One of the most important things I learned at the Bettie Blackheart’s burlesque performance workshop last week was how crucial for improvement it is to keep filming (and watching!) your practices and performances. I’ve come to notice that the same advice goes for almost any visual creative process: keep documenting!
No matter what the medium of expression is, it can be difficult to look at your own work objectively. After working for a while you just get blind. The phenomenon is more than common to me from painting – you just keep going through the motions of adding more and more paint, over and over to the same spots and see nothing changed. So I decided to start documenting the process of making my paintings as well as crafts.
Lately I’ve been getting back to painting by working on a few portraits. The one above is of my mother and is not commissioned, just something I’m working on for my own enjoyment. That alone is honestly something that I haven’t been used to for a long time – painting for fun! I can see how long it has been since I have been painting though. I dropped out of art school almost two years ago and haven’t painted much since. When I left art school I wasn’t sure if I would be painting at all again, and at first it was almost a physical battle to get to it. I have been working on entirely different things for the last year (I’m studying to become a seamstress), but I was baffled with both the sheer enjoyment and the complexity of the process.
Painting is complex – at least for me. It’s intensive, emotional and involved, but nevertheless rewarding. That is both why I love doing it and why I cannot at do it as my primary job: my head couldn’t take such amounts of emotional processing on a daily basis. I know that must sound horribly sentimental to many people, but I know how my mind works so far. Plus there’s a whole other issue of the often pretentious and incomprehensible contemporary art scene I don’t even want to please, but I won’t get into that now.
Here’s what originally got me painting – and loving doing it – again. It’s a commissioned portrait of three daughters of my mother’s friend’s, one of which hadn’t even started with at this point. It was surprisingly enjoyable to get your hands dirty painting again. At first I was skeptic about how the black and white photograph I was presented as reference would work in a painting but soon I was carried away with minimalist colour palettes. In fact I’m planning to make a whole series of small monochrome portraits, some in oval and round shapes.
By the way, Bettie Blackheart (or should I say Petra Innanen) was also my art teacher in the first fine art school I went to. I wish I could conclude with some wise words she said about art, but pretty much the only thing I remember any teacher telling me in that school was that you should never paint drunk.
Which I kind of disagree to a point actually, but I’ll give you my advice: take photos of your unfinished paintings! It’s a perfect way to get some distance to your works and also see them in 2D! You don’t have an “undo” button to press while painting with actual paints, but with some “in progress” photos you’ll at least have visual reference to some point in time. When I saw the photo of the portrait of my mother I saw exactly what was wrong with it and stopped being stuck.
Also, when working on commissioned portraits, there’s always a point where I wish I could make the painting take a whole new turn, like when I’ve painted the rest of the face of a child and the eyes still remain as creepy empty sockets and I just want to leave them like that. Of course I couldn’t return a portrait without eyes to any loving parent because it looked cool, but at least I could take a photo as a reference, in case I should decide to paint a series of horror children or something.
But yeah, painting absolutely hammered doesn’t sound like such a good idea either, although it might yield some amusing results.