Monday, September 18, 2017

A Workshop Experience on Whidbey Island

I have been an admirer of Carol Nelson's work with acrylics for some time, so when I found out she was teaching a workshop at the Pacific Northwest School of Art on Whidbey Island, I signed up right away. It was time to learn something new, I thought. My friend Dale MacEwan was keen to take the class too, so we drove down to Coupeville on Wednesday, and then proceeded to immerse ourselves in an alternate universe (acrylic paints instead of textiles), for the next two days. 
I had been drawn to the rich and intense colours of Carol's painting, especially in her depiction of trees, and to her description of the class, which gave me the sense that it would be relaxed and freeing. Which it was. Except that I was working in a medium totally new to me. The colours mixed together quite unpredictably, and there was an art to getting just the right amount of paint on a brush but not too much, and using just the right amount of water. The paints were transparent, but I learned that adding white made them opaque. Even the wrist movement in making brush strokes was new to me. I was most definitely out of my comfort zone. A humbling experience, to say the least.
Dale's piece seemed to come together quite well, and I drew strength from watching her patient working of the surface. "This is a practice piece", she reminded me. I knew that on some level, but had still expected that I would take to this new way of working with  more ease. I finished my piece, except for a little bushy bit of foliage that I forgot to glue in place. But I was less than delighted with my outcome.
I admired other student work around the room, and experienced a longing to start all over again. Only I didn't really want to do that. What I really wanted to do was to get back home to my fabric, where a colour is what it is unless you put it up against another bit of fabric that changes it a bit. Where there are no sticky fingers. And yes, where I feel more comfortable.
Am I glad I took part in this class? Yes. It's only by trying new things from time to time that I learn where I truly belong and have firmed up deep inside me what I want to do and how I want to spend my time. And it's good to recognize that skill in any medium doesn't come easily, that it doesn't arrive in a neatly wrapped bundle that you simply unwrap and then produce work just like the people whose work you admire. It all takes time, and practice, and commitment, and the making of many, many not-so-great pieces, before some level of success is achieved. So what did I do when I got home? I finished my latest African collage piece, and I dreamed about creating more trees from my fabrics.