Friday, July 27, 2012

Eye on the storm

Your road to glory will be rocky, but fulfilling. 
I got this in a fortune cookie a week before I finished this painting. It kind of sums up what I was going through with it.

This painting has been an idea of mine for about 4 years now. Back in 2010 when I first primed some boards to get back to painting, this was one that I had contemplated doing first. But I started with another whale painting instead. After completing the whale painting, (see my blog Tail of Two Whales) I decided to do this one along with another whale painting at the same time. I was actually thinking of working on three paintings at once but felt that was too much for me to handle because of my day job. As both of the paintings progressed, I was doing more work on the whale painting and had set this one to the side. I felt that this one was what I should focus on for the Fair this year because they want you to submit something different from the previous year. So I came back to working on this one. I wanted to complete two paintings for the Fair but I didn't feel that it was attainable. Since I am not a multitasking person, it was a good thing I didn't. Little did I know how much this painting would test my abilities, patience, and self-confidence to finish it in time for submission to the Fair this year.

I got the idea for this painting from a picture I took in 2008 at a cousin’s, (on my Mother's side), who has a ranch on the Arizona/New Mexico border near Rodeo, New Mexico. Some of the family had gone there for Thanksgiving and a little reunion. Our Great-Grandfather and Great-Grandmother had actually settled there in the late 1800's. The main house today sits near the site of the original one he built. My Great-Grandfather was quite an adventurous man; at the age of 12 he left Tennessee where he was born about 1835 and went to Saint Louis, MO. After a stint in Saint Louis, he decided to go west and came through the Arizona Territory on his way to California and the gold rush of 1849. After various adventures there, he came back to Arizona and continued hauling freight using a Mule train between Yuma and Prescott, AZ. He then ended up in Phoenix, AZ where he met my Great-Grandmother. They left Phoenix, some say because he shot and killed his opponent for the sheriff's race. It was in self defense but that is one way to get rid of your opponent. He withdrew from the race, even though people did not want him to, and they moved to the San Simon Valley on the New Mexico side of the border. This was the time when the Apaches were still active in the area and there were many outlaws too. It would not surprise me if he met or knew Johnny Ringo, The Clanton's, Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, his brothers, Geronimo and many other celebrities of the time. There are some interesting stories about them both in the book Portal to Paradise by Alden Hayes. I remember as a kid my mother telling us a story about our Great Grandmother and how she hid Geronimo from the solders one time. She felt there was good in everyone. Not that I can prove the story but it makes for good telling. I had always wondered why they did move there. Whatever his reasons were I guess we all either need to get the hell out of Dodge for a while or for good! I have to admit though after going to the San Simon Valley I can understand somewhat. The majesty of the Chiricahua Mountains and the wide open spaces are inspiring. I loved getting up early in the morning and walking out away from the ranch compound to watch the sun come up. Ah the stillness! I should say the quietness! My job can be very noisy at times and I am becoming a person that craves places that are not. Maybe I am somewhat like my Great-Grandfather. Give me land, lots of land! Under starry sky’s above! Don't fence me in!

This is the picture I took and used for the background.

The picture of the bird that I used for my painting was taken by Bill Horn, a wildlife photographer from Oklahoma. I am vary thankful to him for allowing me to use it in my painting! He has some amazing pictures of birds on his site. If you click on his name above it will take their.

Ok, enough family history, back to the painting. As I said, the picture was taken out at the ranch. Some of us had gone out to explore an old rustler’s corral. When I saw the light coming through the clouds lighting up the Chiricahua Mountains I couldn't take the picture fast enough. I thought, “That would make a nice painting.” The eye of the artist, always looking for new things to paint! The digital camera I had was an old one and the picture didn't come out that great as you can see. As a result, I struggled with the foreground a lot as to how it should look. My first idea was to have two birds in the painting but I went with just one taken by a wildlife photographer by the name of Bill Horn from Oklahoma. It was a better choice because I wanted people to be able see the mountains as I had that day. As I started work on the sky, I decided to change it from the original picture to have some blue sky showing behind the clouds to add to the dramatics of the painting. Oooh! I am being artsy here. More sarcasm I think! I am pleased as to how the clouds and sky turned out but not happy with myself for how much time I spent on that area. I have a tendency to work and rework areas as you will see and I have to get to a point that I tell myself to stop!! 

In the beginning. Every painting has a starting point.

Once I had both the background and the bird traced it was time to figure out my composition and then transfer the tracings to the board.

Now that everything is down on the board it is time to slap some paint on.

This is how the painting looked when I got started. I wanted to have some blue sky peeking through the clouds but was not sure just how I wanted it to look.

I adjusted the color of the sky because it looked to green to me. I also started on the area behind the bird. I wanted it to look like it was raining off in the distance and have a darker look to it. Like the sky it looked  green also.

I went over the area again behind the bird and mountains. This was my third attempt and I was vary pleased with how it looked. I did come back and change it a little but not much. 

Once I had the sky behind the bird done I started work on the mountains. At first I used a dark color but I didn't feel like I wanted them to be that dark and I realized that if I was going to add detail to them I wouldn't see the lines when I transferred them to the painting.

I was working here and there on the clouds trying to get a since of how I wanted it to look. The area to the left of the bird at first, I felt was looking great but when I came back to it the next day it just didn't look right to me. Also I painted over the mountains with a lighter color so I would be able to see the lines when I transferred a more detailed tracing.

I worked and reworked the clouds a lot as to color and shape but it was at this point that I felt like it was starting to come together.

Here I was pretty much done with the clouds. I really had to tell myself to stop . I was going to come back later and do more work on the clouds in the upper right of the painting but in the end I decide not to. I actually painted the eye of the bird in at this point. Thought it would get me moving forward on other areas.

Next was the tree behind the bird. I cannot tell you how nervous I was to start this area. Once I did, I knew there was no going back and redoing the clouds. I was even thinking of not putting it in but I felt it added depth to the painting. I actually stood there looking at the painting for a long while thinking about that. I finally came to the point that I said, “just do it Mark” When I did I felt a shot of confidence come over me. It was at this point the painting really started to move forward. It was just that all the hard work I had put into the sky and clouds had paid off. Even more so as other areas started to get painted in.
Next were the mountains and this is another area that I am happy how it turned out. At this point I was determined to focus more on just that area and getting it done in a specific time frame. This helped me a lot on other areas of the painting by doing the same thing as I progressed! I did go back and change it a little but not much.

The tree is almost done here and I started adding some detail to the mountains. Also worked on re-establishing the outline of the bird. Doing the sky and clouds behind it pretty much wipe it out.
I then started work on the bird and the valley floor in the background. I was happy with the valley at first but I went back in and added a little detail to give it some more depth and I am glad I did. When I started the bird, things were going good at first but it came to a point that I didn't like the neck area. It was not looking right to me. So I went over it and the breast with white paint and started over. Looking back I didn't need to redo the breast area. I did another more detailed tracing of the neck and breast of the bird than I had in the beginning and started over. After doing some work on the bird I felt that I should finish everything behind it so I started on the row of trees in the middle of the painting. Again, it started out good and then I painted it over with white because I didn't like the way it was looking. I started to get mad at myself because time was getting short and I could not keep going back and re-doing areas. At one point I had to walk away from it after being frustrated and asking myself what am I doing wrong and what do I need to do to get it right! I actually had some good photos that my cousin took but I just kept struggling with how I thought it had to look! I finally had to tell myself, “Who is going to know if it looks exactly like the photo Mark, just paint it!”

Finally getting some work done on the bird and more work on the mountains.

I was struggling with the neck area of the bird here. The feathers just didn't seem to look right to me.

Here is where I painted over the neck and breast area of the bird and started work on the valley and trees .
The mountains were almost done here and I was starting to get the trees painted in just below the mountains. Also decided on what the bird would be setting on. 

My second attempt on the neck and breast area of the bird. Trying to get things perfect. 

At this point I did not like the way the trees were coming out behind the bird. 

So I painted it out and started over. I was starting to get mad at myself for doing this because I did not have the time to keep re-doing areas.

Once I had the trees back in, all I need to do was finish the bird and the the foreground. It may not seem like there is much left to do but time was running out for me. I think at this point, I had maybe a week to finish it. I love cutting it close.

Months came down to weeks and weeks came down to days. It was getting close to the deadline to submit the painting and I still had a lot to do. I felt like a hermit towards the end because when I got home from work I would paint sometimes till midnight, and then all day on the weekends. I did my online registration on the last possible day. To be honest, I was thinking of not doing it this year and waiting until next year. I went ahead and registered. I still had 17 days to finish the painting before I had to turn it in for judging. Part of me wanted to quit but part of me said to keep going. I stuck with it though. I told myself to stay focused, “Mark, you can do this.” I also told myself something my Dad would say to me, “What is your name boy! Then you can do it!” I still had my doubts, even up to the last day I worked on it. Last summer when I started this piece I did not want to be working on it the last day before I had to take the painting up to the fair for judging like I did with the whale painting the previous year. Sure enough I did. I took the day off from work the day before the deadline to submit it for judging just to finish it and it was a good thing I did. When I stopped painting about 9:30 that night I remember being so emotionally drained from painting all day long and depressed at the same time because of the last area I was working on. I just didn't feel like I had done it right. I felt as if I had rushed through it too quickly and it was going to ruin the whole painting. The next day I brought it into work and showed it to some people before I took it up to the Fair. As usual, when I talked about the areas I didn't like, everyone would say, “Why, what is wrong with it”. Like I have stated before, I am a perfectionist. About a month ago one Sunday I was talking to one of the pastor’s at church about my blog. He had commented about how great it was to a friend standing there next to us. I said, “I still had a lot of work to do on it”. And he looked at me somewhat surprised. I thought about his response and the next Sunday I went up to him and thanked him for what he said. I needed the encouragement. I told him how much of a perfectionist I can be at times and he said, “Not everything is going to be perfect”. I know! You think I would know by now!  

The finished piece framed and ready to go to the fair for judging. I had my doubts about getting it done in time. The bush's in the foreground is the one area that I felt I did not do a vary good job at. It was the last part I worked on before I stopped. The funny thing is that no one even thinks there is anything wrong with them. They focus more on the clouds and bird and that is what I wanted. Why was I even worry about it!

When I started writing this blog I thought that getting in to the San Diego Fair would be the end of the story, I did not believe I would win anything with this painting. Little did I know what was about to happen next. The day the Fair sent out the notice of accepted art for 2012, I was at work late and I checked my email, for the third time that day. I knew it would be later in the day because of last year but kept looking anyways. I was so thankful to just get in again, but I still didn't believe that it was good enough to win anything. When I had showed it to family and friends they were saying, “That is a great painting Mark! You are going to win!” I said, “It depends on what the judges think.” I remember my sister getting somewhat mad at me for not thinking it was good enough. I was so fixed on what I thought I had done wrong with it that I started to doubt my own abilities as a good artist.

I was not even planning on going to the awards ceremony this year but family and friends kept encouraging me to go. The day before the reception, I was checking my messages on my cell phone and I had one that at first I thought was from one of my nieces. It turned out to be a lady from the San Diego Fair and she said that I had won an award and she hoped I could be there to accept it. I remember thinking, “I don't believe this!” She didn't say what I had won and I thought it would probably just be an honorable mention. I still was undecided about going. But at the last moment, after receiving more encouragement from friends, I decided to go. I was not really dressed for it. I went straight from work and I was wearing shorts and a tee-shirt. Sitting there before it started I was nervous and I kept telling myself, “It is probably just an honorable mention, and it is not about what you win Mark. You got in again and that is the important thing here”. As the proceedings got started they had asked people to stand for the honorable mention awards so everyone could see them because they were going to hand them out later on downstairs. First, second and third place would receive their ribbons then. I was thinking of not standing up if that was what I won. When it came time for my class and the lady read off all the names for honorable mentions first, mine was not there. I thought, “OK, maybe Third place. Third and Second place came and went without my name being mentioned, I thought, “You have to be kidding me”. When she said, “First place goes to Mark Sanders”. Up went a picture of my painting on the big screen they had set up. I said,”Oh my God”! I think I startled the guy sitting next to me. I was in shock, I really didn't think this or believe it was going to happen. I didn't know what to do or say when I went up to get my award. One of the ladies started to give me a hug and I stood their like an idiot. After a few seconds I said thank you and went back and sat down. At one point I started to get emotional because I wish my parents could have been there to see it. I know how proud they would have been. Afterwards we all were able to go downstairs to see the exhibit. I remember standing there for awhile just looking at my painting and the first place ribbon. As I walked around to look at the other art I came upon some that was done by each judge. To be acknowledged by established artists is a great honor for me and a confidence builder! It is one thing to believe and have faith in yourself, but sometimes it is nice to know that others do too!

First place, acrylic - animals, 2012, San Diego Co fair.

Last Sunday I was talking to a lady at church about my experience. She had won first place with a quilt she had entered in the Fair this year. She commented that because the judges are established artists and that I had won first place, the painting must be good and she had not seen it yet. I thought about her comment and was talking to an artist friend of mine the other day about the judges. I told her that I don't want to get a big head about this experience but I do need to start taking myself more seriously as a good artist! I need to start having more faith in my abilities as one! She said, “Yes you do”! I cannot tell you how much this award means to me! It came at a time when I really needed it. Next year I may not win anything and that will be OK! I am not going to win every time.

Had I done the whale painting I would not have learned what I needed to at this point in time. Looking back on the whole experience, this was the best painting for me to do. It taught me some good lessons about myself, my abilities, staying focused, having more faith and being determined not to quit! I also realize that painting is work, which is why they call it “art work”. And I have to start looking at it that way. I am somewhat ashamed to admit how much I let things about this painting frustrate me at times and my lack of faith in myself. It is not how I want to paint! But it has made me even more determined again to keep at it. Yes, it may not be perfect according to my standards and I actually thought about “fixing” it when I got it back, but I told myself, “NO”! It is going to be a reminder to me in many ways! So it will stay the way it is! I am excited about winning First place this year but the bigger reward here is that I didn't quit even when I felt like it at times! On to the next painting!

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