Process as the purpose
There is a book called “Paint Yourself Calm” by Jean Haines.
It is about using the flowing and unpredictable nature of watercolor as a meditation. At times the book sounds mostly like an appeal to get more people to paint, other times like art therapy to help people slow down or recover and lastly as a strategy to re-energize experienced but burned out artists.
It is about the process of painting as distinct from creating a painting. How you paint. Painting as a verb and not a noun.
The first part of the book is philosophy followed by a number of techniques.
Must Make Art
She says: “A myth exists that when we paint, we have to produce something worth seeing, and there is a weird notion that we have to be worthy of holding a paintbrush.”
There is a mental urge to make a finished painting each and every time I paint and there is angst when the effects of the efforts (at any stage!) do not seem to be heading in that direction. As if it is a waste of pigment and paper if the result is not frame-able or salable.
There is value to warm up exercises (playing with paint to get into the flow – which I do not do enough). I do color prep work to try to choose a pleasing small set of colors to use for a painting before starting, applying those colors to a small swatch and letting them mix.
I also am doing smaller 5 x 7 studies before doing a larger painting when I am not sure of the plan (which is most of the time). This lets me make the mistakes then and try out composition, colors and techniques instead of anguishing over a larger sheet when painting starts to crash.
Just Do It
But Jean goes further:
“The emphasis should lie in your feelings while creating – the joy of simply watching colour flow across paper without any goal of it leading to a masterpiece can be totally invigorating;”
“feel a sense of accomplishment … through the action of painting itself.”
Consider what a privilege it is to be able to paint, to have the resources and time to do so. This attitude removes the burden of not only creating finished pieces but further having to create accomplished artwork that is targeted for specific shows or audiences.
An antidote to the pressure to produce. Don’t lose the fun.
Dealing with Pressure: http://williamswatercolors.com/blog/under-pressure/
Time for Joy: http://williamswatercolors.com/blog/dont-time-joy/
Letting Paint Flow
“…enjoy what is happening in front of you on the paper.”
This is a definite change I have been practicing. Watching what is happening instead of fretting over what I want or hope to happen.
I also recently took a workshop from Björn Bernström.
One of this Swedish watercolorist’s techniques involves pouring or painting large areas of heavy color(s), letting them mingle and often adding clear water to encourage pigment play. Then he molds the result into a landscape, letting what happened influence the painting instead of trying to force a preconceived result.
You can see this effect in these paintings I did after attending this workshop, particularly in the skies.
or in the way the colors melt together in the clothing and foliage in the Fall Fishing study shown above.
Peace of Art
“We all need to discover a way to look at the incredible experience of painting in a way that pleases the soul.”
“Moving a brush gently and watching as pigment glides across the paper is one of the most peaceful activities you can enjoy.”
Artists want a better final product. But that is more likely for that to happen if I relax, letting my own style come through. This will produce a unique set of work which by definition will be better because it is more of me.
See how the paint is let to flow in this closeup of clothing.
Have you every thought of playing with art? If not watercolors, you likely have crayons around or can doodle – any piece of paper and pencil or pen will do. See if you can create yourself calm.