Giving Myself Permission to Grow

Sienna, Italy

Many of you are eager to know about the master class in Italy and see the paintings. 

I went to Europe fully expecting to come back with an armful of work that would be ready - or near ready - for a show this fall.  So many people said, “I can’t wait to see what you bring back.”   What happened in that class was completely unexpected; I had no idea what I was in for. 

The JSS in Civita program was by far the toughest, and most cerebral, art class I’ve ever taken. Very much like military boot camp, I was “stripped down” and challenged on everything I know - or thought I knew. 


I came back with a large pile of mistakes.  Yes, you read that correctly, I came back with what I consider non-showable and non-salable work.  Much of the work I did there wound up in the bin.  By the third week, I was in a complete state of panic (if not despair) and seriously questioning my ability as a painter. To say it was a humbling experience is a gross understatement.


Without benefit of instruction in brushwork, color theory, composition, or other practical matters, I was pushed to find the truth of a subject, and then figure out how to make it happen on the canvas. The benefit of this method of teaching is that I discovered the answers independently and made them my own.  The difficult part is the process - I failed - a lot. I also questioned everything, especially my ability.  This is not a class for the faint-hearted. 

However, those failures were absolutely necessary to improve my craft.  Just as important was the opportunity to experiment, refine technique, and not mimic the style or methods of the teacher.  Ultimately, I and the other students needed to let go of trying to “get it right,” to give ourselves the permission to make mistakes, and to grow, regardless of level.


However, there is a silver lining to all of this. Being exposed to some of the finest art in the world at the museums of Naples, Florence and Sienna, sharpened my eye considerably, and I experienced a refinement of my aesthetic perception.  Direct, intense observation of nature for those five weeks helped me expand my understanding of value structure, and, above all, the specific light (and its color) and its changing effect throughout the day. Working in a geographic location that is not only much further south than I’m accustomed to, but also much higher in elevation than I’m used to, presented its own challenges. 

Over the past couple of months, in between teaching, commissions and doing some smaller New England paintings, I’ve been going back to my field sketches and have started to turn them into paintings.  I plan to release the work from Italy over the next few months as it’s completed. 

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