.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Creative Process

This blog will follow the process of my current project: a series of three 5' x 9' figure paintings called "The Feast of Venus". I'll be posting the preliminary drawings and oil sketches as I complete them, and possibly add some commentary along the way. I have just begun this project and am working on the first painting in the series which has the working title "Stirring the Pot". All images on this blog are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without permission.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

An insane day today with a million distractions: umpteen phone calls in the morning about my friend's care, then a big wind storm knocked the power out for almost seven hours. I live in the country and we get our water from a well. The pump needs electricity; when the power goes out so does the water, yuck. I can't get a cup of tea and there is no music in the studio. Music and tea are essential to my concentration. Did I mention that there was so much water in the air my brushes lost their spring and the paint was all gummy? But somehow I painted well. It was a miracle.

I feel a little more comfortable with the salter today. The new costume makes her look more modern and less like a character from the Sound of Music. I like the stance better too. One of the reasons I soured on that figure was a remark made by a visitor to my studio. Looking at this sketch she said she thought the salter looked "European" and wondered what the significance of that was in relation to the ethnicity of the other figures. I was completely taken aback. I don't think like that. I don't get my figures out of neatly labeled boxes. I live in a diverse world and that is what is natural to me to paint. So I felt awful: suddenly my happy group of gals jabbering away and making their soup together looked like a bunch of painted porcelain figurines - especially the "European" salter.

I think I'm getting over that horrible feeling now, but my new rule is that no one (except Tom of course) is allowed to see these sketches in the studio until I am finished with the big painting. That was always my rule with figure compositions (I wouldn't even discuss what I was doing with anyone) until I started this blog. But then I thought: I'm posting this for the world to see, how can I keep people out of the studio? Well, I've thought about it now and it makes perfect sense. Showing this work to you, gentle viewers, is completely different. We are not face to face. I never see your lifted eyebrows. It is true I check my stat counter once a day (okay, twenty times a day, but who's counting) but all it can tell me is how many of you stop by, the location of your servers (which may have little to do with your actual location) and how long you stay. It is as if I have hung my pictures in a gallery and, through a two-way mirror, I watch the people come in. Some turn right around and walk out; some pause and look at a picture. I never see anyone's face, all I see are shadows. Sometimes one of the shadows has a shape I think I recognize and I say "That's Gabrielle" or "There's Karen" but it is only a guess and I am probably wrong. I love it this way. I like it that people are seeing my work, but I don't want to know everything they think about it. And the life of an artist is very isolated; it is nice to have some quiet company. Thanks for coming.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I changed the headgear of the salter again. The scene in the studio today was pretty amusing: I donned the costume and painted using a mirror. But that figure still bothers me. No matter what I do to it or how much I (seemingly) improve it, I'm just not happy. I can think of two reasons for this. One is that I used myself as the model and, frankly, I think I have a fairly uninteresting face. Secondly, I think the expression is too cheerful: it shows only one emotion; there is no cross current. To fix the expression is almost impossible: this painting is just too small to model the features with more subtlety. Not to mention the time it would take. At some point I'm going to have stop working on this and paint something I can sell - unless someone out there in the blogosphere would like to fund an artist's endless fiddling with one small figure in one little study for what will be a large and profound work.

Tomorrow I think I will just draw. I need a good study of the shirt and apron on the salter. They looked incredible in the studio light. The sleeve swirling around the raised arm was like something out of Caravaggio and the white apron's stiff skirt and wide cinched waist made a silhouette like the line of a Japanese print.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I'm cheating a bit here: this post shows two days' work. The one on top is what I did today and the one on the bottom is yesterday's.

I had to quit early today. A friend of mine is in the hospital with a broken ankle and it took me two hours on the phone to straighten out what her home care will be when she gets out. Tomorrow will be more phoning and a trip to the hospital, which is 45 minutes away. I care very much for her; she needs me. There is no question in my mind but that I'll do whatever I have to do to help her as she is somewhat dependent on me at this point. But there is a big part of me that is in tears over the disruption of my work. It has always been that way for me: since I was thirteen (and I'm now forty-six) I just could not bear to let anything come between me and my time painting. Actually, I think it quite a sign of maturity (or am I just losing my edge?) that I am able now to sacrifice painting time for someone else.

It is a strange thing, but once you feel the irresistable compulsion to paint you feel like the whole universe is designed to stop you from doing so. More on this later.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Today I was finally able to move away from my fixation on the head on the left and start digging into the rest of the composition; it feels great! The bottom image is what I had at the beginning of the day and the one on top is where I ended.

When I was working on the drawing for the head of the salter (the one I did using three mirrors and myself as the model) I had an amazing experience: I was just looking in the mirror, studying the way the light fell on my head and figure, when I put my hand up to approximate where the light would fall on the second figure (the one tasting the soup). I wanted to see how much shadow the first figure would cast and get some idea of the way the light would move on the second figure. As I moved my hand in and out of the cast shadow I had a sudden vision of the space in my studio as a volume of light. I saw the room of light as if it were a block of transparent, luminous marble and I saw that composing my painting was like carving a block of light.

I've pondered this way of seeing for a few days now. I didn't write about it earlier because it wasn't relevent to my struggles with the head. I usually rely heavily on rhythm for composition; I use the light to illustrate the rhythm, to organize the painting and for dramatic effect (to see my other figure compositions, click on Elizabeth Torak Web Site in the links and look for "The Fates", "The French Fry Eaters", "The Maenads" and "The Beat Goes On") Though I've always loved form and depth and would be the first to tell you that light gives a sense of form, I've never experienced the sculptural power of light until now, never felt it kick me in the gut before. I'm quite curious to see how this changes my work.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

I got back to work again today after four days without painting.

I hate to be away from my work. When I'm compelled by necessity (or exhaustion) to leave off I can't wait to get back. I miss my studio's pool of quiet light; I'm haunted by unfinished thoughts. In bed at night I see just which subtle stroke would make my budding picture bloom; in dreams my fingers close around a brush. But sadly, inevitably, when I do return nothing is as I imagined it would be: there is awkwardness. I can't quite concentrate; I can't get comfortable. I start and stop and wipe out, get a cup of tea, take a nap, and feel dissatisfied. If I'm lucky, at the very end of the day the magic finally happens. With the last wisp of light I make the connection and the energy flows. From me to my work or the other way around? I don't know, but I find the link again and am happy - which is to say I'm miserable in the usual delightful way.

Today I worked on the head on the left - again. I've posted before and after pictures here. This time I was trying to correct the size of it, make it a little larger. Tom suggested moving the right eye up and out a bit and pointed out that the bottom of the head seemed fine: it was the top that was too small. I did that and it was miraculous: without changing the outline the head appeared larger. Note to my fellow artists: if something seems too small, try changing the width, not the length. This is essentially what I did.

Eventually the light died and I was forced to abandon ship. Initially I was pleased with what I did, but now I'm not so sure. The size is fine, but I don't know if I'm happy with the expression. I can't keep painting this one head over and over for the rest of my life - or can I ?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

I worked on this again yesterday, using the drawing as a guide, and I think it is much better - although obviously I need to adjust the color. Also I'm concerned that the head of the salter is just a tad too small. I need to decide whether to completely repaint it or try to live with it the way it is since this is just a study. I don't know yet and I won't have time to paint again until Tuesday at the earliest. (Sadness. I hate leaving my work.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The oil is a detail of the figure on the left from the study of three women I've been working on- I think I'll start calling her "the salter". I worked on this figure yesterday and after working for hours, painting and repainting the head this is where I ended up. As you can see I pretty much wiped out, or, to use a euphemism, "remassed it". I posted this image last night and then took it down because I was so unhappy about it.

So today, instead of spending another day in frustration trying to paint the features out of my imagination, I decided to do a study on paper using myself as a model. Modeling involved setting up three mirrors so that I could draw myself without having the eyes looking straight out at the canvas. It wasn't easy to set up the mirrors; I would have given up in frustration if Tom, my husband and fellow artist, hadn't come along and helped. Also, looking at myself in a raking light, with no makeup and my hair pulled back in an unflattering way was a shock to the system. But I put those dreary thoughts aside, drew for four or five hours and was pretty happy with the result. In fact I forgot all about my looks so happy was I to be drawing in a good light with a model I didn't have to chat with- or pay!

Friday, September 09, 2005

This is what I did today. Yesterday's work is lost: I made a mistake in photographing it and now I've painted over what I had. It is too bad because I am really enjoying watching the evolution of a painting now that I have this blog. It is the first time I have ever photographed each day's work and really looked at it and seen the changes. It is rather unnerving. I feel like I lose as much as I gain with each stroke of the brush: what I gain in clarity, I lose in mystery. But I know from past experience that to leave a painting in a sketchy state is ultimately unsatisfying too. Paintings that are too sketchy don't hold my interest very long; after they hang on the wall for a few years they stop looking fresh and inspired and just start looking thin and unfinished. Not unlike people who try to stretch free-wheeling youth into their fifties.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

I finally got back to work on this today after many interruptions e.g. Labor Day, other work ( to see the other work click on On The Easel in the links roll on the left)

Scroll down to see this sketch in an earlier state. I've been working on the figure on the left. At the moment it is something of a self-portrait, but that could change as I go on.