I’ve been deliciously consumed with painting trees these last few weeks. There’s something about how magnificent they become when the leaves have left and the morning and evening light is diffused, seeming to soften every edge naturally.
I wonder what it is that ignites a particular exploration in our art. I had been passionately painting a herd of elephants only to push it aside to answer the craving for tree textures and misty backgrounds. I am lavishly slopping my Magic color, Ultramarine Violet (M Graham brand) all over my palette. It explodes on hot press watercolor paper and grabs Burnt Sienna and Raw Sienna and some of my warm blues, creating just the tones I’m looking for. I can’t imagine moving back to those elephants until this thrill subsides!
What comes to mind is something I have heard from teachers and guides since I began painting. Many advise painting whether the spirit moves one or not. Even if I have a commission to finish, I cannot find the wisdom in this approach. If those elephants were commissioned, I would still not be able to paint them joyfully right here and now. Well, perhaps I could if I slathered on Ultramarine Violet!
I advise my students differently. I think you have to “get in the mood” first. Often easier said than done, right?
I have a process that works every single time. (Although, the “mood” might take me to trees instead of those commissioned elephants.)
I go to my inner workshop by quieting my mind. My intention is to open myself to my inner artist, where ideas flow and inspiration slips in like water flowing downhill. Oh yes, there is always a lot of clutter trying to get my attention, but I just focus my thoughts on how exactly a state of non-resistance would feel. A State Of Being. What a wonderful sense of ease there is in the contemplation of it. I feel it physically as well as mentally. The weight of all the should do’s and have to do’s melt into nothingness. I breathe easily and have a lovely appreciation for the flow of my life. 10 minutes of that and I notice a fresh easy desire to choose a particular focus. I pay close attention and follow the thread. Effort evaporates and ease fills in.
And a blog flows onto the page.
Painting in "Flow"
I began “Fractured Blues” with a simple line drawing on a sketch pad. I knew I wanted a vase of white flowers, a few vases or jars sort of stacked into and behind each other, and an image of a favorite small porcelain head. I had no reference photos, no set ups…every shape came out of my imagination, except for the small head.
There is something so freeing and fun about just picking up the pencil and beginning to draw lines and shapes, arranging them within a picture plane. Having no references helped me to just respond to what I was drawing by feeling how it all fit together. Of course, I was considering all of the 7 Elements of Design as I played, and looking for balance and harmony and an emotional content of Whimsical.
I’m always coaching my students to create a good design, and then work out the value pattern and a color scheme before they pick up a brush. But here, with this painting, I decided to give myself more freedom. Could it fail? For sure! But I didn’t care. I wanted to tune into my creative vein and give it more rein.
I did work up a value study, but it was very general and rather vague. I did sort of pick a general palette of color, but there too, I left myself open to inspired ideas should they arise. I didn’t work out any of the textures I hoped to include, nor did I tie myself to the lines and shapes I had drawn in the sketch.
So how does one “paint in flow”?
I begin with a quieting of my mind. My intention is to tune into my inner artist. There is a buzzing of anticipation in my awareness and an enthusiasm to pick up the brush and just begin. I paint the 3 blue vases first, listening only to instinct and impulse, watching a blob of water or paint make a surprising texture or a shape within a shape. Visions of more lines and textures and colors flood in. My options seem explode as my excitement builds! It often feels to me as if there are more minds involved than just mine. At times, I feel as if i’m bouncing on my toes like a small child.
I work rather slowly, walking around the painting and listening for the next idea for the next mark on the page. I’m always surprised that there is cohesion and precision in how the visual images I receive fit together. There isn’t chaos or confusion in the process when it’s really flowing. When it’s not, I stop and wait for the “spirit” to move me again.
Toni Bragg is a watercolorist and teacher in Warrenton Virginia