A bit of History before I talk about this painting…
In My Favorite Murder, Episode #162 (Prom Queen), Karen and Georgia jokingly told people to paint this picture McKenzie Brelyn posted on Instagram. I’ve been practicing watercolor for a while now, and Rachel and I will be seeing them live in Pittsburgh on Friday, so I decided I’d give it a go.
Here’s a link to the episode.
On to my notes/explanation/lessons learned…
I was unhappy with my last attempt so I tried again, and this time I decided to push past just trying to recreate the tight lines in the photo, and instead capture the clash between organic plants and man made structure. (Sounds pretentious now that I write it out.)
This photo that I’m painting is a picture of an old man sleeping in an onion field. It’s a sort of joke, because Karen and Georgia asked for people to paint it on the podcast, but as I moved on in this version I saw a lot of myself in that old man. I imagine he has spent his life digging the same ground, planting the same plant. And he’s tired. But he is content at the same time. The Earth wants to grow at random. It could care less about neat lines or weeds. The farmer wants order, and predictability. The two have been working together and against each other simultaneously for decades. So, he curls up at the belly of a hill and catches a nap.
I don’t have the same amount of time in this particular thing (painting in watercolor) but I have spent 38 years trying to live life one way or another, and Life has been going on doing what it will around me. My friend Scott died, and one line went off course. My wife and I got married and had some kids and pets, and another line went down. I applied to a dozen PhD programs and got rejected from them all two years in a row. Another line. I’m now a project manager at a software company helping clients turn on projectors and lights and integrate calendaring systems with complex networks and bits and bobs of the internet of things. Another line. I try to put them where I want them to be, but they don’t always end up staying put. They wander, they slip, they draw themselves.
In my previous attempts at this painting, I focused a lot on the lines. I tried to get them right. Tried to get them neat and accurate, and invariably the paintings became stale, muddy, lifeless and dull. This time, I decided to embrace that messy aspect, and paint the lines more loosely. I wanted to get them roughly accurate, but let them do their own thing at the same time. Instead of struggling against a wayward line and repainting and lifting and shifting and scrubbing pigment into the right place, I figured I would just paint boldly – pretend I had confidence and let the brush go where it wanted. Sometimes I got a graceful curve, other times I got a slap of raw pigment. Oh well. Don’t fix it. Embrace it. Let it go and work with what random squirrel hairs did when they flicked across the paper.
Then, stop. Don’t fix anything. Don’t redo it. Just take a look at what came if it, and lie down in the onion field, and take a nap.