One day I was working on an art project with a student who I'll call, Mary. She was painting a still life of some flowers. I asked her to write down some words that expressed the emotions she wanted to convey with the picture and then think of the colors that she'd like to see in her painting once it was done. Mary did all that, and then I suggested she begin by painting everything exactly the opposite colors she just wrote down. She looked a little surprised. I told her that if she started off with the exact colors she wanted, then the painting may look a little flat in the end, and it may lack interest. But, if the underneath is painted in contrasting colors, the painting will be less predictable, and more interesting. Then I talked to her about Smurfs.
“...when I paint pictures I'm going for a look that has more depth than The Smurfs.”
As a kid, I used to watch The Smurfs every Saturday. I loved them—loved their happy bright colors, their little mushroom houses, and their cheerful catchy tune. And while I did love that show and believe there was beauty in it, when I paint pictures I'm going for a look that has more depth than The Smurfs. They're pretty flat. Once you've seen one Smurf you've seen them all… with the slight exception of Smurfette and that's just because of the blond hair… and Papa Smurf because of the beard… and Brainy Smurf because of the glasses. Still, you see what I'm saying. The Smurfs lived in a land without shadows. The colors were pure and unwavering. All the Smurfs were the same shade of blue. The grass was all one or two shades of green. Flat Land. And that's okay. The art was doing it's job. It was telling a simple and entertaining story, and kids like me loved it.
“Mary's painting was far beyond a Smurf painting. It had depth. You could see the fight in it, which always makes a painting beautiful.”
Mary didn't want a Smurf painting. But it went against all her artistic instincts to paint her canvas the wrong colors. I asked her if she trusted me, and she said “yes”. I could tell that she meant it. Because she trusted me, she painted her picture with those odd colors underneath and then later added the bright beautiful colors on top. Mary's painting was far beyond a Smurf painting. It had depth. You could see the fight in it, which always makes a painting beautiful.
I'm a perfectionist in art and in life, and I have to fight it. I have to fight the urge to set everything up just right (as if that were even possible) because I don't want Smurf paintings and I don't want a Smurf Life. Except I would like to live in a mushroom village.
P.S. - If you haven't seen my new book, And The Light Comes In, you can find it on Amazon.