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The Re-Start Button

by Jean McGuire in My life, Thoughts on Painting

A year ago my landscape series, along with some other pieces, was selected to be shown at a local gallery. I received the call in January, but the show was not until November. I was actually relieved at the time because I knew that having almost a year to prepare would give me plenty of time to add to my body of work. As an artist, I tend to paint what fascinates me instead of sticking to one type of painting. I knew that for this show, I had to have a cohesive body of work that flowed with what I had submitted.

I painted and I worked and I was very happy with how everything was falling together. I knew it would be a strong show and my confidence level rose. It felt good to be producing quality work. What I hadn’t counted on was the lucky fact that one-third of the paintings I had submitted sold before the time came to set up the show. Words cannot tell you how grateful I was for those sales.

But those very same sales put me in a predicament: I didn’t have enough pieces for the show that fit the style I had submitted. I had to produce more pieces and I had to do it quickly. In case you didn’t know this, there is nothing more detrimental to producing good art than to have to do it quickly.

Complicating things even further was the method I use to produce that style of landscape that had been accepted. Each one is created by throwing thinned down acrylic paint onto the canvas or board. It takes accuracy to throw the paint where I want it, but it also takes patience and time, neither of which I was blessed with as the show date approached. Each of those paintings takes about 30 layers of paint to produce the effect I like. The process can’t be rushed because each layer has to sit and dry before the next layer can be thrown down.

With the time for setting up the show looming over me, I did exactly what I knew not to do: I rushed three new pieces. One of them turned out terrifically. I am proud of the work I did on that particular piece, Konza V. It’s the piece at the top of this post, and it sold the night of the opening reception for the show.

The other two pieces I had rushed I was not as proud of. I went ahead and entered them in the exhibit, but I knew they were not my best work. In retrospect, I probably should have kept them at the studio instead of showing them. But, retrospect doesn’t change a thing.

After a very successful show with a lot of positive comments and some sales, I went to pick up my remaining work to take back home. As I was loading up the canvases a very nice older woman, who was on the board of the gallery that had shown the exhibit, approached me to comment on my art. “I really like those pieces,” she said pointing to the two I had rushed, “I know no one else does, but I really like them.”

I looked at her, I looked at the two paintings she was referring to, and I struggled not to laugh out loud. I thanked her graciously, but in my heart I knew that she was right. There were good reasons why “no one else” had liked them.

When an artist produces a piece they don’t like, they have a number of choices: sometimes enough people like the work, so you leave it alone; sometimes you keep the essence of the painting but you work on it to make it better; sometimes you set the piece aside to see if you can approach it later with fresh eyes; and sometimes you paint over what you had and start all over again.

With these particular pieces I decided to work on them. I decided to let go of the process I had used and focus on producing a quality end product. One of them I like a lot better now and am actually pretty proud of it. The other one, the jury is still out on and it may need to sit in a corner for a while.

Being me, I can’t help but see the analogy to my life. Not everything in my life has to stay the way I created it. If I can let go of the long hours I spent working on a painting in order to re-evaluate it, surely I can do the same with other aspects of my life. I can let go of or change relationships, jobs, locations, or anything else in my life that needs to be looked at with fresh eyes.

So, as the new year approaches, maybe we all need to take a few minutes to evaluate the bits and pieces of our lives. Do you have aspects of your life that need to be looked at with fresh eyes? Do you need to set aside certain pieces of your life while you decide if you still need them or not? Do you need to let go of a piece, restore it to a blank canvas and start over? Is there a piece that just needs refreshing, or doctoring? Or is that piece just fine, and all you need is fresh eyes to see it?

Sometimes we forget that we have the ability to start over. It’s so easy to get focused on plodding through our lives that we forget to look at where the plodding is taking us. As many times as I’ve encouraged people to take a leap of faith, I still need to be reminded of this.

I’m so grateful for the woman at the gallery who unintentionally started me on this path of re-evaluation. Her thoughtless words have refreshed my vision of both my work and my life. Thank you.

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