I’ve only ever wanted to paint. The first time I inhaled and touched oil paints was the first time I toyed at the possibility of being an artist. I had no idea what being an artist meant at eighteen, but manipulating paint was empowering. I couldn’t afford canvas back then, so I went through the school’s trash bin, picked up a discarded square cardboard, and started painting. I had just discovered Georgia O’Keefe, and I simply wanted to paint like her. Oil painting came as easily to me as if I’ve always known it. What I created that day in my high school’s classroom started my love affair with painting.
Years past, time flies, stuff happens and life sounds like a big cliche – mostly just comfortable. In short, I stopped painting with oil because my time had become limited (oil takes months to dry), I moved too often, and lived in too small a space to have room for canvases or proper air circulation. Painting with oil became too inconvenient for my fast-paced lifestyle. My last oil painting was a study of Richard, who died just two months prior, in 2007.
Five years and a few houses later, the fragrant of oil paints was like a visit with an old beloved friend. It was a gorgeous Friday with the best weather this area has rarely seen, I decided to get my ass off the computer and paint. I didn’t know what, but I just wanted to hold a brush and paint something. Anything.
Since I’ve moved into our new house nearly a year ago, I’ve slowly established a small little haven in the backyard specifically with this idea in mind…an easel, paint, garden and some wine.
I decided to paint en plein air – in my backyard. Why not. The lighting was inspiring and everything I needed was right in front of me. It was about 4pm. I figured I had about 3 hours until I lose the light completely so a small canvas will do. With no sketching or drawing prepared, I laid down the shadows, employing the only principle of oil painting I remembered from college: Fat over Lean. The first couple of layers should always be very thin. Taking a dab of Phthalo Blue and Naples Yellow, thinned with turpentine, I let the brush dance.
Then, Doug came out to join me with a delicious bottle of Conumdrum. And I continued to dance with Phthalo blue, turpentine and a hint of olive green until the shadows and I become acquaintances. Phatho blue is a comfortable color for me. I’ve become very fond of it over the years because it reminds me of the ocean.
Sometimes, I wondered if living a comfortable life may have handicapped me from creating something profound, as if still in an opium dream, I’ve forgotten what my questions were…and Phthalo blue tells me that it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s that hint of green within the deep, deep blue that rescued me out of that depression every time. We started a good conversation, but I needed to move on.
I wanted to work in the middle tones before the sunset. I kept going with Naples yellow mixed with a bit of Phthalo blue, and sometimes, Viridian green. Naples yellow is a wonderfully serene color, not too happy.
Middle tones are the in between layers, often get forgotten about during the climax of a dance. It may take one stroke of paint to create the lightest light, but many to set the stage. At the height of the performance, they may be nothing, and therefore everything.
I took a little break, waiting for the paint to dry, thinking about the foreground. Using dabs of Cadmium red, mixed with Naples yellow, white and linseed oil, I wanted the flowers to pop!
After the first layer of paint, the sun went to sleep beyond the horizon, and I had to pack up for the day. After three hours, I was tired and ready to call it a day.
Bright and early on Saturday morning, I was at it again. The morning light was diffused with specks of blues that reminded me of my blue fence. I did a few sun salutation and turned my attention back to the paint on the canvas.
Three hours later…more Naples yellow, Viridian green and Phthalo blue, I called it ‘complete’ in order to get on with my schedule for the day and, in extension, my comfortable life.
The painting sat on the easel for a couple of weeks to dry in my living room. Amidst our professional life and messy house, it became about nothing and invisible, like me. I am not a “successful” artist, and it’s not a brilliant painting. But at the same time, we’re nothing else either.
Finished paintings are the byproduct of a wonderful relationship I have with paint and canvas, but once it’s done, our relationship is over. What’s left, sometimes means nothing. It’s a painting of my fence that I turned Phthalo blue to feel profound, to remind me what it’s like to inhale the paint, to manipulate, to control and give myself a sense of purpose for a couple of hours. Sometimes they’re just a bunch of colors that remind me of that one time I painted in my backyard. Painting came to exist as between…between my web design work and dinner, between getting my ass off the computer and enjoying the fresh air, between a glass of wine and depression, the in between moments of a comfortable life. And yet, no matter how long I stopped painting, I keep finding myself back at the easel. Maybe it’s because the act of painting IS nothing more, nothing less, contains no burden of potential or regret. When I am painting, I am nothing. I become invisible. And that’s absolutely fuckingly freeing. It is not always hopeless or dark or ecstatic or enlightening. It just is.
There are worse things than being nothing.