Monday, March 2, 2020

Child of Spring - FINALIST in the 22nd Annual Portrait Society International Competition!

"Child of Spring"
oil on linen
2020 Finalist in the
Portrait Society of America
International Competition

I got the call last week. Having been a member of the Portrait Society for some time now (10 years, I think?), you eventually learn that you're either going to get a phone call or an email, and what you really want is the phone call! This is my third time being accepted as a finalist, but it feels monumental for me. This year, after battling a lot of depression and stress (see my last post, oh... and did I mention that last year we bought a house? and moved? With a 5-year-old and an infant?!), I had major doubts as to whether or not I would be accepted. Two of the pieces I entered were paintings that I had labored over for months, and the third was one that I felt like I rushed to finish in time for the competition deadline. So, when I got the call that "Child of Spring" had been chosen, I was stunned and humbled, and SO, so thankful! Guys, you will almost never see me do a happy dance. BUT... I performed an epic happy dance in my kitchen. And Cecelia stared at me over her cereal bowl and asked what was going on.

I decided to write about this because I want to share about the difference between this year's accepted piece and my first-ever finalist painting from back in 2016, called "A Fleeting Moment" (shown below with Cecelia, the model). 

"A Fleeting Moment" was only 8 inches by 6 inches, and was painted in about 3 hours, all in one sitting. My then 2 1/2-year-old daughter was the subject of the painting, and I remember feeling like each brush stroke just fell into place, effortlessly, as though I was channeling some divine Creativity and it had nothing to do with me. Ask any artist, whether novice or professional - they will tell you that these moments DO exist, but they are very rare, even for the best of the best. 

Fast forward two years to spring of 2018 when I started "Child of Spring". I was pregnant with my second child, already as uncomfortable as could be, and feeling like my brain was being consumed PacMan style by the little boy growing inside me. I couldn't focus on my work or make any kind of articulate expressions, whether with words or with paint. This, to me, was the single-most frustrating thing about pregnancy, winning out over heartburn and the 567 daily trips to the bathroom. It was frustrating because it felt like I--an Achiever--was being robbed of what I'm normally pretty good at.

Here are a few shots from the early stages of the painting.

It was when I got to this point (above)--where the portrait was pretty much locked in, but it was time to start focusing on the blossoms--that I "quit." I didn't know if I was going to finish it, because my excitement for the original concept and block-in fell flat. I set the painting aside and focused on other projects for several months.

After my son was born (August 2018), I picked up the painting again and worked on it some more. I thought that maybe it would be finished in time for the 2019 Portrait Society competition, but once again I became discouraged, and didn't enter it. 

The deadline came and went, but I was distracted with the excruciatingly stressful, exciting and all-consuming process of buying a home and moving (Feb-March of 2019).

Almost finished... but, mushy.

Above: It sat in this state for months on end. I had called it "finished" (even signed it in the upper righthand corner), but never posted it publicly. I knew deep down that it wasn't good enough yet. The flowers felt flat and "mushy" to me, showing how indecisive I was in my paint handling. The portrait felt strong, but I wasn't crazy about some of the light shapes on the dress, or the shapes of the branches in the background. I would set the painting on my easel, look at it, and then put it back into storage because my brain was too muddled to solve all the problems that remained.

Almost a year after our move, I finally pulled out the painting again, and finished it, thanks to the advice of several artist friends, and my own renewed sense of vigor. I strengthened the shapes overall by creating more contrast and more interesting edge dynamics, and by repainting several areas altogether. Every inch of the painting was reassessed to see whether or not it was worth leaving or reworking. I realized that the time away was not wasted. I had learned things that could be applied to this painting now--skills that were not yet mature enough a year or two before.

So my encouragement to you, fellow artists, is to not get discouraged! It's okay to let a painting sit and breathe for months or years on end. You might come back to it with just the right solution if you can just be patient with yourself and the process. And don't get sucked into thinking that the only successful paintings are the ones that you whip out in three hours after being possessed by the Divine Creativity! If that happens to you, great. But more often than not, you just have to be willing to put in the work. Happy painting, friends!

The finished painting


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