Sunday, October 18, 2009


Here is a new painting, titled “Tides,” started over the summer and finished on Friday. It is 50 inches high by 100 inches wide, acrylic on canvas.

I have learned a lot from the creation of this piece, some technical things, but mostly what I usually learn from painting: how to learn and how to make progress, first about art, but always in a way that translates into how to do the same thing with life in general.

The most obvious thing I learned was how to create depth and space with blue, the push/pull of working with variations of blue and different consistencies and layers of blue paint.

The process in this case was interesting. I started out with a clear idea of where I wanted to go with this work. I wanted a large painting, 100 inches or more, but I don’t have the studio space to make or the car capacity to transport such a big work. In the past I’ve tried working directly on canvas, with the idea of hanging the canvas itself on the wall with no support, but I am not happy with the way that looks. So I figured I would make a number of long vertical canvases and hang them beside one another.

So far, so good. At first, I had fun just painting and finding out what blue could do. I’m primarily a black/white or earth tones person, so working with a cool color that’s filled with emotional associations was a new experience.

But when I finished a few of the canvases and placed them beside one another, I was dismayed that they didn’t seem to work well together. I painted over a few and kept going, but disliked what I was coming up with more and more. Finally I just stopped and turned them all to the wall in the corner of the studio. I planned to eventually throw them out, but I was too discouraged even to look at them long enough to dislodge them from the stretcher bars.

Three months went by, and I took them out again, ready to throw them out or at least cut them up into smaller paintings and abandon the “one big painting” idea.

Now that I had released my original plan, that I had been so adamant about, I realized I actually LIKED these works for the most part. The only thing left to do was complete the series. I painted over one painting that still wasn’t satisfactory, and stretched and painted one new canvas, and voila! Now I have five that are different from one another, but still close enough to hold together. I really like the combination of individuality and togetherness.

So I re-learned something I always tell my students, but had forgotten myself: when you get stuck, don’t keep banging your head against the wall. Set the problem aside and come back to it when your mind is clear.

I’m so conditioned by society not to be “a quitter,” “never give up,” etc., that I forgot that the most important thing is to learn your own rhythms and ways of working, and honor them no matter what you’re “supposed” to do.

Another thing I realized is the value of good old-fashioned Buddhist “detachment.” In the beginning, I had been totally invested in making the piece look a certain way. By the time I came back to it, not only had time gone by and my expectations changed (disappeared, even), but I really didn’t care whether the piece came out at all. I was already prepared to throw it out, so what did I have to lose by trying just one more thing?

When there’s nothing at stake, you work more casually and naturally because you can’t make a “mistake.” It certainly worked for me in this case.

(I've also learned that it's important to hire a professional photographer!)


Ian MacLeod said...

It's a fabulous piece Catherine - and your narrative interprets beautifully - especially the statement about detachment.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on this Catherine.

I can see this hanging in some upscale business, with a large reception area. The lighting in those areas would just give it the 'pow' it so deserves.

As well, thanks for the great story behind it. It is food for thought, for all of us.

Thanks again. Sherrill

Catherine Carter said...

Thank you, Ian and Sherrill.

I always find that I learn as much about life in general as I do about any technical aspect of painting.

As far as its destination, I'm hoping you're right, Sherrill!

Karen Vornov said...

Just one word- YUM

Catherine Carter said...

Thank you, Karen!