How do I know when an idea is a good one? How do I know if I’m communicating a coherent image? How do I know when a painting or story is finished?
I have a bad habit of revising stories to death and not knowing when to quit when I’m painting. I get in a frame of mind where I feel like I have to correct and correct all my mistakes. I feel like I can never quite get it right, can’t represent the shining idea in my head, but only futz around until I give up.
Is that my process? I do eventually create things, and they do eventually stand on their own. With all their flaws, I send them out into the world.
This painting started as an idea that occurred to me when I took a life story class. I realized I am not just myself. I am made up of all the family, good and bad, that came before me. I am also not the end of the story. I am in my children and they are my bit of immortality, a continuation of story that didn’t start with me and will never end. And even if I hadn’t had children, I am in the life of everyone I know and love. They are in me. My best parts will be remembered and carried forward. We are all upcycled elements that will continue to grow up and out and into infinity.
I drew this little piece in my journal:
I then did a more detailed drawing using watercolor pencils and thinking about color and life.
As I drew this self-portrait, I thought a lot about my disability, my broken body. How do I represent it as a metaphor, not realistically, but how it feels. The immobility and how it feels that I can’t move about in the way other people do. I feel rooted and immobile. But in that rooted place, I have lived such a full life. Life has moved through me in rich and rewarding ways. I decided to do a big painting on canvas.
I hung it up in my studio/bedroom. I saw it before I went to sleep and when I woke up. Something didn’t seem right. I wasn’t happy with the downward hand, and the lack of definition of the plant moving into that hand and out the other. And the glow I feel wasn’t there. And my crookedness wasn’t visible enough.
I’ve been watching a lot of videos by Gwenn Seemel, a wonderful artist that I love, who is very generous with her process and shows her many revisions. She layers and adds color and lets her paintings flow, glow and grow.
So I decided to let my painting grow, too. I layered over it, changed the position of the lower hand, added to the humped back of my tree figure, then added the aura, the glow I feel as I think of how life passed through me.
I hung the revised painting in my studio/bedroom. I saw it before I went to sleep and when I woke up. And it didn’t bother me anymore. It said what it needed to say.
I deepened colors. I made the title more visible. I added iridescent paint, that shows up as a sort of grainy white in these photos.
This painting may be only a personal statement that no one else relates to. but I’m glad I moved forward with it. When I see it on the wall, I feel less alone, that in spite of or maybe because of my disability, there is vitality in me that it’s taken me a life time to recognize. I finished the early painting on my 57th birthday, and the revision a month later.
Now when I look at it, I wonder about ways to revise the image of bodies that have been twisted and reshaped by life. How to capture the vitality and beauty and light of survival. For all it’s flaws, it’s a catalyst for future ideas. Isn’t that where new ideas come from — the old mistakes give birth to the new ideas?
It’s a good thing to meditate on as a I wander my way through the next year.