This weekend I painted a grizzly bear. The canvas is 23" x 28" and I painted him in acrylics.
This is the first time in all my years of being an "artist" that I have attempted something like this. The project had been in my mind for some time and I had been planning out the painting so it would evoke a strong presence to the viewer. One night as I snuggled up in bed, I decided the background had to be an espresso color...nothing else and that the grizzly would take up most of the canvas. Other than that, I had no idea how the rest of the painting would unfold. Would he evolve into a multi-colored abstract or would the realist in me take over and create a more realistic rendering? The uptight, control freak in me took over and a more realistic grizzly bear emerged.
I have to say I was very pleased with the end result, especially considering this was my first time attempting a painting of this sort. Proud of my work, I sent a photo of the painting from my phone to an amazing artist and asked for his feedback. As much as I wanted him to say my painting was brilliant, I knew he would give me some honest criticism. And he did.
He was able to look at my painting through trained eyes and bring to life the issues I was having with the painting but couldn't see clearly because of my motherly pride in my creation. Each of his assessments was dead on and now I can look at my work more objectively and see where I can improve.
The most important thing he told me was to "practice painting at the end of your arm. Stand in front of the canvas and with the brush in your hand, extend your arm. Get NO CLOSER to the painting than that...ever!". But, but, but, that would mean letting go....giving up the intense control I have over my brush....what if the end result looks like hell? What if my hand shakes? What if I can't do it? Then he told me that I "have a very good core talent...just relax and let it lead you." Oh God. Relax?? Let IT lead ME?
My painting is always done at my drafting table. I have a table top easel that I can prop my work on so I can see it better. But the canvas is always right there, under my nose, under my control. Painting at the end of my arm would require me getting out of my comfort zone. It would require me getting out my big easel that has never really been used because I couldn't get up close and personal with my canvas. It would require me letting go and letting the painting lead...me. Could I do this?
But, as I valued the opinion of this artist, I knew I needed to follow his instructions. I knew I needed to drag my easel out of the garage and set it up in my studio. When I walked into the garage and saw the easel hanging on the wall, out of the way of everything, I felt like a kid in trouble. I knew what I had to do but I didn't wanna do it. I reached up and took the easel off the wall and made an audible "ugh" sound. Dammit. He was pushing me out of my comfort zone.
I needed it. I knew I needed it. But I didn't wanna do it. But I had to do it.
I brought the easel into the studio, set it up, and put my new canvas on it....ready to be painted "at the end of my arm". I swear the canvas laughed at me. It did. It smirked.
Hah! I'll show you, I stupidly said to the canvas. I'll show you that I can get out of my comfort zone and paint at the end of my arm and create something beautiful and meaningful.
So, tomorrow....I will go into my studio after ten hours at an elementary school and get out of my comfort zone in front of an arrogant canvas and paint at the end of my arm and see what happens. I know that when I have let go in other areas of my life beautiful things emerged. So I have to trust that beauty will come from this as well. And I do trust that it will.
So thank you Richard, thank you for your honesty and your direction. I'll let you know how it turns out.
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