Saturday, April 4, 2009

Gather, Simplify, and Compose: Part 2

PART 2: Simplify

Last winter I took an  evening oil painting course in Halifax with instructor and successful artist, Heather Sayeau. I had been taking her classes for a couple years, whenever a new session was offered.  This one would be different; an exploration for personal expression. Each week our class tackled a new subject that would bring us further away from our comfort zones, and each week I felt a greater sense of renewal and growth.  One of the classes was focused on figures in the landscape.  She always encouraged us to bring photos or clippings of images that we found interesting as subjects to paint.  I was contemplating blending two images together to make a more interesting composition.  They were both stock photos of overhead views of people going about their daily commute on foot.  The background on one was cobblestone, the other pavement. One photo was full of shadows, the other wasn't. I set about sketching with my brush onto canvas one figure from one photo, and two figures from the other photo. They still needed work, but I was not feeling confident with my composition, so instead of finishing the figures, I skipped on to the background. I was painting in the impression of cobblestones. I was beginning to get frustrated, feeling like I was unable to paint what I was imagining the final composition to look like in my mind.  After taking a break, sipping some wine while walking around the class to view the other artists' progress, I came back to my easel with fresh eyes. Heather gave me some suggestions to make the brushstrokes feel more alive by using less and making each stroke deliberate.  Equipped with a new sense of direction, I painted each figure in and only one with a shadow.  I loved how it started coming together.  I considered painting the other two figures' shadows but felt it wouldn't be right. The background didn't seem to fit either, so I smoothed it out and was much more satisfied.  I stepped back, Heather came to see it, and proclaimed that she would one day see that painting in a gallery! I was filled with the amazing realization that I had found something new, something uniquely mine, a happy accident.  For me this painting came to represent the inner child in all of us, and how some people lose touch along the way in their daily comings and goings.

Unfortunately, new ideas need time to brew and feel at home.  Weeks turned into months. I visited that painting at least a hundred times over the past year, mulling, as my mom would say.  It was a direction I wanted to pursue, but the time did not yet feel right.  Such changes cannot be forced.  Instead I painted still lifes and landscapes. I was not content with any of them.  I felt like I had expired those ideas.  And so I kept revisiting my simple figures for a clue or sign that it was time.

The beginning of February I started seeing an energetic healer.  During our first session together she cautioned me that I might experience a flood of old memories, and that some people find this overwhelming.  She also encouraged me to start paying attention to my dreams as they may also become clearer and easier to remember.  It wasn't until after two weeks later that I started having very powerful dreams. Then one night in early March I dreamt something that would prove to have a great impact on the release of my creative block.  A few days prior I had bought a plain black lined journal and a reference book The Element Encyclopedia of 20,000 Dreams. The moment I awoke I went downstairs, opened my new journal and started writing.  And as I wrote, the clearer my dream became...

March 7, 2009
I am in a large room- a classroom studio, like I would imagine NSCAD would have now.  About 30' wide by 60' long, wood floors running lengthwise, windows along left wall, brick walls at the front and back of the room.  We are on the 3rd floor.  There is no furniture, but about a dozen students are standing or sitting on the floor, myself among them.  Along the back wall are our paintings; mostly all are mine, about 5 in total, except for a couple on the right. They are not paintings I have made in waking life, but somehow I understand that they are mine. There are two professors critiquing my work. One appears to be someone of great importance, well known, not my regular professor.  Prior to his critique, i study my work from the front of the room, and am satisfied with what I see.  Then the visiting professor starts pointing out elements f my paintings that he likes, and those that need to be changed for them to have the desired effect.  I listen closely to what he says.  i don't feel uncomfortable or negative at all with his suggestions. Suddenly I see what he sees and understand his comments and solutions.  Then I remember that one of the paintings, maybe two, didn't really work quite how I wanted them to but was trying to ignore that something was out of place. He points our that I was complicating the image and that it would work better more simplified.  I feel enlightened and grateful that he helped me solve the problem.  He moves on to the next students' work, and my dream fades away...

I remember my paintings clearly in my dream.  They are very similar to what I had in mind for my next series, only larger and much less colour.  Mostly they are black line drawings of buildings and people in them, as though the walls are transparent.  he suggested only the people have colour, and the background be blank.  I love these ideas!   They feel more like the painting I did last year in class. This advice rings well with me.

In my book of dreams, to be looking at paintings is explained as, "...suggests that you are paying attention to new ideas, and making changes in the way you think and feel... It may also refer to the need to take note of the details of a certain situation in your life... Painting has a lot to do with self-expression, and what you are painting (in your dream) and the colours you are using are important...If you are paining large pictures, perhaps you need to see the bigger picture... The actual image that you are painting in your dream may symbolize the way that you are visualizing your current situation in your waking life."

After this journal passage, I added: 
In my dream my paintings were quite large, maybe 5' by 7'.  The last time I painted this large, I found it quite overwhelming to transport and store the, and many got damaged.  It might also signify that I am pulling myself in many different directions, and need to simplify and focus. I had this thought last night before I went to bed.  So in a way this dream is a sub-conscious affirmation of the things I have been telling myself lately. 

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