This past week I did a four day painting retreat with another artist. We set up in my home, painted from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, then just left our stuff there for the next day. I had anticipated becoming exhausted and overwhelmed by this: painting is very demanding. Usually I can paint for perhaps three hours at a stretch and then need to stop. I had even purchased a big bag of peanut m & m, guessing that there would come a time when we had to lie on the couch and eat them before we could manage to paint again!
But in fact it was fine, and I even wished that we could have extended it for another two or three days. Amazing. Some of that was the company of another artist, someone with whom to consult (“does this look right?”) and complain (“this is hard! this isn’t working!”). Although I think that much of what is helpful about painting with another artist is just to be in the room with another person who is engaged in a similar process and struggle.
I made a number of new paintings, and I like all of them. Three are pastels; here they are:
This is “Softly, Softly,” a portrait of a particular dawn. I was so attracted to the soft pinkish sky and mist, with the silhouette of the trees and bushes.
“Winter Brilliance,” a painting of just that: one of those sharply clear winter days when both sky and snow glow with light.
And finally, “Gateway.” I thought of the name of this painting when I took the photograph for it, as occasionally happens. The trees framing the morning looked like a door to me, opening into the day. I love the image and the concept.
My painting companion sometimes works in acrylics and brought her acrylic painting materials for me to try. It was so interesting to use a completely different medium! It handles very differently from pastel, of course. Perhaps it was a matter of my unfamiliarity with the medium, or the distance provided by using a brush instead of my hands, but I found myself making somewhat more abstract and bolder images. Here is the first:
I named this “Holding the Sky.” I put the tree in first, using an image of a local tree for reference. Then I put in the sky, or what I suppose passes for sky. It certainly is not like a “real” sky! As I painted the sky around the branches, the daubs of paint went over them in places, creating a sort of jagged effect. While I had assumed that I would re-establish the branches, I found that I liked that rough quality very much and mostly left it.
The next painting was the result of one of those inexplicable artistic impulses that one gets. I almost always paint landscapes, but I suddenly decided that I wanted to paint the aurora borealis. I guess that’s a landscape of sorts. Here it is: light in the sky mirrored by the water below.
This image in particular is a departure for me, but I do like the mysterious quality, just as the aurora itself has a mysterious quality.
All in all, a successful four days, I would say! I will definitely try it again. It was not easy to protect my time, even for only four days. I may be retired, but it is amazing how many claims there are on my time, things that need to be scheduled or time-sensitive things that need to be done. But it can be done, and is certainly worth it. I learned that I have more creative stamina than I thought I did. I learned that I like acrylics and that while they will have a certain materials-based learning curve, an artist is an artist and brings that sensibility and knowledge set to any medium. I learned that I can put my life on “pause,” more or less, for a few days and immerse myself in the flow, the demands, the struggles, the satisfactions, and the occasional gifts of creativity.