A subscriber wrote, “Right now I’m painting old structures, especially deserted homes — all with the same dark palette. There is difficulty with one — it looks like it’s in a cemetery. Do these works take on their own personality? Sometimes I can imagine or feel or know the story of the people who lived in the structure. Are these feelings real, or are they imagined by me? In this particular one, there was a little girl who was not treated well, who had dreams and hopes of escaping but never did. Her mother was a large slovenly woman with a greasy apron. Her father was a man of no consequence. Where did these thoughts come from? Should I let the painting emerge as is, or should I make it a happy place, thereby maybe helping the little girl whose name is Misty?”
There are at least two paintings to be had from this illusion. One is the dark and depressing side that you describe. The other is the escape, freedom and happiness that you wish for Misty. As an artist your job is to explore the potential that your imagination prompts. Don’t lock yourself into one palette. Art, as well as being an examination of truth, is also catharsis — in this case those thoughts may well be coming from your own past — and it’s valuable to both represent and exorcise them.
Did you ever notice that the covers of romantic novels often include an old mansion or castle? Movies also, are full of this device. With these images we get permission to visualize the kind of people who might live in or emerge from the structures. You are doing the same thing — populating your real estate and investing it with your feelings.
Your observation and concern is precisely the “second phase” that is most needed in the creative process. It is the wellspring of great art. Surrender to your imagination.
PS: I’ve looked at life from both sides now,
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all. (Joni Mitchell)
Esoterica: Exercise: Go to an unfamiliar area and find some sort of a structure — a decrepit or even a new home, a country store, an old factory. Stare at it for some period of time–you can generally get away with this in the sanctuary of a car. Populate the place with imagined people. Quietly, privately, tell their story. Note how windows become eyes, horns appear on the roof, doors begin to smile or frown, and young children run from the structure in joy or fright.
This letter was originally published as “Illusionary structures” on October 3, 2003.
Did you know you can sign up to be a Premium Artist for $200 a year? Many artists have found this beneficial. Sign up here.
“All the really good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow.” (Grant Wood)