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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Pastel painting update... a cynic's foray into unfamiliar mediums of expression

The view of Pleasant Valley and Mount Sneffels from Pastelist Barb's studio window is both inspiring and breathtaking.

Some promises should not be kept, but I told you I'd post updates on our progress (or lack of it) regarding Pastel Painting classes. 

"Art is hard." I said, after a couple of frustrating hours of trying to hone blob-like shapes and sickening color choices into something that resembled a reference photo taken at Lake Powell. 

My painting sat there on its easel, staring back at me like a one eyed monster. Barb comes over and gently informs me that, after a "good start," I seemed to have "lost control." She suggests I brush it down and start over. 

If you will allow me to be blunt, I fucking hate starting over! Almost as much as I hate sucking at painting, or anything else for that matter. Bobbie is equally frustrated. I wonder why we put ourselves through this, this... Hell. 

Of course it didn't help that we squeezed in 7 long, hot miles carrying hand weights before class, and that it was like 89 degrees in Barb's attic studio. I made the mistake of sitting down during Barb's demo and dozed off. When it came time to paint my arms and legs felt leaden and awkward... like transplants from someone who'd just died.

I know the answer to "why" and "Hell." I've never wanted something so bad for so long than to have a modicum of respectable talent with brush, as well as pen, for that matter.  Yet the harder I try, the more it seems to elude my grasp. Maybe I'm trying too hard. Or, worse, maybe it's not meant to be. But that's horse shit and both you and I know it. A big fat excuse to accept defeat and give up. I recall something I wrote recently, that falling short of one's goals is not failure, but giving up is. As with every other passion in my mediocre life, I'm in this for the long haul. I will not give in or give up until they pry the pen and brush from my cold dead hands.

In my frustration, I tell Barb about a conversation I had with a gallery owner/watercolor artist in Coupeville, a quaint little town on the shores of Whidbey Island off the coast of Washington. He was untrained, no Masters of Fine Art, just a few classes and workshops and practice. This gave me hope that I might someday become more accomplished. I asked him how long it might take for someone like me, untrained, an amateur, to paint as well as he did. I'll never forget his answer, "It takes a thousand paintings. How bad do you want it?" Hmmm, "the ball" was in my "court," and it felt like it weighed a thousand pounds. "There are no shortcuts,"  he said. I did the math... a painting a day, that's less than three years! Problem is, that happened over six years ago. It's hard to face painting every day in the beginning when most of the results look like something from a first grader.  

There is nothing scarier than a blank page in front of a struggling artist... so full of hope and promise and potential. I stare at the canvas with longing, wondering how many strokes it will take for me to fuck it up. 

I know by now that I lean toward being a cynical SOB. I believe, like with politicians and Washington DC, that if one sets expectations low enough they might be less disappointed... or furious. Perhaps even a small battle victory in what seems to be a lost war. Remember that "War is Hell," and it applies as much to struggling artists as it does soldiers in battle. Without "War," a cynic believes, you can't enter the Promised Land. I also happen to believe that "anyone," yes, anyone, who put's their mind to it can learn how to paint. If I didn't believe this, I would have given up for good a long time ago. It would be nice if I could enjoy the "process" instead of cursing it... but cynics aren't wired that way.  You can't be nice and win a war.

Remember last weeks desert scene? This is Barb's painting. Mine is in a landfill, next to dirty diapers and rotting food where it belongs.

Barb starts her "demo" with an underpainting of blue. Ideally this will bleed through and make for nice complimentary shadows.

That's Bobbies painting on the left. She did a pretty good job working top down to the water line, and now watches Barb as she demonstrates how to paint the "water part."
Above is my painting in progress... after having started over a couple of times. There are some good things going on down in the water section. Now if I can just keep from screwing it up...

Above, Barb's water is coming along beautifully, and she's not done yet. 
 Peace out from Lovely Ouray,
Your struggling artists mark and bobbie :)


  1. It looks to my untrained eye that you are getting the hang of it. I can certainly understand your frustration, having to start over something that is so challenging must feel like an uphill, endless battle. Painting, of any sort, seems "impossible" to me. Good for you for taking on the challenge and pushing yourself beyond your perceived limits!

  2. It looks to me like you're coming along fine. Only 998 to go ;-)

  3. I would also say that you're making progress, and I salute you for your efforts here. Personally, I lack any talent what so ever musically or drawing/painting.

  4. I've always wanted to be a landscape painter. When I was young, I showed a little promise, but I just don't have the patience it requires. I admire anyone who can put in the work, and you look like you're coming along just fine.

    My sister was a painter of sorts, she actually created some nice stuff. She took it upon herself to tutor me and the lesson ended with us both throwing splatters of paint against a canvas. It looked pretty cool, but a chimp could have done better. She never offered her help again, but we did both get a few good laughs from it.

  5. I have been drawing since I can remember. Now I mostly do fabric art or art quilts. I will have to say that we are our own worst enemy when it comes to critic for our work. I think your Lake Powell is fine. You are not going to make a masterpiece every time. I agree with the guy about the 1000 paintings and also just letting go and enjoy. I took an oil painting class last Summer and my painting really sucked big time. I really need to try again and maybe use a subject I like (the instructors photo did not speak to me at all.........I really hated it and did not really want to paint it but I had paid my money and was gonna try).

  6. A very well known artist once told me something to the effect--- do not paint a painting to be like a camera. Paint a painting to show things how YOU want them to be.

    1. OFM... I know, but being "anal," I struggle with being "loose." I need to work on that.

  7. I just feel the need to inquire about Barb's abilities with a camera..... We all can't be everything and you Mark, are a master photographer. If you have to, try a little watercolor, but don't be so hard on yourself! And if you and Bobbie both did a bang up job which one would ya hang on the wall?!!

  8. Very respectable. Nice. I love OFM's statement. And Mark, I am a Stained Glass artist. It is a pain being 'anal'. I am harder on myself than my clients are. Except for an occasional engineer here and there.

  9. Looks good to me. All I can do with paint is make mud.

  10. Looks better than anything I could paint.

  11. It's so great to see the projects you're working on, I think you've really captured the colours so well! Can't wait to see the finished product.


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