Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Blue When The Waves Swarm

© 2015 Hannah Phelps
Last week sometime, a buddy of mine shared this TED talk with me on facebook. Artist Phil Hansen talks about how neurological damage that made his hands tremble nearly ended his art career before he had even finished school. Eventually, he went to a doctor who suggested that maybe he could "embrace the shake" - see what kind of art he could create with less motor control.

Hansen shares some of his pieces and projects during the presentation and it is all wonderful stuff.

His point is that limitations, like a physical handicap, need not be limiting at all. In fact, he found that working with a set of guidelines was liberating and fun.

That is the boring recap version of the talk. I recommend that you watch it yourself for some inspiration.

The message really resonated with me, especially since I had just been on a sparsely populated island painting seascapes from life. The whole experience is thriving within constraints, some hardly noticeable and some uncomfortable. Small communities like the one on Appledore are isolated without being private, water restrictions are in full effect (think intimate living with limited bathing), meal times and swim calls are scheduled.

On top of that, I had established rules for my paintings: I was allowed to spend 30 minutes on establishing a solid composition and painting moving water. I set a timer and when it beeped, I was allowed to reset it for another half hour to pay attention to the rocks. Usually, I was satisfied after only 10-15 more minutes.

Why did I do this to myself?

There are two main reasons. The first is that within a half hour, the tide change is noticeable. Either the water disappears or the rocks do. That means that after 30 minutes, I am not painting what I see anymore - I am either painting what I would like my painting to be about or I am painting from my memory. Both of those things can be done in the studio, so there was no need to practice that on the side of a cliff.

Secondly, I have learned the hard way that I can focus for about 45 minutes. After that, I tend to just move my brush around, make half-hearted color choices, and, really, get a little lazy. Laziness doesn't often lead to great paintings.

With the foreknowledge that I only have to pay full attention (and bake in the sun) for less than an hour, I was able to get to work quickly in those first few days after the students left.

Because of the impending buzzer, I relaxed and focused and that led to some work that I really like. I can see some prints from these paintings in the near future.

The time limits - both the half hour and the number of days in the trip - made these paintings possible.

I maximized my opportunity to be surrounded by the sea for a week. I know that I could not have done more with more.

Note: This is all part of Leslie Saeta’s 30 Paintings in 30 Days Challenge. I’ll remind you every day.


  1. I love your sense of colors...thanks for sharing. Liz

    1. Thank you Liz! I appreciate your feedback, and thanks for visiting my blog!


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