Returning to an old medium December 27, 2022 08:17

For the past couple of weeks I've been dissatisfied with my art. Part of that might be because people aren't buying anything, and that might well have nothing to do with the quality of my work. But most of it is because I don't feel much challenge in it. And at the same time, the challenge I tried to take on, painting still lifes using the Flemish technique, I could not meet with my shaky hands. I was not pleased with the still lifes I produced and stopped trying to do them, disappointed in myself.

I actually thought multiple times of just giving up on making art. I was no longer succeeding in making money or making the kind of art I wanted to make. I felt so stuck. And meanwhile, I just signed the contract for my third book, so I was succeeding with my writing, even if it didn't bring me enough income to live off. I knew, though, that eventually, if I kept writing, I'd be able to get by on my royalties. But I wondered if I just wasn't meant to be an artist, if my art was just some fantasy that had little relationship to actuality and I was really just a writer. I would look at other people's art and feel that mine was far inferior, even after years of learning and practice. It was depressing and upsetting.

I hoped maybe I was just stuck in a rut instead of being a fail. I reminded myself that anyone would feel daunted by health issues that prevented them from doing what they really wanted to do. So I decided to go at the problem in different ways.

One was writing the grant proposal for support to experiment with ways of painting that would help me circumvent the shaky hands issue. I'll have to wait to hear from them until the end of December, but even writing it made me feel a bit better, like I could examine ways to deal with this issue even if I got no funding for it. I had it laid out in my mind better because I had written it out in the proposal. I started reading about Symbolism and looking at Symbolist paintings as a possible different approach to oil painting, for instance.

Then this weekend I decided I really needed to play with some other mediums to break this feeling of being stuck with my painting.

I first played with my soft pastels. I've had a nice little set for a couple of years and haven't done much with them. I've always admired pastels and their intense colors and chalky (blurry!) appearance. But I don't really know anything about using them. I've watched some Youtube videos but when I go to do anything, I am displeased with the result. :(

I had my colored pencils there on the desk in their cases. Back in the 70s, I relied primarily on watercolors on the one hand and colored pencils and India ink on the other. I really liked using black ink. I'd make lines, black shapes, and stippling with the ink and then add color (usually having nothing to do with local color and often involving rays of some sort) on very smooth paper, like vellum. I know I can't make nice lines anymore, but I did enjoy the almost meditative process of using colored pencils (and even of stippling with my pen). So I broke them out and paged through my reference photos to see what inspired me.

One subject that has evaded my present abilities is buildings--on account of their damned straight lines, lol. I spent weeks and weeks doing the Starry Wisdom church and even so was not all that pleased with it when it was finished. I really wanted to do some paintings of industrial buildings being reclaimed by nature but could not foresee being capable of it. I had great difficulty making straight edges and getting the detail I wanted with oils. So I thought maybe I would try doing a building in colored pencil.

boarded up house

I had a reference photo of an abandoned house, so I chose that. I've run across this same house photographed by different people, so it must be fairly well known, wherever it is. For me, I was drawn by that top window. There is something so emphatic about it.

I started working on it and immediately felt like it was a good choice, that I could produce something worth looking at with the colored pencils. It was great to be able to use the ruler for straight lines. I loved how quickly the toned paper made it possible for me to add a decent layer of color without diddling for hours, which is what I remembered from working on white paper. I also loved that I could easily erase not only graphite pencil marks but even colored pencil on the paper (Canson Mi Teintes). I had had a lot of problems erasing colored pencil in the past--had even considered it to be non-erasable. Maybe the difference is that back then I didn't have an electric eraser. But I also think the rougher paper is helpful.

I'd been most recently drawing on panels for oil painting and it seemed that no matter how much I brushed off eraser crumbs, tiny invisible crumbs remained and got stuck in the paint. Of course, that didn't happen. Nice!

Ghost House colored pencil by Harold Roth

I thought if I just could come up with something passable, I would consider this experiment a success. But in the end, I feel like I came up with something good. I did modify a good bit, which I always do with reference photos. It has some echoes of the art I used to do in the past but is much more accomplished than anything I did back then. It isn't flashy or slick, like a lot of contemporary colored pencil I have seen. But I think it is honest to the medium and that it represents the ghostly aspect of the building. I called it "Ghost House."

So I will be doing a lot more colored pencil work on toned paper!