I’m trying to make art again. I used to draw and paint every day when I was in high school and there’s no kidding myself, it was pure escapism to cope with the reality of that time. All the energy I now happily spend on friends, gardening, cooking, working and love were channeled instead into my art. All that energy. When my life got better, my art making got scarcer. Until I was quite happy. And didn’t make art anymore.
So there’s been one question on my mind for, oh, years:
Why make art when I’m happy?
So to try and answer that, I painted some kale this week. I do love kale, and my Red Russian variety is so gorgeous. But on a fundamental level, I’m trying to paint and collage the joy I feel when working in the garden. A pure, exciting feeling of accomplishment and fresh dirt, bright sunlight, green chlorophyll. I’m trying to make art with a concept, like they teach you in art school (so I gather) and my concept is that feeling. Will a concept be the answer to my question?
First I tried looking at a photo and drawing kale leaves. (Actually, first I tried drawing kale from memory but it looked like demented seaweed and I realized the error of my ways)
Drawing! With my hand! It felt weird.
Ok, I got this line thing down. What I really want to do is paint, so let’s try it. Maybe brown paper is my thing?
No no. Not a fan of the brown. But this bleeding of wet-on-wet medium, that’s something pretty great. I like it. I remember liking it in high school.
Ok, time to try some white paper. Let the light shine through like the sun.
Hmm, it’s alright. But color. What I really want is color. Lime green, mint turquoise, purple veins.. that’s what I love about the kale. Time for watercolors.
Oh. Oh no. I know what kind of watercolor I love. This is not it. This is weak tea, the wrong shades of green, not vivid enough, clumsy control. I love Frank Frazetta watercolor. I love this lady who painted Dooce’s daughter Leta in rainbows and intensely glowing eyes.
You know what? I also really love collage. Specifically, tissue paper collage that lets the colors bleed into each other. Another wet medium, and one I find really intriguing.
Time to try some tissue paper collage. With cutout shapes.
Behold a kale! Well, it’s ok. But not… wet enough. Not messy enough. The stems are a bit screwed up. It’s kind of rigid, right? But I liked the tissue paper.
I decided to give it one last try. I prepared a really wet canvas out of cardboard. I used scraps from my previous (laborious) cutout to save time. Would the colors work the way I wanted? Would they bleed enough? Would it be awesome?
Huh! It worked out the best of anything I tried so far. It was rather nice, actually.
At this point I took a break. I thought a lot about art. I wasn’t really feeling the concept thing. It wasn’t inspiring me like I remember my art doing.
That plus some career-questioning conversations with friends over beer led to me going to bed a little depressed. A little disheartened. I felt maybe like a marathon runner who took a 9-year break and then found she couldn’t jog a mile. What place did art have in my life anymore?
But this morning I had a dream. I had a dream about the art I used to create before. And I was filled with the feeling that I used to have when I created, and it made so much sense to me. I was like, this feeling again, so familiar, I remember, I remember.
And this is really unusual for me because most of my dreams make absolutely no sense and always involve things I’ve never done before, like running around in a the Hunger Games except underground (that was yesterday). But this one was an intense, vibrant remembering.
In the dream I was part of an adventure (foxes and octopi and Robin Hood, if you must know), but I was also making art about it at the same time. I knew the characters, and I painted them, and I was searching for the many many pieces I’d created about them already. I found one and stared at it, and saw every grain of line and shape of face I’d made.
And I thought, this is good. This is what I love.
I love to make art of stories.
I think I’ll keep making the wet media collages. I still like the process. But stories. I am so grateful to my brain – or possibly something else – for reminding me of what I had forgotten I loved. I’m still processing the dream. But I wanted to write about it.
I think it’s important to remember.
If you liked this post, please share it: