Taking Risks in the Studio



It is always fun and challenging (and an honor) to work toward an exhibition.  I was especially thankful to have the opportunity to show a large body of work recently at the Hockaday Museum of Art in Kalispell, Montana in 2014.  With a lot of space to fill with my abstract paintings, I was able to divide my work into two categories; the older, mixed media paintings in one gallery, and more current work consisting of encaustics in the other.  Prior to the exhibition, though, there was a very emotional period in my life when my mother passed away from cancer.  She had hoped to come to Montana and visit my exhibition, and I had hoped she would see the 400+ spring bulbs I planted the previous fall, but it wasn’t to be.  Faced with overwhelming emotions, I pushed myself to finish work already begun in the fall, in preparation for the soon approaching exhibition.  Although I was happy with 95% of work I ended up showing, there were two paintings which, as time marched on, did not set well with.  Pictured above on the left is “Turbulence”, a 32×32″ encaustic.  There were some things I liked about this piece, but felt it was too common in composition and didn’t have any magic with regard to color.  As I took it out of its frame and carried the heavy piece into my studio, I knew painting over it would be a high risk situation.  It could end up even worse.  On the other hand, it could perhaps become a piece I could live with for a longer time.  After a process of addition and subtraction, concealing and revealing, I feel I did bring the painting to a better conclusion. Pictured on the right is the new piece, which I have entitled, “Scratching the Surface”.  You can see the colors of the original piece showing through, in small amounts, and they feel more special because they stand out from a high contrast background.  

I feel risk is key in the artistic process.  I know many artists agree with me.  Feeling happy or complacent with technique or process is rare, so rare that I’m not sure the last time I felt this way after a painting session.  Rather, it is a sense of relief that I did something that captured my imagination, felt like me, and held my interest.  These small victories are glimpses into what could be, or what may warrant further exploration.  Risk for me means I should accept the possibility of losing something “good”, to possibly achieve something better, and to realize that regardless of the outcome, I will learn something by taking a risk.   Since it is the process which feeds my spirit rather than the end product, I am happy experimenting, and though feel sick to my stomach when I’ve lost special passages in works in progress, I strive to recapture a different magic through problem solving and not giving up until I achieve it.  (Of course, that doesn’t always happen 😉

What is your process?  Do you invite risk into your studio?  Are you happy with your work, or do you sometimes feel it doesn’t stand the test of time?  I’d love to know more, so please feel free to join the conversation about risk!

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