rejection as motivation

Today I was rejected. It felt like I was, though it was more my paintings that were rejected than me as a person. But, they’re intertwined with my being, so the rejection feels very personal. For the first time in these 2-3 years that I’ve been occasionally showing my paintings out in public, a location said, “We’re booked… mumble mumble indefinitely…” and the rest of the message basically said, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

For about an hour, I paced around in a daze. I considered whether maybe all of these pictures I’ve been making are really totally pieces of garbage and that I’m a sham. Just saying my pictures are worth sharing doesn’t make it so. I was sad and lonely and hurt and everything else in my life seemed suddenly dark and hopeless. I wasn’t even able to shake it enough to lick my wounds. I only bled.

As I make more paintings, I’m finding the ideas I consider more sophisticated and interesting (t0 me). Lately, due to limited supplies I’ve explored what I’m calling “underpainting.” I haven’t googled it to find out if that’s a real thing because it is to me. Twice now I began a picture and it wouldn’t go in a direction that felt right so I took it in a dramatically different direction. Both now show a texture of what was before and I don’t know how that will be perceived by someone who only views the final painting (I am curious to find out).

At the same time that I was painting over previous attempts at paintings, I began one that I have intended from the start to have 2-6 layers. I started with two in mind, but now have three. (I added the 6 there because I don’t know at all where it will actually go, even though I have a feeling about how it will end.) That I had two parallel actions (painting over paintings) going on for different reasons feels good. There’s an interesting flow that has come from an unexpected place.

This is the painting, showing the second layer that I did today. Neither are stand-alone paintings, and I don’t know if either will be apparent at all when I add the next layer after this latest level dries:

I began this a couple months ago but wasn’t able to work on it for a few weeks because I needed red and white paint but couldn’t afford it. I ran a kickstarter project and it got funded (thank you, backers!) so this weekend I bought the paints I needed (and two extraordinarily satisfying brushes).

When I find a particularly sensitive or vulnerable place in me that I didn’t know about (the rejection of my request to show my paintings hurt much more than I thought such a rejection might) I tend to move quickly to building callouses in that area. I’m exposing myself by showing this in-progress painting. This exposure will make me feel stronger.

I still feel self-doubt, sadness, and disappointment that my paintings weren’t accepted. But now I’m into the callous-building phase of my hurt. I’m taking the rejection and using it as fuel to energize me. I now realize I’ll get rejected again (it hadn’t really occurred to me it would happen in the first place). I’m not excited by that prospect, but I do know each rejection will help me know that being rejected doesn’t change anything about me or my paintings. Their judgment means nothing more than “not a good fit.” Now, I’ll keep painting and start searching for places where my paintings (and I) will fit.

setting up at Starbucks

My parents were coming through town from their summer place (they visit a few times off-season to “rough it” a bit) and were there to help me. What a difference it made, having extra hands and eyes to try to get things hung straight and balanced. (Plus, the all-expenses-paid sushi extravaganza after wasn’t too bad…)

I’ll be in town for First Friday tomorrow (May 4). If you would like to check out my paintings and talk with me about them in person, please feel free to email me and I’d be happy to meet you there.

As I was setting up, I taught my father how to take pictures with my phone and he took a lot. Here are some of them:

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Also, I’ve set up a kickstarter project in an attempt to raise funds to buy more paints, pastels, birch panel, and other supplies to make more paintings. I’ve now sold two (yay!) and with shows coming up (shows?) I need to keep making more. If you would like to know more, or make a pledge, you can do that here.

Thanks for all the blog-based support. It helps. :-)

“Breathing. (twitter.)”

Sometimes I see an image in my mind. Sometimes it’s just a strong flow of feelings. Usually, it’s a little of both. In all cases, I never know exactly how a picture will turn out when I start. Sometimes, I have no idea at all what it will be, I just start drawing (or painting).

That’s what I did with this painting. I picked up the leftover nubs of oil pastels and just started scribbling and smearing them all over the birch panel. When I don’t know what I’ll be painting or drawing, that’s what I do. I find just moving my hand with the medium gets things going.

I started with the “just get color on the panel.” I added more color and still nothing was forming. I set it aside and worked on some other things.

A few days later, I had a dm (direct message, a kind of “chatting” on twitter) conversation with @tackie_jackie who suggested I make a painting about the word “breathing.” When I’m overstimulated, overwhelmed, or simply need to get back to my center (and, typically, away from technology), I’ve developed a habit of tweeting the word “Breathing.” and then walking away for a bit. Noticing my breathing has been an important part of my life in the last many months.

So, here are some pictures of the progression of the painting that is now complete. It is called: Breathing. (twitter.)


This and several other of my paintings will be hanging at the Starbucks on Congress at High/Free Streets in downtown Portland (Maine) starting on May 2, 2012. I would be thrilled and honored if you would check them out.

opening reception (how it went)

Once again, I had the honor of people visiting me in a space where my pictures are displayed. This reception was at the Dyer Library in Saco, ME and my pictures will be there for the month of February. Ten or so people came to the reception, or about 15 if we count the children (and why not?). I’m never sure how I “do” at these events because it becomes a bit of a blur. I’m part host, part artist, part visitor at a party and I spend a lot of time just breathing and realizing the experience of others can’t be determined by me.

People were generous, kind, and had some beautiful comments and questions. At one point I considered making a sort of more formal welcome statement, but decided to leave it entirely casual.

I still can’t get over the fact that people took time from their schedules to support me and my art. It’s flattering and mystifying and amazing. Here are a couple photos of the display and a couple quickly shot photos of two of my newest pieces.

figures — oil pastels, paper collage on canvass; $165 (sold)
what’s left — oil pastels on birch panel; $235

creation of “germination”

One of the many, many areas that fascinate me about going public with the drawings and paintings I’m making is the different ways people want to interact with me about them. I find it unsettling but also such an honor when people ask me questions. I’m surprised every time, too, about what starts coming out of me in response.

This is my recreation of the making of “germination.”

This winter I started getting pictures of seeds sprouting. Acorns in particular. There was something about that seriously hard exterior cracking to let out what seemed from photographs to be the most tender and delicate, but ultimately powerful, shoots really struck me. I spent some time looking at photos online. I found some neat line drawings in what I guess could be called antique books (late 1800s) online and in local libraries. I drew a few sketches or what I thought would become a drawing or series of drawings. Then life came along and I just never found my way back to them. The feelings had fizzled or morphed into other areas.

A few weeks ago I was at my parents’ place in Hunts Corner, Maine which is in the middle of the mountains. I had talked with the Starbucks manager about hanging new pictures before the school year starts (the area my pictures have been hanging usually showcases work from the arts high school nearby) and she enthusiastically encouraged me to put up new pictures. So, I had to make some.

When I got out the easel and oil pastels I was pretty sure I was going to draw flowers and hummingbirds. I was struggling with it a bit because it felt so potentially trite. Still, at some point I’m pretty sure I’ll draw/paint hummingbirds in some form or another. As I started drawing, though, I found myself drawing that acorn sprouting. I didn’t have the photos to refer to, but it didn’t feel like it mattered. I was pulled along by the contrast of the dark shell and the light and seemingly delicate but full of strength and life growth of the shoots.

As with almost everything I’ve ever made it was all about letting go of feeling like it had to be a certain way and going with what happened. Parts that I hated had to stay until they were changed because I felt how they needed to change. I couldn’t “correct” something because I didn’t know where it was going. For example, at first I couldn’t seem to work the sexuality of the images out of it for a long time and I didn’t want something overtly sexual despite the inherently sexual nature of… nature…

So the drawing started looking something like this (the photo doesn’t really capture it, but it sort of does):

I knew the shoots had to be tender light white green but that scared the crap out of me. Still, in the finished piece, the boldness of the bright (tender) shoots against the dark and foreboding or scary or earthy or however you see it rest of the thing makes me really uncomfortable. I keep wanting to go back into the drawing and tone it down. Put back in some olive tones, some bluishness, some shadows. It’s so vulnerable as it is there, so innocent and daring reaching up to the light and down into the earth. Fragile. But the drawing needed to be that way, so it stayed quite bright and light just in the area of the shoots (and the light coming in through the trees/brush/whatever it is blocking the light).

Later that afternoon I was moving in a bit of a brighter direction but couldn’t stand how it looked like the thing was sprouting forth brightness when I meant for it to be reaching or growing. Timid but brave. Just doing what it needed to do.

I love textures and tend to do most of this stuff with very melty oil pastels and my fingers. I really don’t know if I should maybe call them paintings because so much of what I do is essentially finger painting.

Here’s where I’ve layered in more texture. Added more light, too, because the whole thing just felt like one dark darkness and that’s not how the image felt to me in my mind.

I was literally working with nature. The heat of the sun was melting the pastels, the wind was blowing, etc.

The next day I was kind of stressed out because the colors I wanted to use were gone. Used up. I rifled through the pile of pieces from other drawings that I’d separated out that were mostly in the purple or lavender blue family and freakishly happened on a deep forest blue green color. It blended in a way with the browns and blacks and greyer greens so satisfyingly. I just knew I’d found something. Then I streaked it and realized how much more that felt like light in the woods. I’d been dappling and blobbing stuff, but the streaks felt more right.

After I finished the next day I put it on the grass to take a photo. I couldn’t stop touching it (working on it) though. I asked my sister-in-law to get a picture of me doing this touch up. She took a gadgillion pictures. Here are a couple.

This is it finished but not yet matted or under glass. The digital image doesn’t (for me) capture what it really looks like, but it’s close(ish).
Today I was at Starbucks and I often sit at the table just under my pictures. It’s comforting but also feels kind of ballsy. I’ve heard people comment (some nasty comments, in fact) as I was sitting there and I’ve been really glad they didn’t know the pictures were mine.
This is the same picture, taken by me with my iPhone. The photo of the picture isn’t very well framed, but I still kind of like it.
So, that’s some insight into my process.
If I had to describe “what is this drawing about,” this is what I’d say: growth, letting things go as they go, doing what just happens, tenderness and vulnerability are strength, surprising discoveries from tough exteriors, hope, light from lots and lots of darkness, and, the richness and depth of darkness being a source of good not necessarily bad.