This page of Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work reminded me of an awkward moment on the streets of downtown Aiken, SC, where I was home visiting my parents, when my mother and I ran into a friend of hers. The friend asked me this question. I was speechless. No words came out of my open mouth.
After four years of staying home raising my son, I had just begun to paint again, and at that point I didn’t have the confidence to say I was a painter, and I didn’t want to say that I was a mom and I made dinners. If you’re a woman with a child, the mom and dinner part seems to be a given—those things have to get done--but what else do you do? Well, that’s what I wanted—to be doing something else and mothering on the side. I also remember that my sister dreaded that question, too, and she was a single gal with a good-paying job for a major financial company. But she hated her job and had nothing good to say about it. She probably wouldn’t have minded if it were her side gig. (She eventually quit her job and went back to school for a degree in a health field. Now she has a different good-paying job and can confidently attend parties.)
We put so much time into our jobs, we want to be proud of them. Not that I wasn’t proud of being a mom, but I knew I was capable of—and wanted to be—doing so much more, and I didn’t have a tidy answer to cover all that.
A year and a half later, I do have a new response to The Question. I say that I paint and I take care of my son, and if there’s time I add that I make dinner four days a week.
A year ago I said that I had a breakthrough with painting when, after an eight-year "hiatus," I picked up a brush one day and quickly whipped out a little 8 x 10" landscape. I felt like I had truly broken through some invisible barrier that had kept me from painting for all kinds of lame "reasons." So now, a year into my renaissance, I hit a big block of frustration and I didn't want to lose my momentum again. I was agonizing over a big picture. I was going on a month of painting here and there on it, and not happy with any results but felt obligated to press on. I literally turned it around and leaned it up against the wall.
I started watching videos of alla prima painting, and at the next opportunity I tried it on a piece of 11 x 17" canvas paper. This cloud painting is the result. My mouth hung open as I painted it and when I finished. It just worked, just like the little landscape did a year ago. The keys to both were "quick" and "small." At the same time I picked up Carol Marine's book Daily Painting with the subtitle: Paint small and often to become a more creative, productive, and successful artist. I couldn't have said it better myself.
So for now I'm going to try to stick with the "littles" and not inch back into large figure work. I'll go back to it eventually--I love it and want to paint them--but simply put I need to practice more before the big performance.
This cat nap will be in a little pet-focused show at Blick this month. It's the first painting I've submitted for a show, and it's a step toward a goal that is still forming in my head: putting artwork on view (beyond this web site that I haven't told anyone about except for, like, four friends and family). What next? Don't know. But this is something. Also, it is hard to photograph black. Oy.
Later is what?
After settling into various desk jobs, I always said I'd get back to painting later in life, and later is now. Again means that I tried once before. I decided to write about my painting endeavor, too, as a learning tool, an accountability tool, and to stay sharp in case I have to go back to a desk job. Again.
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