Little did I know it at the time, but during my last month of university I was assigned a painting project that would prove to be unexpectedly transformative. My instructor sent us out around the university grounds where we painted a series of different sketches of varied landscapes or scenes of interest around campus. We were then to choose one of our small painted sketches and use it as inspiration on a larger canvas.
I was drawing and painting a lot back in those days so it was something that was pretty fast & easy for me to do. I had whipped mine together and still had a few more finishing touches to do before it was actually complete, but it was due to be presented to the class for a group critique. I was frazzled from trying to get all of my assignments & projects completed, as well as studying for exams, but I remember receiving a lot of positive feedback; mostly with the note: “Don’t do too much more to it. It’s fascinating the way it is.”
Unfortunately, sometimes I can be a bit bullish/set in my ways/stubborn, and so consequently, in my mind, I needed to fill in more of the grassy areas. After class I quickly set to work, put brush to canvas and added a bit more green paint. When I brought it back to my next painting class my instructor took one look at my painting and said, “You’re really stressed aren’t you?” I had filled in too much grass and so, it had taken away from the magical sketchiness of my first attempt. With the grass filled-in there was no room to use your imagination by trying to figure out what it was. Whereas before it could have been water, grass, air, it was now obviously grass and only grass. With a few touches of a paintbrush it was now overworked. It was too real and had lost the wonderment of abstraction.
Of course it flustered me because I was trying so hard to get through the great bulk of my final year, working so hard at everything. While it didn’t exactly matter for that class, it’s not like it would affect my grade, I vowed that I would fix my mistake and restore my painting to its curiously imaginative state of before. I put it aside, completed my degree, and never touched it with a paintbrush again.
I did have that painting stored with other canvases and anytime I sorted through them I would get that same sinking feeling of disappointment, failure & regret just from one glance, coupled with the thought, “Right, I still need to fix that.” and then awash with more guilt and regret that I hadn’t already done it. This painting was a 4’ by 3’ physical reminder of my inabilities. Yes, people. These are the things that go through my head on a regular basis–at lightening speed. I’m hoping for the day when my head is full of confidence, purpose, determination and maybe even a touch of arrogance or, at least, being so busy I don’t have time for negative thoughts.
But guess what? This summer, while I was back visiting Toronto, I finally found the impetus to take it out, get some paint, and fix it. Of course it’s not exactly the way it was before, I also didn’t have any green paint on hand so I had to be creative (I think it got relocated it to Hong Kong) but now this painting is finished–done, finalized, concluded! It’s complete, imbedded with its very own lesson. A piece of art which speaks of stress & failure, longevity & persistent, stark realities versus imaginative dreams, and last but certainly not least, triumph. I’ll tell you now, it’s not my greatest masterpiece but that’s beside the point. What is clear is that I can change and grow and overcome all odds. It may seem melodramatic to you, I don’t know. I’m not sure how other people’s minds work, but I am well aware of my own. It’s one of those things in the pile of crappy negative thoughts in my mind that I’m now able to elevate as a success. Good riddance to harmful, limiting, thoughts and here’s to looking onward and upward.
Title: Concrete Nature
Medium: Acrylic on canvas
Size: 3’x4′ (91cm x 121cm)
Artist: Bridget Steis
This painting currently resides in Toronto and is for sale by the artist.
Misery loves company. Please do share your successes and failures with me in the comment section so we all don’t have to feel quite so alone. Thanks in advance!