Saturday, August 31, 2013

Girl Overboard

“I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always ... so you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don't, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.” ~ Yann Martel, "Life of Pi"

At its basic, this post is about delving into watercolor painting....Now, this is going to sound extremely dramatic for something so mundane as trying a new art medium...this was more than that.
I spent a very long time, most of my life, really, sort of playing it safe in terms of my art. I was classically trained, had worked for years at being a master of realism, and the thought of just finishing a piece when it looked "not done", or "out there", was a bit foreign to me. Which is exactly why I forced myself to jump into a sea of complete unconscious experimentation.

It's hard to describe the joy of the freedom of this letting go. It all became a bit heady. But here's the gist of how it went down:

My ship was sinking. Creatively and emotionally, there was a storm brewing and I knew without a doubt that things were going to change. So I had to do something drastic.  I had absolutely nothing left to lose....Since the storm was coming anyway, I decided to jump in.  If I could swim, my life could change forever. If I couldn't, well, at least I died trying. The days following in the lifeboat were some of the strangest and hardest I've endured since my youth, but I didn't have much of a choice. I was still alive, seasick, and it seemed lost in how exactly to proceed to survive.

(Forgive me for all of the 'Life of Pi' references, but this is about watercolors. and animals. so, I am giving myself license. Maybe I'll spare you in the future. Maybe.)

It all started when I happened to see the background picture of a friend's cell phone: she had a photo of her pet cockatiel, "Sunny"  on there, and it seriously brought a smile to my face. I immediately saw it painted in watercolor. Specifically in a kind of water-based paint that would slip and slide on a glossy surface. Almost at the same time I imagined a painting of my rabbit the same way. Something was telling me to go directly to the art store and find this mystery medium that I was inventing in my head!

So off I went. And all I could think of was 'hot press' (smooth) watercolor paper. I couldn't find such a thing. But what I DID find was a pad of "YUPO" paper that was a synthetic surface and seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.

So for the next couple of days, I experimented and it was CRAZY scary but oh, so fun, and I totally enjoyed this new medium. The paint slid and slipped and did absolutely nothing like I expected it to. But I said, well, here goes....

 I originally started some pieces, included the one of Sunny and of the Bunny with a pencil sketch, but after a few paintings realized that was completely unnecessary. The medium is so forgiving and you can completely paint over it, or simply wet down a mark you don't like and pull it up with a napkin. It's hard to describe just how different and FREE the technique is. I felt like a child again.


 The scary part was that I had to allow myself to just be loose, not to worry about making anything look realistic. It was about trying to capture the essence of the subject- of course, that's always what it's about, but in this case it just feels so effortless and easy that it feels like you're doing something wrong. Once I got over that and trusted it, trusted my hand and the water and the paint and the fluidity, and then looked at a painting that was simply FUN and said, "It's done"., my life was just different.

So I dug in deep and found what I wanted to say. It started with the bird, and then I realized that I am really just a kid at heart, and always have been sort of a "Dr. Doolittle" person, ever since I could remember. I got so addicted to creating these little animals. The best part was the smiles on the faces of kids (and adults!)  who resonated with them.

 It was so much fun to just try to ALLOW myself to BE that kid again, and not be afraid of being perfect. It really came to light to me with this elephant, when I just let a really drippy pool of greyish pink paint dry the way it wanted to for his ears, and only very loosely used a slightly dry brush on his wet belly...and voila! elephant wrinkles! Made me feel like it was OK to be imperfect, the elepahant was made with all those crazy wrinkles, he was different from every other elephant, and God himself was probably just making us all with crazy pools of paint and quick brushstrokes anyways, so why stress about perfection?!?!

So here I go, traveling on in the path that the paint, and the brush, and the water take me in this glorious world. Thanks be to God for the chance!

You can find more pics of my YUPO animals on my art website at!watercolor-zoo/c1p5n

"You may not believe in life, but I don't believe in death. ... The reason death sticks so closely to life isn't biological necessity--it's envy. Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can. But life leaps over oblivion lightly, losing only a thing or two of no importance, and gloom is but the passing shadow of a cloud.”
~ Yann Martel, "Life of Pi"

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