My name is Posey Gaines and I live in Skiatook, Oklahoma, a small town about 30 miles north of Tulsa. I have always been interested in art and almost decided to major in Art when I went to college, but didn’t. In 1975, I was fortunate enough to become friends with the Head of the Art Department at East Central College.
Fortunate because I was allowed to audit any class I wanted for free. I took classes in drawing, etching, woodblock print-making and watercolor. It was then I discovered watercolor, and fell in love with the medium. I was able to paint off and on until about 1982. And then, life happened… two kids, full time job… you know the scene.
When I retired in 2013, it had been 27+ years since I last touched a watercolor brush. It was time. It has been an adventure to say the least. When you haven’t touched something in 27+ years, you don’t just pick it up like you used to. It has been fun, frustrating, with life lessons brought to light, and an unexpected joy.
Why do I paint? I think the best answer I have for now is one I read from another watercolor artist, “I don’t know for sure, but there’s that little kid in me that wants to say ‘Look what I did.’”
What have I discovered? Watercolor painting is really another expression of our interpretation of life. We put our own mark on the world with what we say, with what we do and with what we paint. The surprising and not so surprising thing for me is realizing during this process how much of a control freak I am. I want it perfect! First time! Dude… that ain’t going to happen…. so rage on into the night… or relax and enjoy the ride.
Someone once asked where I get my ideas. Do I plein air or do I use photographs? My response often confuses people. It’s called MSU. The safe for all ages answer is “Make Stuff Up”… you can figure out the PG version. What I mean by MSU is that at age 71, I have a lot of images/memories in my head of all the places I’ve been in my life. And most of these are focused around nature. I have always been drawn to nature and it’s beauty.
So how do I go about painting these MSU paintings? First of all, one of the things I love about watercolor is how it will paint itself if you don’t get in the way. Second of all, I constantly keep studying the rules of values, tones and composition. Pablo Picasso once said you need to know the rules so you can break them.
What I try to focus on when I paint is the emotion or feeling I have with nature. I’m not so much worried about painting objects as I am in capturing a feeling, or the inspiration that I feel when I’m in nature. So I basically start with laying in a sky. I try to make my skies a dramatic part of the painting without over doing them. I then start laying down different earth tone colors while trying to keep it simple. As I do this I begin to see shapes emerge that suggest trees or roads, so I start to add definition to these shapes, again without over doing it. It’s basically very intuitive for me. So much so that I’m surprised with what I end up when the painting is finished.
What I have discovered since I started painting again is this: We are born into this world to tell our story, and whether we admit it or not, that’s exactly what we do with everything in our lives. We tell our story. To me, watercolor painting is simply using watercolor to tell my story.
And what is a story? Is it not an interpretation of the life around us? Watercolor is simply reality being interpreted through my eyes, my life journey, my brushes, the paints and, of course, the white paper in front of me. And so, when I pick up a brush, I’m not just painting, I’m telling you a story about my life. A story infused with inspiration. A story where I am still searching for salvation. And a story that’s still not sure where exactly it’s going.
Sometimes I can’t see the trees for the forest, but I know the trees are there. It comes down to what I think should be there or not. Another favorite quote: “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”. And for me, this is what watercolor asks of me when I pick up a brush. What do you see? Are you sure? And what if you changed the way you look at things? What would you see… what would you paint…what would your story say?
A word of advice… the biggest challenge all of us face as artists is the “Critic” that sits on our shoulder and keeps telling us how terrible our work is, how we will never become a great painter, or what were you thinking when you painted that? So, learn to quit listening to the “Critic!” Painting isn’t about painting the masterpiece. It isn’t about being perfect. It isn’t even about not making a mistake. No, painting is all about telling my story. About giving expression in watercolor to what has heart and meaning.
My answer to the “Critic” are these 4 rules I try to apply when I paint:
1. Show Up
Show up. It sounds so simple and yet it requires some attention from us if we are to really show up. We can look around us wherever we are and see people going about their day. The question is, “Have they really shown up?” Showing up isn’t about physical presence, it’s about the totality of our being. Showing up with heart, mind and soul so to speak.
Observe the people around you. Now look at their eyes. You will quickly realize that while they are there physically, they are not there at all. Their minds wander through a maze of to do lists, wishes and problems. Yes, they have shown up, but the moment before them is devoid of marvel, wonder and awe. If we want to be prepared to paint, our first task is to “show up.”
2. Pay Attention To What Has Heart & Meaning
Little Sarah’s best friend Emily, who lived next door had just died in a car accident. Sarah’s parents were church goers and so Sarah was used to hearing “church” phrases like… visiting, prayer and time for church. So when Sarah showed up one morning and declared to her mother that she was going “visiting” her mother just smiled and said “Hope you have a good time.”
Sarah’s mother watched as she walked out the front door, purse in tote and heading down the front sidewalk. But much to her concern and worry, she saw Sarah heading straight toward Emily’s house. Thirty minutes later, she saw Sarah walking back from Emily’s house. When she came into the house, her mother tried to act normal. “And how did your visit go?” she asked. “Good.” Sarah replied. “And…and what did you talk about?” she nervously asked. “Oh, we didn’t talk about anything. I just sat in her lap and helped her cry.”
Artists are by nature, storytellers of what has heart and meaning. A great artist learns to connect to the heart and meaning of life that is before them. They are not so much worried about technique as they are about capturing and expressing the heart of the matter. Whatever they paint is an attempt to capture moments that bring tears of joy or tears of anguish. The moments that move others to silence as they observe the finished work.
Technique must be learned. We must practice until we don’t even have to think about it. But in the end, we must always give way to what has heart and meaning in order to bring our paintings to real life.
3. Don’t Judge, Guilt or Shame Anyone… Especially Yourself
Lucy’s mother could hear her daughter’s scream coming from the backyard as she ran to the backdoor. She opened the door to find Lucy standing on the back porch screaming at the top of her lungs “Tiger…tiger…tiger!” As her mother’s eyes followed her daughter’s pointing and shaking finger she saw the charred remains of a fallen tree they had just recently attempted to burn.
She grabbed her daughter’s hand and brought her inside the house and in a stern voice said, “Lucy Marie you go to bedroom right now and you stay in there until you have asked God to forgive you for what you just did!” Head held down, Lucy went into her bedroom, but within seconds she came bounding out of her room. “Lucy!” her mother said. ”Did you do what I told you to do?” To which Lucy replied, “Yes… and God said that when he first saw it he thought it was a tiger too.”
There’s an old saying that says “We’ve been ‘should upon’ all our lives.” Judging, guilting or shaming ourselves is something we all know how to do all too well. However, think about it this way: would you rather paint from a place of shame and guilt or paint from a place of joy and wonder?
Beating ourselves up changes very little. Being kind with ourselves, being amazed with ourselves and yes, even being excited about what we can do, changes everything. So let go of the negative and embrace the positive. We just might be surprised at what happens the next time we paint.
4. Be Open To Outcome… Not Attached
Part of the process of creating art is being able to observe the process of creation within ourselves. It is like we are sometimes on an adventure, wondering what we are going to discover around the next bend in the road. However, all of this wonder and awe is short-circuited oftentimes because we are attached to one and only one outcome. You know the phrase, “happy accident” and you also know how that happy accident can drive up into moments of anger.
All artists start with some point of reference and some point of ending. The true artist understands, however, that the process of creation is exactly that… a process. True, we try to guide it, nudge it along. But in the end, if we have allowed the “spirit” of the moment to truly inspire us, we will find even ourselves amazed at what lies before us when we finally lay down our brush.
When we push… when we restrict our vision… when we want only one result, we end up with a flat painting devoid of all life, absent in heart and meaning. So, let us be open to outcome, and let our painted stories of heart and meaning shine forth.
So… Stay creative my fellow artists… stay creative!