Some days I have no idea what I’m doing and then I’m surprised when it turns out that I do. That’s a pretty interesting feeling. Of course I’m talking about painting and not life. I might have no idea what to do in life, as many of us don’t, but when it comes to making a picture I’m pretty good at it. I say that because today was one of those days when I was adrift. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to work on. I had finished all of my paying work and had some time to work on something of my own but what? That is always the question when a person is working on a project of their own where one has to be self motivated. “What should I do?”

Most people spend their lives never asking themselves that question. Most people work at a job all day where they are told what to do and then go home. If they ask themselves, “What should I do?” it generally means “How will I entertain myself?”. That is a whole different “What should I do?” than when a creative person is trying to figure out what project might be worth their time. Sometimes it’s just as hard to answer but it’s still different. I’m really asking myself, “What should I add to the world?”. That’s not an easy question to answer. It also takes some ego to answer it.

I had to ask myself that question today because none of my usual stuff was cutting it. I had finished a few large marker drawings last week, got my comic strips done for this week, inked a bunch of “Message Tee” figures, and finished some cartoon art cards for my “Drifting and Dreaming” strip. That took care of some of my long and short term projects that I have going on and I saw no new ideas on the horizon. So what else should I do? That’s the question I ask myself a lot. Today the answer was to make a painting. The problem was that I was directionless when it came to what painting I wanted to make. I’m usually not good at directionlessness but I decided to give it a go anyway.

Last week I failed at a completely directionless painting. By that I mean a painting I started directly on the canvas without working out a drawing or color sketch first. I do that sort of thing with my small 5×7 inch watercolor paintings all the time so I decided to try it on a larger scale. It didn’t work out. Sometimes things just don’t scale up. I painted a simple face but it was boring and pointless. I gave up on it after about an hour. For this new one I started with a simple drawing of a face and a simple color sketch. I didn’t have a finished painting in mind as I usually do but at least I had something to start with and think about. I quickly transferred the drawing to a canvas and laid down the basic colors. I had no idea where I was going from there so I just started painting.

Painting at its simplest is taking a brush, choosing a color, dipping the brush into that color paint, and applying the paint to a surface with that brush. That’s what I did. The simple structure and color of the face were already there so I stopped thinking about the image as a face and thought of it as a painting. I did that because painting a face really wasn’t interesting me. Painting anything really wasn’t interesting me but since I had already decided to paint I concentrated on one brush stroke at a time. If I though it needed some light blue over there then I put some light blue over there. One baby step at a time. Sometimes that’s the only way to get something done.

I slowly built the painting up. Bit by bit. Color by color. Stroke by stroke. It wasn’t easy because I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go in but at least I knew what direction I didn’t want to go in. I wanted to keep the main part of the face fairly clear and not use a lot of the small color ticks and marks that I often use to build up a painting. I ended up using only long stokes of color over the basic drawing. Since the basic color was so simple as to barley constitute any kind of color scheme I created a new color scheme little by little as I built up the painting. That’s something I don’t usually do. Usually the color scheme is figured out in the color sketch and then added to.

A funny thing about that color scheme too. It’s not really like any of my usual color schemes. There are an awful lot of pinks and purples in it. And not my normal dark purples either but some lighter ones. Maybe that’s because the face is a young girl’s face or maybe it’s because I used a different than normal method for working out the color scheme but either way it stands out from my usual stuff. I like that. It surprises me.

It may have taken all day but I pulled it together in the end. I even surprised myself a little. At the beginning of the day I wasn’t into it but at the end of the day I was. I don’t know why I doubted myself because this is what I do and what I’m good at it but that’s not always an easy thing to remember. Especially after making a painting that was a complete failure. And speaking of that failure I was so filled with confidence after completing a painting today that I pulled out the failed painting and started working on it some more. I tried using the lessons I learned on the good one to improve the bad one. It’s slightly improved but there really weren’t enough hours in the day to work on it anymore. I’m still not even sure that I can pull off saving that bad painting but now I think I’ll give it a bit more time. There’s always tomorrow.