. 

Our summer trip was full of joys and misadventures (have you ever used a sock as toilet paper on a trail? Seen lice re-emerge the week after all the heads and sheets and pillows have been treated? Been caught in an apocalyptic downpour on a family hike?). Though our time in the Smokies is long gone, the porch hummingbirds have stayed with me. It’s the joy of them even in their smallness. Maybe the delight of their smallness. 

I have been feeling this pull lately to make some changes– personal, professional, all the things. And maybe changes isn’t even the right word. Maybe it’s more like leaps. But before we can leap, we’ve got to get to the height or precipice from which to do it. It can feel overwhelming. It is overwhelming. Right now, the hummingbird may as well be holding a flashing neon sign at me that says “start small” or “baby steps” because those I can do. Those, I know, add up. 

I’m not into big overhauls. I don’t like before and after photos. I like to celebrate those tiny but meaningful steps we take that lead to what are sometimes invisible changes– those paper wings flapping 53 times per second, but you can’t even see it. It’s so small. It’s so fast. Sometimes it takes a thousand moves just stay right where you are. 

The hummingbird has been the theme of my current work. Some of the paintings are small and done quickly over a cup of coffee just after the sun has come up. Some are larger, and I’m planning at least one very large piece (one little stroke at a time, of course).

With August being my only wedding-free month, I have found a gentle rhythm in the daily painting that once was my lifeline. I’m finding small but consistent again. I’m seeing little efforts adding up and paths they might be clearing. 

The entire hummingbird-inspired series will be on display at the gallery for our September Gallery After Hours party, September 9th from 6-8pm and online Monday, September 12 at 9 am. Make sure you’re on the mailing list if you want first access to them. I hope you’ll enjoy seeing all the little things that have been transpiring. 

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Painting in a series and what it taught me

Painting in a series and what it taught me

I have always painted in series. When one subject or idea strikes the proverbial gold, I keep digging. But not in some organized, focused way. I flit from this to that. Some series have lasted years, others hours, and I tend not to focus on just one series at a time. ...

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Two words I use every day (in my studio and in my life).

Two words I use every day (in my studio and in my life).

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Artist, Enneagram, Bird.

Artist, Enneagram, Bird.

On a long drive last month, my sister introduced me to the enneagram, which my brother had introduced to her. Ask my husband, and he will tell you that the Hopkins siblings are an intense bunch. We do not do or take things lightly. This is no exception. If you are not...

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Two words I use every day (in my studio and in my life).

Two words I use every day (in my studio and in my life).

I’m not sure where I learned them, but as soon as I did, I realized how powerful they were. They work best to dispel my natural tendency to let a simple disappointment snowball into a full-scale self-directed character assassination. I can’t tell you how many of my paintings don’t quite turn out, how many times I’ve run out of cadmium yellow light just when I really needed it, how much time I waste scrolling on whatever app has captured my attention. 

Oh well

It magically opens these wondrous gates to self acceptance and, more importantly, moving on. There’s an implied “shucks” in there too (because it’s best said with a sigh) so I can properly acknowledge my disappointment and just keep going. I’ve said it recently when I walked into the studio ready to paint only to see an overflowing trash can in my path. I wished I’d emptied it at the end of my last session, readying my space for this new moment, but, oh well– I tied it up, brought it out. I’ve said it as I’ve obliterated an entire painting with a large swipe of the palette knife, ready to start over with all I’ve learned. Oh well. I’ll try again.

It’s bigger than the studio, too. It applies to avocados I let get too ripe, alarms I don’t set, and children who are on cloud nine one moment and in the depths of angst the next. 

There’s power in “Oh, well” and I aim to exhaust it. What words or phrases give you power? I’d love to know.

Below is a video collection of  studio “oh well’s”. I hope you enjoy it (mostly because making it was a series of stumbles itself). It certainly brought a smile to my face. Most especially that last clip. 

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More From This Category

Painting in a series and what it taught me

Painting in a series and what it taught me

I have always painted in series. When one subject or idea strikes the proverbial gold, I keep digging. But not in some organized, focused way. I flit from this to that. Some series have lasted years, others hours, and I tend not to focus on just one series at a time. ...

read more
Two words I use every day (in my studio and in my life).

Two words I use every day (in my studio and in my life).

I’m not sure where I learned them, but as soon as I did, I realized how powerful they were. They work best to dispel my natural tendency to let a simple disappointment snowball into a full-scale self-directed character assassination. I can’t tell you how many of my...

read more
Artist, Enneagram, Bird.

Artist, Enneagram, Bird.

On a long drive last month, my sister introduced me to the enneagram, which my brother had introduced to her. Ask my husband, and he will tell you that the Hopkins siblings are an intense bunch. We do not do or take things lightly. This is no exception. If you are not...

read more

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Let it take the time it takes.

Let it take the time it takes.

In May, my husband and I made two years of marriage. I was painting at two weddings in New Orleans so we decided to stay there an extra night to celebrate. It was Memorial Day weekend and the crowded streets and busy restaurants proved less than relaxing for my mountain-loving spouse. We navigated our way through pods of twenty-somethings at the rooftop pool of our hotel and talked to each other over competing bluetooth speakers blaring various music we realized we’d never heard before. 

But the title of this post isn’t, “On being 40,” so I’ll get to the point. We were walking to a coffee shop when I passed a sign on the sidewalk that read, “Let it take the time it takes.” I realized immediately that I’d been walking quickly, that I was antsy to get to whatever it was we were going to do that day (we had no plans). I snapped a photo of the sign, took a deep breath, and didn’t worry about passing up the slow walkers in front of me. We’d get there when we got there.

We decided our next anniversary trip would involve some kind of altitude and a city where we don’t already spend a lot of working hours, but  “Let it take the time it takes” worked its way into my brain and has built a little nest there becoming a friendly and consistent mantra. 

I bring it with me to the studio in particular. I want so much to create paintings easily and effortlessly. I want them to be large and impactful, coherent, honest and consistent. I want it not to be hard. 

But some days it just is. I’m stuck, frustrated, tired, or bored. It feels like the work isn’t going anywhere or that I’ve run out of ideas. But then, always, without warning or invocation, the strokes become less strained, the paintings build on one another. One idea finds its way onto yet another canvas and this time, this time, I see it, I feel it, I can’t wait to try it out on the next one. Why these creative bursts require drought and darkness to precede them, I’ll never be sure. But I do know the less-than-glorious moments are just part of the time it always takes.

This past month has had its fair share of interruptions, distractions, unchecked boxes, and inconsistencies. Somewhere in all that, my studio time flourished, the precious boon of showing up, of trying anyway. The gift of letting things take the time they take without fuss or fight.

I have two very large paintings and several smaller pieces I’m eager to share. They will all be on display at Gallery After Hours this Friday, August 12 from 6-8 pm and then available online Saturday, August 13 at 10 am. You can see some details from the new paintings below. 

I hope you’re finding ways to let things take the time they take. I’d love to hear about it.

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More From This Category

Painting in a series and what it taught me

Painting in a series and what it taught me

I have always painted in series. When one subject or idea strikes the proverbial gold, I keep digging. But not in some organized, focused way. I flit from this to that. Some series have lasted years, others hours, and I tend not to focus on just one series at a time. ...

read more
Two words I use every day (in my studio and in my life).

Two words I use every day (in my studio and in my life).

I’m not sure where I learned them, but as soon as I did, I realized how powerful they were. They work best to dispel my natural tendency to let a simple disappointment snowball into a full-scale self-directed character assassination. I can’t tell you how many of my...

read more
Artist, Enneagram, Bird.

Artist, Enneagram, Bird.

On a long drive last month, my sister introduced me to the enneagram, which my brother had introduced to her. Ask my husband, and he will tell you that the Hopkins siblings are an intense bunch. We do not do or take things lightly. This is no exception. If you are not...

read more

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Break the rules before you (un)learn them.

Break the rules before you (un)learn them.

If you were once one of my art students, you can preemptively put your finger underneath your jaw and apply a little pressure– just to keep it in place for what I’m about to say. 

Most days lately, I go into the studio without a plan or a sketch. Without so much as a notion. Typically this is fine on a small canvas. Small canvases are innocuous little things, easily repurposed or discarded. The paint “wasted” is negligible. 

But a large canvas, I once proselytized my students into believing, requires a level of planning. It demands at least a thumbnail sketch or two. We’ve got to get in there and figure some things out before we go big, before we’re four tubes of titanium white in and decide it was all for naught. 

I wish I had told them that their lives are full of changing seasons and the one that existed in that classroom –3201– was one where we needed to experience thorough planning if only to roll down the windows of our training and let all of it just fly out when the days got shorter or the leaves started falling. 

The season I am in now is one where risks feel powerful and trusting my intuition important. With school back in session, my studio time, while still limited, has become undisturbed once again, and I have felt forcefully pulled toward it, wanting to dive in headfirst, wasting no time in the abstract but getting right to the physical act of applying paint to the canvas. This week, I did just that. Without planning, fretting, designing or rethinking, I jumped right onto a large three foot by four foot canvas. Painting big allows me to use my whole body; this one felt satisfying not just in the colors and shapes but in the actual movement. 

I tried not to think about it too much and moved intuitively from one color and shape to the next. I reserved (somehow) my judgments, and let it be whatever it would be. I recently read a beautiful book called The Wisdom of your Body. In it Hillary McBride describes the healing nature of intuitive movement and dance. My studio practice recently felt akin to that kind of embodied and yet unselfconscious kind of expression. 

The painting I began isn’t finished. I don’t even know if I’ll still like it the next time I walk into the studio, and by that time it may be a new season, one of refining, thoughtful decision-making, and even a healthy dose of frustration.  

The saying goes that you have to know the rules before you break them, and maybe that can be true in certain seasons. But don’t we, more often, break the rules before we’ve ever heard of them? We stumble before we know the mechanics of walking, babble before we understand nouns and verbs, wiggle before we pirouette. Learning the rules is applying structure and guidance to what we have already intuitively experienced, expressed, and lived. 

When my world feels hyper-defined by written and unwritten rules about who, what, and how I should be, I find the practice of intuitive painting liberating. Let me know if you have any similar experiences with your intuition and I’ll keep you posted on how this piece develops.

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More From This Category

Painting in a series and what it taught me

Painting in a series and what it taught me

I have always painted in series. When one subject or idea strikes the proverbial gold, I keep digging. But not in some organized, focused way. I flit from this to that. Some series have lasted years, others hours, and I tend not to focus on just one series at a time. ...

read more
Two words I use every day (in my studio and in my life).

Two words I use every day (in my studio and in my life).

I’m not sure where I learned them, but as soon as I did, I realized how powerful they were. They work best to dispel my natural tendency to let a simple disappointment snowball into a full-scale self-directed character assassination. I can’t tell you how many of my...

read more
Artist, Enneagram, Bird.

Artist, Enneagram, Bird.

On a long drive last month, my sister introduced me to the enneagram, which my brother had introduced to her. Ask my husband, and he will tell you that the Hopkins siblings are an intense bunch. We do not do or take things lightly. This is no exception. If you are not...

read more

Comments

Draw the line.

Draw the line.

What’s something you like that a lot of other people don’t?

I was asked this question in an interview recently. It took me a minute, but I landed on cutting the grass. There’s so much I like about it– the smell, the exercise, the heat, the music pouring into my ears from my headphones, the discoveries– a grasshopper or frog moving quickly out of the way, a weed/flower I’d never noticed before. But what I think I like most is the lines. Those glorious rows the lawnmower makes and the way they slowly start to take over an entire lawn. It is so satisfying. 

Let’s talk lines.

I think I’ve liked lines, particularly making them, for as long as I can remember.  I used to live within walking distance to the Tchefuncte River, and when life felt most beyond my control, I’d walk over to it and stare into the place where the water met the sky. In that space, the trees, usually dripping with Spanish moss, reached upward, but their reflections shone clear on the surface of the brown, still water. They were between two great and expansive mysteries. There was so much above and below them.

I wouldn’t have been able to tell you then why that sight was reassuring to me and why I started painting large abstracts with lines through the center shortly thereafter (even though most of my work was and still is representational), but I think now I can. 

The line is a separation, a marker, a definite in the sea of infinite. Where the river touches the sky there is an explosion of finite grass and trees, leaves, and light. Above that and the sky goes on forever, beyond what we can know or see. Below, and the water holds its own depth and mystery. I have lived many of my days and many of my hours in the past or in the future and in all the things that hum around the here and now. I have wished for things never to come and pined for times long gone. 

And I’ve learned how to spend more and more time in the present– that line between what has been and what will be. When I look at horizons, I see precision surrounded by mystery, and I feel safe. 

What would Jesus do?

In the Gospel of John, when the rule-obsessed and duplicitous Pharisees are asking Jesus whether they should stone a woman (supposedly caught in an act requiring another person who is notably absent from the makeshift trial), instead of answering them right away, Jesus bends down and writes with his finger in the ground, the dirt, the earth. I have often wondered what he may have written, what kind of lines he drew with his hand, and if he just needed a second to connect to the here and now instead of all that surrounded it. I find this simple image of him one of the most interesting and compelling displays of his humanity in all of the gospel stories. I am fascinated by it and why the author chose to include it but not a description of what he wrote. The story ends without the condemnation the Pharisees are thirsty for. They can neither condemn the woman nor Jesus. Not one stone is cast. You are not above or beyond this woman, I think he somehow tells them by stooping down and making marks into the ground.

Roads Travelled

Timelines, horizon lines, the dash between our birth and death dates. The lines we draw to make words and the way they cut into the vastness of a piece of paper. Our signatures or names carved into a tree or the sand at the beach. We are here. We are now. We exist. And it still matters in all that vast mystery that surrounds it. 

Below is a gallery of my abstract line paintings from over the years. They began in 2015. I’ll admit when I went through my archives to find them, I thought I’d have four or five. Turns out I’ve been working on this more often than I’d realized. 

I’ve been making paintings about this for years now, and I don’t have any intention of stopping. I’m not switching careers into lawn care, and I won’t cut your grass (my yard gives me all the satisfaction I need) but I would love to chat with you about the lines and marks you make and see. I would love to know which ones inspire or intrigue you. I would love to draw a line between us.

More From This Category

Painting in a series and what it taught me

Painting in a series and what it taught me

I have always painted in series. When one subject or idea strikes the proverbial gold, I keep digging. But not in some organized, focused way. I flit from this to that. Some series have lasted years, others hours, and I tend not to focus on just one series at a time. ...

read more
Two words I use every day (in my studio and in my life).

Two words I use every day (in my studio and in my life).

I’m not sure where I learned them, but as soon as I did, I realized how powerful they were. They work best to dispel my natural tendency to let a simple disappointment snowball into a full-scale self-directed character assassination. I can’t tell you how many of my...

read more
Artist, Enneagram, Bird.

Artist, Enneagram, Bird.

On a long drive last month, my sister introduced me to the enneagram, which my brother had introduced to her. Ask my husband, and he will tell you that the Hopkins siblings are an intense bunch. We do not do or take things lightly. This is no exception. If you are not...

read more

Comments