A phoenix is a mythical bird that is a fire spirit with a colorful plumage and a tail of gold and scarlet (or purple, blue, and green according to some legends). It has a 500 to 1000 year life-cycle, near the end of which it builds itself a nest of twigs that then ignites; both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix or phoenix egg arises, reborn anew to live again.
I’m stealing this tidbit about the Native American legend of the Phoenix, from blogger, Julie Fan-Fei Balzer of Baltzer Designs because it seems so apropos to the struggle I am facing about how to start again on a failed painting that I started last week, Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Vermeer, painted in 1665. Source: Fan-Fei Balzer, J. (January 3, 2011). Like a Phoenix. Retrieved from http://balzerdesigns.typepad.com/balzer_designs/2011/01/like-a-phoenix.html.
In some ways, beginning a project over again after you are dissatisfied with it is like a death and re-birth. You have to let go of what isn’t working in your artwork (death) and be open to letting in what will work in a new piece of artwork, (birth). This process might include a new approach to the painting or a more positive mindset. I also feel that this symbol of the phoenix that lives, dies, and is reborn is a powerful affirmation, and I feel in need of that kind of empowerment this week to make the plunge and actually get to work on starting this new painting…
It seems that this week I have hit the wall on several creative fronts, whether it’s in writing this blog or maintaining a daily painting practice and finishing the projects I start. I have a collection of unfinished paintings and drawings that has been accumulating in my art studio. The process starts out something like this, I will see a reproduction of a painting in an art book and feel excited about the prospect of re-creating it myself, begin the work, and then get stuck because something isn’t working and I can’t figure out how to fix it. Then, out of frustration, I start up another painting just to try and move forward and not let too many days go by without painting or drawing.
All of this stagnation has brought me to a standstill and made me ponder some deep questions, such as: “What am I hoping to accomplish with this master copy series?”, “Why do I paint?, and “Who am I as an artist?”. Recent disappointments in my creative life and in my personal life have also contributed to my doubt and stagnation as an artist. I’ve had to work hard to dig myself out of this mire I have found myself in… And I have been opening myself up to other artistic sources in blogs and documentaries, such as artist/blogger, Julie Fan Fei Blazer’s blog, and a recent documentary by musician John Mayer, called Someday I’ll Fly on YouTube, to fill the creative well inside me. Both have shared their journeys in the creative process, talking about their trials and successes, and most importantly about their craft. In his documentary, Someday I’ll Fly, Mayer talks about creativity as a battle to be fought, which all artists are fighting, and it definitely feels like a battle this week!
I’ve also started a new weekly drawing practice, working in a sketchbook with pre-planned subjects for each day so I won’t have to think about what to draw/paint, while I am trying to get up the courage to start this painting again. I’m hoping this forward motion will propel me to jump off the diving board and start this painting after a week of procrastination.
So here is my revised version of Girl with a Pearl Earring, ca. 1665, by Vermeer, painted with Gamblin 1980 oil paints on prepared canvas. I started with a brand new canvas for this painting and focused more on checking the proportions to the original painting as often as I could. This stage is called the under painting and it concentrates on the three main values in a painting of lightest, middle, and darkest. I used a burnt sienna oil paint and mixed it with titanium white for lighter areas while adding a mixture of ultramarine blue, viridian green and alizarin crimson to create my own black. To thin out the paints, I used a non-toxic, Solvent Free Safflower Oil Gel made by Gamblin. When this layer dries, I will be working on blocking in the local colors of flesh tones, the blue and yellow turban and the yellow ochre coat with fur collar. I will also be delving into some of the questions I asked in this blog about why I paint and what I hope to accomplish with this master copies series.