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Why I Paint: Part II

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

Part II: It’s complicated.

I’m probably more of a poet than a painter. Fortunately, painting is visual poetry. Poetry came naturally to me, but it was not until much later that I learned about metaphors and similes. As it turns out, I am now probably a better painter than poet when it comes to writing and stream of consciousness. I have ADD, low verbal skills relative to visual, and literary writing did not come easily for me. My thoughts are not organized enough to write acceptably as a profession. At higher levels, I preferred poetry class to literature, short story to the novel. As the reader... you will not benefit from that tendency in this blog post.

Math got out of hand at university and physics word problems escaped my ability to define them in terms of an equation. Organic chemistry loomed on the horizon and survival called. Levitating the engineering building would have to pass me by and I went into construction. The family business.

I’ll try to weave a thread here. Poetry has many, many parts of speech... allegory, symbolism, synecdoche, personification. One can appeal to the senses... taste, smell, touch, sight, and sound. Sight was my strong suit. I always opted for the visual display, and visual aids in my school talks and projects. I struggled with things like philosophy, rhetoric and public speaking. Drafting... now that was fun and easy. Three point perspective, shadows on the side of a building from the sun on the eaves... auxiliary picture planes, projections, foreshortening and true size and shape. Those things were much more exciting than CPM Scheduling, writing letters, or core drilling holes through concrete.

I have to reflect on nature vs nurture. My mom was a visual artist. I suppose I inherited not only her left handedness and right brainedness, but a more highly developed visual, spatial brain. Maybe it was from my fathers engineering/math mind. I could, handily, visualize three dimensions from two dimensional construction drawings. By 18, I had worked with my hands and constructed things, threaded pipe and assembled structures from wood and timber, pole barns, chicken coops, forked and stacked hay around poles, among forking other things. I had shoveled shit literally and figuratively as a plumbing apprentice. I could easily be a 3D visual artist, but I chose 2D.

When it came time for college, a privilege, my father told me all architects he knew were homosexuals, and no son of his was to become an architect. So art school was out of the question, too. At the same time my then girlfriend’s mom told me... art was just as important as engineering or medicine. Sigh! I always did enjoy art electives in college and eventually changed my major to art 20 years later... but art school escaped me. I’m what you would call autodidactic, self taught. College is supposed to teach us to learn and reason on our own, so I have had to uncover and learn art on my own, to learn how to see. I’ve had much help along that journey, books, classes, teachers, workshops, mentors, YouTube videos. My pallet has taught me a lot. Atelier taught me a lot, the classes that I could scrounge up the cost of at night, after work.

They say it takes 10,000 hours to excel

at something. Another said you have to paint 1,000 paintings to become a master. I did the math. One painting a week for twenty years. There is not enough time to do that part time, or after retirement. It’s a full time profession that does not pay full time wages, unless, maybe one has an art degree and teaches art. I have the twenty years in, just not the 1,000 paintings yet. Hope springs eternal. I’m probably batting 500 paintings.

When I got fired from my job once twenty-five years ago, I took a daytime painting class. My girlfriend at the time had a teacher in high school who taught classes at Glen Echo, Maryland. She introduced me to the artist at one of his shows, Walter Bartman. I was taking a figure in the landscape class, painting acrylic in the Bishops Garden at national Cathedral when I mentioned to Walt that I was color blind. Without missing a beat he said, “that’s a good thing; because, value is more important than color, and you will be more sensitive to value.” I’m so grateful to be a student of his. You read about famous painters... they studied under so and so, at this or that school. I understand why now. Art is learned from those who came before me.

There were many awakenings, early on. There was what I thought I wanted to paint, what was in my minds eye, and then there is what came out of my paintbrush. Sadly, they are never the same. That is almost as disappointing as the artists curse, me not liking my own art. One thing is that being a great artist is not as collectible as being a recognizable artist. Being able to walk up to a painting and say, oh that’s a so and so, having never seen it before is marketable. Fortunately, I found a voice, or a style of painting. We’ll see how that works out. I know galleries want “really good art.” Maybe in 100 years after I’m gone my art will improve. Poor Van Gogh only ever sold one painting.

Another thing is learning how to not judge my own art... I see mistakes, things that need improved, fixed... all very valuable skills. I’m making art. I was told if you want a picture, take a photograph. I still went on to atelier at Schuler; because, I wanted to be able to paint anything I wanted realistically. I still do but, I’ve realized I do not have the patience for that much anatomy. I still study anatomy... just not in one semester or two. It’s amazing how much one’s noses improve once you know about the wider maxillary bone under the bridge, but I digress.

I’m probably more of a naturalist than realist, representational yes, figurative, preferably. Labels can be limiting, though. I was taught to paint the figure like the landscape, shapes, colors. I had someone point out that all of the famous figurative painters who were men, were misogynists (Degas, looking down upon a woman bathing, for example). Artistes traditionally studied the figure and painting drapery so we can paint the figure draped, called portraiture. I will end on this anecdote... when I took my first figure painting class, my friend brought her young girls over and they looked at this painting of a nude leaning against my wall and asked me why I paint girls without any clothes on? I didn’t know what to say to this maybe 5 year old, and so I said, “I love trees, trees are beautiful, I could paint trees all day, but the most beautiful thing to me is a woman, so I’m learning how to paint them.”

Painting is not so much enjoyable for me as it is the most frustrating and rewarding thing I do, and I can get lost in painting for hours. I tell myself painting flowers or water is fun and easy (positive thinking). I tell myself this will be my next masterpiece, whenever I start a new painting (NLP). I can say I have a love-hate relationship with painting. I can see that I’ve improved over time. I just want to be the best painter I can be now, to see the world differently. I wish I could paint every day and could have great breakthroughs, quickly. It’s a slow burn. Paint 100 flowers. Paint 100 heads. Paint as much as I can with the precious time I have left, and give back somehow to other artists what I’ve learned along the journey. Give my gift back to the world.

  • Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun. - Pablo Picasso


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