What's that line from Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities? "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times..." My experience at last night's Rotary Art Auction reminded me of it...
Painting a 30" x 40" acrylic piece in front of an audience of 200+ people was, to say the least, nerve wracking. I've done many demos for my students and a few at art-related conferences...but this was my first time competing with a large, noisy crowd strolling by with glasses of rare vintages and plates of gourmet goodies while I worked hard to concentrate. It was rather fun to eavesdrop on the comments made by those watching me from behind--happily, all very positive, but sometimes amusing.
One thing I learned was that people are frequently very interested in knowing exactly where a resource photo was taken, and want to make a personal connection with the piece as a result ("Where was that photo taken? It looks like Hawaii. My wife and I were in Maui last winter and the surf looked just like that." Of course I jokingly assured him that it WAS Maui--in reality I have no memory of where I took that specific photo of the breaking waves--I have hundreds).
My "best of times" moment came when I noticed a tiny toddler of Asian heritage, perhaps 3 years old, solemnly watching me while clutching his father's leg. He was so fixated and so rapt that I invited him to come over, placed a paintbrush in his hand, dipped it into white paint from the palette, and invited him to help me paint my picture. With the same serious expression, he walked over to the easel and silently placed a single mark--in exactly the right spot, on the foamy edge of the breaking wave! I had been prepared to "fix" any inappropriate stroke once the child left, but there was no need. Still wordlessly, he handed the paintbrush back to me and retreated to his father's side. Dad, meanwhile, had eagerly recorded the moment on his iPhone. When the family went to move off, the child resisted, and I offered to mind him for a few more moments while his father refilled his wine glass. So he remained, wordless, unsmiling, but wholly engaged, until his father returned. A future artist, perhaps! Such a privilege to have been a tiny part of influencing that life-in-the-making.
The "worst of times" came about 30 minutes before the deadline for the work to be ready for its live auction debut. My composition had included a horizon and far-off headland, with the breaking waves in the foreground--an experimental departure from my usual close-up of just the wave pattern. It had seemed to be ok, though I had already changed the values several times by that point. But at this critical, down-to-the-wire moment, I had that unsettled, uncomfortable, back-of-the-neck sensation that it just wasn't working. Yikes!
I looked over at my husband, who had been faithfully guarding my space (and, not incidentally, feeding me delicious goodies from the appetizer tables--coconut shrimp, aged cheeses, strawberries!) and said "Decision time--this background's not working, is it..." With an anxious face and a nod, he confirmed my suspicions. I glanced at my watch, took a deep breath and a large brush in hand and slathered beautiful blues, greens, and turquoises all over the entire background section--about a third of the canvas. Away with the deep background, in with an abstracted pattern of waves/water...and, phew!, it worked! Gratefully, I turned my attention to the final "finessing" of edges and shapes so that, when the organizer came by soon after and said "Ready? Yours is up next" I felt ok to sign my initials with a flourish and pass off the work to the auctioneer.
Fifteen minutes later my painting was owned by one of my studio students who was the successful top bidder! I was so pleased that she had been motivated to purchase the piece and glad it would go to a home where I knew it would be enjoyed. As well, 70% of the purchase price will go towards good works by the Rotary Club. Everyone wins.
I had five other pieces in the silent auction portion of the evening, and all five sold (three to collectors I already know--thank you!!) and one to a new admirer. All in all, a success.