Into the Garden
Florals, flowers...I love flowers. I love them so much in fact at one time was an ardent gardener. I personalized my license plate to reflect my obsession, it read grdnnut, my email was firstname.lastname@example.org, it still is. For sixteen years I devoted my spare time and artistic energies to gardening. The property my husband and I owned in Virginia was new construction & barren of all plant life. It was my mission to convert that thick red clay soil into a fertile and beautiful oasis. So I amended soil, I planted, I moved rocks, I cut down thorn bushes, I sowed seeds, planted bulbs. I planted shrubs and trees, I made pathways and walkways, dug out giant rocks and re-planted them as stepping stones. I grew flowers & vines, berries, fruit and vegetables. I created beauty. I did this for years, and during all this time, I didn't paint. I think all my artistic energy went into my gardens. Around 2006, as I looked at my now overflowing and colorful gardens, I thought I should paint the gardens. I decided I was going to be the "modern day Monet". Into the far corners of the basement I went in search of my college art supplies. I found a sheet of Strathmore student watercolor paper, some dried up generic paints and two small brushes. Yay! Out to the gardens I went so excited for my next adventure in life. I wet the paint and started to put pigment to paper...umm...hmm...how about a little paint here...no, that's not right...how about some green...oh no, that wont do at all...I realized I had forgotten how to paint. The result was most certainly no Monet and there may or may not have been a temper tantrum and a tearing up of paper. Only the birds and squirrels know for sure and they have been bribed to secrecy with berries and nuts ;)
So what do I do now? I was dejected. The gardens were overwhelming and I didn't have the skills to be able to create with my hands what my imagination was seeing. Depressed I looked down, at my feet was a weed, a lonely little weed with a pretty white flower. Hmmm, I thought, if I can't be "Monet the painter of gardens" I can be Judy painter of weeds. That's it, I will be the best weed painter ever! So I ignored the giant colorful garden and got to painting my white weed with my teeny tiny brush. It took me two hours, but I did it.
I was so proud of my little weed painting that I wrote about it on my blog. I got up the nerve to post a photo, this was of course the days before social media. I think I had two followers, one of them being my mother. I actually got a response from somebody and it wasn't from my mother. "Good Job" the follower said. I was flabbergasted. Then He said, "can you paint sunflowers". "Yes, yes" I answered "I can paint sunflowers"... knowing full well I didn't know if I could paint sunflowers. The only thing I had painted in 16 years had been a teeny tiny weed. Oh my!! what had I gotten myself into!?! I went to the store and bought some real watercolor paper, arches, to this day my favorite paper. I took my big brush, size 1 ;) and I painted a sunflower.
It took two days. I posted my sunflower for my other follower, that wasn't my mother, to see. He liked it, he liked it so much in fact that he wanted to buy it. I was over the moon! Something I painted was going to go live in the world, somebody liked what I did enough to give me money for it. Guess what happened next?! He asked for two more, he wanted 3, THREE sunflower paintings!!! I was going to be a commissioned artist, I was going to be famous, I WAS going to be the new Monet, painter of flowers! I painted, this time it only took one day and I painted two. "I'm getting better" I arrogantly thought to myself......................
..............I didn't sell another thing for two years. But, I painted. The experience had given me confidence to continue. To keep trying and striving to get better. I knew I wanted to be a loose impressionistic painter, but I had a long way to go. I painted more flowers, I got out my oil paints and painted flowers, I sketched with pencil, drew with colored pencil, I played with pastels. I got my skills back and retrained my brain to see and my hands to move.
Fast forward ten years, so many brush miles, so many failures, some successes and a never ending journey to be the artist that I want to be. I have learned to loosen up, to embrace my favorite medium of watercolor.
I put down my little brushes and found a large squirrel mop brush. Oh how I love that brush. I'm no longer afraid of letting the paint run, for when the paint flows it knows better what to do than anything I could ever do. Beautiful things happen when pigments blend and bleed. I've learned to paint shapes and light. I've learned color gets the attention but without tonal value you don't have a successful painting. I've learned to trust my instinct and be more intuitive, to let my first stroke live and shine, to not beat a painting to death, to hold my brush loosely in my hands and back away from my work. My tool kit has expanded with quality paints and paper. When tackling a garden like I did in 2006, I've learned that not every flower can be the star, I need an area of focus, the rest can be a supporting cast. Soft edges are a thing of beauty. I've learned it's a journey and to paint it once, paint it twice, keep painting until you get it right. I've learned to play, to have fun, sometimes I even dance while I paint.
My goal is no longer to be the new Monet, painter of gardens, but to be the true me, Judith Haynes Levins painter of my world.
"Create some beauty and share the joy"