Lately I’ve been living and working more slowly. I realized working at a break-neck speed isn’t sustainable or enjoyable anymore, and that since I work for myself, I could give myself permission to work more slowly. The fact is I will always get my work done, so I can choose to take my time and enjoy the process. I’m not a procrastinator, so it doesn’t make sense for me to anxiously work fast anyway. This is all easier said that done however. I realized I needed to slow down in 2020, but it’s taken me a year to actually put it into practice.
I’m also deliberate about not multitasking if I can help it. Most of the time, genuine multitasking isn’t actually as effective as singletasking for me (not sure this word exists, but I’m using it) and at the end of a long work session of multitasking, while I might feel virtuous, everything feels like a bit of a blur, and the process definitely isn’t enjoyable.
There are certainly tasks I can complete relatively quickly and painlessly, but generally speaking these days I’ve been mindful about my thought processes and the way I do things, and I feel overall more content while working and living more slowly. Except on certain designated bike rides when speed is kind of the point of the ride – that’s different.
On that note, here’s what’s happening in the studio right now. And yes, I did mention that I don’t multitask, but I typically do have multiple projects going on at once. I just don’t work on them simultaneously.
I’m working on a series of landscapes where I’m playing with shapes and colors. I’m working slowly, trying to figure out the kind of color-play I want, refining the edges of shapes, thinking about the feel of the surface…
It feels good to take my time and work meditatively. These are the first two in progress.
I started in reds and pinks and oranges, colors that I knew would be mostly covered up and dissonant with the colors in the finished paintings. I like to allow little sections of the underpainting to show between shapes or through brush marks. Now that I’ve covered up most of the underpainting, I’m reworking the colors to fine tune how they relate to each other.
I’m thinking of what I’ve learned through experience over years of painting and back to grad school in one of my favorite and most challenging classes: color theory. In this class we studied the Munsell color system, which breaks down color into three properties or dimensions: value, chroma and hue. The way I put this into practice as I paint is by making some colors darker or lighter (adjusting the value), making some more or less dull (chroma), and in some cases changing the color completely – like turning a violet into green (the hue).
Because the paintings are paired down with a few interlocking shapes, the colors become even more important. I think that as art becomes more minimal, each decision becomes more significant because everything is there to see, plain as day.
As I make changes in color, edges of shapes shift around too: some edges get more crisp and some become softer. This process is both intellectual and intuitive as I think through what I know about color relationships and how I want the paintings to feel.
These paintings feel like an important bridge for me. For years, I’ve been wanting to integrate the landscape with the geometric work I did in my Little Watercolor Squares series. (See some of the paintings here and the book here.) Last year, I made geometric interiors for my show at Elder Gallery. (See that work here.) These new paintings feel like an integration of all that past work, and that feels good. This work isn’t ego-driven. It’s not trying to prove anything. It just is.
On the other wall of my studio are some small paintings I made to test out compositions and colors for this new series. These little guys will be available at the Ardmore Art Walk on May 8th.
The larger painting on the right is a commissioned piece that’s drying. It was inspired by Amanda Gorman’s Inauguration Day poem.
To be the first to know when the landscapes above are available, subscribe to my Insider’s List here.
One of my favorite artists, Richard Diebenkorn, used to talk about purposefully making “mistakes” in the early stages of a painting. This would give him something to change as he worked. I often think of this as I make paintings. In the early stages of a painting, I’ll purposefully use colors that don’t feel like they go together – or make shapes that aren’t right, so I can make changes as I build up the paintings. This process of searching for an image is something that I enjoy. By working in this way, there is no pressure to get it “right” in one go, and the finished painting is a result of this process of making changes.
Maybe it’s tied to my ego – that I feel I need a certain amount of layers of paint to make it worthy of putting into the world. Maybe when I’m making paintings at 90, they’ll be very minimal Motherwell-like pieces because I’ll have no need to prove anything anymore.
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