Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Evolution of a Painting: A Thank You to Art

Yesterday I shared a tiny bit about the Do What You Love retreat, but honestly I was a bit at a loss for words. It was easier to let the photographs do the talking. How can you possibly explain the feeling of being in an environment where art and creativity, positive encouragement and infinite possibility are the norm for four days?

Today I thought I would share just a peek at some of what I experienced by showing the evolution of one of the paintings I created in Flora Bowley's class. Through showing you how it progressed through the three days and what I learned, I hope to give you an idea of what it was like. I created three paintings over the three days, and I'll share the other two (one of which is pictured above, in progress) in Friday's blog post. (I have to save something for Paint Party Friday, don't I?)

The first day we quickly learned to get past the "blank canvas" syndrome. Flora's painting technique starts with a lot of mark making. Using foam brushes, small paintbrushes, found objects, fingers, rags and a spray bottle we learned all sorts of ways to make marks on the canvas. We painted with our eyes closed, danced to the music, stopped for yoga stretches, just worked on releasing the tensions and expectations and using our whole body to paint.

One of the more interesting things we did early in the first day is paint on each other's canvases. We rotated around the room, moving from canvas to canvas and Flora would tell us what kind of mark to make. We would practice that mark on the canvas we were at and then rotate to the next canvas to practice a new type of mark. The idea was to keep us from attaching too much to any one thing we painted. It definitely worked! It was very fun to see what our canvas looked like when we got back to it.

We spent the first day building up multiple layers of two of our 30x30" canvases, painting in all of the colors of the rainbow. The idea was to give us lots of possibilities and directions the painting could go in terms of color, shape, subject. Here is the painting at the end of the first day:

Kind of wild, isn't it? I definitely had lots of directions to go with this! I couldn't really see how this was going to evolve into anything "beautiful" at this point. This was the canvas that everyone painted on, so it's fun to know that the whole class had a part in creating this painting.

Here is the image again, rotated 90 degrees, in the orientation of the painting for later comparison. It's interesting how you see different things when you rotate the painting, isn't it? We did a lot of that, working from different directions.

We started the second day by writing a gratitude list and then sketching from nature. Flora encouraged us to look at both the broad vista and the close up for our sketches. We were in a beautiful place to do this! The Yorkshire countryside rolled along in front of us and the trees and flowers were in their spring bloom. She then showed us how she started to use what was working in the layers she had created, plus her sketches from the morning, to bring more out of the painting. She encouraged us to make a bold move, commit to something, not be afraid to cover up what was already there. You have to do this to make room for the new, great things that will come along.

That was probably the hardest lesson for me to learn in this class - covering up what was already there. I seemed to want to keep everything. I mean, what if it became important to the end work? It wasn't until the end of this second day that I finally got this concept. It is only by truly committing and seriously covering up parts of the underpainting that the wonderful layers and textures begin to pop out. You need that contrast. (Interesting, isn't it, that I've been exploring Visual Contrast in my photography.)

My "bold move" to start at the beginning of the second day was to paint the fern across the middle of the painting and then started to fill in around that. The other leaves and circles started to pop out and emerge, so I went with that. One of Flora's mantras was to "go with what's working." Here is the painting at the end of the second day:

The color palette had emerged as mainly cool colors, green, blue and purple. I discovered I absolutely loved painting and mixing the dark and lights with my fingers, you can see that in the greens in the upper left corner. I really liked how the fern and the upper left corner were emerging, but was struggling with the bottom right. I hadn't committed to anything there yet and had been reworking it. By the end of the day, I was just fried. I needed some time away from painting, so that I could get a better perspective and see what to do next. We had an evening off from the activities, so I drank wine and talked with my cabin-mates into the wee hours of the morning.

We started day three with writing an affirmation for the day. Taking a fear, or something we were struggling with, and turning it into a positive statement.  We taped this up on the wall of the painting tent, to remind us during the day if we got stuck. We also started with stretches, and had frequent breaks throughout the day for stretching, dancing, running around the field. Just keeping ourselves loose and having fun. Letting go. It was very funny, when Flora asked us as the beginning of the day if we wanted to start with a demo or if we wanted to just start painting, we enthusiastically answered that we wanted to paint!

When I stood back and looked at my painting in the morning of the third day, I had a very good idea what I wanted to do and just got on with it. I covered up some more of the bottom right area, bringing in the light greens from the upper left, and created some repetition with the black dots. 

I was struggling with the upper right area, the bright red. I liked the pops of red that were throughout the painting from the underpainting but that area wasn't working for me. Flora suggested I pull the red through some other areas of the painting more, with little details. She didn't tell me where or how to do it, just that it would help. What a great teacher! I'm sure she saw some things I could do but she didn't tell me, she let me figure it out myself.

I finished the painting around the middle of the third day. Here is the finished work:

It is unlike anything I've ever done before. It is big, it is bold, it is unplanned. This isn't necessarily my favorite of the three paintings, but this is definitely the one that I learned the most on. I struggled with things and broke through them. Flora's experience, repeated many times to us, is that the paintings she struggles the most with are often her best work. She encouraged us to keep pushing through those barriers we found. To commit to bold moves. Look to nature for inspiration. Move our bodies. Go with what's working. Reminding us that we made the marks that were there, we could always make them again.

It was a very emotional experience for many of us. It's amazing how painting can be so connected to our core self, how much we can each individually struggle and the emotions it brings up. How we can attach ourselves to certain outcomes. How our inner voices can just destroy our confidence. There are so many parallels between painting, or any art, with our life. I learn this over and over again as I continue explore art and creativity. I have learned more about myself through art in the last couple of years than through anything else, ever.

Thank you to Flora, for being such a wonderful teacher. She gave us the tools and lessons but let us find the ways to make our painting an expression of our self. Thank you to my classmates, who provided all sorts of positive encouragement and support for each other along this journey, which was difficult at times. Thank you to Beth, for creating such a wonderful environment at the retreat that we could learn these amazing things about art and life. And thank you to art and creativity, for being the thing that makes me whole.

(Stephey Baker of Marked by the Muse is doing a "Thank You to Art" link up right now. What perfect timing! Visit her site to see more stories and link your "thank you" in.)


  1. such a beautiful process.. thank you for sharing.. I would love to sit under one of Flora's classes one day.. Lucky you! Your painting is gorgeous... I too struggle with a blank canvas... Loved reading this.. xo hugs art saves.

  2. How lovely to see you blossoming through painting, Kat! And its colours and boldness, I love that! I have seen Moyra's recent post, (who you must have met in the class of course) and I was delighted to see how she enjoyed as I knew she wanted this so much, last time I met her in London. I am so pleased to know many of you had a great time and the retreat was such a successful event. xm

  3. Oh Kat - These posts are fabulous! (You already know how happy I am to see you painting, and wow - this is just incredible!)

    I am so glad you shared this - I am living vicariously through you for now... I would love, love, love to take a class from Flora :)

    Wheeeee! This just makes my heart sing!


    p.s. I'm so glad you're going to be sharing more for PPF too :)

  4. How great that you could share the whole three days' experience with us through this painting, Kat. I was fascinated at how you built it from random marks and I'm so glad you worked with the red - it wouldn't be the same painting without it. You've given me the urge to confront one of my demons - the conviction that I don't have it in me to create something from my own soul. Thank you!

  5. That sounds like a great class, and one that would benefit any artist. I love your progression.

    Thank you for your lovely comment on my TT post today.

  6. This is so amazing, Kat! Thanks so much for sharing this! I would also find it very difficult to cover up and then see what comes out of it! And the result is so stunning! Now I can't wait to see your other paintings!

  7. First time I've stopped here--I love your painting, especially at the end with the ferns/leaves/vines. My kinda art! Thanks for sharing this!

  8. Love this, Kat. It's a really good summary of our three days. And I'm still bowled over by what you created! :)

  9. Amazing. all of it. the retreat. the art. your painting. really amazing. No wonder your photography is so wonderful, you have a great eye, and such creativity. Thanks for sharing your experience, it was really interesting.

  10. Katrina! This is beautiful! And I so agree with you about the process. The metaphors are endless for what you learn about yourself - and the world around you - through the process of creating art. And developing your skills - and your eye - and your ability to communicate - all so wonderful! GOOD FOR YOU! Sounds like a delightful retreat! What a treat!

  11. It's so nice to see your work and the process you went through to get this painting done, it looks like this place is doing its magic for you :)

  12. What a wonderful experience you had and what a beautiful painting you created!! Thanks so much for taking time to share it with us! I don't paint, but this makes me want to!!

  13. Your paintings are fabulous!I enjoyed my visit to your lovely blog. Hugs!

  14. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It was such a fascinating progression to witness. Your painting is gorgeous. Very bold as you've said.

  15. Kat, this is gorgeous and your colours are so juicy and delicious. I love the way you have shared your experience through the evolution of your painting. Thank you so much!

  16. I just can't wait to see the other paintings. This one is gorgeous. I love it!!! You are incredible talented using the right words to explain the amazing experience you went through at Flora's class. She is indeed a talented teacher and artist. Thanks for sharing! I am fascinated with your post and your painting!!

  17. I just want to say that had it not been for Stephey's invitation and your participation in the opportunity to be part of THANK YOU TO ART, my life would be less full of the beauty you share.

  18. This takes me right back to my Painting I class in college. I loved being around other painters, all of us lost in our own worlds for stretches of time, then walking around and over as we took breaks. Thank for you sharing!

  19. what an i say?! the contrast and the boldness says how creative you are. Thank you for sharing it!


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