Every once in a while I pick up some art books at the library to get a new perspective or ideas about painting. It’s not necessarily a book on ink wash or oriental art; it might be a how-to book, a survey of an artist or art period, one on techniques or on mediums. I picked up a good one the other day – “The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook: Landscapes” by Gordon MacKenzie.
Ink wash and watercolors are similar in many ways although rice paper and watercolor paper are two different animals. MacKenzie’s book has lots of good information and tips on techniques that I can adapt to ink wash work but it was his comments on composition of a painting that hit just the right note with me today. He said: “Art is ‘me’ made visible. Growing from painter to artist is about honoring the child of the universe within who just wants to play.”
How true is that! Within my Box of Treasures that I will grab if the house ever catches on fire are two pictures. The first is of a zebra in finger paints done by my son Rob when he was about 5. The minimalist work shows a series of black lines only – no outline – suggesting a ‘horse-like’ body and head. How perceptive, for what is the most noticeable about a zebra if not its stripes.
The second was painted by my granddaughter Catherine at kindergarten and is a series of colorful ‘blobs’ swimming in a white sea. I think it is supposed to be tropical fish. It makes me happy just watching them swim.
Do you remember art class as a child? Part of the reason it was so much fun was because we never made a bad picture.
MacKenzie writes about our internal artistic dialogue…
“But I might make a mistake.”
“So what? You are probably the only one who knows or even cares. Do you really think that others are concerned with what you do on your pieces of paper? They’ve got their own pieces of paper to worry about. As for the critics who don’t even try- learning to ignore them is the kindest thing you can do for them.
Meanwhile, try to remember this:
- You have always known how to compose pictures.
- You did it as a child and you never forgot.
- What you have lost is the memory and nerve to follow your instincts when making a picture.
- What you have temporarily forgotten is how to play.
- What you grew instead was an ego that demanded protection from embarrassment at all costs.
But it is time to take back command, responsibility and freedom for your compositions – because no one else will.”
Picasso said something similar about art and children when he said: Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.
This is a good time to remind ourselves why we are creative. It is not to make money which is unlikely at best, and certainly not to be famous which requires a lot of good karma in addition to talent, or even to express our individuality in our journey of self-discovery. We are creative because it is fun – and because it is a lot more painful not to do it.
When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college – that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared at me, incredulous, and said, “You mean they forgot?” Howard Ikemoto