My Moto for the last two years has been “have courage.” I realized that whether you have a fear of success or of failure, what’s at the root of both is the fear of change and of the unknown. Will things really be better? What if they get worse? This fear sometimes creeps up when I paint. Any mistake can lead to a painting being absolutely horrid or completely wonderful, and that fear can be paralyzing if I let it take over.
In May and June of 2018 I had a solo exhibition called “Flowers and Their Meanings” at the Park Ridge Public Library in New Jersey. This featured paintings from my series “Flowers in the Garden.” Hands down, Roses in a Yellow Cloud was the star of the show. The vibrant yellow and red against the dark stems and leaves certainly made heads turn. Although bright colors tend to activate our minds, there’s something soothing and soft about this painting. When I started this piece I didn’t intend to go in this direction, but it happened because I didn’t let fear get the best of me.
Many years ago I read a book that has left a long-lasting impression in my mind. In it there’s a dictionary of flowers and their meanings in Victorian times. In this era, each flower, plant or fruit was used to send secret messages among the aristocracy. For example, a red rose was sent as a symbol of love while a petunia said “your presence soothes me.” I’ve never been one to really enjoy flowers, but when given a meaning, I have a different appreciation for them. So I started the process of painting a series of flowers that would express feelings and meanings through the flowers, their colors, and the colors that would surround them.
You see, I’m not really one to fully mix my colors on my palette. I mix my colors when my intention is to make something very specific and precise. Most of the time, however, I want my paintings to flow and for my colors to be as close to spontaneous as possible. I set the colors out that I would normally need for a specific color. Rather than mixing them, I just dip my brush into the different paints and then move my brush into the shapes, shadows, and highlights I create. I continue to layer, dark where I need dark, light where I need light, and out come these shapes with multiple colors. If you look at the roses from afar, they just look like red roses, but up-close you can see every single color that has come together to create each shadow and curvature.
The Final Touches
The original background was a pink and purple. As always, my background came from paints left over while creating other paintings. The flowers I originally intended to make were yellow in order to contrast the background. What I ended up with was this kind of red that I just didn’t want to let go of. I had to make a choice between my roses and my background. With every painting there’s always a little bit of fear that any change I make may ruin the painting forever. I can’t predict the future, but I can imagine what it could be like. I knew that my indecision was keeping me from painting, so I went for it and chose to change the background. I had never made such a drastic change to a painting I liked. The more I studied the painting, I knew something wasn’t right and so I had to go with my intuition. I created many shades of yellow, constantly changing the amount of each paint that was on my palette without any precise reason for the amount I had of each. It was an intentional spontaneity.
What if I hadn’t taken a risk and ignored my fear? Roses in a Yellow Cloud wouldn’t be what it is. I now have a technique I’m able to and have been able to use in other successful paintings. I’m not sure if I feared failure or success. What’s important is that I took a risk, followed my intuition, and made the change I needed to make. “Have courage" continues to be my moto because overcoming fear is something I work on regularly. Maybe you do, too.