Soon after I’d finished my trying-way-too-hard still life of stones, vase, and bowl, a couple of things happened that threw me out of my routine and kept me away from painting for awhile. The first (non-painting-related) was that I got a splinter. Since I realize that sounds pretty silly, let me say that I went through childbirth without drugs and I still think this experience might’ve been more painful. It was the kind of splinter that the doctor asks if you’d like to keep as evidence, and it was right in the meaty part of my foot. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t walking for while, let alone going to the gym (which had become, over the last 6 months, a valued part of my morning routine). It wasn’t long before I began to feel flabby, driftless, and depressed. Ugh.
The other painting-related thing that coincided was that I showed Jim the three latest paintings I’d done on my own: shell, bug, and stones. While I didn’t expect gushing (though a little part of me hoped for it!), I also didn’t expect…crickets. He looked at them silently a long time. Finally he asked, “What’s the light situation in the room where you paint?” I told him that light had been an issue for me — since I was trying to fit in an hour or so of painting every morning in between gym and work, I’d start when it was dark out, and then, when possible, do a bit more in the afternoon when it was light. Often that meant that I was seeing a very different view with each session: different details were apparent, and the differing shadows often dramatically affected the shapes and positions of the objects I was painting (which, in retrospect, was probably the reason for the warped wooden bowl in my last painting). I knew, of course, that this wasn’t ideal, but I didn’t realize it was a big deal — I’d been compensating (to some degree) by doing the shadow part of my drawing right before I started painting, so at least my shadows would be marked correctly. But to Jim, it was a non-starter.
“You’ve got to get your light situation under control,” he told me. “Don’t bother painting until you’ve fixed it.” Then, for the next ten minutes, he sketched out with me the position of all of my windows and gave me ideas for covering each. (My paintings must’ve really been bad, because he also sent me an email the next morning telling me “Don’t paint! You’ll never create a good painting until you have the right light!”)
As I’ve mentioned before, I paint in an alcove off of my living room — a very public area. To my mind, it’s a beautiful room — I was so proud of my decorating job that last year I emailed Clever, Architectural Digest’s blog for poor people, to ask them to feature it in their home tour (I’m sure they’ll get back soon).
It’s bad enough that now that area is filled with crap — tabletop easels, lights, etc. (in fact, it’s making me sad looking at this “before” picture!) — the idea of modifying it to reduce the light (the very reason we bought the place!) was, well, not going to happen. But Jim seemed to understand my concerns and talked me through some fixes that could be removed when I wasn’t painting — a shower curtain, for example, that could be hung over the larger opening.
In the end, I invested in a system through RoomDividersNow that adds a track along the ceiling in about half the room, and a floor to ceiling room-dividing blackout curtain. That way I can simply drag the curtain to cover all three openings when I’m creating a still-life, and make it like midnight in there so I have complete control of my light. Then, I can tie back the curtain out of sight when I want everything pretty again (of course, I’d also need to pick up my shit).
This whole situation has gotten me thinking about sacrifices. I’d like to be good at painting, because it’s something I enjoy. There’s no real payoff for me in the future — I’m not, say, sacrificing the money and time to go to business school because I anticipate getting that back in the end. Other people understand that kind of sacrifice. But it’s difficult to justify — especially to myself — time and money spent trying to improve at something that’s simply for myself alone. And, unfortunately, so many of these sacrifices seem to come at the beginning of the learning process, when you can’t even tell yourself (and others) that you’re talented and somehow owe it to the world to nurture your gift. At this point, I’m a hack, and I might always be a hack, so why am I pouring money into art supplies, classes, ridiculously expensive room divider ceiling tracks? Why am I uglifying a room that’s always given me pleasure and pride? Why is my husband spending time with our daughter while I’m in my little curtained-off room? Does any of this make sense?
I don’t know the answer.