Now I was there, and it felt hopeless. My professor, the venerable Dr. Murphy, would take great interest in the work of a few of her students. The ones who knew what they were doing. But with me, she would come up behind, watch me paint for a moment, and say the same thing every time.
"Well, finish this one and go on to the next one."
Intimidating. Frustrating. Even embarrassing. Truth is I didn't know what I was doing, and I needed someone to teach me.
But I slogged on, moving from one amateur looking painting to the next, hoping to improve, hoping to one day hear something more from my teacher.
Then it happened.
I was in a smaller studio space, still on the third floor, next to a big window that looked out onto the wooded art terrace. I was painting a brown tree trunk, concentrating on the patterns made by the light coming through leaves. Again, she watched for a few moments, then said, "See that tree out the window?' I want you to go downstairs and go outside and take a good look at the bark of that tree. Then come back up here and tell me what colors you see."
I did what she told me to do. Lo and behold, I did not see brown! I saw reds, blues, greens, beautiful grey violets, ruddy oranges and earthy yellows. Tints and shades of every hue, each one variegated and blending into the next.
It's been 38 years since I sat in Dr. Murphy's painting class and learned to paint. Her well-worn advice to "finish this one and start the next one", is some of the best advice I ever heard when it comes to painting. You have to paint and paint and paint to learn how to paint. You have to observe, sketch, plan, design, yes, all that. But mostly you have to paint.
So these memories have come back vividly to me, since I have started my painting series from the cabin in the woods. All those tree bark colors, grayed down and subtle yet rich and inviting, are silently reminding me of my first attempts at painting.
So, here are a few detail shots from my painting series, which is otherwise off the radar until further notice.
Notice all the color in the tree bark?!
Every color but brown!