I've been working on a photo series for about a year, but I've been blocked because something didn't feel right about it. One day I realized that I didn't want to put the image in traditional mats and frames. Instead, I wanted to mount them in custom-painted shadowbox frames. I found the right boxes in Japantown. They're approximately six inches square, and two and a half inches deep, and they already have mounting hooks installed. Perfect!
I thought that some of them should be decorated with hand-painted images drawn from the series. Line drawings were fine, but there was one small problem-- I can't draw for shit. I'm really bad at it. I got a sketch pad and some pencils and spent a weekend or so on my couch, in coffee shops, and a few other places just attempting to draw simple things. I eventually got three or four things that sort of work and that I can reproduce with some degree of competence. It took a lot of experimenting and a lot of trial and error, though.
I wanted other boxes to look like houses with the fronts being window frames, so that you got the impression that you were peeking into someone's window and seeing something. This seemed sort of doable, even for someone who doesn't know how to paint.
And then, four different art show deadlines came up in fairly rapid succession. I wanted to submit this work to all four, so I needed a couple of prototype frames. I did one in black with very simple line drawings, and another painted like a brick house with pale pink interior walls. I used those for the submissions and identified them as sample frames with each individual piece being uniquely hand-painted, then crossed my fingers.
It was with both delight and dread that I got two acceptance notices. (The other two shows notify in a few weeks.) "They like me! They really like me! Oh crap... now I have to produce actual frames." You know how I said I can't draw? Well... I also don't know jack shit about painting. The high point of my career as a painter was in first grade, when we were still using finger paints.
I got a bunch of paint and brushes. I got some scrap balsa wood and started screwing around. I scribbled with paint. I mixed colors. I painted colors over colors. I made thin lines and thick ones, big swaths of color and tiny little dabs. I tried painting shapes. Last Friday I picked up a book on painting, a small easel, and a big stack of tiny little canvas boards and started experimenting in earnest. I painted gradients. I painted solid colors then painted over them with dabs of similar colors. I painted a brick wall with off-kilter bricks and really crappy shutters, but that was wnough to show me how it could work. I made something that looks vaguely like granite if you don't look too closely.
The whole weekend was get an idea, experiment, refine, experiment, refine, then get another idea and repeat the process. My first experiments were pretty crappy. I feel good about the ones that I did tonight, and though I wouldn't call myself a painter I'm reasonably confident that I can get my frames done without embarrassing myself.
I love being curious. I love experimenting. Pretty much everything that I've learned as an adult has come from throwing things against the wall, seeing what stuck, and then refining it until I got it right. I learned photography by looking at my results and creating experiments that would help me understand things. Some of my favorite photos are from the Flower Experiments series-- I just got a bunch of flowers and started screwing around with lights until I got results I loved.
Curiosity is good. I never want to stop being curious and trying to figure out how to do things.
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