Somewhere in my studio is a half-finished painting entitled “The Field Where He Died.” It was an overly-ambitious attempt on my part to push my painting forward very early on. When you don’t know what you can’t do, just dive in. Good advice always, though sometimes your lack of developed skill and education catch up with you. And that’s what happened with “The Field Where He Died.”
Eventually, my novice painter status yanked me back by the collar and I got stuck in a picture I couldn’t get out of. Unable to advance any further towards the completed painting I had in my head, I finally decided to set the brushes down, put the canvas aside, and try something a little less ambitious.
I don’t love that it happened, but six months since, I can now look back at the half-completed work and see so many places I went wrong that I couldn’t identify at the time. I’ll cover that journey eventually, but that’s not what this post is about. This is to remind any frustrated artists out there that every piece of work has its own time and its own completion arc. It’s not a bad thing to put something aside, not even knowing when and if you might return to it. The mistakes I made there informed my work going forward. I got a better idea of where I needed to put in more time and effort learning, and where I was already moving along well.
So from there I turned to a photo I had seen on Instagram of the old Mission Mill in Salem, Oregon, now the Willamette Heritage Center. I reached out to Jennifer, who had posted the picture, and asked if she’d send me a high-res that I could use as a source. I had been transfixed by the bold red of the building and how beautifully it contrasted with the clouds in the sky and the blue of the water running underneath. It had been pinned on my wall for a few months by the time I surrendered on “The Field Where I Died” and went looking for something with simpler shapes and color, and no humans. So “The Red Mill” cashed in on its time waiting on-deck and stepped up to the plate.
It’s been over six months since I painted this. The reason I know just from the pictures is that I was posing with it in my Emmy tux, and the Emmys were in May. I didn’t win, but my partner Michael did, and the photo of me with the painting was taken by his mama, who flew all the way out from Georgia to see her son give his acceptance speech. That being said, I can’t remember too much about my process here. I had never painted water before, and had no idea it was so hard. I’m still wrestling with it today, as another half-completed painting called “Secret Beach” can attest. I remember finally just slapping a half-mixed puddle of Thalo Blue and White onto the canvas with a palette knife and just working it around until I had something that looked like a rush of water receding into the painting. Not exactly the method of Monet, but it got the job done.
Someday, I’ll pull the sheet off of “The Field Where He Died” and give it another go. But until then, I’ve gotten much more comfortable with half-finished paintings haunting me along the walls of my studio. I’ve got three others at standstills as well. Six months ago, I never would have been able to live with that. Now, I just turn my attention elsewhere for the short-term, narrow my goals and dig in on a painting that lets me relax and re-charge the batteries a bit. Every piece of work teaches you something about the next.