Saturday, March 28, 2015


When I went to bed last night after time spent in my studio, I left two almost-finished, awesome-looking paintings on my work table. As I was kicking off my slippers and climbing between the sheets, I thought, I have just one more layer, and I'm done! Then I can relish my two new creations.

Well, it didn't quite turn out that way. When I added the final layer just now, UGH. Yuck. Too much. No problem, I thought, it's acrylic, so I'll just rinse off the top layer and I'll be back to the wonderful surfaces I created last night.

No, not happening. Because it had only been about 5 hours since the original layers were created, the water began taking off everything. No problem, I thought. I'll just "go with it," and remove some color and have a soft muted surface.

Not in the cards. The sponge I applied smeared everything, leaving a blurred mess that showed no sign of last night's promise. Gone, bye, unsalvageable. And I have no more canvas, so I'd have to drive out to the store to buy more, and I really don't have enough money in my budget right now for new art supplies.

Sigh. Such is the creative process! Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I should take comfort in the fact that I HAD two cool paintings that, with effort, time and money, I will be able to duplicate to some degree.

As I was cleaning up my studio in frustration after this experience, I remembered other times in the past when I have been frustrated like this. Well, truth to tell, there are too many to possibly remember them all. That's part of being an artist!

But I remembered two paintings in particular that I really like, and that were a direct result of feeling so angry, desperate, and ready to SCREAM because nothing was turning out that I started slapping stuff on the canvas ... and these spontaneous emotional responses turned out to be much more visually rich than any kind of intentional application.

One of them is the painting "Hook," shown below. I had removed and reworked these large fabric pieces countless times, and still I hated the composition. I finally got so mad that I just pulled them all off the canvas and threw them on the studio floor. Then I had one last impulse to act; not an idea for a solution, mind you, but an undirected burst of energy. I grabbed them off the floor and just stuck them onto the canvas, letting them land anywhere they happened to land. And then I stepped back in amazement. Somehow, this worked better than any of the careful arranging I had just spent hours doing! My initial instincts for color and shape had been fine; I had just been "trying too hard." This remains one of my favorite paintings.

"Hook," acrylic and oil stick on fabric on canvas, 64" H x 44" W, 1998
A similar thing happened with another favorite, "Scribble 1." I was trying to create a collage, again arranging carefully, with torn pieces of paper. Nothing was working. After I tried and tried and tried, I felt frustrated that all of this work was amounting to a big zero. I didn't feel like spending all this time in my studio with nothing to show for it. I happened to have a blank stretched canvas nearby, and I grabbed it and started flinging the collage pieces onto it haphazardly, just gluing them down beside one another, wherever they happened to land.

And you know what? This cool painting resulted!

"Scribble 1," acrylic on paper on canvas, 48" H x 28" W, 2009
I guess there's something to be said for simply letting the painting paint itself. (Jackson Pollock's most famous quote deals with just this issue, and who am I to argue with The Big Guy?) But it's hard to do that! We want a good-looking finished piece to show for all this time spent, dammit! We don't want to have to start all over again from scratch.

Sometimes, however, frustration can lead to spontaneity, and that might be just the "breath of fresh air" that the painting needs.


Thombeau said...

Wow, I love that Hook painting!

I can totally relate to what your saying. A few weeks ago I discovered that I had inadvertently deleted my folder of music files - all the stuff I've been working on for the past year or more! Surprisingly, I wasn't too distressed about this turn of events, seeing it as the universe telling me to start anew. (Attachment, after all, is the cause of all suffering!) So I did and am very pleased with the way things are going. There's always a kind of momentum in new beginnings. Spring forward!

Catherine Carter said...

Your past music and all the experiences and effort that went into them are always part of you! Yay for going forward in new directions, inspired by the past but ready to try something different. Thank you for writing, my friend! <3

Ian MacLeod said...

Wonderful work Catherine!!! Amazing what can happen. cheers, ian

Karin Lynn Cumming said...

Whoah, this post today after a frustrating day producing what I term inferior work. Huh, I truly do believe that my best work is the work that is spontaneous, quick and free flowing. I look at that work a few years down the line and still like the result. Being loose and relaxed is the way to go....if only it was as easy to do as said........

Catherine Carter said...

Thank you, Ian! It's that potential for amazement that keeps us coming back to the studio, isn't it?

Catherine Carter said...

Exactly, Karin! There are areas of life in which "pushing it" works well, but art is not one of them!

K Vornov said...

Love this!