Everything about this roughly two hour painting session felt good. It had its ups and downs but more often than not I was experiencing a flow state. I succeeded in not overworking anything, and I now have a clear vision of where this painting will end. I am toying with a tone change in the sky but I want to add the foreground elements before changing anything.
one thing that has been working well when my intention is to paint looser and more intuitively is to put on improvisational jazz music. The last couple of painting sessions were powered by Makaya McCraven. Something about the groove and the open ended improvisation really helps me get out of my head and paint more by feel.
I was finishing up sanding a few freshly primed wood supports when I came across an old project I started about two years ago. I had cut up the solid wood top of an unused drawing table to use part of it for another project and was left with a 22×15 inch panel that seemed to have potential. I decided to use wood carving tools to carve a series of grooves into the wood, then pushed magenta ink into those cracks and wiped the top surface down (kind of like inking an etching). I then filled the cracks and covered the entire surface with about 1/8 inch of resin. This is where i stopped (my original plan was to layer further groove/fills, but I put the panel aside).
Upon seeing that board again, i had an urge to paint over it because i’ve found that starting with an old painting seems to work well for me right now. I took the panel outside and sanded the resin down to a paintable surface with 150 grit, wiped off all the dust, then got busy.
Using a photo I took from above Sky Pond, I started with a pencil sketch. Feeling the momentum, I decided to white out the sky as a base, then make some green marks. I really like where this is headed, it’s got a lot of potential and it feels right.
I spent some time last night priming new surfaces to paint on. I’ve got two 8″ square and two 12″ square panels. More importantly, I’ve got a nice 24×36″ panel that I’m really excited to work with. I need to see what I can learn from making increasing the scale. Plus, i’ve got some other ideas bubbling that would require working at that scale or larger, so it’s time to test the waters.
After a really wonderful afternoon of relaxation, meditation, journaling, and art viewing, I found myself looking for some passive entertainment. I was sitting at the Art Institute thinking about how much I had enjoyed people watching and so, rather than go see some jazz as I had planned, I walked over to the Siskel Theatre on State Street and saw Honey Boy.
I don’t know if i’ve ever been moved so much by a film. For me, it was about as emotionally intense as it gets. I came into the film so completely open (thanks to the meditation, mindfulness, and relaxation of the day), and found myself in tears throughout the film. Hours later I was still crying.
The film is essentially an thinly fictionalized autobiographical movie written by Shia LaBeouf that focuses on his strained relationship with his father from the perspective of his time in rehab, looking back at formative and traumatic experiences around age twelve. LaBeouf plays HIS OWN FATHER which ads a whole nother layer to the experience of watching it.
What makes this film better than all the other depressing but beautiful art/life films out there? This movie is profoundly empathetic, and that makes all the difference. The raw emotion and the difficult situations portrayed with such authenticity generate empathy and hope in me, not despair. As a man, a son, and a father of sons, and a surviver of my own anger, this movie absolutely wrecked me and I can’t stop thinking about it.
Shia, Alma, and team: Thank you for making this movie.
In my second sitting with this painting I brought in the sky and sea, and I have to say that it was thoroughly enjoyable and I like the outcome. In particular, I love this section of the shoreline. I’m making a conscious effort to evoke the essence of the scene without getting too precious.
I’ve decided that I’m going to blow up my freshly created 2020 goals, and tighten them up so that this year I strive for immersive/passionate focus into just a couple of things, rather than pushing a number of larger goals forward incrementally.
“Balance” is more often than not an illustion, especially for someone who is wholly absorbed in a passion. Instead of striving for balance, then, the passionate person should stribe to be self-aware. Self-awareness … is the only force strong enough to counter passion’s overwhelming inertia.
The Passion Paradox, p. 163, Stulberg & Magness
It’s with this in mind that I’ve decided to put a passionate focus into self-awareness this year. Meditation and mindfulness training will be my biggest area of personal focus this year, because I’ve come to believe that this learning and growing is foundational for every other part of my life.
In January of 2019 I started a humble practice using Sam Harris’ meditation app – Waking Up. For the first half of the year I was doing a 10min guided meditation nearly daily, and for the last half I’ve been getting in a few sessions a week. Even with this minimal investment of time and attention, I’ve seen a remarkable change occur in my daily experience. I’m able to be less reactive, more calm, and generally more engaged with the present moment. More importantly, I am able to see that these changes are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s possible in meditation practice.
What does this mean for me, practically? For now, it means that I’m committing to daily meditations and studying meditation beyond what’s included in Waking Up.
I’ve started Jack Kornfield’s free guided meditation course, “Mindfulness Daily” and will continue that for the full 40 sessions.
I’ve started reading “The Craving Mind“, wherein (from the jacket) “Judson Brewer, M.D., Ph.D., a leading neuroscientist who has studied addictions for twenty years explores how bad habits are formed, why they are so tenacious, and how the practice of mindfulness can help us to conquer the most stubborn addictions and step into a new way of being.which covers using meditation practice to break addiction and bad habits.” So far it’s incredibly insightful.
As I was reflecting on the work I’m doing right now and my painting plans for this year, I became very certain that my primary goal is this: I want to learn to make mid-scale acrylic landscape paintings with a process and outcome that represent my sensibility.
The most important thing about framing the goal this way is that it prioritizes exploration, experimentation, and learning over outcomes. In other words, this is not strictly about making landscape paintings that Ben likes, or somebody else likes or wants in their home or whatever—this is about making paintings in service of discovering how Ben makes landscape paintings.
In light of this realization, I’ve decided to spend one or two more sittings with the current painting and call it “done” because i’ve learned about everything I am going to learn from that painting. My next plan was to do a different scene with the same process, but I’ve changed my mind. My next painting will be the same scene, but with different constraints:
shorter painting sessions
limited overall time
limited brush sizes (not too small)
paint direct from photo source (as opposed to painting source)
One of the challenges in making this painting based upon the 7x7cm landscape I painted is that there are times when I need to use my imagination to add detail in service of the painting, rather than solely base my painting from the small source. I went into this tree with some measure of caution, but quickly got wrapped up in the detail and went way overboard. In the second image below you can see that the bare tree in the foreground lost it’s definition, particularly where it overlapped with the green tree behind it. As much as i would like each painting session to perfectly portray my vision, this didn’t. So late last night I went back in and started blocking out limbs and putting definition back into the tree. The trickiest parts will be cleaning up limbs that intersect the sky—i’m going to do as little of that as possible. The next pass will be focused on the underpainting of the green tree, then repainting the black limbs where they need to be cleaned up.