I decided to spend a little bit of time after that trying to draw a portrait. I spent several hours on a watercolor working from a photograph. It didn't turn out as a true likeness, but the coloring pleased me and overall I liked it. I think if I spent more time on something difficult, such as faces, I would be satisfied with the result. Thinking about it reminded me of that part in Napolean Dynamite where he gives the drawing to his prom date and tells her how much time he spent shading the upper lip, and that makes me laugh.
I realized part of the problem is that I don't feel like spending more than 30 or 40 minutes on any one thing, though I HAVE been known to pour hours into a painting (I spent like 8 hours or something on the bird on a ball painting, and about that much time on the Birds Playing Go Fish painting). And I can spend a lot of time on a quilt, though it's rare that I plug in for 10 hours straight anymore - now I'll spend a few hours here and there on one until it's finished, which might take months.
I want to practice the discipline necessary to paint
I've seen those Youtube videos where the person draws a face in 10 minutes and makes it look very like a photograph. That's kind of cool. Even more, I appreciate some of the less 'realistic' portraits done by Cezanne, Matisse, Van Gogh, Picasso (in his earlier years, though I will say some of his stuff is pretty bizarre) and Alexej von Jawlensky, like his 'Head' at the MoMA. One of my favorite Cezanne paintings is Hortense Fiquet in a Striped Skirt - look closely at the face and it's just a lovely mish-mash of bright color blocks. Matisse had the right idea - he just did whatever he wanted with color, and I have no doubt he first mastered the ability to paint people "the right way" (i.e. more realistically and less 'impressionistically'). I love so many of his paintings, with all the floral and geometric motifs and the brilliant color. But check out this Portrait of L.N. Delekorskaya, it's even more deconstructed than most of his works. This painting tells me, take risks, do what you want with color and line and shading, don't worry about it being 'realistic.' And one of my favorite artists is Maurice Prendergast - such wonderful colors and lines and people strewn about the seashore or the forest, people made of little lines of color, no attempt to distinguish faces for the most part, yet you get a feel for their posture and their attitude just by the simple lines he used.
Looking closely at these types of colorful artworks in museums teaches me that a portrait, a face, a figure or body does not need to look like a photograph to be beautiful. But sometimes what comes out of the pen or brush is something resembling a stick figure, or one of those depictions of zombies done by a 14-year old. You know what I mean - the stiff figure that looks more like a concoction of rectangles. Is that so wrong? No. But it's not what's in my head. So that's the frustrating part - not having sufficient technical skill to translate what's in my mind onto paper. (On a side note, I recently saw this picture of rectangles, David Hansen's Streetscape I, and it is fabulous.)
Another thing I realized is that I tend to paint or draw from memory or imagination, essentially 100% of the time, rather than look at something (unless I'm making a specific effort for a particular project). That means all the landscapes and still lifes (lives?) and other artwork is coming from my head, and therefore usually lacks proper dimensions and shading which might be translated better if I worked from reality. I know if I want to increase my technical skill I need to spend more time painting from what I'm seeing.