Mountains and Flowers and Sky….Oh, My!
“Vexation,” 11 x 14 oil on canvas
by Tonya R. Hengerer
I started painting about a year ago, and I’ve probably painted fewer than 10 paintings—total. I am a novice. I always have a flutter of anxiety before beginning a new painting, worrying that my next endeavor will be terrible. When I paint, I usually use a photo reference. Occasionally, I’ll use another painting, especially if I’m practicing technique.
Back in October, I signed up for an oil painting course. Farmguy and I had been traveling right before the first class, and it slipped my mind to choose a reference photo for my class painting. So, I ended up choosing a photo (last minute) that had a simple landscape (or, so I thought) of a mountain, flowers, and sky. I later learned…the hard way… that although a photograph may be beautiful, it may not necessarily translate into a good painting.
I spent days working on this artwork. I even started over several times, scraping off ALL the paint that I’d applied with a palette knife—lots of fun. The painting actually evolved to a point where it wasn’t bad, but it still wasn’t exactly right. So, after overcoming the urge to fling it becoming frustrated, I decided to start over…. again. This time I would paint a mountain, flowers, and sky from my imagination—without a photo reference. This may sound simple…..if you’re Bob Ross. But, not so simple if you’re Farmgirl. Yeah, there were no “happy trees”—or happy anything during this process. To say that I felt stressed out by this painting would be an understatement. However, I was determined to complete my simple landscape, without a photo reference…come hell or high water as the saying goes.
Other paintings I’d finished in the past were decent, some better than decent. And, a few friends had even requested a painting. Most importantly, I’d enjoyed creating this artwork. But now—I. Was. So. Frustrated. I remember asking Farmguy, “What do you think?” After a thoughtful pause, he answered, “It’s not your best work.” So, back to the easel I went. After more time facing my nemesis, Farmguy shared that he thought the painting was better and suggested that I just let this one go. He was right. And, I did.
Other Paintings by Farmgirl
Here’s the thing:
I learned a couple of valuable lessons. First, I learned that I need a photo reference at this early point in my painting experience, and that’s okay. I also learned that letting go is sometimes just as important as perseverance. I’m content that I completed the painting as well as gained more experience with using oil paints and palette knives. However, I realize that I could’ve completed more paintings in the same amount of time, using a photo reference, instead of being enslaved to the idea of having to finish this one. Plus, I probably would’ve enjoyed the painting process much more. I chose “getting it right” over moving on and painting something in a manner in which I could be successful. It occurred to me that sometimes we do this in our everyday lives, too–choosing perceived rightness or perfection over happiness. And, it’s just not worth it. My landscape painting may not be perfect or my best work. But, I don’t care anymore…and that makes me happy. 🙂