A few years ago I felt a bit lost regarding my painting. Not a bit. A lot. I had committed to painting on a consistent basis, often daily, but when I looked at what I was painting I didn’t see what I wanted. There wasn’t a consistent style, and I just didn’t see me. I was also overwhelmed by choices. There were so many things I wanted to be painting, but at the same time, I couldn’t decide what to paint. I had always thought that constraints were limiting and counter-productive. Yet in all that freedom I found that I was lost. But I kept searching.
After painting primarily with oils and occasionally with acrylics, one day I decided to pull my watercolors off the shelf. I hadn’t used them in years, and I was never very attached to them. But watercolors immediately felt right to me. I loved the transparency and how the color could be either subtle or bold and how the paint would move and seep through the water. Watercolors also required me to be patient, but not too patient, and I quickly learned that, yes, I was the one applying the color, but I wasn’t really in control. Each wash of color brought the unexpected and the potential for failure. And that’s the thing: I don’t do well with failure. But this, this process, was the perfect antidote to my perfectionist tendencies. Paint. Let go.
With my watercolors permanently and happily on my desk, I focused on style. I wanted consistency, to create something that when you looked at it, you would know that I painted it. I loved Paris, I loved old buildings, I loved nature, I loved landscapes. With all the choices, I found myself frozen when it was time to decide what to paint, but I continued on because I just wanted to paint something (anything!). I needed to find my way.
And then, one afternoon my mom and I went to an antique shop in Minneapolis. I was just getting into photography and decided that I wanted to start collecting vintage cameras. I found a black Spartus camera sitting in a box on the floor. I brought it home and propped it up on the edge of my painting desk and I started painting. I remember that the TV was on but I wasn’t paying any attention. I was sitting at my old drafting desk that I had moved behind the couch in my living room, just inside the front door. It was a winter evening so it was already dark outside and my desk lamp cast a bright glow on the paper. And I watched as the camera became a three dimensional object. Line by line, area by area, wash by wash.
And then I sat back and looked at this plain, black camera, floating in the center of the white paper, and I knew I was done. I had planned to add some shadows and a background. But I knew that I didn’t need to add those things. I just wanted the object against the bright, white paper. Done. And suddenly, after months of painting and floundering and thinking I wouldn’t find it, I found my style. It was simple, yes, but it felt right. It was there, on the paper, and I recognized it as mine. Now I find myself ready to expand and be open to other styles, but I know I’ll always return to it, like going home.