ART and Being Satisfied! (It’s much more than copying something!)

Some time near the end of last year I visited the Walter Sisulu Botanic Gardens in order to take reference photographs to paint. It was one of those glorious summer days when the birds seemed to be competing with each other in song, and the trees and perennial plants were trying to outdo each other in their summer garb. To add to the joy of the day, it had rained the previous evening. The once lethargic river, which flows through the gardens, had now become a babbling happy rush of water, determined to get to its predetermined destination as quickly as possible. It was a day in which one could take numerous photos, but instead of taking photos, I just wanted to take in the sights, the sounds, and the fresh earthy fragrances that surrounded me. Eventually I took a few a few photos, and then decided to take time off to languish in the shade of the trees and just rest.

I printed out my photos when I got home and as the last of my photos were busy printing, my printer ink began to run dry! As the printer ejected the last print, which was the one of the babbling river, it produced a print with the most unusual colours. I grabbed the photo and immediately felt inspired to paint.

I set up a large canvas on my easel in my studio and rushed in to paint the picture as quickly as possible. Being a large canvas it was going to take a while to paint, but I persevered day after day. However, the more I worked on the painting, the less enthusiastic and happy I felt about it. It became a task I had to complete, but the initial excitement I had felt about it was gone. I experienced both sadness and disappointment with the painting. It lacked a good focal point – I had expected much more from it. Eventually I set it aside and began working on other projects.


(I had no sense of being at peace with the painting!)

Recently, I was looking through an art book I have, which has photos of many of the Old Masters Paintings in it. The Sistine Chapel frescos are in this book. One of Michelangelo’s tremendous frescos, in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, depicts the magnificent picture of the creation of man. God is reaching out His finger to man, and man having just been created, is reaching toward God. Their fingers do not touch, because man is not an amoebic extension of God. Man is external to God, free to be fully human, to think, reason, and create. What to me seems quite important, in this picture of God, is that His other arm is thrown backward, and there are two kinds of figures under His arm. There are some cherubs, and then there is a face of a women, who looks startled, but magnificent. Most people think this is the face of Eve. She is not yet created, but she is in the mind of God.

This thought ‘she was in the mind of God but not yet created’ got me thinking about how, and why, we artists love to paint. Inspiration is the first stimulus. Something catches our attention, it stirs a desire in us, and then we want to express that stimulation. We want to share our incitement with others. I went back to my “dissatisfaction painting” and carefully studied it. Then I asked the following questions:

  • What is it that disturbs me?
  • Why do I feel the painting disappoints me?
  • How can I turn it into something that inspires?

Once I had truthfully answered these questions I took my courage in both hands and painted out a huge section of the painting with a lovely dark mixture of Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber. I left it to dry.

While the ‘blocked out’ section was drying, I kept looking at it as I completed other paintings. I reminded myself of the day I went to the Walter Sisulu Gardens. I tried to remember the feelings and sensations I had felt on that beautiful day. Gradually it all came to me. I had originally been inspired by the beauty of all creation around me – not the printed picture from the failing ink supply of the printer. I had copied something simply because it looked good, but I had forgotten that the emotion behind that picture was far more important. With this realisation I was ready to tackle the painting once more.

As I painted in the necessary changes, I began to sense a feeling of rest. It was a good lesson to learn! Inspiration should never be hurried, and the emotion of the moment should never be forgotten. Creating a painting comes from within you – it is not just copying what you see. Yes, all the nuts and bolts that make a painting a good picture should be there! But it’s much more than that, – it’s about expressing the emotion behind your inspiration to paint.

‘There is a place of quiet rest…’

The first person to see the painting once it was completed said “I need that painting – I have just the place to hang it! It gives me a sense of peace and quiet.” And me? I am satisfied – the painting has achieved its purpose!


September 8, 2016

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