This year has been a continuously challenging, learning experience for me as an artist as I have pushed out of my studio more and more and find myself doing my learning in the public view. It boils down to this being somewhat daunting – to reveal that I am actually an emerging artist at this point in my career. While I was extremely experienced in the handling of pen and ink back in the two decade long industry phase of my career (the days of pre-CAD drawings of nuts, bolts, and screws for the automotive and aeronautics industry) or studio painting illustrations, painting plein air is not something I am adept at…yet.
Last weekend I was at the Autumn Harvest Festival event at the Spring Valley Nature Center and Heritage Farm in Schaumburg, Illinois.
I dressed as a 1880 Victorian era woman, impressionism painter. I must admit I had fun. I will also heartily admit I was in new territory since it was not rooted in lecture or art show. Having people scrutinize my work as I discover new techniques and then ask me how long it takes to do a painting was unnerving. I had to tell the truth but it made me think about what that might mean in an era when we want to equate value with hourly wage. How do I explain that an artists wage is based on years of training and accumulated knowledge and experience and not on an hourly minimum wage set by an employer or the State of Illinois.
Their follow up question was often “…when this is done will it be for sale … and how much will it be?” I had to answer in all truthfulness that I didn’t know? I threw a couple prices out there to test the waters but that’s not the most professional way to determine worth!
Working loosely, making color and light choices, even the mechanics of structure and layout are not things that I am at all fast at. Perhaps it is ingrained in human nature to avoid showing fear in the form of lack of self confidence, lack of experience, or to basically avoid any show of weakness. I bring that fear into my art development and I suspect that many artists do. It’s why we make a drawing that gets thrown away before anyone sees it. It’s why we paint over canvases in the studio. It’s why we only bring out the best when we want to show someone our work. But as I’ve said in this blog before, that’s not honest. It is deceiving anyone who is beginning to walk the path of art and they think that somehow when a person is an artist farther along that surely they make no mistakes, they have no failures and they’re already at some nirvana place in their career. Well let me be clear. I am still learning and always will be. If I’m not, then I am doing something wrong. Case in point is the personal growth begun the last couple of years by incorporating the plein air style to improve my paint handling techniques and increase my speed. I look at my work when I’m around other plein air painters and I feel blatantly amateurish but I also know that those elements of my art that are strong will eventually blend with this new labor and I will improve. I don’t know if I’ll ever be competitive at the plein air competitions, or can even get good enough to be invited into them, but the romantic notion of being at some event painting shoulder to shoulder with other artists that I admire, is appealing. When that day comes, I will be painting in public, baring my learning process to the viewer, and growing.