Some things can be taught … some things cannot.
While preparing to teach the upcoming Watercolor Techniques Workshop in Santa Rosa, I decided to snap some photos of a painting in progress to illustrate several of the techniques I’ll be teaching. Techniques are easy to teach. How to use tools is easy to teach. The fundamentals of art are all easy to teach, presenting them in a variety of ways so that students who learn concepts differently will all grasp the basic idea. It’s up to the students to practice what is learned in classes and workshops.
Tools and Techniques can be taught , but Translation is difficult if not impossible to teach. How does one teach the translation of an unspoken language, the language of vision combined with unseen light waves and sound waves, rhythms of movement through a three-dimensional space?
Some paintings are rooted to tools and techniques, never stepping over the line into the realm of chance and possibilities where the “what if” thrives, where the population of things gone wrong and unresolved paintings far outnumber the paintings that are a step above everything else, those that usually don’t follow the rules. Something else has happened during the process of creation that make a painting as unique as every child, even identical twins whose genetics are the same. Something has happened. Often, that something will happen in a spot or two of a painting. It is a true gem when a painting as a whole declares its independence from the artist and can stand alone in a crowd without explanation.
The above painting began like this:
The composition gave me a hard time. The pivot point is plunk in the middle of the painting. I struggled for hours, layering, wiping out, scrubbing, splatting, wiping out, glazing ….. and more lifting of paint. Two hours into it I stopped snapping photos of the methods I was using to try to resolve the painting. Six hours in, it began to breath a life of its own. I was in battle mode and didn’t notice for a while. It fought …. and I fought back. The painting finally won. I allowed it to be completely different from what I thought it should be. I was even a bit angry with it.
I went to bed disgruntled.
When I awoke this morning I was surprised that the painting expressed everything I had intended, patterns, textures, interweaving of shapes as they move through space, a glow of light against mysterious darks reaching far beyond the flat surface of the paper.
I can encourage my students to step across the line. I can even push a few across, but I can’t teach any of them how to translate their heart beats and their breath. Nor can I teach them what drives me to draw and paint each and every day of my life. I could say it is the joy of drawing and painting. It’s not just the joys, it is also that I grow stronger hrom each battle I fight, whether I have won or lost, it makes no difference. For the hundreds of paintings I’ve sold and exhibited, I’ve thrown away ten times that number. If I ever get to the point where I’m not discarding most of my paintings it will mean I’ve stopped taking risks and stopped searching for new ways to translate my world. I don’t ever want to see the day that I don’t take the chance of creating an unsuccessful painting.
Image: Watercolor and a touch of unsuccessfully sprayed ink using a mouth atomizer.