teach myself to see

after so much time an effort, i found an unexpected pleasure in the realization that it was time to go back to the basic lessons with more attention and humility.

so much of life is the impetus to get on with it, get through it, get it finished, that i had brought this attitude to my painting as well. i got the paint on that paper any old how, moved the brush around whatever way necessary.

this is part of what makes my pictures amateurish: i'm stumbling over myself to get them done.

i noticed this most in my inability to draw accurately, and to lay down a clean pure wash in one pass — but in truth it affected everything about my artistic skills and my attitude to the world.

i realized that i had never really studied how to do a wash, and had neglected drawing exercises, because i did not think i had the time.

winning watercolors in ten easy minutes! i had been following that philosophy all along.

shading a volume — i had seen the demonstrations of how to render shadows on three dimensional solids in some of the better art books (dewey, page, dobie). but i had always rushed by them in my eagerness to slop paint on paper, to make progess.

i even saw these lessons as things i should avoid, because i wanted to learn to see on my own. if there really was some special attribute to shadows, i figured, then i would see it for myself.

but now those lessons had a new charm for me, because they were part of the inexhaustible discipline that i had chosen to follow.

i was experienced enough to want to do beginner's exercises ... i didn't know nearly enough about putting paint on paper.

washes, in particular, were awkward for me. i started to see that some paints work very badly in washes and some work very well. wet in wet effects, such as blossoming, were completely random events in my paintings.

i wanted to learn how to control these aspects of the medium, and specifically to play with them enough to understand what kinds of visual symbols they could produce.

i also wanted to work with large glazed areas, in the style of cotman or carter, to counterbalance the fragmented brushwork of my previous paintings, and because i visualized this style as being somehow more transparent and crystalline that what i had been able to do so far.

i came to these realizations only after i admitted to myself that i was living my whole life as a beginner does, in haste and carelessness, spending precious time seeking what i thought was gain rather than the patient experience of the moment.

i was experiencing the connection between art and insight, and the power of art to teach a kind of seeing that opens doors in many directions.

so i began doing simple volume studies, and explorations of washes and wet in wet effects, and learning perspective drawing. these exercises replaced the color wheels and color swatches. they were the natural next steps in my aspiration to create new images with paint and brush.

on a return visit to eureka, i painted more landscapes, thinking of technique only when the painting or the motif asked a specific question, and when that didn't happen, just doing at each moment what seemed like the best thing to do.

returning to paint each day, with the time i could bring to the task, i would teach myself to see.

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