Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Where there is a will, there is a way...

After hearing about my recent hand injury, several artist friends challenged me to paint with my right hand, as opposed to waiting until the cast comes off my crippled left. Given that I am accustomed to painting nearly every single day and have been biting at the bit (it has been over a week since my last painting session!), I decided to give it a shot. I wasn't terribly optimistic. Since the surgery, every time I tried drawing, writing, or doing anything that required some dexterity, I ended up making a clumsy mess. I almost lit myself on fire trying to light the gas burners on our stove, because my right hand got confused about which burner was which. Using my right hand has required an extra measure of thought and concentration. But... perhaps this could work to my advantage in a painting. After all, isn't it mostly about what we know, rather than which hand we use to get the information down on canvas? The heart and mind are by far my most valuable tools in art, as far as I'm concerned. While the connection from eyes and brain down to hand may be clumsy, I think it is possible, as well as a great exercise in control.

So here goes...

This happened yesterday. I sat down in my studio, lit by afternoon light in the south window... and tried my hand (literally!) at a self portrait. There is no glamour this one; no makeup, hair pulled back, and dark circles under tired eyes. By the time I got around to painting the ear, I was completely exhausted (thanks, pain meds...), so I think I'll have to go back in later and define some of that structure. I might also try designing the hair a little better. But, I love the colors, the background, and the softly painted eye. I accomplished this with my non-painting hand and actually liked the result! I guess this is what happens when you are essentially painting to make every stroke count.

 Self portrait with right hand (unfinished) - 16x11 - oil on canvas pad

I should probably mention that since this was all an experiment, I was also working with some brand new oil colors, courtesy of Rembrandt. Most of them I'd never used before. They were: Chromium Oxide Green, Naples Yellow Light, Stil de Grain Brown, Sevres Blue, Caput Mortuum Violet, and Stil de Grain Yellow. I had a blast experimenting with these new colors, some of which were very opaque, and others more transparent (the transparent yellow was a delight!). I especially enjoyed the effects of the chromium oxide green in creating the illusion of blonde hair, and the caput mortuum violet for use in the transparent warm shadows. The only other colors I used to supplement my palette were titanium white, cadmium red, ivory black, and Rembrandt transparent oxide red.

My new Rembrandt oil paints

Today I decided to show up at my painting group and join them for some more right-handed painting adventures! Our model was wearing a wonderfully sassy outfit, with a black netted hairpiece, sunglasses, and pearls. I wasn't able to quite capture the look of the pearls with my clumsy right hand (maybe I just ran out of patience), but I was still happy with the likeness and enjoyed the quick 2-hour session. I was just so happy to be painting again!

 Life sketch of Emma with Sunglasses; 16x12, oil on canvas pad

While neither of these paintings come close to my best work (!), I really learned a lot from the experience, especially about edge control. I was happy with the edges on the eye in my self-portrait, and the mouth on Emma. Other elements left much to be desired. Still, it's comforting to know that one's artistic skills are not attached wholly to the hands that wield them. Determination wins this round! :-)


  1. I love these, Anna! So glad to see your success with your right hand =) PTL!

  2. Good for you Anna! They are wonderful.

  3. Sarah A. BoardmanApril 4, 2012 at 9:06 AM

    Congratulations, Anna! I have always taught my students that painting is done primarily with the eyes, not the hands and you just proved it! I will print this out to make that point. Thank you so much for the uplifting story! You are a true artist!!!


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