Watercolor has been my primary medium for forty years, and still, somehow, the medium manages to stay just beyond my grasp. The learning process has mainly been a matter of letting go – giving up control – so that painting becomes more and more an act of watching the paint do what it wants. Content becomes less and less specific, until, sometimes, it is released entirely.
For as long as I have been painting, I have also been teaching. The two practices are now inextricably interwoven. Painting influences teaching, of course, but just as often what I’m teaching can have an effect on how I paint. The need to articulate the subtleties of seeing form rather than content, for example, has helped me gain detachment from my immediate agenda while I am painting.
Over the years, I have acquired a reputation as someone to work with when you want to loosen up your brushwork or simplify your approach. This is a lot to live up to. Trying to stay one step ahead of my students on the “free and easy” scale may have accelerated my own evolution. Who can say which came first?
Recently, a friend asked the tricky question, “What happens when the magic is gone?” That got me thinking back, forty years ago, when I had a fairly clear idea of what I wanted to see in my paintings. Light! That was the magic for me. If I could count on creating a convincing illusion of light in a picture, I would be a happy painter. Little by little, I learned how I could translate light into color and value. But, by the time I could pull off the illusion more often than not, the goal had shifted. It wasn’t about light anymore. Instead, I wanted to make paintings that had guts, whatever that was. And that was subsequently replaced by surprise. Now, I want to be surprised by my own brushstrokes.
Apparently, by the time we can grasp the carrot, something else is dangling from the end of the stick, just out of reach. In this way, I think, we keep evolving, and the magic takes care of itself.