Painting is trust. We plant ourselves in front of a canvas, with tools in hand, and colors at our side, and we have faith that at the end of the day/week/month a painting will appear.
Painters study perspective, drawing, color theory, and values. Painters study everything because every bit and morsel of knowledge will, ultimately, provide a small pillar for them to lean on when presented with a blank canvas.
Thus, we begin. Sometimes with a sketch, laying out our plan; sometimes with a still life bursting with fresh fruit and color, or sometimes with a landscape, hot and sunny, in front of our easel. Being oil painters, we may start with thin washes, splashing in darks and shapes. Anticipation and joy fill these first strokes as our vision is fresh and exhilarating.
We refine our composition with more shapes and maybe a light to show us where we’re headed. Then the colors begin to come into play. Questions arise: how to mix?; what to mix?; do I want a red truck, blue vase, purple cow? Are my shadows warm/cool? The painting takes on the look of a mosaic. Lights, darks, shapes, colors, trees without shadows, shadows without trees. The initial joy wanes a little, replaced with familiar struggle, grunts, mumbles and squinting.
Yet there is trust. We trust that a painting will emerge from the puzzle before us. There has to be a basic faith in the heart of the artist that the shapes will connect, the forms will appear whole, and, over time, balance will occur. In the middle of this process, there may be precious little more than trust. The artist will see a skeleton of a painting, a fragmented image that stares back at her with a challenge, “Trust in me; Trust in yourself; Trust in the Process; Trust in the paint; Let go of the Outcome.”
Painting after painting will be tossed, “frisbeed," cut up, painted over. Paint tubes will be squeezed of every drop, and gallons of white depleted. But those who persevere have faith.
We brush and scrape and scratch our way through the paint, the shapes and the endless colors. And if we are very lucky, and the stars align, and if we have been paying just the right amount of attention, but not too much, a painting will be born that we will find acceptable, and maybe even like...over time.
All because we have faith and trust that just painting is enough.
Thoughts on Painting And Process
I asked both Jerry Turner and Bill Rushton their thoughts on painting and process. Their answers are below:
When asked how many paintings he liked out of ten, Jerry Turner replied,”Out of ten, I probably now keep about half. I almost never finish one outside. I work them over sometimes for a very long time. I put them in the rack after a while and maybe in a month or so I’ll take another look. I almost never sit down with them right after painting the first go.
I’ve finished paintings years later when I couldn’t figure out what to do. After a while I see things with new eyes and know right a way what's wrong. I get spurts of energy every now and then and pull out a bunch and work on all of them finishing most of them. Whether I show them is another story. I usually pick the best ones I like when a show comes up. The others can hang around for years before I need to use them. Sometimes never. They go into the black hole.”
On Process: Jerry Turner, “Process is everything. Product shouldn't be important, but usually is for most painters. We should be painting for ourselves first off. It takes a lot of discipline and smarts to back away from the art market, thumb our noses and keep to ourselves. We all like complements and encouragement. If we're going to focus on product we might as well be making shoes or washing windows, right?” (Amen, although there are some pretty cool shoes out there Jerry. I’m sure you’re not thinking of Jimmy, Donald or Manolo!)
Bill Rushton’s answers were similar, but said as only Bill can say them, “I'd say that out of 10 paintings that I do OUTDOORS I like all of them, until I wake up in the morning and look at what I brought home. Sorta like the woman who goes to the bar, drinks a bit, gets a buzz, goes home to her place with him, and then wakes up in the morning wondering "what was I thinking". I am convinced that the process of being outside with friends, laughing, expelling different types of gasoids, and sharing, is what it is all about. Sorta like church? It's about fishing, not necessarily catching anything, but just fishing.
The outdoor stuff gets worked over eventually, and I would say that about 2 of the original 4 or 5 that I liked remain as they were the day I painted them. Maybe even 1. When I work from photos, I find that I grind on ALL of them, until they are pretty, and that may take a couple of years on some, but eventually they come around. I can't tell you how many old paintings, I mean years old, I have dug out and reworked. It never ends. My goal is to rework all of them.”