I have only begun to paint on a surface, but I have been an observer, and a painter in my mind as far back as I can remember. My surroundings have always been very important to me; I’ve always taken notice of the subtleties that are around me-from color, design, and textures, to feelings, moods and expressions of people and animals.
Growing up in a creative family where aesthetics and the arts were highly valued and prioritized-sometimes to a fault-I couldn’t help but become very in tune with the “Principles of Art”-without formal art school. Perhaps I learned to draw from my Italian father who was obsessed with the beautiful things in life. My siblings and I say around our kitchen table making a disegnino-“little drawing.” Or maybe it was the hours we spent helping our father make cement statues of Venus de Milo, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, and other iconic sculptures, from molds that he had shipped from Italy to Colorado in the early 1970s.
My influences are ever-changing as I get deeper into painting and learn what drives me. I am influenced by modern contemporary art more than realism. I am certain that at a young age I was heavily in influenced by many of the well-known impressionist artists, but I have more of a conscience connection towards current-day artists, such as Kurt Jackson, Alex Kanevsky, Regina Saura, Dominique Fortin, and a favorite, Gerhard Richter, just to name a few. What these artists share is a spontaneous nature with loose strong brushstrokes. I also love the whimsy and playful nature of Dominique Fortin’s art. I still have a fondness of my early childhood picture books that fed my imagination.
I will always paint because I love it and I need to. I am very protective and remind myself that first and foremost, I do this for me. Of course I get great satisfaction when my work emotionally connects and moves someone. I never want to get to a point where I am not enjoying painting—I make sure to give myself space to play, even with shows and other commitments. If I don’t, then what is the point? When I am having a mind block or having trouble getting something to work, I let the painting go and paint for me, and most of the time it turns out to be one of my most successful pieces.
Without being conscious of it, I believe I am creating a “syllabus” for myself based on what I know and have experienced and what I have yet to learn and experiment with.
Experimenting is exactly how to describe my painting process. I am not shy about trying new methods, tools and making lots of mistakes. I look at it as my training and always see value in it. Although at times the amount of time and materials thrown away can be defeating.
The risk of losing a painting that is “precious” is worth it to me. The possibility of what may come from wiping away paint, adding another layer, scraping, et cetera, is the exciting part. It starts a chain reaction that I respond to and hope to create a more dynamic, spontaneous painting.
I paint a few different subjects but seem to have made a name for myself with my cow portraits. Often I am asked, “Why do you paint cows?” It’s purely by accident. I painted one, scraped it off because I was not satisfied with it, and people responded and wanted more.
I have now grown to love and appreciate cows and their very obvious personalities. They are peaceful, powerful and majestic. They have become my muses. When I paint my cows, as the painting develops, they stand on their own—I have given them life and I am touched by them.
I am amused and fascinated by animals in odd positions and interacting in various ways that may be unexpected. This has inspired me to paint a series of “unconventional” settings, usually including cows.
Often my paintings are inspired by my moods. Sometimes I am in the mood to paint a landscape, an abstract or one of my animal portraits. I almost never go into my studio with a certain project or painting in mind. I let my state of mind direct me. I make sure to have painting surfaces prepared and ready to go so that when I am inspired it’s ready for me. I may have been recently influenced by a new idea, color, design, pattern, feeling or image. Then I let my instinct take over and direct the painting. It is very typical though, after having started the painting and getting a good part finished, I may completely change my mind and alter the entire palette or subjects. Scrapping away and applying more paint with brushes, at scrapers, rags and my hand—whatever it takes.
With the cow portraits, I start with a primed surface on a sturdy panel, such as hardwood. This allows me to scrape away my paint and add layers without having the surface move and bend. I do an initial drawing with loose charcoal applied with my hands and a soft charcoal stick. After fixing it to the panel, I then lay down my foundational colors with oil paint. Using oil paint allows time for me to move and scrape the paint. I use a variety of oil paints, although I have a few favorites: Sennelier Transparent Brown, M. Graham Yellow Iron Oxide, and Orange Iron Oxide.
I use the Transparent Brown, thinned with solvent to do my initial underpainting, focusing first on the eyes. I have recently been mixing new combinations of colors and adding more colors to my palette. It has taken time and patience to learn how certain oil paints interact and intermingle with others when scraped together. Learning the qualities of paint is fascinating—lots to learn about their opacity and characteristics. I can spend hours playing with scrapers and brushes and various other tools. I have learned the importance of the edge of the scraper and the pressure used while moving the paint.
A quote from an unknown source speaks to me: “Until the need for change outweighs the fear of failure, rejection, and humiliation we will remain prisoners of the safe, familiar and predictable.”
I still feel like I am in a safe place and strive to push myself in unknown territory and find more of my true voice.
By Elsa Sroka written for Artists on Art Magazine
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