July 31, 2014 – Perched high on a wall, I overlooked the houses of Bonnieux. They hugged the narrow road that wound its way around the slopes of the village. I searched for a visual understanding of “motif”…. arrangement of shapes in a format. I felt my inner drawing board fragment and shatter. I wanted my shapes to describe values or distances or temperatures or texture variations. How many different divisions of SHAPES can I keep track of without creating absolute chaos? Why was “motif” so illusive to me?
I drew a pencil sketch and painted it in with burnt sienna and ultramarine blue to designate the changes from warm shapes to cool shapes. I was hoping it might clarify my motif. It didn’t. I still saw only value shapes …. and then temperature choices.
I moved on to a larger painting. It was horrid. I tacked it on the wall at the critique that followed our plein air painting session. My misery grew. It looked clunky, confusing and simply boring. The color had been compromised in my search for motif. It was artificial without the creative energy that can make invention of color and abstraction of shapes work beautifully. My choices? Throw it away or try to resolve its problems. I opted to return to my room to struggle with it before throwing it in the trash. It was only a piece of paper with paint on it.
I found it impossible to play with such a dreadful painting. Painful minutes ticked away. When all else fails, I reach for the cobalt turquoise. It always makes me happy. The painting started to breathe. My excitement grew. I scrubbed too much and loaded it with too much paint. I ran it under the faucet twice. The paper started to groan as I played harder and had more fun. Colors began to sing. Finally, a smile came to my face. It didn’t matter that the tile roof had become bright pink, the trees had changed species and the valley had turned to forrest. I learned so, so much. I hadn’t learned a lot about what worked, but I learned a great deal about what didn’t work. I still couldn’t put together all of the pieces of the “motif” puzzle in my shattered brain, but I felt as if I’d managed to fit together a few of them. It’s certainly not my favorite painting from Provence, but it may be the most significant painting from the trip. Had I given up, it would have taken even longer to come to a personal understanding of “motif”. Still, my inner drawing board has pieces of shattered comprehension waiting to fit into the big picture of designing a painting …. but I’m no longer completely at a loss.
It’s easy to get stuck in habits that work well for me. To change that vision is like trying to work while wearing someone else’s trifocals. Why do I do it? Because I want to keep expanding my options, to keep learning new ways of seeing. After all, that’s the main reason I draw and paint. I want to see more layers of the world I live in.