Several years ago, I began dreaming about light in my paintings. I have always been captivated by light, and how it transforms color, dimensions, balance, depth....literally everything, in a painting. Almost every night, I would dream about painting horses, yet these horses were different from the others I have painted in the past. They were floating, transparent, illuminated...and presented in a way that I did not understand. I would watch each painting unfold, yet the steps were a mystery to me, as I was not yet able to grasp how or why they took place. I don't typically remember my dreams, but these were different.
I could not remember every morning how these paintings started or ended. I only remembered that sometimes it was my own hand painting them, sometimes they just evolved by themselves, or I would watch a section of color being laid down on the glass....and colors. I believe that I know why these dreams appeared to me in the forms of horses, however. I have found horses to be both grounding and comforting...and a vast source of strength to me, for as far back as I can remember. It is why I have painted them over the past 29 years and counting, in my life as an artist.
My search for a source of grounding and comfort has been intensified by my search to be an increasingly better caregiver for my dear husband, Pat, who 7 years ago was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. In his, and our, battle with this progressive disease, I know I reach for a source of strength to better provide my best for Pat. I believe that these horses appeared in this manner for this reason, and my dreams of painting them left me waking to begin each day with a heightened sense of peace, in an extremely difficult time. I believe they helped to make me a better caregiver, yet in a way I did not, and could not yet, understand.
The dreams of floating horses intensified in their length and frequency. They began to consume my thoughts during my days of painting on my traditional media, which was oil on panel or canvas. I grew increasingly restless and anxious in my work. I wanted to explore a new path. With my dreams of illuminated horses beckoning me, it became clear what medium I wanted, and at this point needed, to explore. It only made sense that I turned to experiment in painting on glass. This would allow the light and transparency I was being urged to bring into my paintings to come into play.
In my research on the internet to learn what others had explored on glass, I found very few. This gave weight to my conclusions I had consistently found myself arriving at....that it is not an easy or forgiving media to paint on. One artist's work, Ray Turner, was uniquely inspiring...his work is masterful and extraordinary, and his exquisitely thick, juicy portraits of people in his "Population" museum exhibitions are fascinating. Equally captivating are his abstract works. His sense of color is incredible. I found his work unique because his exhibitions of portraits were in large part painted, and exhibited, openly on one side of glass...he embraced the rich, buttery textures of the paint and let it stand alone. If you like viewing his work on-line, wait until you order on of his beautiful books. Nobody paints like Ray Turner...he is a master in his own right.
I admire that about any true artist or musician....whether it's Deborah Butterfield, Fritz Scholder, Kevin Red Star, R. Tom Gilleon, or Robert Plant ....if one is familiar with their work at all, one knows their work instantly upon seeing or hearing it. Even before one sees a signature or credits, one knows it is theirs. Any copying of it by others is instantly recognized as just that:...it is not from their own voice or vision.
I began to explore the process of painting on glass, and soon realized that it held a myriad of daunting challenges for me, ones that seemed extremely difficult, expensive, and time-consuming to explore finding the answers to. The little "business" voice in my head kept telling me that I did not have the time to spend experimenting for hours each day, going in directions that had no sure outcome and would certainly lead me on wild goose chases...I needed to be painting pieces to sell and make a living. But there was that other little voice, telling me I absolutely had to head down this uncertain path. All of the unanswered questions about how to paint on glass correctly and for longevity, how to display it, how to ship it, how to....all of the things an artist must ask about their work so that it withstands the tests of time...was daunting enough to keep me revisiting working through the multitude of steps.
Over a year and a half ago now, I realized that the only thing holding me back was fear. I didn't want to fail, or spend thousands of hours, and dollars, on a wild goose chase. It was at that point that I stopped and remembered how fortunate I am to be able to make my living as an artist. I clearly understood at that point that it was my absolute duty as an artist to explore this unknown. And the voice inside of me was saying to honor my dreams and follow my passion, no matter how difficult or uncertain the path gets. I began to experiment painting on glass every day.
I wanted to paint with rich, buttery texture, however my ideas of how to display and ship glass works to galleries and collectors, without the paint getting damaged or scraped from the smooth surface of the glass, proved to be a perplexing challenge. I arrived at the conclusion that I would need 2 thick sheets of glass per work, with the paintings on each sheet facing inwards. The purpose of this was to protect my pieces from the wear of transport, display, and ultimately, the test of time.
For months I kept my daily experimentations in my glass work to myself. I still did not share my experiments with others, as I knew in doing so there would be questions to have answers for...and I didn't have answers about any of it yet. I did not know if it would work, or in what form. Numerous experiments ended in what might be described as epic failures. Fortunately, I have learned that failures translate into opportunities to learn from the experience and apply that knowledge to the next experiment. That being said, there were still many nights I would close the studio door in tears, after long days of painting on glass. On several occasions I found myself tempted to let it go idle for awhile because I was so frustrated, but there was something pulling me in constantly, telling me not to. This was the first time in my career as an artist that I had no shoreline in sight, so to speak. I just knew I had to get in the boat and set the sails, and let the winds take me to wherever they would have me land.
"Missed A Spot" 32" x 37" Oil and Cold Wax on Glass
A dear friend and fellow artist in California, whom I shall protect his anonymity, was also painting on glass at the same time that I was working though my beginning processes. His process of abstract painting is always so fresh, spontaneous, and inspiring to me. He is fearless in his approach to his painting techniques, and always reminds me that I am "thinking too hard". He would put colorful sheets of paper behind his glass works, which transformed them to new dimensions. He would email me photos of his abstract pieces on glass, and I would find comfort in these emails...they always seemed to arrive especially at the times when I was having the most difficulty, as if to remind me to keep at whatever I was working on. His paintings were a constant, and often powerful, prodding and source of inspiration for me. His abstracts on glass were reminders to me to not overthink the process so much, let happen whatever happens, and allow the gift of inspiration to shine through. Like the light that I wanted to see through my Glass Horses. I will forever be grateful for his gifts of friendship, inspiration, encouragement, and wonderful laughter.
Many months into this process, I still didn't understand it fully...or how to put all of the pieces of this puzzle together in the manner that I envisioned it continually in my head. Working on glass is the hardest, most thought-provoking creative process I have ever embarked on. I am dyslexic, so that intensified the challenges of painting two mirrored images on 2 sheets of glass, and also painting in a reverse process of what I had learned over the years. There were days where I would realize long into it that I was painting on the wrong side of the 2nd sheet of glass, and it wouldn't mirror its other half.
The dreams kept coming, yet they weren't magical answers to any questions by any means....rather they were doors to opening a series of experiments on how to go about a process of solving the problems presenting themselves. I keep a stack of all of my works that did not arrive at a conclusion, but were the stepping stones along the way to each answer in how to see my horses come to fruition on glass. The stack continues to grow and keep me humble, and I am grateful for the ongoing chance to learn.
When I finally felt like I was at a point where I somewhat understood what my vision was unfolding for my glass works, I told Pat about my ideas, experiments, and dreams about this new path I had been exploring. He was immediately supportive of my work, even in its' very rough and infancy stages. He could see that I was passionate about it. He has always supported me without question, and his enthusiasm for this direction I was so motivated to embark on meant the world to me. He has been so helpful in working through certain unknowns, specifically the structure model of the display stands that would ultimately hold the weight and size of the glass sheets solidly upright, and the shipping boxes that he designed to safely transport my glass horses. I can't thank Pat enough for his unwaivering love and support over all of these years, and I am there equally for him in his own challenges and struggles that he faces as he battles against Parkinson's.
Thank you for your time in reading this...I try to keep this short but there is much to share about how this journey has evolved for me. More will follow in my next blog about my Glass Horses series.
"Equus" 32" x 36" Oil and Cold Wax on Glass