Mural Magic

A much younger me, mid 1990s, Four Corners Elementary School, Salem Oregon

As children, most of us have been told “Don’t color on the walls!”, but it is so satisfying to have such an expanse waiting to be graced with marks made from your small hands.

I did get my chance as an adult.  For a number of years I was an artist in residence in an assortment of schools in a three-county area.  At times there were opportunities to color on walls creating murals with a cadre of small hands.

In the beginning was a wall..

Now that I’m retired from all manner of teaching and the monetization of my artwork, I have a chance to color on my own walls.  A boarded-up window on the outside of my detached studio building has been calling to me for a makeover.  Numerous ideas swirled around my head for months.   A cheery window scene was my ultimate goal.   I sketched out many thumbnails but nothing seemed totally right.  One thing I knew for sure, I was going to paint a black crow on the right side of the piece to disguise a hole that birds had enlarged for a nesting nook.  Also I wanted my tuxedo cat, Zander in the picture along with a teapot, cup, and some flowers (I have this thing about teapots).  I nixed the sun at the top in favor of a compass, a symbol that shows up frequently in my images.

Ultimately I settled on a basic design, a color scheme, and sketched it out on the wood.  Procrastination settled in as perfectionism (fear) took over. Then I decided the worse thing that could happen is I would paint over what I didn’t like.  So I got going.

I worked on the mural bit by bit in the cool of the evenings as the heat wave here in Oregon made it unfeasible to work during the day in the hot sun.  Eventually, I finished- yesterday!  In all I only painted over one vase that was bright orange, changing the color to more of an understated coral. 

I love this mural because it is personal to me and adds a happy focal point to an otherwise  boring wall  My next goal is to doodle all the way up my stairwell.  Let’s see how that goes!

Finished mural

Stepping Up to a Creative Challenge

Mixed media painting by the author

I needed a large piece of artwork to hang behind our bed- preferably a painting to put the finishing touch on our Covid bedroom remodel.  We started this project wall by wall at the beginning of the lockdownto light up a dark vintage 1940s bedroom in this old farmhouse to something fresh and airy.  Off came the dark blue wallpaper and the remnants of an old brick hearth- something I hated for the 28 years I slept under it.  Now the walls are a lovely light green with white woodwork and new white blinds.  This painting would be the symbol of new beginnings.

I am an artist but not a painter- not my thing. My skills are in printmaking, ceramics, and mixed media. In general I work on a smaller scale than this project required. In my mind’s eye, I had a vision of an abstract painting of a rural farm landscape in cheery colors.  Extensive research online turned up nothing that I liked.  Original art was out of my price range.  That left the task up to me to manifest the painting. 

Often when I am faced with a large creative challenge my first default is procrastination.  That was not an option in this case.  I wanted this room to have closure. So I fleshed out my recipe I’ve used before (which with some revision works for writing projects)…

  1. Vision– what do I see as a finished result?
  2. Concept– what do I want to express?
  3. Reference sources– images for a color palette, design ideas
  4. Proper materials for the project (pull out those 25 year- old acrylic paints)
  5. Timer to keep me on task (essential)

I broke down the project into small steps such as…

  1. Figure out the proper size of the painting
  2. A trip to the art supply store to pick up a cradled (dimensional) artboard of the right dimension.
  3. Another trip to pick up the proper sealer
  4. Apply gesso
  5. Set my trusty timer and paint for an hour straight with no interruptions- no matter how scared I was of screwing up. Keep going– paint until the timer dings.
  6. Repeat the above step over and over until done, make tons of mistakes, and paint over them. Revisit reference material for guidance.

I wish I documented the process to show how muddled the first attempts were but I was too involved with the process and making a mess.

Eventually, I started to find my voice which beckoned me to add familiar media: collage paper, water soluble crayon, colored pencil, paint pen, a little gold leaf to add to the sky, and a few ceramic shards from an old pioneer homestead found closeby.  Then I started to enjoy the process and looked forward to visiting my studio every day.  To get to that point though, I had to push through my insecurities.  In that regard, my timer was my best friend.

The finished piece now hangs in the bedroom.  It may not appeal to the eyes of others but that was not the goal.  I love it. The design represents the landscape around my home. There are details that are personal to me within the piece.  Moreso it represents to me that by pushing through your one’s fears, you can accomplish your goals.  Just start and keep going.

The Art of Wabi-Sabi

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I recently became acquainted with this word through my online “Year of Painting class.” Alena Hennesy, the instructor uses this word frequently as she illustrates her process of intuitive painting on her videos.  Wabi-sabi in short means “perfectly imperfect” Let go, let the process unfold.

I tend towards the perfectionism.  As I watched the warm-up video and then looked at other’s work being posted I was paralyzed with fear.  This process was way out of my comfort zone- but part of the reason for taking this class was to loosen up.

I started my first piece resisting the urge to recycle my first attempt mid-way and start over. Eventually, I worked through my fear, completed and accepted it.  The piece is too bright and busy for my tastes, but others found it pleasing.  It can only get easier after taking the first step.   I started a small, scary journey and finished, perfectly imperfect.

Wabi-sabi, another of my words for the New Year.

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And the Word is…..

bert-lahr-516812_1920The New Year is always full of good intentions.  I just began my online class “A Year of Painting” taught by Alena Hennesy. Alena asked all of us to pick one word to be a focus on for the year.  Among the many words posted were “healing, mindful, yes, grow, magical, allow.” It took me days to come up with mine, “COURAGE,” a perfect word for where I’m at.

I’m going to keep this word as my mantra to remind myself to be courageous in my writing, blogging, music, travel, my art, my heart,  and all the things I intend to do this year.

I don’t consider myself a painter so I am out of my comfort zone.  It will be interesting how I progress through this class  I will share my journey on this blog knowing that showing vulnerability is also a sign of courage.

What is your word for the year??

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Van Gogh & the Question of Audience

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” Does what goes on inside show on the outside? Someone has a great fire in his soul and nobody ever comes to warm themselves at it, and passers-by see nothing but a little smoke at the top of the chimney and then go on their way. So now what are we to do, keep this fire alive inside, have salt in ourselves, wait patiently, but with how much impatience, await the hour, I say, when whoever wants to, will come and sit down there, will stay there, for all I know? “

Vincent Van Goghletter to his brother Theo, June 24, 1880

I read this quote by Van Gogh last week on Austin Kleon’s blog last week which inspired the question of the value of audience.

Before I started to blog this year, I wrote in comfortable anonymity in a small leather bound journal for an audience of one- me.  Then I started my blog as a “must do” to help promote my visual art online.  This intention swiftly changed after I published my first blog post “You Just Start.”  To my amazement, I heard a little chime shortly after I hit the post button letting me know that one blogger had “liked” my post.  I was floored.  Really I had expected nothing, but the fact that my writing connected with someone emboldened post-impressionist-1424183_1920me to share more of my personal writing.

Several posts later I received my first follower which amazed me even more.  Then I began to join in the community by liking, commenting, & following others blogs.  As I have been building my audience, I have been an audience to others, adding such a rich dimension to my creative life.  Having an audience has been an affirmation that my creative expression has value to not only myself but to others.

Still, no matter what, I need to create with satisfying the audience of my own soul as my first priority.  When I create with the intention just to please others, my work seems hollow. That’s when I feel the most despair if no one “comes to my table.”  I will continue to write with or without an audience.  Luckily I don’t need to make money post-impressionist-1428128_1920from my writing and I will savor any audience that comes my way. The important thing is I be brave and share my work.

Van Gogh stayed true to his artistic vision even though he was penniless.  During his lifetime he never sold one painting.  He could have painted in the style of the day to generate income. What courage that took and we are so much the beneficiaries of that courage years after his death.  If only knew what a genius he was.  If only he could have experienced his audience.

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