Day 17. Proud as a Peacock

You remember December me, right? The one who said January me would be cleaning out the studio, getting a fresh start, creating watercolors at my desk so as to leave the studio open for a major overall?

Yesterday the date just stared at me. It had been sixteen days, and I had yet to touch a single item in my studio. I seriously thought about hiring someone, hoarders style. Half therapist, half cleaning pro, I imagined this person helping me go through each item, sorting it into piles. The episode would end with a successful trip to home depot where we’d buy perfectly suitable shelves for the (very minimal) remnants of our clean out.

Such a vision was just another delay tactic. Not the most organized human to roam the earth, but I am certainly capable. A brief “you can do this…baby steps,” pep talk, and I brought a single garbage bag into the room I’ve been avoiding all month. Fill one garbage bag, just one bag, I spoke gently to myself.

And it was the first step. And I feel proud as a peacock.

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Day 16. You’ve got something on your face

As I was skimming through photographs looking for some good faces to practice portraits with, I came across a photo of my nephew Beau eating an ice cream cone in my backyard at my son’s sixth birthday party. I loved the expression on his face, so I sat down and got to it. Here is the trouble with painting– a lot happens really quickly, it’s exciting and then, well, the tedium sets in. I go from nothing to a fully sketched out face in ten minutes or so. I go from just a sketch to colors and values in another ten. And then there are the much longer periods of tweaking, adding, layering, adjusting. The development takes longer but is less apparent. I’m much more into the beginning stages.

I’ve been working on this little portrait for days now and every time I put fresh eyes on it, it asks me to work on it a bit more. But I’m calling it for now.

Every time I paint at an event or wedding, a stranger will inevitably walk up to me and tell me I have a little something on my face. Sometimes, I kid you not, they lick their fingers and try to wipe the paint off my brow or cheek. I love Beau’s expression in this painting because it says “I dare you to wipe my face.” I’m going to channel some of that energy at my next event where I will certainly continue my long streak of getting paint on my face.

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Day 15. Lesson Plans

This little one is an ultramarine flycatcher, a bird you can probably see in India but not so much Louisiana. I typically paint birds I’m more familiar with, the kind that fly into my backyard or wonder near the ditches on the highway en route to the grocery store (I’m looking at you, egret). But there’s just something about that blue, the way the darker values wrap the little bird in a hug.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ll be teaching a watercolor workshop sometime in February, and I’ve got to write a syllabus, something I’ve not done since 2012. If you were going to take the class, what topics/adventures/lessons would you want to see printed on that syllabus? I feel like I could take it in 1000 different directions. I’d truly appreciate your feedback!

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Day 14. Chasing Cardinals

Since day 1, I’ve painted three cardinals. It’s a subject matter I’m all too familiar with when it comes to oil painting– a real crowd pleaser.

But I’ve not (yet) posted any of the cardinals because for some reason I cannot seem to figure out, they just aren’t translating into watercolor. Red is my favorite color, birds my favorite painting subject. Seems like a no brainer, but I just can’t get it to work. I wonder how many more I’ll have to do before I can post it without cringing.

I’m telling you this because I find myself often thinking what I see online is effortless, born of talent, natural beauty, or just pure luck. The truth is smiling families in matching outfits, vacation selfies, and even paintings of stubborn little red birds– all of it has a bigger, harder, story we can’t see with just the surface shot. A little failure never escapes any of us no matter how much we try to put our best foot forward. Just like the brushes, paper, and paint itself, a dash of failure is always one of the main ingredients in any of my paintings. And I’m learning, slowly, to appreciate it as part of a beautiful process.

So, here’s a great blue heron for day 14 instead of the Moby Dick of a cardinal I’ve been chasing. The heron is this beautiful, powerful, and peaceful bird that reminds me to not let my frustration get the best of me– to stick around and patiently wait to see what happens.

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Day 13. It Can’t Wait Till Monday

One of the reasons I do these painting a day challenges is because it forces me to fit painting into my life whether or not it is convenient. One painting every day no matter what. 

I painted at a wedding in the French Quarter last night (photo coming soon), and today I’m going to the Superdome to do all I can to bring the Saints a victory in the playoffs. It is exactly the type of weekend that would warrant a break, the kind of “it can wait until Monday” weekend. But painting a day challenges eliminate that from my options, and I find myself more prepared, more dedicated. This simple tasks transforms things. 

Today’s painting is one of my favorites so far.

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Day 12. Ballet vs. Power Lifting

For today’s painting I referenced the photo I had taken at the Audubon zoo that has been the basis for nearly all my oil flamingo paintings. I wanted to see how the image translated into watercolor. 

I realize I rely so much on texture. Big globs of paint can cover any less-than confident stroke, convey energy and spirit without subtlety. The watercolor forces me to be more intentional with my strokes, more dependent on my own thoughtfulness rather than just sheer power. If oil painting with a palette knife is power lifting, watercolor is ballet. 

Solely because of this 31 day challenge, I have been asked to teach a watercolor workshop at the St. Tammany Art Association in Covington this February. The same day, a former student of mine reached out about a private lesson. I taught my way through college, graduate school, and then six years after. It’s the only thing I ever thought I’d do. But now, so far removed from it, it feels a new thing entirely. And funny too, because I don’t really know what I’m doing. That’s the secret though, isn’t it? To not know. To go into the endeavor open minded, armed with some fundamental principles but devoid of any superfluous and rigid “shoulds”. Art is discovery, action, delight. 

I said yes to the workshop mostly so I could knock the dust off my teaching boots. Just like watercolor, we will see where this goes. 

 

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