When we last left the canvas in my dining room, it was still blank, but I had made a pile of colorful textured paper, too. You’d think I’d be ready and eager to make art!
Nope. I didn’t have a plan, and that scared me.
Art and fear go hand in hand, at least for me. (There are some great books on this subject: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert and Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland.). It seems silly that something so liberating as art can cause creative paralysis. But it’s not silly to those of us who fear mistakes, messes, and failure.
The canvas stayed blank for a few weeks while I mulled over ideas.
I love the big windows in my house. And since our yard has lots of trees, and we live in New England, those windows adorn the walls with constantly changing colors—bright orange in fall, stark white in winter, new greens and purples in spring (thanks to the rhododendrons), and lush green in summer. Seasons seemed like a good inspiration for my blank canvas. But first, I had to face my fears.
Fear One: Ripping Up the Pretty Paper
I finally talked myself into tearing up all that colorful textured paper. I started with big pieces, and then tore them smaller and smaller. I scattered the bits on the canvas, organized them by color, and played with placement—and that’s when ideas took shape.
Fear Two: How Do I Communicate Seasons?
I divided the canvas into four panels. (A quadriptych for you fellow art history majors out there!) I played with the paper some more and came up with a color scheme and arrangement that reflected each season’s mood.
Fear Three: The Permanence of Glue
While I played with the paper bits, I could move them around, add, and take away. (In fact, if you walked by the canvas spread on my office floor, the bits would flutter off.) But once I started gluing, there would be no turning back! Again, I took the leap. I swiped some Liquitex Matte Medium on the canvas with my brush, placed on a piece, and swiped it again. There. Done. One bit at a time—I could do that. Soon, I was gluing down paper all over the place! I tried not to think about it too much. It became a soothing way to clear my head at the end of my work day.
Fear Four: No One Is Going to Like It
In the midst of the flurry of gluing, I started doubting myself. Would people “get” that this was a picture of the seasons? How was I going to transition from panel to panel? Did it look too much like a kindergarten project? I put it aside for a few more weeks.
Then I dove back in with determination. I would not stop until I had covered every inch of white space. And you know what I discovered? When I accidentally glued something in the “wrong” place, it actually made the picture more interesting.
Here is the canvas in its current state—no longer blank but full of color. Yet it’s not finished. I don’t quite know what it needs, and again, I’m scared I’ll mess it up. So I’m setting it aside for a few more weeks.
On The Late Show earlier this year, Stephen Colbert said, “Discovery is superior to invention.” I posted this quote in my office to remind me not to think about what I want to make, and instead focus on what magically appears in the process. When I finally get the confidence to test that idea, to experiment, to make mistakes, and to discover what happens in this final stretch, I’ll let you know.
Tune it to see the final artwork soon (I hope)!