Saturday, February 9, 2013

Gotta start someplace

I'm   taking a class called Confident Landscape Painting through the West Hartford Art League, taught by artist Shauna Shane.  The class takes place in this old brick schoolhouse:

Shauna would like the members of the class to shed their prejudices of what, say, a head should be shaped like, and instead, depict whatever shape we see, regardless of our knowledge that it may be a head.

To that end, she's having us work from a small copy of a painting by her favorite artist, Joaquin Soralla, a Spanish painter who lived from 1863 to 1923.

First, she asked us all to copy the painting, as best we knew and as best we could, giving us one hour.  I knew that she wanted us to look at shapes and especially the size and location of negative shapes.  In one hour, using my brand-new pastels, I came up with this:

Then Shauna asked us to do an experiment. She had us draw a grid over the small copy of the Sorolla painting, and a grid of similar proportion on the paper we would be using.  Once the grids were drawn, she had us turn the Sorolla painting upside down, and use the gridlines to copy the shapes from the painting onto our paper, starting with the negative shapes.  By that I mean, we would look at the shape of a section of sand, and copy that shape, as opposed to the positive shapes of the figures and limbs viewed against the sand.

Copying the painting upside down, still using pastels, I came up with this:

Which one do you think is closer to the original?  I guess I have to say the second one.  Drawing it upside down was like putting together a puzzle, let me tell you.

As I was working on it, I was thinking of the 10,000 hour rule theory put forth by author Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers.  In the book, he describes the Beatles performing live in Hamburg, Germany, on over 1200 days from 1960 to 1964, thus reaching 10,000 hours of performance time. That's the level of practice, Gladwell says, to get really good at something.

Shauna, our teacher, says, "I'm better than you.  But I've been painting eight hours a day for years."

Sometimes people tell me I'm a talented art quilter, and I'm very happy to hear that, but really, to me, the products of my labors, which appear to some people to be the result of talent, are instead the result of dogged determination and persistence and continuous continuing effort, which includes the willingness to fall flat sometimes.   I'm working on my 10,000 hours as an art quilter.

As a pastels artist, I have a lot farther to go.  But I'm enjoying the experience and the experiment.  I hope Shauna will eventually lead us to working with images of landscapes.  I'm coming to realize that they're my favorite subject matter for art quilts.  I've made quite a few of them.  Here are some examples:

 God knows I'm tryin'.   I'm hoping that these lessons with shapes and pastels will translate into a vision I can use for my art quilts.  Or maybe pastels will become a new, separate medium for me.  If there's one thing I learned from the Artist's Way, it's just go ahead and do it, and be willing to be bad before you can get good.


  1. Awesome! I agree with everything you wrote. So much of getting good is just PRACTICE and time. More and more i think "talent" might just boil down to "enthusiasm" - because if you have the genuine will and urge to create, then you'll be happy to put the time in. It'll be the thing you most want to do. If you don't love spending time on it, then you won't practice enough to stand out.
    I think I like drawing on the iPad because it takes away a lot of steps - no materials to get the hang of, paint to let dry, etc. (Well, using the stylus and programs does take some time to learn, I guess). I get more immediate results - but not the kind of long-term satisfaction that comes from real building a skill set the way you do.
    Impressed by you and love the art you're making.

  2. Yes, talent can stem from enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is the mother of talent.
    I'm loving it that you're doing art too these days!