Destroying work

I just destroyed a large resin painting. First it was sawed in half and then I attacked it with a sledgehammer.  This act was not a cultural protest or a temper tantrum.
Recently I’ve participated in some on-line critiques, and what I’ve noticed is the tendency of mediocre artists to get too attached to their work and fret about small changes. Half the time, I want to suggest that they do 99 drawings and then post the hundredth one, instead of agonizing over the first one. After my latest exasperating experience, I thought about myself. Was I discarding 99 works, or was I clinging to my own work?
Throughout my art career, I have periodically destroyed my artwork. When I work on paper, I cull the weak drawings, roll them up and burn them in the fireplace.  There is something satisfying about the flames, as if getting rid of old work would make better paintings rise like a phoenix from their ashes. Paintings on canvas were even easier, once I decided that I was no longer satisfied with a painting, I would simply gesso over it, completely obliterating the original and creating a new, slightly textured canvas to work on.
However the resin works on panel have been more difficult to destroy. I can paint or resin on top, but not all the works lend themselves well to this. Obviously I’ve already invested a lot of time and money in them as well. Usually I don’t resin a work until I’m completely happy with it, but occasionally show deadlines force me to rush work and I’ve ended up with a few paintings I’m not quite sure about. Luckily, sometimes someone comes in and falls in love with one and takes it home, but the other paintings stay in the studio like sad wallflowers at the dance. So I selected one painting I’ve never been happy with and sentenced it to death.

Everyone I’ve told about this destruction asks which painting it was, or suggests I should have just given it to them. I won’t even say which one, for fear they will say “I always liked that one,” which would make me feel awful. If it was a painting I really liked, I might consider donating it to a charity, but those paintings I’m not sure about…I think it’s better to destroy them. I don’t want to be an artist who clings to her work, just because she spent time and money on it.
As someone who has done a lot of reading about clutter while avoiding doing anything about it, I am very familiar with the idea that clutter clogs the energy in your room and prevents action. Paintings that hang around too long depress me, and make me question my own abilities. Getting rid of this painting made me feel both sadness and relief, but when I go into the studio the empty space is energizing. I was able to finish three paintings in a project I’ve been ruminating about for four months!
Last night I went for drinks at our neighbour’s place and she said to me, very gently, “Is everything okay? I saw you between our houses, doing something…with a sledgehammer?”
I laughed and told her I had been destroying a painting.
“Ah well,” she said, “It looked like you were getting something out of your system.”
That’s the truth. Getting rid of work can be cathartic for your studio and your mind. Try it and see.

A great week in the studio

I’m currently working on seven panels at once, which is a lot even for someone like me, who hails from Short Attention Span, Ontario. At the early stages, I often work similar motifs on all the paintings, they evolve gradually into something more unique.
Anyway, the painting is going really well, and here’s a sampling of my past week at the studio. 

I can’t get enough ombre, my resin work and
now my paintings have that dip-dye look.
The cats better watch out…

Did some collaged stripes with a 60’s feel.

I started striping it, but I stopped since it looked great already.

The stripes led to patchwork patterns.

More crazy quilts, I think it’s the combination of order and wild pattern I like.

 These lovely layers are already gone, and now I’m working on some florals inspired by spring.  Stay tuned…

Starting with stripes

Four new panels in my studio

Do you have a routine? You roll out of bed, pull on a t-shirt and yoga pants and start your sun salutations? Or you need a big cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal before you can even growl g’morn? Or maybe you have to have a cup of herbal tea and a snuggle with your cat before getting ready for bed each night?  Routines are lifesavers for our overworked brains, instead of having to make a dozen decisions, they just follow a familiar, comforting pattern.
Routines are my lifesaver when it comes to beginning a painting. Sometimes a blank canvas can be so daunting, there’s definitely the possibility of a masterpiece but will I be able to achieve it? Rather than face painter’s block, I rely on my familiar process.
First up, I pull out a fresh wood panel.  I use wood panels as the support for my work because it’s more stable for resin and also because I enjoy the easy flow of painting on wood.  Each of my excavation paintings begins in the same way, I apply a couple of coats of gesso, then sand them down for a smooth surface.  Then I mount them on the wall and paint bold stripes on the panel. There’s no specific reason for the stripes, and truthfully, they’re hardly visible by the end.   I think it all began with the very first resin paintings I made back in 2007, they started as a series of horizontal stripes, and then I started added layers of tissue painting on top. The paintings looked dry and unfinished, until I added resin and then they became swirling, sea-like worlds of transparent images. At the time I was using a casting resin that took ages to set and stunk up my garage for months, but the basic process was the same as the one I use today.

where it all began

After the stripes there is no routine.  I paint on layers of tissue, and the layers are always new and different. But there is something comforting about the initial process, when my hands are happily painting stripes and my mind is free to dream about what will come next.

Four new paintings you won’t find on my website

Having a strong individual voice is as important in art as in anything that gets marketed. It’s confusing to the viewer if you’re constantly in flux, and clients or galleries prefer a distinctive look. 
Lots of people who are just beginning in art paint a vast array of subjects: still lifes, landscapes, people or animals, and they experiment with many different media as well. Recently a few people have asked about learning abstraction from me, but I don’t think it is something I can teach. My theory is that you need to go through a long period of experimenting, of trying new things until you find something that really fits you and is unique to you.

One friend, Kayla, told me that she had a friend over to her house who immediately recognized my painting: “Oh you have a Mary Anne! I love her paintings!” This was a huge compliment for me, both to be recognized for my style and to be recognized, period, by someone who isn’t in my immediate family.

However, once you find your “style” you need to be able to evolve it enough so that you can keep growing. We’ve all seen painters who get trapped by their success, churning out copies of their one original style because it sells. I wonder if this turns the wonderfully creative act of painting into manufacturing.

I have spent a lot of 2012 playing in the studio, experimenting with work that is quite different for me. First off, I’ve been doing some representational pencil drawings, which I can use as layers on my process paintings. Secondly, I usually paint on panels, but I had some canvas panels gathering dust and I wanted to do something new. The results are these paintings which I have tried to layer using paint and medium, with mixed results. But I like these paintings very much, I’m not sure where they will lead, but sometimes you just have to follow the creative muse. In the ten+ years I’ve been painting, I find that whatever you do in the studio is never wasted, it shows up somewhere. No matter where you are in your painting life, you need to try new things.

I can too draw!

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One of the great surprises of my artistic career is that I now create abstract paintings.  I think I actually have a prejudice against abstract painters. Just painters, not abstract paintings which I have always loved: from the graphic late Matisse works to the saturated canvases of Helen Frankenthaler and best of all the glowing colours of Mark Rothko.  

I just had this theory that artists became abstract artists because they couldn’t draw.  I had seen proof of this in my student days at Emily Carr and in studios beyond.  You could call it the Picasso effect, if you look at Picasso’s early work you can see that he was a skilled artist but his main fame developed from his cubist period.  Later, artists began skipping the exploratory representational period and going right to abstraction. If they had ideas and theories to apply to their work this could be a beautiful thing, but lesser artists just aped the giants in their fields.

Abstraction gave birth to huge groups of people standing in front of paintings and saying things like:
My kid could do that!  
What is that supposed to be?
I don’t get it.
Can we go for lunch now?

I was determined that I was going to be able to render well, even though I hated work that was photographically realistic. My theory was that if I could draw, I would be free to explore any ideas I had and not be forced into more design-y work.  So I took lots of drawing classes and practiced my life drawing.  My life drawing is still not terrific, but I need to be practicing more.  As perverts everywhere say, just not enough nude people lying around when you need them.

Probably the ideal artistic practice for me would be someone like Richard Diebenkorn or Gerhardt Richter.  Both artists alternate between representational paintings and ethereal abstractions.  While I can hardly place myself in their exalted company, I like the idea of change and keeping your viewers off-balance.  The ability to thumb your nose at everyone who tries to pigeonhole your artistic practice. 

My process now actually layers paintings that are representational one atop the next.  By the end, you can hardly recognize any of the individual layers and the end result is often quite abstract. I can see the layers underneath though, and in my mind it’s a series of representational paintings.  I still find it frustrating to not be able to draw exactly the way I would like to on demand, yet some days in the studio are better than others.

Yesterday was an excellent day.  We all have things that we enjoy drawing. I have a lot of success with dresses, fruit, desserts and cats. (Not dogs, my dogs range from goat-like to pillowy.)  The other thing I love to draw, but am not always successful with, is buildings.  The painting I am currently working on is from an old photograph of Powell Street in the heart of old Japantown.  It’s going very well, and although I hardly ever show my work in progress, here’s a photo of how it looks right now. I will be back in the studio today and by tonight it may be completely changed. I just hope I don’t wreck it, but pushing the good work is where I learn the limits.

the five stages of painting

I know that this blog entry is late, but I have a good excuse: it’s about procrastinating!

I’m not sure if procrastinating is something that all artists do, or just me.  But judging from the times that I’ve organized shows, I think it may be all artists.  I have hung shows where the work was still wet, oil paintings of course.  And I’ve noticed that entries all come in just before any deadline.

My current procrastination has to do with my upcoming show at the Nikkei Museum.  Although I have known about the show since the fall, I must admit that I have spent too long in the cogitating state, where I assemble materials and ideas and think about how to create work around them. Now things are coming together, and each day in the studio is very satisfying, but a week ago I was in the depths of despair.

Here for me are the stages of painting:

1. Joy!
This is the stage where you get accepted into a show or some other creative project. You are elated and realize that your talent is being recognized and appreciated. You randomly hug members of your family and chatter nonstop to your friends.

2. Cogitating
You gather ideas for your artwork. This stage is a great excuse for buying all the art supplies you have been coveting at Opus, specifically that lovely circle of bright coloured inks in my case.  (Note: I haven’t actually bought them yet, as I purchased two and am still unable to figure out how they are different from diluted paint.) During this stage you do a lot of reading, research and observation and spend long hours in the shower releasing your right brain thinking. Your hydro bill goes up but it is all in the name of creativity.

3.  Procrastination
You have some ideas, but you’re not sure if they are good enough.  You wonder if you should think of more or get started.  You notice that your favourite hockey teams are playing that night and watch them. You prepare an complicated dinner to everyone’s delight. You go shopping or to a concert or even to a gallery. You groom reluctant cats. You go to the studio, but you get sidetracked by a small project or just cleaning out your paper drawer. You do anything but work on your project and you feel guilty.

4. Panic
Suddenly a deadline is looming or something has changed and you need a piece of work right away. You begin working quickly, painting and prepping several panels at once, perhaps even 14 in one case I know.
You are painting and working but nothing is going right.  You fear that you are a fraud and not a genius after all, you are in despair that you will never be a great artist. Why did you waste all that time before?  Service jobs with a steady paycheque start to have appeal.  Family and friends avoid you, as any little thing can set you off.

5. More joy!
Somewhere in the panic, you are forced to make several bold strokes and suddenly your painting is falling into place. You love the artwork, it’s coming out brilliantly. You keep painting with great hopefulness.  When the painting is finished, you put it on the wall of the studio and admire it.  It is wonderful, the best work you have ever done, how did you doubt yourself?  You are so happy.  Much hugging ensues.

Then you realize that you need to make 13 more as good as the first one and you move back into Stage 3 (procrastination) or Stage 4 (panic). 

  My latest painting which is my current pride and joy.


When I was a young woman, I took a certain amount of attention for granted.  Great service from waiters, comments from construction sites, the honking of pick up trucks ( in Calgary anyway), and the appraising glances of other women.  Now that I am a middle-aged woman, I take a certain amount of anonymity for granted.  I once read in an Amanda Cross mystery that being an older woman was the perfect disguise for a detective as no one would notice you.  And that mindset is why I find my few days of celebrity so surprising.

I first noticed something odd during the Culture Crawl a few years ago when I first unveiled my large-scale, layered resin paintings.  These paintings were original and attracted a lot of attention.  People were hanging around the studio just to look at the work and chat with me.  Some actually came back during the weekend, bringing their friends and significant others, wanting to show them the work and meet me. I just assumed these people were nice and attentive to everyone, and it actually took me several months  of reflection to realize that people were interested in me and my opinions, just because I am an artist.  In the studio, you stand surrounded by your artwork, everyone can see your vision, your creativity laid out.  Seeing your art is like seeing inside your brain. 

This year was no exception, and in my own studio I was able to display more paintings and create a whole crazy energy around the work.  I was interviewed by student newspapers and ESL students on assignment: photographed by bloggers and twitterers; courted by art websites, and actually had crowds of people (well, small crowds anyway) listening to me explain my painting process.  And I had amazing conversations with different individuals about my art and their ideas about the art.

Now that I’m fading back into obscurity, I have the pleasure of knowing that even during times of financial cutbacks to the arts, many people still have a lot of respect for and interest in for artists.