The Fire is inside the house but it is not burning it up. It is also expanding and growing out side the house, swirling in the sky. To me, this painting is about that passion or drive that we have- at times burning us up inside. When it has a chance to get out, it only grows and becomes more fervent.
For me, this passion is art. It has always been art, and I hope it always will be. I shouldn’t say always, because I wasn’t born doing art- it was only through my schooling that I discovered my passion for art, specifically oil paints. I remember some passion driven art pieces going all the way back to a cotton ball and crayon creation in preschool. I had such a vision for what I wanted to make with the materials! (It was an alien ship). This continued, but flitting from medium to medium until my mom found a box of oil paints being thrown out and brought them home to me to try. It was love- true, burning and fervent. That was 20 years ago and the passion has only grown. It has not consumed me but spread into the atmosphere around me.
The waters begin to rise. You panic. You rush around, trying to stop it. You pray, you plead, you fear. But they continue to rise. And rise. And rise some more. Until you can struggle against it no more. It is happening whether you like it or not. And finally you slow down in exhaustion and acceptance, and you breathe. You peacefully remember that your head is still above water, and you can still breathe. And that is a blessing.
Sooner or later, the waters will recede. Your life might be unrecognizable from where it was before, but does it matter? You are still in there. And once the waters drain, you will be able to see, if only a little at a time, what you should do next.
Overheard more than once at one contemporary art show or another: “My toddler could paint that!!”
A few years ago I had the absolute pleasure of visiting the Milwaukee Art Museum while they had their Rebels show, which included (among many others) Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Camille Pissaro, and my idol Vincent Van Gogh to name a few. I was in absolute awe in viewing in person many of these paintings that i’ve idolized as an artist and art lover over the years.
When sharing my awe over the show, I heard comments in different forms, about how simple some of the art seems, and how “anyone could do that” sort of idea. It really struck me at first, and I almost got trapped into that sort of thinking.
Years of trial and error are behind any great piece of art.
What you don’t see when looking at these works that seem simple- is the background for the artist. All the trials, all the experimenting, all the failures to finally come across that one great idea. For many artists, it’s more than just trial and failure to find success. It’s a deep, inner obsession that consumes the mind. That leads them to keep searching and struggling- sometimes at great cost to their careers, families, or mental health. Sacrifices for the inner drive-that they might not even be able recognize or name until it happens.
I recently made a discovery in my studio- a much easier way to paint what I have been trying to paint for years. And it’s so easy and fun, i’ve decided to start teaching the method to those interested. And i’m sure i’ll encounter students in my classes that might be tempted to think “wow, it’s so easy”. But I hope they will also see that artist behind the concept. It’s one thing to look at someone’s idea and repeat the concept.
Without experimenting and failures, yes it does seem simple.
Make sure you consider this the next time you are tempted down the path of thinking of a form of art as easy or simple. Sit down and try it yourself. And you’ll see, probably immediately that it’s not as easy as they made it look. And consider and respect all the background work that was done to lead up to that one big great idea.
Our histories, memories and experiences are all woven together to the fabric that colors and guides our decisions, days and futures. They all touch other memories, connect, blend and effect each other. One thing leads to another, leads to another. They all come together and make us who we are, waking, sleeping and decision making. Speaking, praying and thinking to ourselves in those quiet times. The joys and the tragedies are all there, whether conscious and clear, or mostly forgotten and hazy. Each one is our own personal heritage and powerfully guides us as we continue on.
This painting is called The Mountain Pass and is inspired by the always stellar photography of my friend Wayco Beckman. I have been inspired by Wayco’s photography over and over again through the years, so much so that we are planning a joint show of his photos and my paintings this summer.
For this painting, I focused in on the line of the road shown in the photo. In the photo, the sky is cloudy and the top of the mountain is covered with clouds. This inspired me to swirl the sky in subdued (for me) colors, and to emphasize the line of the road by keeping the shapes in the foreground.
I called it The Mountain Pass because the road/line seems perhaps a bit treacherous, but probably necessary to follow anyways. Like most things in life that are difficult, the accomplishment is usually worth the challenge or the experience gained along the way.
I recently tried rock painting with one of my older art students, followed by trying it with my 2 younger sons. Take it from me, if you haven’t tried rock painting yet, be prepared to become addicted! It is so fun for all ages, and once you sit down and start painting, more and more ideas will flood your brain!
Rock painting is a very approachable, easy and fun art activity for all ages and abilities. Great for kids, parties, family gatherings, school groups, artist groups and more– I could go on forever! Below are my tips to help you along.
Tips and Tricks for Rock Painting
Find several rocks of different sizes and shapes and wash them all up at once. Smooth, flat and round rocks provide a “blank canvas” to add your ideas, and rocks with more personality/cracks/chips/holes etc. allow you to create a unique design according to the features of the particular rock. WARNING: You’re fooling yourself if you think you “only want to paint one rock”, because once you start, you’re going to want to do more! My 7 year old didn’t want to paint any, but ended up doing about 8! Washing any dirt and loose parts off with water is enough- let them dry completely on a towel or out in the sun– even better!
Paint large fields with acrylic paints, and apply 2-3 coats to make the colors very bright. This will also help them last longer. You’ll find that some rocks really soak the paint in as it dries. There are a few ways around this if it bugs you: you can coat you rocks in Gesso paint first (if you plan on painting the whole rock) or you can paint your shape with a coat of white paint or Gesso first, then once that dries paint your chosen color.
If you are impatient like me, or just have a time constraint, have a blow dryer on hand to help dry paint between layers!
Use Sharpie Oil Based Paint pens for small shapes and details. These are one of my favorite products! I use them in my work, and my students of all ages love them too. They are very easy to control, and the quality of color is great. If you want to do any lettering, fine details, dots– or just plain don’t have a small brush on hand, these are a great tool. These are easy to find online or at your local craft store.
Finally- once everything is thoroughly dried, coat your rocks in a Spar Urethene Outdoor Varnish Spray. This will make them safe for outside or just help protect them from scratches and chipping if you decide to keep them inside. Stop by your local hardware store and ask for an outdoor spray varnish!
More Ideas and Community Connections
I’ve taught classes on creating “Rock Monsters”, make whole words- one letter per rock, pick a theme like flowers, birds, super heros, pac-man ghosts, or just dots and stripes!
Make sure to search on Facebook for a rock painting group in your community if you really want to get involved. There are groups that paint rocks and hide them- posting pictures for people to find. What a great way to get artistically involved in your local community! Try searching for “Kindness Rocks” or look by your county or city name. Here is the group in my community.
Vincent Van Gogh is the artist that most inspired me to become an artist. It was a great experience to watch Loving Vincent, and I found it extremely thought provoking and inspiring. The film is an experience to say the least, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. For anyone who is an artist, dabbles in art at all, loves art or knows and artist, or loves the work of Vincent Van Gogh, this is a must see. I’m going to break it down into a few key points as to why you should carve out 95 mins of you life to learn and experience VVG’s art and life as never before, and it couldn’t be a more interesting ((and true!)) story.
From an Artist Point of View
I’ve always deeply loved Vincent Van Gogh’s work, and it is definitely one of the main points of inspiration that lead me to becoming an artist myself. Having started creating work at age 28, and dying at age 37, Van Gogh was intensely prolific but only sold 1 painting during his lifetime. The burden of his fervent, creative mind as well as a dysfunctional childhood and young-adulthood were the cornerstones to his tragic story. He is now hailed as a founding father of modern art, and it pains me that he never saw his art make the impact that it made and is still making. After watching this film, which is animated using hand painted oil paintings, my mind was burning with inspiration, and everywhere I looked I saw the potential of a scene to paint. I can only imagine this is what it was like to walk around as Vincent on a daily basis, nearly consumed by vision, and constantly trying to not be incapacitated by it.
As an Art Lover/Supporter of Artists
The film is beautifully animated, and each second is a treat for your eyes. They incorporate 120 of VVG’s actual paintings, and the characters in the film are subjects from his work. The story is woven together from his actual letters to friends and family to tell the story of his life and death. You will gain a deeper appreciation for art, painting, and that screw loose that most artists have– and must have– in order to be driven to create. The people around him who saw his potential supported and loved him for who he was, which he desperately needed.
As A Parent
It is heartbreaking to learn about the disappointment VVG felt he was to his family. As he passed through failure after failure career wise, the depiction of the need he had for pleasing his parents nearly had me in tears. It was the support of his brother that even enabled him to create art (and get mental help) but in the end the guilt of the burden he was to his brother was too much to bear. This strikes me very much- that the feeling of “my parents don’t like me” can be so deeply damaging to a child and carry through into every aspect of life. This will make me hug my children more, encourage them in their interests and talents, and love (and like) them for the people they are, not the people I think they should be.
As a Person with a Fervent Mind
I experience what I call “fervent mind”- in which the creative ideas and passions are coming easily and quickly, and i’m very driven to be in my studio creating. During these times, regular life is a bit difficult to keep up with, but i’m lucky enough to be able to go back and forth between my responsibilities and my artwork without becoming incapacitated. I can only imagine what it is like to have your fervent mind running at all times- and you can see in the film what difficulty VVG had making connections with people and having relationships. It’s a reminder to me to take care of myself and my mind, and to seek help through counseling or more when the cracks in my mind become chasms that I can’t cross on my own. I wonder what he would have been able to accomplish had he been able to receive modern treatment for depression or bi-polar disorder. Also a reminder that those that deal with mental illness on any level still have plenty to offer our world, and they may be a genius struggling under the weight of their gifts.
I think that’s my complete thoughts, though this film will continue to swirl in my thoughts and in my eyes for a long time to come. My final tip is to watch the film at a time of day when you are wide awake- you won’t want to doze off during this one or you’ll miss details in the conversations and dialog that will leave you confused. Pick a time when you’re free from distraction and have the energy to stay awake and watch!
Most of all, enjoy the beauty of the work in the film and the interesting and true story of an amazing and inspirational artist.