I celebrated my 45th birthday on the weekend. My husband planned a surprise party which was a shock for me. We relocated to Portland a few years ago, not knowing anyone, now 30+ people who I care about, showed up for me, singing happy birthday. I was moved to tears, completely overwhelmed by the friends I have here. That experience might not have been about creating art, but it was a realization, that openness to experience, can often lead to breakthrough moments in life as well as the studio.
Before Christmas I started a series of simple oil sketches using Paynes Grey on white panels. One day I was rushing, trying to pack up the studio because I had to get my son. I had to leave one sketch unfinished. I was a miffed, because I knew the next day the paint would be that annoying mid-way stage of not dry; but not wet enough to work the next day…half dry! (painters, you know it!!) When I returned to the studio the next day, fresh eyes and good nights sleep, I saw it. It did not need any further work, there was my breakthrough moment of realization. I saw something familiar in the lines I had placed on the canvas, it was apparent I architecturally ‘draft’ my horses.
I have a background in Interior design. I spent the better part of my 20’s drafting, manually. For the longest time after I left design I tried to break the habits of precision, wanting to draw outside the lines. It was hard, I was frustrated that I was so precise, I longed to break free, but not knowing how, or found getting caught up in details when I didn’t mean to. Now, here I was 20+ years past and confronted by my horse sketch, fresh eyes and light bulb moment where I said to myself, “Why don’t I own this?” I noticed the beauty in the line, the angles. The progression of what was there, and what was marked to come. The weight and width of lines, ones I chose to accentuate, the ones I did not. The simplicity of Paynes Grey on white. 22 years later from this drawing (below) and I could see how life experience, my training, made me who I am and something that I alone can own.
From that moment, intrinsic motivation led me down a path to follow and grow an idea. How could I take this simple sketch, knowing my line is of importance and keep the idea growing? I played with different amounts of detail, merely suggesting others.
I played with how much information to give the viewer and the composition. Then I went big and into color. Using a large canvas gave me the room to use various tools, other than a paint brush to apply and mix paint directly on the canvas. This gave me full range of motion of my arm to accentuate movement in the step stride as well as her tail. I played with balancing the weight of vibrant colours as I went back and forth over how many details to leave for the viewer’s eye to fill in. I purposely left in some of my sketch or now I will call them ‘drafting lines’, letting the blue in the base layer to come through.
Lastly, one more walk stride later; the line was there as my base, but I grew past and it became freer, looser, more spontaneous. All those years of feeling constricted by the line I was trained with had become the foundation, yet not limiting me.
They are a burst of life and colour in the studio. Visitors in my studio, who have seen this work in person, remark on how they feel a connection to the equine subject, as if she is stepping out of the canvas, towards themselves, the viewer. I take that as a great complement.
For now, I have decided to hang onto the first breakthrough sketch. I just can’t seem to part with it just yet. 🙂