It seemed like a great idea at the time. I was living in a sorority house at Ohio University, majoring in Fashion Merchandising because I loved style and beautiful clothes. One sunny Saturday found me parked in front of a sewing machine in an empty classroom, ripping the collar (once again) from a blouse I was constructing for tailoring class. I thought, there’s got to be something I can do that’s more adventurous than this! Monday morning I changed my major to Political Science. Next stop—the ROTC building.
That June, less than 24 hours after wafting down the aisle at my brother’s wedding in a meringue of pink lace, I was face-down in the dirt of Fort Knox Kentucky wearing Army green. As it happened, my fellow cadets and I became familiar with Fort Knox dirt, performing what multiplied for many of us into hundreds of thousands of career push-ups. It was a steep learning curve for a former fashionista, but I loved the training and was awarded a scholarship by the Army. Two years later I was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Military Police Corps.
“Drawing is your understanding of form.”Edgar Degas
In my free time I’m a life-long sailor and passionate equestrian, and I began teaching myself to draw and paint as well, occasionally signing up for a class or workshop. In a watercolor workshop, we were instructed to copy a masterwork, a time-honored atelier method of learning to paint. I chose a pastel by French impressionist Edgar Degas. As it turned out, using watercolor paint could not produce the same results as my pastel reference photo, but the exercise sparked an intense interest in the artist. Degas became my mentor in effect, as I studied exhibitions, read manusripts and books and queried experts the world over about his techniques. My military training in observation and analysis came in suprisingly handy as I doggedly copied work after work by Degas until I could practically feel him moving my hand. Eventually I moved away from painting in his style and started painting in my own, but his lessons in color and painstaking draughtsmanship are a hallmark of my work to this day.
“Great patience is called for on the hard path that I have entered on.”Edgar Degas
I joined a gallery and my paintings sold very well. Supporters seemed to scoop them up as quickly as I could finish them—a few still life subjects, but mostly figures. The funny thing is, none of the figures had faces. I positioned the painted figures all looking away in some manner so it appeared I knew what I was doing, but in truth I was intimidated to paint faces. Eventually I quit painting because I couldn’t figure out how to overcome my fear of portraits.
One afternoon I passed my open studio door. I don’t know how long I leaned on the jamb, looking at the empty easels, but after awhile I heard myself say, ‘What exactly is the problem?’
Like that shy kid in the back row who finally gins up the courage to raise her hand, a tiny voice in my brain squeaked the answer. But this time, just as surprising, there was also a confident thought, ‘Then let’s work on it.’
I started making notes about this creative angst, and for once tuned in without judgement or criticism. In short order I realized I could do with painting what I’d done my entire life when confronted with anything new or hard–I could just figure it out. These moments (as you may have experienced in your own life) tend to be both comical, and an epiphany, but it was clear that not doing what I love would be far worse than failing at it.
Nearly 2,000 years ago Marcus Aurelius wrote, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” In other words, sometimes our greatest opportunities for growth and improvement are hidden within our greatest difficulties.
“Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.”Edgar Degas
I’ve been painting portraits in oil, with faces this time, for a few years now. Each painting is a story, and a legacy. Exactitude and museum quality materials are foundations of my work. I am based in Texas and work internationally. My studio assistant is a German Shepherd named Indiana Jones who often sleeps on the job.
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