25 October 2014

The Power Of Inspiration

Four Dancers (After Degas) - 11x14" - Oil on canvas panel

Shortly after I started pursuing a career in fine art photography I was juried into the Alberta Society of Artists. After being accepted into the society, new members are required to give a presentation of their work. I am such an introvert and hate being in the spotlight so I was dreading the day. But as I sat there watching the other presenters I was so fascinated and inspired by the work I was seeing.  It was a moment that changed my life.

One of the other new members presented work that touched me so deeply. For me, the work went beyond being merely a beautiful image, to something much more soulful and personal. I find myself at a loss of words when it comes to describing art which moves me. Expressive... spiritual... heartfelt.... magical....

The painter was Ingrid Christensen. Her work has a perfect imperfection to it that makes it uniquely connectable for me. 

Ingrid Christensen's The Little Dancer

At the time I was doing very little painting. Mostly just washes on different papers to photograph and use as elements in my pictorialist, painterly style of photography. The images of Ingrid's work stayed with me and inspired me to take painting beyond something I was using just for ephemera in my photography. 

Although I had been painting as a teenager and in my early twenties, I realized I was a "Bob Ross" type painter, following step by step lessons, and really knew nothing about painting. The road between where I'd left off painting and the soulful work I saw from Ingrid seemed like an impossible road to travel. Especially since living where I do there are few opportunities to study from serious artists like Ingrid. I did see that she taught weekly classes in the city, but I couldn't attend. I wished we lived in the city so I could have more opportunities to learn, but I don't. So I had to try using books and the Internet; and taking workshops here and there as I could.

Then I went to an exhibit of works by Edgar Degas at our provincial gallery. I was so moved by the power of his work I cried. To this day I still don't know what it was about his work that created such a strong emotional reaction from me. I have since seen work by other masters that haven't moved me like his. His work also contained that perfect imperfection quality which I see in Ingrid's work. 

When I decided to take painting more seriously one of my goals was to be able to create painted versions of my photographs, since many people thought my photos were paintings already. Degas exhibit and Ingrid's work made me realize the dissatisfaction I'd had with my own work was that I was striving for perfection; concentrating on producing copies and ignoring the expression or story. My paintings were flat and boring, even if I did achieve a good likeness to the photograph. The emotion of the original photo was always being lost in the translation. 

I continued to struggle, but was slowly making progress. I'd identified some key issues and was starting to figure out what qualities in paintings moved me most. Then this Spring I had an opportunity to take a 3 day workshop with Ingrid. It was simply amazing. When Ingrid told the class that she'd only been painting for 10 years I almost fell out of my chair. I couldn't believe it! Her work represents a quality and mastery to me that is equal to (or even above) that of the master impressionists that I thought would have taken a lifetime to achieve. That she hadn't been painting that long and she'd followed a similar route to learning as me in having to rely on the Internet and books, gave me so much hope. The very thought of being able to produce such fine work in such a short time excited me. 

One of the other key bits of information Ingrid shared is that she treats her studio time like a full time job and paints Monday to Friday. Although I was already spending a lot of time in the studio, I went home and started painting like a mad woman. I probably won't ever achieve a Monday to Friday 9-5 routine, because I still have a photography career that requires my attention, but I did let a lot of other things slide (like my garden - oops) to make room for more time at the easel.

The workshop I'd done with Ingrid was still life. Although I like still life, I was still yearning to take a figurative workshop with her. So when I heard she was doing a figurative workshop in September I jumped all over it! 

It fell at such a busy time for me I had to rearrange my schedule to be able to go. I was running at mach speed up to the date of the workshop and then had to continue right after. I was stressed and painted badly. I have a theory that if you come out of a workshop with a good painting you probably didn't learn much, but because of my stress I really didn't think I'd remember anything.  

I left my little demo paintings from the workshop sit on the table in the studio as a reminder. I'd have a studio day here and there, but had no good block of time. I had a few paintings in various stages that needed to be finished so I still wasn't able to practice. Then out of shear frustration I decided I'd sacrifice one of my partially finished paintings, and go at it in a different way to see if I could try to remember some of what I learned. I was pleased with the results. Then I decided to play some more.

Using Edgar Degas' painting Four Dancers, I thought I'd see if I could paint the figures but with a brighter palette, and building it up with colour spots rather than strict drawing. And I was going to try to use more paint instead of being a stingy scrubber like I'm prone to be. I was pleased with the results.

Video progression of development of Four Dancers.

While I wouldn't want to be a clone of Ingrid, her style is one which resonates with me. I will continue to try to learn how to produce that impressionist perfect imperfection in my own work, with a nod to Ingrid and Degas for their inspiration and help in achieving my dreams!