A Difficult Birth

Eye Catcher 285 x 305 mm, November 2013, mixed media on pescia paper. Copyright 2013

Eye Catcher
285 x 305 mm, November 2013, mixed media on pescia paper. Copyright 2013

Conception was the easy and pleasurable part (as it often is).   I knelt on the sand at Point Walter early on a breezy October morning.  The oystercatcher was pausing between oyster catching.  I realised I would have to prostrate myself on wet cold sand to be on his eye level and to get the composition I hoped for.  My clothes got soaked but I got the photos.  As I stood up, brushing sand off wet trousers, I thought triumphantly, “It’s a wrap.”

Next stage; the gestation period was steady and uneventful.  I had the idea to use crayons in this drawing so I laid down undercolour with Caran d’Ache Neocolor I (a water-resistant wax pastel).  Then I built up the colours, as usual,  mainly with ‘Luminance 6901’ pencils.  Later I used Caran d’Ache Neopastel (an oil pastel) sparingly for some accents and highlights.  (Information about these crayons are now on the Art Materials page.)  The mixed media drawing grew and matured at a consistent pace over a week and a half.  I enjoyed the freedom of expression which comes when working with an image where much is out of focus.

This past weekend, though, was Hard Labour.  I worked furiously to bring the drawing to fruition.  I quote from my art journal…”It’s all going bad.  Just realised the horizontal seaweed to the left of the bird is vile  [see image below] and have taken it out.  I think the picture is going to die.  Still in saving mode right now – along with increasing dose of despair mode.  I did everything I could to make it work – and the more I DID; the more it DID’NT.  Or did it?  I’m always harping on about ugly/beautiful.  Here’s an example; I see “Eye Catcher” as ugly one millisecond and beautiful the next.  I can’t make up my mind which; maybe both at once?” ( Journal entry from 10th November 2013.)

The drawing as it was when I was hating it - with that nasty dark horizontal line (supposed to be seaweed) to the left of the bird's feet. Notice how pale the sand was at that stage. The whole thing looked insipid.

The drawing as it was on Sunday – with that nasty dark horizontal line (supposed to be seaweed) to the left of the bird’s feet.  The sand was pale at that stage and whole thing looked insipid to me.

I worked until the light faded and then I lay on the couch in self-pity.  Fail, Fail, Fail.  I was done in.  Later in the evening I watched a documentary on tv which I had been waiting for with keen anticipation:  “David Bowie – Five Years: The Making of an Icon”, (BBC 2013).  It cheered me immensely.  One Bowie quote I particularly latched onto was, “The minute you know you’re on safe ground, you’re DEAD.”  Wow!  There’s no dishonour in being experimental, trying new ideas and failing.  I didn’t mind the state of my drawing any more.  I went to bed in a haze of acceptance.

This morning I got up and looked at the drawing with fresh eyes.  It was okay; not perfect, a bit rough in places but I liked it.  It had substance and energy.  “Eye Catcher” (no longer ire catcher) was born and would live.  I came to the conclusion that despair and elation, joy and suffering are intertwined and inseparable in many a creative process.  Art hurts but, ahh – it’s pain with satisfaction!

ps.  I forgot to mention that the oystercatcher’s beak is slightly open.  Can you see that?  He was just beginning to yawn!

Return to Contents of Posts page       Related page:  Subject 6: Birds in a landscape

21 thoughts on “A Difficult Birth

  1. Ann Kullberg

    Wow – I’ve had that same LOVE it….HATE it stuff going on. It’s amazing when it happens to you. You wonder how you can feel like that about a piece and how your feelings toward it can change in a split second.

    Ditto on the “Art is cruel” comment. Really love this post – and love the art, of course!!!

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      Well, I think perhaps a relationship with art is like any other relationship. Sometimes you love your loved one and sometimes you hate him (of course you don’t really hate him but it can feel like that at intense moments). I’m pretty sure that I have all the same emotions with art as I do with people.

  2. Anne Mccaughey

    Beautiful work, Julie and I laughed out loud at your description of taking the initial photo. Yes I originally read that darkness as bird shadow and it was an excellent decision to take it out!

  3. anna warren portfolio

    Sometimes the works that are most painful are the biggest successes. I really like this one, your technique of the soft background and sharp bird work so well, your eye focusses immediately on the searching look of the oyster catcher. I think you were right to remove the seaweed, it didn’t bother me a lot, but it is cleaner without it. I’m really interested in the crayons you are using for the base – obviously you can’t get the sharp precision you get with the pencils (or can you?). The build-up of colour gives such depth and richness, and the early morning golden light is beautifully captured.

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      Yes, Anna, you are quite right in saying that sharp precision is not at all possible with the crayons. But then, I very often use blunt pencils in my work. Only sometimes do I need them to be sharp. With the pastels (for accents and highlights) I am using them very lightly – almost not touching the paper – and just ever-so-gently scumbling them across the pencil. The dark purple bits in the top trees are a good example – that is purple pastel. Sometimes I rubbed the blender across the top of the pastel and sometimes not. Also discovered the white pastel is stunning for camouflaging errors – such as that seaweed. I learnt quite a bit, in fact, doing this picture.

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      Verena, I admit that it does look photographic on a screen. It looks more drawing-like in real life though because you can see the texture of the materials better than you can on the screen.

      1. verenacave

        It’s really so amazing even if it looks more like a drawing in reality! I don’t even know how one can draw like this!

      2. juliepodstolski Post author

        Verena, have a look at my work in progress pages. Then you’ll see how I build up the colours. If you go to the top of this page, you’ll see all the pages listed (white type on black header). Click on any which start with ‘work in progress’ (there are nine of them to choose from). I’m always happy to answer specific questions too.

  4. Vicki Truman

    Julie, I love your interpretation of this oystercatcher! And I SO agree with all of the comments above. It is reaffirming to me as an artist, to know that you also go through such a grievous process. I had what seemed like a kazillion of those moments while working on my interpretation of your Mameyuri-san. And when my friends and family are telling my that it is beautiful….I’m thinking “….but you should see Julie’s!” I know that I am also my own worst critic. On some projects I find myself being actually surprised when other people like it. To quote Sally Fields “They like me – they really like me!”

    1. juliepodstolski Post author

      Vicki, hi. I do enjoy writing about the anxiety which goes along with the process as this state of mind is so well understood by fellow artists, like you. It IS refreshing to read that one is not alone in experiencing such painful sessions. The fact that I pulled the work through this one is a miracle. So often the results of Hard Labour end up trashed.

  5. Rebekah

    This is what I regularly go through during the creative process. I’m glad you were able to enjoy your drawing at last.

  6. Pingback: 127: Starts with Natural Beauty. Ends with Celebrity Obsession. | Almofate's Likes

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