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Summer Cardinals

 Summer Cardinals. April 2014. Oil on canvas. 24 x 30.

It’s taken me a while to figure out how I feel about this painting. Looking at it closely, to me it feels both reckless and methodical. And that’s very much how I approach just about everything that I do. So I feel weird when I look at it, because to my eyes it’s a mirror, reflecting back to me all the flaws and strengths of the way I approach life. I find that to be a pretty uncomfortable feeling. Impulsive but planned, thoughtful and thoughtless, careful but at the same time careless. Trekking into the woods with only one corner of the map. I keep myself on a tight leash, but inside I’m really quite the emotional train wreck, and I feel like no painting of mine reflects that more strongly than this one.

I don’t think much about why I paint. To me it’s just an impulse, “I paint because I must” without really knowing what would happen if I were to stop. It feels like an addiction. Like there’s something in my blood that craves it. I stumbled into it and now I can’t stop. So sometimes it can feel like being in an out of control car. With that it mind, you can understand that I have no overarching goals. I’m not trying to accomplish much of anything. I’m painting just to paint, and trying to produce a painting that feels more or less complete (which means being able to walk away from it without feeling like the entire thing is nagging me), which is pretty much just running a race with the goal of crossing the finish line. Trying to do the best that I can, but often not trying too terribly hard. Sometimes I get a surge of ambition(!) and I really try to do my very best, and expand my skills, all that, but it didn’t happen here. This painting happened during something of a slump.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m painting to feel something, because my emotions are wild cats and they do their own thing, but painting means calling them over, and sitting down with them so we can have a chat. It’s enjoyable to socialize with wild cats (even if I might walk away feeling like the cats are crazy and do nothing but bite me), and it’s enjoyable to create something. There’s a technical side to art, but there’s also an emotional one, and those edges blur and bleed into each other. Struggling with technique affects your emotions, struggling with emotions affects your technique. I’m shy, nervous, doubtful of myself and everything around me. I get impatient. Sometimes I really want to get things right, sometimes I just don’t care. One day I’ll worry, the next I’ll be floating on the breeze, confident everything will just work out. I enjoy winging it. When I write fiction, I write with the express purpose of winging it, because it’s thrilling, not knowing where you’re going, taking a leap and having to put faith in yourself, the words, the wind. But I’ve found it hard to paint that way. I do paint that way, a little bit. But not entirely.

But what I’m saying is, that explains a lot about, say, this painting. Because I examine aspects of it, and I think “well, clearly, I just didn’t care.” But I examine other aspects, and can’t help but think “yet, at the same time, clearly I cared quite a lot.” And that jumbled disconnect makes me feel uncomfortable. Why? I don’t know. Maybe I feel like it reflects poorly on my character. Because I think: sloppy. Chaotic, but also constrained. Painted by someone who clearly doesn’t know what they want or what they're doing. I look at these cardinals and I hardly see the painting, what I see instead are images that say: you are still an anxious, emotional brat. Weird things surface in my paintings. Sometimes it’s a lot of nothing. Other times it’s the strongest things: great loves, great fears. And look, I’m just saying, this is what I feel, because I’m in that odd position of being the person who made it. The average person probably looks at it and sees a whole lot of nothing, or, y’know, a pretty picture. Some funky cardinals. But what’s the point of painting if you’re not trying to learn something, to explore something, to get something out of it? Maybe a pretty picture is enough? But for me that’s not enough. That’s my explanation for why I have to look back at all the layers.

As I mentioned: I was going through a slump while I was painting this. Frustration and jumbling sad/angry emotions unrelated to painting were swirling around while I was working on it. Naturally it affected me. But that just highlights the habits I keep falling into, the ones I’ve really started to notice recently. That I have a tendency to rush when I shouldn’t. To make rash decisions. I forget to measure, to check details. I’m prone to getting lost, often in my own tangled web of bizarre anxiety. I lose motivation quickly. Habits like forgetting to check proportions can be fixed. But it’s harder to change who you are. It’s harder to work through the things that make me rush, or feel discouraged, and get tangled in a web of gooey fear.

But enough about flaws: there are things I like about this painting, when I look at it long enough to actually see it. It’s hanging in a place where I see it frequently, and I’ve noticed that it does really catch the eye. It has a strong presence. And it feels alive to me, and it feels like it means something. I thought I might never like it, and my first impression of it used to be only that it’s ridiculously gaudy, but observing it over time my opinion has changed. Ridiculously gaudy has changed into dang, it really holds its own. And it’s fun to look at. The colors hit me, and the weird swirling lines always seem to carry me somewhere different each time. Its imperfections become charming. The birds feel like proud beings out of a legend, perfectly confident and stately without feeling too lofty. Like they’re right in your backyard, watchful, elegant, alive. Magical. Familiar, but at the same time, like nothing out of reality. Like it's something out of a hidden little dimension in time. When I started the painting, the only thing I wanted was something that reminded me of summer. Winter was ending, spring quite on its way, and I wanted to feel the summer heat. I think ‘summer evening’ when I see it. Stifling heat, joy and anxiety, the steady thrum of life. Maybe I got what I wanted, after all.

Perhaps I unwittingly painted myself a map, illustrating not just where I am but where I want to go.


I think it’s interesting to look at the reference photograph I used for this one. It was actually a winter scene:

You know what's fun? Looking at this painting, and then looking out the window, to see a vivid red cardinal perched only a few feet away. I'm noticing cardinals now more than ever, thanks to this painting. 

 Additional Photos
My camera really didn't like this painting, so I took a great deal of photographs to try and find the best  lighting for it. Here are some alternate lighting schemes and angles with varying amounts of glare, to get a different perspective on it. The vivid glow of the green flowers in these photos is mostly the camera; they aren't quite so bright when viewed in person. My camera just really picks up that color.

Last but certainly not least, the obligatory cat photo: