artist life

Staring at a Blank Canvas

Starting a blank canvas can be refreshing. It is sometimes a great feeling. It means that you have just finished yet another painting, and you have therefore accomplished something. Yet staring at a blank canvas can also be intimidating, frustrating, and self-deprecating.

Last week I went to my studio after an almost weeklong absence that included moving apartments and working as a production assistant on a film. I was excited to paint. I miss my studio when I am gone for more than two days. I would not waste time staring at a blank canvas because I knew exactly how I wanted my new painting to look. It would be a girl sitting in the back seat of a car painted in black and white. I had been thinking of this image for a while. Yet then I hesitated, thinking it might look better in a different palette. I thought about the chrome filter on my iPhone camera app, a Degas painting I had seen years ago at Musee d’Orsay, and this painting of a woman in a tub that I saw at the Fog Fair. I want to paint like that, not in black and white. 

Le tub by Edgar Degas (1886) 

Le tub by Edgar Degas (1886) 

I wanted to paint, but I was scared of making the wrong move. I was scared I will waste time and money and, even worse, the outcome will be bad. I did the worse thing possible: nothing. I couldn't paint. I needed time to think about it. 

This is one of the frustrating and time consuming things about being an artist, especially a painter. I feel like I have been painting long enough that I shouldn't have such hesitancy and doubt about my work. But I do. I tell people that I am an artist when people ask me what I do. It makes me feel like I am professional, regardless of how many or how few sales I have had this month. It is my title. Consuming my thoughts with doubt about my talents feels failure. 

I am normally pretty confident. Yet that can change the second I enter my studio and am staring at a blank canvas. When you paint, you are incredibly vulnerable and you open yourself up to criticism. You are going to be judged. You do not want to make the wrong move. 

I tell myself that with the more paintings I paint, the better I will get. I tell myself to just start painting. This self-doubt will go away.

I don't paint. Instead, I clean up my studio, write down some ideas, and read a post on Artsy about Hong Kong. Eventually, the voices of self-doubt and criticism in my head stop. I paint, and the time goes by fast. I paint, and you know what? It's not that bad after all. 


How did you do that? Mixed Media works explained

This post explains the method I use for creating the mixed media works.

I take a lot of pictures. I take photos with my phone when I am walking or driving, and I see something that I know intuitively will work well as a painting.

When I start a painting, I go through all of my photos and choose one. I edit and crop the picture on my computer so it will fit on the canvas the way I want it to. I do this process for all of my works, not only for the mixed media works. I like tweaking photos to maximize the effect that I want the painting to have. Here is an example of a painting I did where I spent a lot time finding the "perfect" edit. I wanted the figure to be slightly off center so the folds in her robe would be emphasized. I like having figures slightly cropped so their bodies are pushing off the edge of the canvas, thus not revealing all of the figure. I think this creates a little bit of tension and therefore makes for better composition.

Once I have the perfect photo, I do a line drawing of it on an 11x14" sheet of acetate, which is the same thing as a clear transparency. I use the Sakura Pigma Micron pens in sizes 1 and 3.

When viewed as a photograph on the web, most people ask me if the work is a watercolor. These paintings are difficult to photograph because of the glass like reflection the acetate creates. Here you can see three different photos of the same painting photographed under different light as to minimize the reflection.

It is a long process because of the many steps involved. It usually takes around 3 hours for me to do the drawing, sometimes longer, and then about 10-20 additional hours for the painting; this in addition to taking the photo and spending anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours editing the photo. Sometimes I obsess over a tiny area and spend a lot of time trying to get the color and movement of the paint perfect on both the acetate and the paper. My goal is for the work to look effortless, but this is created by intense scrutiny and constantly reworking the paint. I recently did a painting of Chicago only to find that the painting on paper did not look right. It looked okay, but the "feeling" that I wanted the painting to have was not there. I could not figure out how to make it look better, so I redid the entire painting on paper.