The train

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I started off the week being really honest with myself about something I’ve avoided for over a month: taking photographs of people in order to create more silhouettes.

The only reason not to just go take the photos is because I am working outside of my comfort zone, I don’t really understand what I’m doing, and it scares me.

I’ve done many different types of work creatively, but the heart of my painting has always been in the gaze of some character in each piece. I know that the work I’m currently doing is what deep in my heart I want to do, and I am following it, but without that gaze, I don’t really know how it functions.

So first, I got myself out there and took the pictures. I took the bus down to Civic Center and walked back home past City Hall. I figured all the tourists around there would give me a pass on photographing people who otherwise might be suspicious.

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It worked pretty well.

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Then I walked back toward my neighborhood.

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Once I got back to the studio, I worked on the images in Photoshop for a while, and then took a break  and found myself grabbing a book on Edward Hopper off the shelf.

Are you familiar with Hopper? Even if not, I bet you’ve seen his Nighthawks painting somewhere. This one.

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Hopper is one of those painters who I had an aversion to because his work, especially this piece, was turned into too many posters, etc. So it took me a while to want to even see his other paintings. But when I did, I couldn’t deny how powerful they were. Not all of them, but when they work, it’s really something…and it’s hard to describe why.

And his people are never looking at you.

Actually one of my favorite pieces of his is this one, which he did after trying multiple versions with a train. They never worked and then he took the train out and…there it was.

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One of the things he liked to do was create incomplete spaces, so you’re stuck focusing on something outside of the frame…the rest of a room, the other end of a bridge, or this tunnel.

His paintings were a great reminder to me that you don’t need to have a face looking at you to connect, to feel something powerful.

And I felt galvanized to just do the work. Just paint. I started with the acrylics and they’re not too exciting right now, so I’ll just share this one of the 12 or 15 pieces.

Here’s another random shot from my setting the iPad down and liking what happened to be in view.

And I feel compelled to share this painting of my daughter’s. She said she wanted to copy one of my panels.

Very cute.

Okay, and then while I was at it, I took on another process that was intimidating: stringing some of these larger panels and testing out people on them.

I felt like the cluster was too much chaos for the background and went back to my original thought: making a comprehensible scene/space with the silhouettes.

That’s nowhere near final, but it makes more sense, so now I know what direction I’ll be heading in.

And then I dragged out these four panels that were stuck. When all the others got resolved, these were developed but out of tune. It takes a lot of focus to stay loose and do minor changes like this; it’s much harder than doing a fresh piece.

I had gotten courage from the other work, so took these on and finished them, boom, boom, boom.

  

  

Of course these are just backgrounds: I will still need to string them and find their silhouettes, etc. But it feels good to have all the new panels ready for the next stage.

And then I went back to this painting and got the horizon straight.

I also did a lot of detail work. It’s all about simplifying, focusing, so you’ll see the water getting more “organized” and the space inside the boat making more sense.

See how your eye gets stuck on that yellow patch in the middle? That sucker needed to go, because this painting is not about a yellow patch, so it should not be where your eye rests.

But it was important to me to keep these hands visible.

Finally, I took on testing out putting wooden silhouettes on one of the paintings: these have tape silhouettes that I peel off and mount on the matching wooden pieces, and then they’ll have a couple of silhouettes that are just white…or maybe a color. I’m not sure yet.

Having done many tasks that felt uncomfortable this week, I found myself pondering that old conundrum: sticking with what comes easily to you, what is familiar, versus tackling what is difficult or scary.

Along the way I ran across this quote from Rumi:

Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.

I like the quote, but I also think it is one of those that isn’t always true. There are many times in life when cleverness really helps. Like when you want to find the bathroom for your toddler. (I won’t go into why this comes to mind first for me!)

I guess for me, in the studio but also in the rest of life, the question is really more about what has heart, what has juice, what draws me toward it and gives me energy. Sometimes that’s something familiar; sometimes that’s new and difficult. And I can always tell when I’m avoiding the difficult ones because I get blocked and tired and even the easy things don’t click anymore.

I bet Hopper felt that way with the train in that painting. He really thought it was about the train. That the train would make people think about where it was going. But the train was in the way. It turned out, the subject was the great unknown, enticing space between here and…there.

So this week, here’s to getting the train out of the way! In whatever form it may take. And, no less important, here’s to being able to find the bathroom!

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