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Visual Valium, Part 2

Interesting thing about painting. Many adults who engage in this activity do it for fun. Many even say that it's "relaxing."

It CAN BE relaxing. More so, when one gets into that frame of mind that some associate with the "right brain," (we've talked about that before), "the flow," or "mindfulness." Some go as far to consider painting a form of meditation.

Sometimes painting, however, can be like those trips to the bathroom they mention delicately in the television ads for stool softeners, and "not feel good." Admittedly, the final adjustments on a realistic portrait or the nuances of color in a reproduction can set an artist's teeth on edge and coax salty epithets out of even the most demure (which I am not) artist!

So what's the remedy? In the best of world's, our chosen passion is something that's delightful, rather than something that beats us up every time we address the easel.

I think it depends on the individual. For some, it might take a couple months off from painting. Plant an herb garden, take up embroidery, or blow the dust off the old accordion and join a Klezmer group. When your basil goes to seed and you've heard Morty squeak that clarinet one too many times, come back to the studio and settle in. With any luck, everything will be A-OK.

Some people have to get mad. Mad at their own skill level, mad at their teachers (Freudian transference), or mad at their own art. Sometimes these folks break through by immersing themselves in their art, going at it like Olympians training for a qualifying heat; they study and practice what has been stumbling their progress or paint the same subject over and over again until they get it right. Only then are they ready to settle back into their creative path.

Others, like me, take the smorgasbord approach. I always seem to have at least four paintings in various stages of completion at any one time, all in different styles with different subjects, sometimes representing different media. This way, when florals make me yawn, I'll throw myself into a dark, pithy multi-character street scene. If my portraits are getting too tight and contrived, I'll go against my nature and paint something abstract.

But the real "Secret Sauce" for me--the Last Train to Zensville--is painting landscapes in oil. Here are a couple of my recent landscapes: "Counting Bunnies" (24 x 48) and "So Long to Santa Fe" (24 x 36). Each was painted in one session in the studio of my friend, Amanda, who is also an oil painter. The stress from which I needed escape was that created by having to finish a project for my instructor training program ("Resisting the Vortex of Time," shown below). The assignment was to create an autobiographical (who wants to be THAT self-disclosing?), still life painted from life (my least favorite subject), with a palette knife (my least favorite painting tool). On top of which, it had to be done 2 weeks! I'm also working on a series of portraits, some of which are very realistic, which makes me tighten up and begin to see what I'm doing as "work," rather than "play." No bueno.

"Counting Bunnies," 24 x 48, oil

"So Long, Santa Fe," 24 x 36 oil

Not only do I love the buttery feel of oil paint beneath my brush, but I revel in the unbridled luxury of not having to hurry because your paint is drying faster than a NASCAR driver with a hot date after the race. SLOW and UNPRESSURED is what I need when my nerves are frayed from other projects. My oil landscapes are almost always inspired by my own photographs, and somehow the very process of their creation transports me back to a pleasant moment in nature when I was moved enough to whip out the camera . The herbal bouquet of dessert plants, the insect buzzing and birdsong, and even snippets of conversation with my fellow hikers return to me as I paint, like a healing balm.

I rarely paint people into these landscapes. Probably because I spend so much time around people and painting portraits of people, that I'm seeking respite. Somehow, when the focus isn't on the human form or face but on a mountain, an ocean, a desert, or a forest, Creation seems so much larger, pristine, and calming. Sometimes I'll paint a scene and think, "Nothing bad could possibly happen to me here." Then I'll sign it.

Too bad I can't just crawl right in. But then, who would paint the next one?

"Resisting the Vortex of Time," acrylic on unstretched canvas, approx. 4 ft x 5 ft

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