Troubles in sanctuary

Back in April, in the most lockedness of lockdown, I still had a roommate – a woman from Vancouver, stranded in Toronto – and she would stay in the apartment all day every day, while I would venture out to the grocery stores and on over to my studio, my sanctuary.

But in those still more wintery than spring days of April, I would arrive to this room full of giant 5 and 6 foot paintings of animals, look around and just burst into tears.

Something about the scale, the sense of power, the confidence and apex predatorness… I just could not relate to any of it. Who was the person who had begun painting these? There was so much still to do to finish each of them, but I could not summon or even fathom any of that kind of big energy.

After several afternoons of just sitting on the couch looking around, I realized I would have to try something different, for the moment at least. I remembered a suggestion from Eric Maisel (I think it’s in his Fearless Creating book) to just go to the studio and squeeze some paints onto the palette. Just that.

So I started there.

And then the next thing I did was put some colours on some cheap sheets of canvas paper and moved them around. No image. Nothing representational. Just moving the paint around.

The following week I started to bring fruit. Stopping in at the No Frills on my way over, I’d pick up a few shapes, a few colours. I set up a little spot with a light, and put out the fruit.

From years ago when I did still lives all the time, I still have the tiny little masonite boards ready to go, so I did a series of pretty terrible paintings of fruit. But it was something, it was still moving the paint around.

And in between there were days when even dealing with paint seemed like a lot, so I would just draw. Pull out a sketchpad, some charcoal, and just exercise that hand eye communication – the pleasure of close observation.

But the drawings on their own felt a little bald, so on the iPad I started adding a bit of colour after the fact.

By now weeks had passed, the roommate had gone home to Vancouver, and spring had fully sprung and the trees were leafy and green and full, and I would pass them as I did my rounds – my extended route along the lake front, then circling back along the wide park boulevard of Esplanade and over towards the studio – and I started to pluck a leaf here and there, relishing their smell, their aliveness.

Being a city kid through and through I can’t tell one kind of tree from the next, so I downloaded an app to find out what each one was. At night I listened to audiobooks of The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, and The Overstory by Richard Powers – both magical, wonderful books.

And then I started to draw the leaves I was picking on the iPad.

These, I like.

Here, finally, was something new emerging that felt like it might go somewhere.

My huge animal paintings are still waiting patiently to be finished, to have the final layers and touches completed, but in the meantime, there is a new seed of something beginning…

Lens Artist Challenge: Sanctuary

10 thoughts on “Troubles in sanctuary

  1. I like these paintings and drawings follow this for sure! I am in a total slump can’t paint at all it has been a month.

    1. Glad I am not the only one who struggles sometimes! I can highly recommend this thing of a) doing something very small, and b) doing things you don’t have big aspirations for – seems to help get past blocks

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this creative journey with us Katharine and I love the way you found a new direction that feels right for you in a world that is so different from when we started this year. The Hidden Life of Trees is one of my favourite books and I can understand how it inspired you too. Thank you for this beautiful contribution to the challenge and I wish you all the best with your art and painting 🤗💖

    1. Where I live is SUPER urban, and the trees that are around are very planned, many of them clearly not happy, so that book especially is a real revelation of how magical trees are, how much of their own “culture” they have.

  3. WOW. Very impressive. Beautiful photos, paintings, and drawings, thoughtful commentary. I’m forever in awe of talented artists. Well done.

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