a week with matisse

i’ve mentioned before that i’m a bit of an online class junkie. i often juggle more than i can count on two hands. yes, that bad. thank goodness they’re not terribly expensive otherwise my husband may trade me in for a lower maintenance model 😉

i was especially juiced to get started on my 2014 classes. a few of them are long term classes, spread over months and a couple over the whole year. this staggering of start dates and posts allows me to dip in and out as i please, and since my brain prefers to work on more than one thing at a time i can usually be more productive this way. until i’m not, and i end up a gibbering overwhelmed mess, rocking in the corner of my studio because i tried to paint ALL THE THINGS.

but that’s a post for another day 😉

right now, one of the courses that has me most inspired is Studying Under the Masters with Jeanne Oliver. it’s a 9 week course, with 9 teachers delivering lessons on 9 masters. essentially, we’re all apprentices.

let me tell you, at only week 2, the class is already jam-packed with content.

our first week lesson was centred around the work of matisse. yeah, i got to the point in the end. we’re encouraged to learn by copying a painting by the master, and then to take away what we learn and apply it to our own work.

and at the end of my week with matisse, i’ve learned that:

  • his colours are amazing and not always easy to replicate. even though his work is vibrant, there’s a subtlety that i struggle to capture. i’m not sure if this is a difference in medium or not (he worked in oils, my painting was acrylic).
  • his brush strokes are loose. i had to resist the urge to blend, and occasionally tightened my grip on my paintbrush. i’m sure with practice the looseness will come more naturally.
  • i’ve always photographed my work in its stages in order to see where i’m going wrong but i’d like to do that more often, maybe after each layer, so i can document the many changes each piece undergoes.
  • i want to experiment with colour and try to use more non-traditional flesh tones.
  • i’m less afraid of attempting to mix my own colours.
  • loose strokes are conducive to larger paintings rather than journal work so i’d like to go big at least once this year.
  • the female figure can be rendered with just a few simple lines and still convey a fleshed out image.
  • that one week with matisse isn’t nearly enough.

matisse progression

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the difference a day makes

on extraordinary days, the painting is easy.

i crank the music and finger paint and it feels like floating. effortless. on extraordinary days, i forget to eat, ignore the iThings that are usually within arms reach and the next time i glance at the clock a whole school day has passed and i’m running late to pick the girls up.

two days ago, there was such a day. i finished two paintings. i wanted to pull them to my chest and twirl around the room with them because finally i was an artist and everything i painted from now on would be easy and beautiful and would swallow whole days.

but then yesterday, i forgot to breathe. i laboured for hours on a seemingly simple piece whose background i’d completed days before. all i had to do was paint the character and its story.

i put down a layer. then another to cover the first. a third to cover the second. all the while, inhaling and not exhaling. no music played and i didn’t forget to eat. and i cried out, “why is this not working?” 

every distraction was a welcome one. i replied to every text, drank so much tea i couldn’t bear the thought of another cup, and despaired. i was sure that if i stumbled across the perfect quote (i googled for hours) it would all come together.

i limped up to and over the finish line eventually, before i remembered this wasn’t a race. and i’m so underwhelmed by what i produced, i could tuck the piece away and never look at it again.

but the lesson is there among the layers.

creating something from nothing isn’t just for extraordinary days of music and blissful floating between pieces (how romantic that sounds!) dabbing paint here and there. it’s also for the days of struggle, of forgetting to breathe and feeling like a talentless hack who simply got lucky the day before.

it’s for the days of rest, of leaving a painting unfinished and to sketch for the joy of it instead.

or not sketching, but sitting, refilling and believing in the extraordinary days to come.

day one day two