Tuesday, November 6, 2018

In search of (im)perfection – a longread

Outside the lines...
The ways of the world
When was it that we were taught to color inside the lines?  Probably around kindergarten or first grade, depending on our family or school culture.  I’m sure this was based with an eye to the future, hoping to instill craftsmanship early on in the psyche of future workers and leaders. 

We often claim to admire perfection – in art, beauty, landscaping, possessions, achievements.  My Word program gives synonyms for perfection as excellence, faultlessness, precision and rightness, words colored with a flavor of craftsmanship and some perhaps with a sense of judgment.

Maybe we aspire to perfection in our careers, outward appearances, education, manners, social circles.  Sometimes perfection is sought in religious or community standing, or through the collection of certificates or degrees.  It’s especially sought in artistic activities and admired (let’s not go into post-modern stuff here and the ways it breaks apart past culture!). 

I agree that there is a breathtaking rightness in the cetain things: a curve, a glow of light, vibrant color, touchable textures, a striking arrangement of shapes and form.  These parts make up a whole that has meaning for us in some way. 

These are the things that light up our lives.  Why?

The crack
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
~ Leonard Cohen

Imperfection in itself is not the goal; there are too many adverse examples of it floating around our world.  But there is a type of imperfection that glows and transforms when we crack the perfect shell it lurks behind. 

It is a mystery and often elusive.  We have trouble defining it, but we recognize it when we stub our toe on it.   The recognition is a form of knowing deep within our soul and psyche: sometimes a subtle glimpse, sometimes a breathtaking flash.  Sometimes it takes a very hard knock before the light comes cascading in. 

The ways of artists
And what does this have to do with art and nature?
While craftsmanship and technical skill are valuable traits to develop, another form of art has been slowly gaining its own.  
The light in the trees: Beartooth Mountain.

Plein air sketching and painting, art journalists, nature sketchers, and urban sketchers have a profound digital presence on the Internet and run the range from definitive art to “crafty” expressions of art.  More and more I find myself responding to “the hand of the artist.” 

I prefer a quick sketch that captures multitudes to a perfectly formed and rendered artwork.  These are the marks left that tell us about the artist’s interaction with their media: the “artist’s authorship.”  A brush stroke, a water bloom, a drip, a smear.  Often imperfect to those technically inclined, they tell a human story that we respond to.   

Sometimes they create a space for something meaningful to emerge.

The grace of imperfection.
Imperfection seen in nature depends on the lens of the viewer as well.  The spotted leaf, decaying fruit, a broken twig – these all have an innate beauty to me.  The “perfect” specimens they once were do not tell much of a story.  We can relate to the passage of time on the world around us: we fall apart, slowly or quickly, sometimes breaking… sometimes scarring.  This is when light has its opportunity, shining from within or entering from without.  Transforming if we accept.

If you are an artist (in any media), open to your internal story by embracing the unexpected: the ink blot, the unexpected raindrops, the brush that skips.  Watercolorists have learned to call these happy accidents.  Explore the Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi, what writer Taro Gold calls the “wisdom of imperfection.”  

Artists create art.  It is that simple.  Let that be your goal, rather than the perfect brush stroke, the flawless graded wash.  Tell your story and let the paint and brush tell their story.  Play!  The creation you make will be far greater than its  parts.  What a mystery, and what a beautiful thing for those with eyes to see it!

Deeper exploration for those who love to read
“The Beauty of Imperfection: The Japanese concept of wabi-sabi,” Marianna Pogosyan Ph.D., Psychology Today.

“Deliberate Imperfection,” an online exhibit, Carla M. Sinopoli, Guest Curator,
Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan.

“Kintsugi: the art of precious scars,” Stefano Carnazzi, Lifegate.

Enso, the Zen symbol, Wikipedia.

“Leonard Cohen on Creativity, Hard Work, and Why You Should Never Quit Before You Know What It Is You’re Quitting,” Maria Popova, Brain Pickings. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

It's all about process

Still a work in progress...

Some time ago, I sketched with a group at the Naples Preserve.  My sketchbook page was not quite complete so I postponed scanning it because I was concerned about the finished product.  After all, I am teaching a class and helping others with their artistic challenges!  …And then I realized that I wasn’t practicing what I teach, which is all about process, not product.

How did I get caught back up in this thinking?  Partly due to coming down with a bad cold and struggling with flu symptoms, I reverted to old patterns.  We are all a product of our times; our market-based culture values productivity, efficiency, the final and complete end result.  We are taught this at home and in school, and it’s reinforced in the workplace and the media.  Sometimes we buy into this.

I used to work in publishing and then marketing, which is either about meeting deadlines (no matter what!) and perception (how do we best present this to sell?).  Both are invested in final results, and too often the end justified the means, which is one of the reasons I left those fields.   Even as I write this, I’m thinking about the final draft and posting. Yikes! Somewhere along the line, the value of process, craftsmanship, and mindfulness has been shifted to the back of the line. 

So what is process anyway?  And why is it important? 
To me, process encompasses a desire to slow down, investigate, and reflect on deeper levels.  It means paying mindful attention to what you are doing in this moment, and letting the ink, or the paint, or the words lead and teach you.  This is how our ancestors learned, by opening that door to learning and growing.  Mindfulness connects us to many facets of process: sensory discovery, mind and muscle memory, a re-ordering of priorities.  We create best when process is our mentor. 

We have all seen beautiful formal artworks or photos that stir our admiration but not our hearts.  Most of us have experienced an indescribable connection to a quick sketch or candid photo – it has deep meaning for us in some way.  It touches something inside. We see this often when children draw.  
Playing with Yupo!
I worked on a mixed media sketch on toned paper of scrub oak trunks that caught my eye, and while the watercolor dried, I played with a small sheet of Yupo watercolor paper given to me by a friend.  Now this required close attention to process!  I've never worked with this before, although I've read about it and seen examples of things done on it.  Still playing with that one!
After all, it's about process, right?

Mixed media: 
Daniel Smith watercolor
Albrecht Durer watercolor pencil 
Pitt artist pen, Dark Sepia
Strathmore Toned Tan sketch paper 5.5 x 8.5 in. 
Yupo watercolor paper

Monday, September 25, 2017

Watercolor class starting October 2!

My portable watercolor set-up.
Need a little post-Hurricane-Irma art therapy?  We are all recovering, cleaning, pruning, and hauling debris after Hurricane Irma passed over us some time ago.  Some of us more than others, but ALL of us have affected in some way.  Bear with us as we recover our Internet and phone services!  Hopefully, most of us have power and water now.
Join me for a seven-week series of classes starting Monday, October 2nd at the Naples Botanical Garden, for an introduction to the magical world of watercolor painting.  This class is perfect for the beginning painter or as a refresher or practice time for more experienced artists.  A list of suggested materials will be available for those who are new to this media, but feel free to bring your favorite supplies.  I will have materials available for our first class, so no worries if you have no supplies yet.

Each class features an introduction to basic techniques or concepts, then moves into play-time as we explore and practice what we’ve learned.  We’ll embrace the idea of process and experiential learning as we paint indoors from subjects at hand, with the possibility of painting outdoors at some point.  
Here is our class line-up for Mondays 9 am to 12 pm:
10-02-17:  Class 1:  Watercolor basics: materials, color charts, and local color

10-09-17:  Class 2:  Watercolor  building blocks: washes and mixes

10-16-17:  Class 3:   Watercolor control, local color practice, and edges

10-23-17:  Class 4:  Color wheels and a bit of color theory

10-30-17:  Class 5:  Glazing, negative painting, and dimension

11-06-17:  Class 6:  Composition and telling a story

11-13-17:  Class 7:   Special effects playtime!

To register:
Naples Botanical Garden, Kapnick Center, Room 124
4820 Bayshore Drive, Naples, FL 34112
Hope to see you there!
(I have very limited Internet service but can answer non-registration questions, email me at lizardart(at) if needed.)  
Thank you!