Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Making Peace

So much violence all over the world. The change of season, summer to fall, seems to make it all the more vivid. Everywhere life is withering and passing away. This nature I can understand. Human nature's appetite for violence is more difficult to fathom.

I'm finding solace in a painting of my garden— another in my series of Hen & Chick mandala paintings. This one is over-the-top with gazillions of tiny images and as I venture into the painting, I'm asking myself why? This is not about some conquest of technique or skill. Though I hold craftsmanship in high regard, lately I tend to think more about the "why" of painting than craft. The gazillions of images making up the whole is about the complexity and interdependence of our life and I feel compelled to try to convey something about this. I'm swimming upstream, against the current of the watercolor milieu, where simplifying is the rule. And being a simple-minded person, who often pesters others in her life to "please simplify", I don't know where this painting is coming from!

But here we are. I'm approaching the complexity of the painting as though each tiny image is a whole painting unto itself. This is requiring new found (and quite fragile) patience with the process. I'm meeting impatience head-on
with a tenderness of heart for every petal, leaf or stone. And I'm finding joy in allowing the colors to mix freely on the paper. Well, sort of freely. This is a fairly realistic work.

The series began in the garden. I composed and photographed the plants, rocks and leaves from many angles, under varied conditions of light and season. Though I'm not much of a photographer, my years of advertising design and photo direction have made me comfortable composing with the camera. I use an old projector to pencil in the large shapes from my photo onto watercolor paper and then I sit down to study the overall image and refine the drawing. I continue to draw even as I paint with both pencil and brush. For me painting is drawing and drawing is painting.

Today I worked on the first baby chick. It was tough! With my nose to the paper all day just painting shapes of color, I worried it was turning into a hopeless blob. Then, stepping back for a look at the whole, I could see my baby chick! She had arrived with all her fingers and toes. This painting experience is much like sitting zazen retreat. There is a point when you feel too exhausted to go on. You've thought all your thoughts and spun all your stories ad infinitum. You naturally begin to settle in your breath. Sometimes a clarity dawns. Like seeing your baby chick is there after all!


Sometimes you still see a hopeless blob of paint on the paper. But with patience, you're learning to make peace.

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