Carry on!

You can’t always force yourself out of a difficult mood. However, that’s no excuse to not paint.

Fernald’s Neck, 9×12, oil on loose linen, available. When Ken Dewaard and I painted here last year, it was in a biting wind and with snowflakes. This week has been warm and sunny.

My painting pals Eric Jacobsen and Ken DeWaard have been at Cape Ann Plein Air, where they bagged a bouquet of prizes. Eric took Second Prize and Ken won Best Nocturne and the Artist’s Choice/Greg LaRock Legacy Award. Greg passed away unexpectedly last year. “As much as it was a huge honor to win this, it was the most difficult award I’ve ever had to accept,” said Ken.

Those prizes are a tremendous honor for my friends, but also for wee little Knox County, Maine, population fewer than 40,000. Of course, about half of these are artists. You can’t throw a cat here without hitting a painter. It’s an exhilarating milieu to live and work in. We learn from and influence each other. Thus are ‘schools’ of painting created.

Eric Jacobsen with his prizewinning painting.

As lovely as it was to have Ken and Eric gone, they were bound to come back sooner or later. With our various schedules, I haven’t painted with either of them in quite a while. This was a good week to rectify that, as the fall color is blazing and the light is clear and sweet. Of course, I can’t suddenly transform into a happy person on demand; I’ve been brooding after the death of my friend Helen.

On Wednesday, Ken and a few other friends and I painted together. I painted a contre-jurelandscape I’d had my eye on. I have no idea if it’s good or bad, because I haven’t even taken it out of its carrier.

I am a creature of process and routine. It both saves and exasperates me. “I should ask my boss for bereavement leave,” I told myself, and cackled. I’m self-employed and have built a life of tightly pressing commitments. It’s easier to carry through than to try to reschedule them.

You can’t always force yourself out of a difficult mood. However, that’s no excuse to not paint.

Ken DeWaard’s body of work for Cape Ann Plein Air.

Furthermore, there’s never a guarantee that what you paint will be good. That’s also no excuse. Anyone who paints in a disciplined manner will know there are periods when the well runs dry. There’s nothing to do but work through them. That’s one reason our studios are littered with unfinished paintings, false starts and bad ideas. It’s also why paintings are so darned expensive. You’re not just paying for that gem you love, but for all the experiments and tries that are lying on my studio floor.

The Nazis have many great things to answer for. One small thing was their corruption of the phrase Arbeit macht frei, which they emblazoned, with hideous cynicism, on the gates of Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps. It means “work sets you free,” and it was a horrible thing to say to slave laborers you intended to kill.

However, the underlying idea is in fact true. The repetition and structure of work can be redemptive. It pulls your conscious mind away from your troubles. That lets your unconscious mind do its job, which is to process emotions.