I am always up for a challenge, and this was an interesting one: draw an abstract. The founder of the Colored Pencil Society put out this call to CP artists, who traditionally render subjects in a more realistic manner. She wanted to challenge us.
Sounds simple, right? Not quite. When you are new to art and don’t even really grok the concept of abstract art, creating it can be a tall order.
So I did what most folks do when the big question mark appears: start Googling.
Good idea, right? Not quite. Google offered “helpful” suggestions like putting your paper on the floor and splattering paint on it. Sounds like a recipe for creating a drop cloth. This method also doesn’t play nice with pencils. When you splatter them, they break.
So I turned to artist friends. They encouraged me to just play with form and line and color. Sounds simple, right? Of course it does! And yes, I can do that! That’s what I do with all of my pieces. Just a bunch of making lines and playing with color.
I remembered a photo I took earlier this year of a raven and loved the way her beautiful neck feathers gleamed in purples and blues. Just a little part of that, I thought, would make a lovely abstract, and give the feel of movement and flow. They would no longer be feathers; they would be waves of color, waves of texture, waves of form. A wind. A progression.
Now I was really on to something! It all felt so very artsy and highbrow. I was rising to the abstract challenge.
So I set to work. I cropped the image the way I wanted it, changed colors from blues to warm golds, and dove in to the project, full of excitement. Ooo! Lookit me! Watch out Jackson Pollack! I am coming for you, Joan Miró!
The piece required maybe only eight or nine different colors. It was pretty large. And it wasn’t long before the repetition of creating all these waves of color, texture, and form was driving me crazy. I began dreaming of other projects I wanted to work on. Itching to do a good ol’ portrait or a landscape. No, this can’t be happening. I am artist. I can do this. Quitting is not an option.
I soldiered on, finishing the piece during a colored pencil artists’ retreat, and only then because I forced myself to knuckle-down on it for two full days, with no socializing.
But when it was finished, oh my, it was a thing of beauty and I was proud of it. Other artists at the retreat liked it, too, and i received some pretty great feedback. I would call it “Zephyr,” after the warm west wind.
I waited a few days, and then submitted my magnificent piece to the challenge. I knew it would knock their socks off.
The response arrived pretty quickly. “It looks like chicken feathers.”
Surely this response was tongue-in-cheek. Wasn’t it? To make sure, I responded with a polite feel-out: “If this isn’t right for the challenge, feel free to disregard it.”
And the reply, “Don’t give up. You have time to try again. Google abstract art.”
“Zephyr” had become my first fail. And it was epic.
I was devastated. How was this not an abstract? How could this happen? I nearly cried. Then I got mad. I went through all the Kübler-Ross stages of grief, and then some. I contemplated splattering pencils.
The next morning, I woke up and wrapped the cloak of miserable back around myself. I sighed and moped all morning.
And then, maybe at the point of being out-of-sorts for 24-hours, I realized that <forehead slap!> I didn’t HAVE to do the challenge. And that I didn’t HAVE to be sad or upset about this; I was just making the choice to be. And that is when everything turned around.
I suddenly felt free. The heck with the challenge. If this piece wasn’t abstract, then okay, so be it. Instead of creating a competition entry, I had created my own lesson: Do what you love; create art because you love it, and forget about trying to create in someone else’s style.
My reward for this fail was freedom. And I got a bonus: In all that stewing, I came with an idea about a new way to take my art that totally excites me.
So here’s the takeaway: If you are a creative (and everyone is), remember that you do your art or dance or music or sport or hobby or whatever to please yourself first.
All the rest is just chicken feathers.
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