Monday, January 6, 2014

Making Art: The Unavoidable Risk

"Onward" by Jim Carpenter, Watercolor and Acrylic on Paper, 22" x 30"

"What am I afraid of? It's only a piece of paper!" 

We hear so often that it is essential to take risks in art making, and yet I never really had anyone tell me what the risks are.  That is, except for the young theatre director who told me that the improv she was having her actors do was intended to make them feel so totally foolish that they would get used to the fear of looking foolish.  I concluded that the risk in art was that you could end up looking like a fool. Since then I've added: fear of being wrong, fear of not conforming, fear of being an outlier, fear of being rejected, fear of failure, and last but not least, the ever awful fear of ruining a $3.50 sheet of watercolor paper.  

Authenticity: Inevitable Risk 

Once I stopped painting pots of flowers and started to paint from a more intuitive place, I began to deal with the risks of authentic self-expression.  I see enough of the images that I carve out of the paint to see a theme, and to see what are becoming almost stock images that appear over and over again in a similar stage setting.  In this painting, "Onward," there is the familiar figure in the robe, the light shining from some other source, a sense of movement toward or focus on or of being transfixed by the light, figures in the light, in front of the light, out of the light.  

I don't want to explain the figures. I choose not to try to explain what these images might mean to me.  I want them to remain a visual metaphor, one unlimited and undefined by words.  And besides, isn't it risk enough just to present the images?  

Writing a blog is every bit as risk-taking as painting if you are going to be authentic and publish it on the Internet.  I write because it is in the writing that I discover the lesson that creative experience holds for me.  And I write the blog to build fortitude in taking ownership of my work and the themes that are reflected in it.  Might it also encourage a reader to explore the benefits of writing a blog which serves as a tool for self-reflection and illumination?

Onward: To Turn Toward

This painting was started over a year ago, when I was exploring returning to watercolor and applying some of the techniques I use when painting with acrylic. Eventually I added acrylic to the watercolor painting before abandoning it to the "unfinished" pile. Here is what it looked like when I returned to it.

In my "finishing" I wanted to put the emphasis on the tall central figure, and take the emphasis off of all of the other figures.  I grayed-down the gold and warmed up the gray, darkened the darks and lightened the light around the central figure.  I also covered the other figures with an opaque acrylic wash.  

As I took each step I could see the other figures losing their pull, becoming secondary characters for the moment, and allowing the story to be focused primarily on the figure in the robe.  However,  the other figures are an essential element in the composition and the narrative, the role of each suggested by their posture, their placement, and their substance.  

"Onward," which comes from the Old English root "weard" meaning to "turn toward," seemed a proper title even before I looked up its etymological meaning. 


  1. Love your paintings and reading about the deeper meaning. Face the fear and do it anyway.

    1. Thanks, Patt! Yes, face the fear and do it anyway! Great title for a blog post! :-)

  2. Love this one too, Jim! And yes, we artists have to face many fears. Taking Risks is a name of one of my paintings too! It was when I just said, "What the heck?" and went for it! Those are usually my best paintings! Welcome back to 30 in 30! Looking forward to your post today. Hint, hint!