Out Of My Comfort Zone

Holi Colours, by Jean McGuire, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches, ©2017,

When I stand in front of an easel, the aroma of oil paints filling my nostrils, time ceases to exist. My whole being becomes intrigued by the sensation of dipping my hand into the splashes of color on my palette and watching the paints blend together under my fingers. Sometimes the colors form on the palette as I endeavor to create a certain shade, other times they blend on the actual canvas, creating images I may or may not have intended to create.

If other people are in the studio, I usually continue to converse with them while I play with the shades and tones that are unfolding in front of me. I am generally a social person, and I love to talk, so usually, I join into conversations. Occasionally though, the flow of the work takes over and I am barely aware of anyone, or anything, being around me.

When I was young, my art was focused on drawing or painting people. I worked and worked, but the older I got, the less satisfied I became with my pieces. So, after high school, I just let my art drop away. Occasionally, I would draw or paint something, but then life would happen and I’d let it fall away again. Then, a few years ago, painting returned to my life.

For the first two years after I started painting again, I focused primarily on more abstract or impressionistic work. I usually start my more abstract paintings with a vague idea of what I want to create. I’ll sketch out a very rough idea of shape and placement, usually using a water-soluble marker that disappears as I work. Once the paint starts flowing from my fingertips, the piece takes over and I literally go with the flow. Sometimes the pieces turn out exactly how I pictured them in my mind, other times the end result has little or no resemblance to what my original vision was.

These more abstract paintings are usually relatively easy for me to distance myself from the end result. Pretty colors and pretty shapes are pleasing to my eye, even when they don’t look anything like I originally wanted them to. I love where my painting has gone and where it is going, but I have had a very real fear of trying to go back to portraits.

Then, last October, I saw a 5-minute writing challenge on one of the Instagram accounts I follow. It was interesting to see how much could be done in 5 minutes. For whatever reason, I then decided to extrapolate that challenge to portraiture. I decided I was going to start doing these challenges every day.

By limiting myself to 5 minutes, I took away a lot of my immediate self-criticism. No matter how good or bad the sketch turns out, I always reminded myself it was so quick no one could expect the sketch to be great. The 5-minute time limit also kept me from spending too much time dwelling on one feature or another. This allowed me to focus on the whole face and find the minor nuances that define a person.

In the months since I started sketching faces again, my consistency has faded. I probably sketch people twice a week. I also have stretched my time out to 10 or 15 minute sessions. These are still quick sketches, but as I became more comfortable with the work, I was able to expand the time and still keep the angry wolf of self-criticism at bay.

Eventually, portraiture found its way onto my canvases. When I’m painting a portrait, no matter how whimsical I want the end result to be, I sketch in details, in pencil, so I can be more specific with a face that is someone’s calling card. Even with the portraits, I am willing to let a mood and serendipity take precedence over an exact representation of a person’s features. I will leave exact replication to a camera. I get to paint what I want when I am at the beck and call of the easel.

I am intrigued by the process of trying to capture a person in a sketch or a painting, but for whatever reason, it still does not feel comfortable to me. I have to “gird my loins,” every time I sit down to work on one of these portraits. There have been times when I have literally felt sick to my stomach when I posted one of my sketches or paintings of people on social media.

Are these portraits great works of art? No. Is it hard for me to make myself post them? Yes. However, the portraits that frustrate me also challenge me, and it is through challenges that we grow. I am a firm believer in pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and boy, do these portraits do that!

As always, I appreciate your patience and kind comments. I have loved each and every step of my creative journey and I love that you have joined me on this adventure. Thank you.


What are your thoughts?