Just Get to the Next Aid Station

Posted by on Jun 21, 2018 in Blog | No Comments

Just get to the next aid station. These are words that if you are involved with long distance running you might have heard before. (If you’re not a runner, stick with me, I promise to talk about painting.) If things are feeling hard, don’t think about the big picture or the end goal. Don’t think about how many miles you have left to run. It can be too big to get your head around when you are struggling in the here and now. Just put one foot in front of the other. Just get to the next aid station. You can reassess then. Often your perspective will change. And if not, you can always decide to just get to the next aid station and take it from there. Repeat. Before you know it, you very well may be smiling again.

I shared this analogy with my teenage daughter recently when some missing math assignments were piling up and her end of year deadline was looming. My daughter was working hard on other projects, and was busy with a variety of other things. It got to the point where she just felt overwhelmed by the big task of catching up and she became paralyzed to begin. We discussed breaking it down into smaller more manageable goals. Yes, it may seem obvious but when you are in the thick of it sometimes you can forget how to keep moving forward.

A few Saturdays ago, I was out on a long run at Point Reyes and a series of decisions put me on a longer path than I had initially planned. It was all good though — it was a beautiful day and I was feeling great. Then I took a wrong path (not on my map) and went up a trail and eventually came to a dead end. Really, a dead end, are you kidding me? Dead ends, when you are already running longer than planned, can be demoralizing. But I took a deep breath and thought…just get to the next aid station, in this case, back to the start of my almost 2.5 mile round trip bonus trail. As I retraced my steps, I toyed with the idea of heading back to the main parking/trailhead I had come through earlier where I had chatted to a ranger and see if I could catch a ride back to my car, or at least closer to my car. But while it felt difficult right then, once I got back to where I veered astray and discovered the correct trail was literally around the corner, I switched to hiking for awhile, consumed some much needed calories, and my positive mindset soon returned as I headed up the steep path.

What does all of this have to do with my painting?

Red Sky Warning was another beast of a painting to paint. It went through a crazy amount of change. This way of working has become a familiar part of my new process that I have written about before — consistently painting over areas that no longer work for me, no matter how much time I’ve spent on something. And even when I truly thought this painting was done and sat down and wrote this blog post prior to photographing the work, I then decided I wanted to change just one more area in a large jungle that use to exist behind the leopard and beach. Just a few more strokes. Really.

Ultimately, I felt the jungle just wasn’t working. There were lots of paint details that I really liked, a few problems areas I kept tweaking, but overall, it just seemed boring. I was searching for more. Bold moves were needed. I was more interested in using color and shapes and textures rather than a more literal representation to convey my ideas. Eventually I surrendered to what it is now.

I think I kind of like it. I especially like some of the subtleties of paint and texture when viewed up close, and the juxtaposition of a variety of marks. I do also like the leopard in which I used multiple photographs as reference rather than a single image, in part to help get away from resorting to my tendency towards realism. Yet when I look at this piece, I question, is this how I want to paint? Both the frustrating process described above and the content. Even though it is an abstracted landscape, it still has the constructs of a real space, with a sky and ground. Wasn’t I trying to move away from this? And it’s narrative. The painterly qualities in this piece are what I find the most interesting. Do I want to stick with representation and some type of narrative? If so, how do I want to do it differently? If not, then what? In my head I have grand visions (as many artists probably do). Exactly what they are, I haven’t quite figured out. There are so many possibilities. It can at times feel overwhelming and potentially paralyzing.

You’ve probably guessed that this would be a good time to insert the previously mentioned running phrase here. Just get to the next aid station. I really can’t think too much about the big picture. I don’t have to know where my paintings are headed and how they will look in a year from now. I don’t have to consciously decide on a style, it may naturally develop, or perhaps not. I have to break my work down into smaller manageable parts, one painting at a time. Right now, I really have no idea what my next painting will look like. Or what that one will lead to next.

In case you are wondering, my daughter was happy to turn in all of her missing math assignments by the final deadline. I had an amazing 33+ mile running adventure with a well earned beer at the finish. And in the studio, I’m going to just get to the next aid station.

Red Sky Warning, Acrylic on Canvas, 2018, 36 x 48 inches (Click on image for larger view)