Thursday, March 4, 2010

It's okay to be a bird nerd.

Great Horned Owl
12"x12" Acrylic
Ellen Sereda

It took me about 2 weeks to paint this picture. It was tedious and required concentrated effort or I would lose my place in all the pattern. For some unknown masochistic reason, I threw out the art school rules and painted it with the thinnest, tiniest brush I own, putting on 6 layers of acrylic glazes to get the depth I was after. It felt like art self flagellation in the beginning. As though I was punishing myself for my crappy attention span and increasingly poor ability to focus.

Somewhere about 2/3 of the way through, everything changed. I settled into a rhythm and concentration was easy. I also didn't care about the outcome, the process was so engaging and meditative, I was in the zone applying paint, brush stoke after brush stoke. I let myself go in the process of slowly rendering the illusion of something real with paint. It felt such like a healthy refuge from the sometimes chaotic busyness of life. A direct contrast from the speed and distractive nature of phones, email and social networking sites (FACEBOOK). To get a fascinating and sometimes sobering look into digital media and the effect it's having on our lives, check out Frontline:Digital Nation (you can watch it online). You blogging, facebooking, tweeting people need to see it.

I also had to give myself permission to paint the owl for no other reason than I like them. I'm guilty of that annoying characteristic of Canadians - apologizing. I had a nagging little voice inside me say, "Sorry, I'm going to paint this owl because I'm a bird nerd, oh, sorry for that too. This owl's name is Hagrid, a young great horned owl and is part of the Birds of Prey program at the Vancouver Zoo and my daughter got to hold it! Sorry for boring you with the details and getting so excited. But it was a special day. Okay. I'll stop now. Sorry"

I'm over that now, I've been busy painting many other feathered creatures I've snagged photos of recently, which I hope to post soon. I'm unapologetically going to paint what I want, which was what I was doing before anyway, just feeling guilty about it, for no sensible reason whatsoever . Neurotic, I know. If you have the same problem as me about being self depreciating about your art, read this, and get over it. Now, must get back to put the finishing touches on a house finch. Later, good people.


andrea said...

Wow. Did I see myself in this post or what? I just spent an hour on East Broadway taking photos and apologizing to myself for every one that might look "too pretty".

There's a fine line between "edge" and pretentiousness. Art made honestly never has that problem so go with your wants and instincts and post all the results! As for the process, Degas said "Only when he no longer knows what he’s doing does the painter do good things." I tranlate that to mean the zone you talked about.

dinahmow said... I know why I can't find my zone -you've got it!
Never apologize to me for liking owls! In fact, the whole apology thing is just a part of the guilt trip. Saying sorry "doesn't fix what's broke."

That falconry display must have been a buzz for kids.

paula said...

your owl is beautiful!

Angela Wales Rockett said...

Beautiful! I love owls, and all birds of prey, and this is such beautiful portrait of one.

Sometimes it is hard to allow ourselves to paint something just because we like it.

And, re: Andrea's Degas quote - it is so unnerving being there, and yet that's what we're all after. Just another wondrous piece of life as an artist.

Ellen said...

Andrea- great comment. I think another thing is the pull of multiple directions. I often want to go to the other extreme and let completely loose and make something quick, expressive, violent and ugly. It's cathartic as a process, but usually results in some crap work (pretentious). Although for many, working that way produces great things. Comes down to know thyself, i suppose. I love the quote.

Dinah- I'm fascinated by your experience with them (email response on it's way). I'm getting a birds of prey experience for my birthday this month -
Truth is, I'm not all that interested in handling them, I'd rather just hang out and take pictures, but it should be an interesting time.

Paula- thanks!

Angela- thanks, it is hard to go simply with our likes because we're trained to believe that it's superficial and too lightweight. I have to remind myself there's a place for both. I admire how you're work seems so often about that zone. I think being in the zone is a lot like prayer or meditation, there's a losing yourself, connected, almost spiritual quality when you're in it. And you can get there even if you're just chopping carrots or something.

Rebecca S. said...

I'm co-giving a beginners' writing workshop this Wednesday and this morning I found myself crying to my husband about how I didn't think I had a right to put on a workshop. After all, what do I really know? As usual, he talked me out of my 'attack'.
Your owl is wonderful - I feel as if I could reach out to touch its feathers.

Melody said...


Kim Hambric said...

Love your beautiful owl. I'm looking forward to seeing what other birds emerge from your teeny brushes.

Thanks for including that link to not apologizing for one's art. I NEEDED that.

Caroline said...

Wow your owl is fabulous - I can feel the zone in it!

Are you planning to sell it?

Ellen said...

Rebecca- Hope your workshop went well. It's true so much wasted energy on feeling uncertain about our abilities. Although, I do see that as good quality in a way, it pushes us to do our best.

Mel, thanks!
Kim - thanks Kim, ravens are in progress right now, a slow, slow, work in progress.
Caroline- thanks, I'm submitting it to a show this week, if it's accepted and doesn't sell, I'll be selling it once I get my website in order.