© 2020 by Alison Darrow.

A vow, a sale, a proposal, a...ngst

June 24, 2016

An ongoing inability to get into the studio and stay there was starting to worry me, so I committed to an hour-a-day painting challenge. I chose 20 photos from my years in Vermont and pledged to paint one each day. I quickly discovered, however, that the 18 x 24-inch size I’d randomly chosen for this exercise in discipline was too large for me to cover to my satisfaction within a single hour, so I scaled back the dimensions and began working in a 6 x 10-inch notebook. If I’m being honest, I’ll admit that each of these also took me longer than a single hour, and the cramped page also tended to reduce the spontaneity of the drawings. However, it enabled me to beef up the intensity of the colors using markers and acrylic inks, and ultimately it resulted in a few fairly satisfactory small works. Here’s a quick study:


And a finished piece.


Much to my surprise, one of this series sold! I’d been assuming that my re-entry trajectory would take at least a year to result in a sale, but to my delight a fan asked to buy this one.


Much scurrying around “behind the scenes” ensued, researching the proper way to document a sale and pack work for shipment. :)


The hour-a-day challenge was interrupted by a week in Connecticut, spent helping a friend prepare the contents of a large antique house, occupied by her family for more than 60 years, for a three-day estate sale. I wasn’t able to paint during that time, but I took a LOT of photos, some of which are now in

the Photos section of this site.

One of the items that surfaced during that week was this sgraffito ceramic tile that I made sometime in the 1980s while working with a potter friend in Vermont, which I had completely forgotten about. This discovery made me wonder how much more of my work has entirely fallen down the memory hole and is still out there in the world somewhere.


Back in the city, a visiting friend suggested that we collaborate on a children’s book based on a series of bedtime stories she told her daughter when she was small. She’s hoping to recapitulate the feeling of some books she loved when she was a child, illustrated by Marjorie Flack:



I’m enchanted by this style -- the imaginative, economical use of color and the odd combination of clean lines and chiaroscuro -- and am really looking forward to starting this project!


And now, today’s dose of angst: In case this blog hasn’t made it abundantly clear, I struggle mightily with the question of artistic identity. The smart advice out there says that if you want to sell your work you must assemble a strong body of work that is recognizably yours, which for most painters seems to mean one or two mediums and a limited range of subject matter – landscapes and still lifes, portraits and southwestern imagery, seascapes and interiors. Most artists probably come to this point through a winnowing process, pursuing what excites them and discarding what doesn’t ring true. But in the internet age one is further advised to define oneself clearly by establishing a sound bite or tag line by which people shopping for artwork can find yours: if you intend to sell online as many artists do these days, you don’t want to confuse your fans. But this “rule” feels to me like a mandate to limit my options by boxing myself into a niche. What can I say for certain about what I do?


I started out focusing almost exclusively on the human form but now am interested almost exclusively on landscapes. My work has always been representational rather than abstract, and I’ve recently learned that as a painter I’m a colorist with a “warm” eye (rather than a tonalist with a “cool” eye). I’m drawn to the emotional energy of expressionist and fauvist paintings and prints and want my own work to express a similar excitement about color and line. Traditional painting and photography are deeply satisfying, yes… but I also want to carve blocks and print with them, make monoprints, weave stencils and symbolic elements into my paintings, illustrate books, draw comix, and experiment with non-traditional mediums and grounds. I want to court happy accidents. The opportunities for learning, changing, and experimenting are infinite and tempting, but this new conventional wisdom and my Yankee upbringing whisper to me that there’s something magpie-like about flitting from shiny new idea to shiny new medium and warn me that this is how one becomes jack of all trades and master of none. So am I asking to remain mediocre? Will potential collectors stay away out of puzzlement? I don’t have an infinite number of years ahead of me; shouldn’t I pick a single path and tread it often and well?


Ugh. Perhaps I’m overthinking this, and what I REALLY need to do is stop blogging, get away from my computer, and tackle the next painting. Sayonara!!


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