It began with a web search for “animals social connection.” That took me to a web page featuring nine animals that can connect with humans. I liked the idea of painting some rabbits. Rabbits are very sociable animals in general, living in large hierarchical groups.
“But,” I thought, “I’ve been painting endangered species…” A web search on “endangered rabbits” brought me to a 2012 story about an Oregon Zoo’s conservation efforts for the Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit. It featured the photo which became the reference for my April painting. Another web search revealed that the species in its purebred form is extinct. As of June, 2019 it was estimated that a few hundred crossbred individuals remain on land owned by the Nature Conservancy.
It is a curious sensation when I move from painting to using the Smylemouse. I expect each movement of my head to drag color behind it and am surprised when it doesn’t.
After making a simple pencil sketch, I started looking for some skin tones to use while painting the hand and discovered that I don’t have many available on my palettes. The same is true of the tans and browns in fur . I found one tan on an old, cheap tray and started using it. It became shadow and the white of the paper made the highlights of the skin. (Now I know why they call light-skinned people “white.”) It was when I tried to add the dark strands of hair on top of the tan that things went horribly wrong. I had a hard time getting a good shade of black and was unable to make tiny marks. I ended up with this:
With watercolor, there are no “do overs.” Despite the fact that I was running out of time, I began again. I thought I would save some time by sketching in paint. Unfortunately, the brush went wild as I began to paint the foreground bunny. On the other hand, I thought the simple strokes had possibilities.
I began again and ended up with the featured painting above. Remembering my fairly recent monarch butterfly, it’s hard to be happy with this result.
Researcher/storyteller Brené Brown has a process for dealing with loss, disappointment and failure. She calls it “rising.” It includes these steps:
- Reckoning – pay attention to your emotions and dare to ask questions about them.
- Rumbling – write down the story you’re telling yourself, real or not.
- Revolution – channel your insights from rumbling into behavior. A revolution ensues.
In personalized condensed form, it looks like this:
Reckoning: I am full of negative judgments about this painting. It’s childish, grubby, and lazy. I feel afraid that I can’t paint anymore. I find myself wondering if this is the end of my ability to accommodate my disability. I’m angry that things turned out this way. I find myself wanting to blame someone else and in these times of quarantine, my poor husband is the only one in sight.
Questions (as inspired by Byron Katie): are these thoughts true? When I get past the childish “is too,” I have to admit that I can’t be sure of any of them. I could have continued working on any of the “failures” and perhaps, with patience, made something “successful.” And maybe the final painting is a lovely example of “Naïve.” (Really, since I don’t have much training, all of my art is Naïve.) Those thoughts certainly don’t make me feel good. Who would I be without those thoughts? Happier and more ready to try again.
Rumbling: the story am telling myself is that it was only the presence of Cynthia (temporary PCA and art teacher) that made my art better while she was here. Now that she’s gone, I’m reverting to my natural lack of skill. I’m also telling the story that a sudden decline in my physical ability has made it impossible to continue to paint.
Revolution: the revolution is about behavior, so time will tell. What I can say now is that neither of these stories are true. I don’t want to put unfair pressure on the next painting. My best course is to choose a subject that will work well with my palette (or buy more paint) and find joy in the process.