Two days into the workshop, with several panels launched on the path to completion, I encountered the typical situation of getting stuck in the middle of the process. In part this is a common workshop phenomenon: We are halfway through, and the excitement of beginning has morphed into the realization that hard work lies ahead. But this also happens at home, in the form of the (also) common phenomenon of getting past the initial excitement of beginning a painting and realizing that hard work lies ahead to bring it to completion.
There is almost inevitably a moment for me in the painting process when I lose my way and grind to a halt on a given piece. I may lose the original vision, I may have already gone off on a tangent of color or line, or I may not know how to get from where I am to where I want to be. This morning, most of my workshop panels were in that moment, and I wasn’t at all sure how I was going to proceed. It was a depressingly familiar sensation. Then I picked up Free play again, opened it to where I had left off whenever I was last reading it, and found this before my eyes, in a section entitled “Shaping the whole”:
In producing large works ... we are perforce taking the results of many inspirations and melding them together into a flowing structure that has its own integrity and endures through time. The most ephemeral thoughts and feelings are gradually shaped into hard copy that is worked over, painted over, edited, and refined before the public sees it. This is ... where the painter covers the beginnings of the image with layer upon layer of enriching re-vision.
The muse presents raw bursts of inspiration, flashes, and improvisatory moments in which the art just flows out. But she also presents the technical, organizational job of taking what we have generated, then filing and fitting and playing with the pieces until they line up. We arrange them, cook them, render them down, digest them. We add, subtract, reframe, shift, break apart, melt together. The play of revision and editing transforms the raw into the cooked. This is a whole art unto itself, of vision and revision, playing again with the half-baked products of our prior play.
The passage could not have been more apt. It gave me a new perspective, and new insight, to where I was in the process, and what I needed to do. Suddenly my panels were not lost in a muddle but were rather the fledgling drafts of future finished pieces. And (perhaps more importantly), it wasn’t that I had lost my muse, or had failed in any other way. Rather, it was a moment of re-vision when I could look at them anew, and "add, subtract, reframe". The idea that this portion of the process is a “whole art unto itself” suddenly gave it some dignity. I returned to our workspace with renewed energy, and made significant steps on half of my panels. The other half I decided to let dry and ship home, in order to be able to focus on fewer pieces while here. Not because I feel stuck on them any longer, but rather simply to not try to do too much.