Art Imitates Art

Watch this oil painting of a little girl in a tree come to life

in under 2 minutes (time lapse)

When my dad was stationed at an Air Force base in Indiana, he took some college courses toward a degree. One of his electives was a photography class. I was about four years old then, and he used me as his subject for a couple of his assignments. His artistic eye was interesting and those two photos became the best childhood pictures available of me.

Art imitates art, as I needed some references for a children’s book I was writing about my childhood. I “aged” my child self from Dad’s art projects. In his photos I was younger than the age I was in the stories for the book. Fortunately, I didn’t need to get very detailed in likeness, as the paintings were meant to be simple illustrations with bold lines and bright colors. It didn’t matter that Dad’s photos were black and white pictures, or that I needed to make some changes.

This is a case of “Art Imitates Art”, because I was imitating Dad’s unique perspective of a ground level viewpoint of a child sitting in a tree, rather than painting from my own memory of climbing trees and sitting on the branches. The reality is that I was likely only in that tree to stage the photo for Dad. When I climbed trees at the age I was in the story (about me pretending to be a spy by hiding in trees) in the book “Fred”, I climbed scraggly, spindly, tall pine trees from the neglected Christmas tree farm that was behind our house. I’m lucky I never had a serious fall, as those trees were weak and I’d climb them to the top, where the branches would bend and sway precariously under my weight.

A sparse and unhealthy pine tree wouldn’t have made a good oil painting for my story, and surely an adult reading my book aloud to a child would have been thinking, “This tree doesn’t look sturdy enough to hold this child”. Indeed, it probably wasn’t. I gave my guardian angels heavy work throughout my life. I remember my grandma used to complain to my mom, “I don’t know why you let her climb trees. I can’t watch!” Since I was often unsupervised, no one watched as I climbed trees, and I went far enough back into the neglected Christmas tree “forest” (trees planted evenly apart, but overgrown with weeds, brambles, pine needles, and fallen branches) so that I couldn’t be seen by anyone.

Now, that’s a completely different type of story from the one I was telling in the book. So, if art imitated my actual life, the illustration would have come off as slightly dysfunctional, instead of the cheery, fun “little girl in tree” painting that appears in the book. The story is about the creativity of children, and how their natural imagination and playfulness should be respected by teachers, rather than reigned in, controlled, shamed, and snuffed out. It is a story of resilience, of children whose light doesn’t dim, whose creativity outshines the control of others.

Dad’s artistic perspective was a much better representation for the “spy” scene than my own life memory of it. Art Imitates Art. The spy scene was meant to show the imagination of a child, and how adventurous children can be when inspired by their own creative ways to play. My story would have had the opposite effect if I had painted the obvious safety and supervision issues involved in actually allowing a young child to wander alone in an unkempt wooded area full of hazards, to climb trees that looked suspect for bearing the weight of a small animal, let alone a child. Many of the branches were dry, brittle, dead, and close to snapping off. I learned how to find the flexible live branches, although I’d end up covered in pine sap. But anyway, the reader might have been distracted and their adult minds would, and rightfully so, end up on the very path that I was trying to push them out of: reigning in the imagination and creativity of children.

Because, of course I didn’t let my own children wander off unsupervised in unsafe areas to climb weak trees, and I wouldn’t recommend it for any parent to do. So, a bit of embellishment was needed. Instead of an awkward, yet accurate, painting of me in short pants and possibly no shoes on my feet, in a brittle wispy pine tree, with many brown needles and droopy branches, looking like an urchin, I used the idealized version from Dad’s perspective: a healthy tree bursting with autumn color (imagined, as his photo was black and white), a healthy well-dressed girl, supervised, loved, and free to be naturally playful. Art imitates art, and art imitates life… but sometimes life is bettered in the telling through art.

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New Painting – 1st for new 2022 Collection!

Watch oil painting “Generational Tree” come to life

in about 2 minutes (time lapse video)

You might remember that I finished the 2021 collection “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Nature“? I said I’d reveal what the 2021 collection is at a later time, and that time is NOW. :::drum roll please:::

The 2021 collection is called “Seasons” (of Life and Nature). Paintings in this collection celebrate seasons of life (metaphorical, representational, or inspired-by-real-life scenes about milestones, rites of passage, and shared human experiences of love, aging, family, and beyond) as well as seasons of nature (literal scenes depicting autumn, summer, fall, and winter). 

The first oil painting in the collection is “Generational Tree“, which is a good transition from the Nature collection to the Seasons one, since it is a piece that could have been in either. “Generational Tree” represents the passage of time; how the elders in a family reside at the top of a mature tree and are the branches which through the ages become fragile and one day fall away- yet the branches below are healthy and strong, tender new twigs will continue to grow, and the roots created long ago will give life to this family for many years to come.

I’m very excited about this new collection because I’m going to lay my heart out through my paintbrushes. I didn’t look at any reference, photo, prompt, or even out a window for “Generational Tree”. I listen to your comments, and something one of you said about free painting settled into my brain and encouraged my soul to do more of this style of painting, in which I don’t restrain and constrain my art. I’m not saying I’ll never look at a reference for guidelines on proportions, perspective, or details (especially if wanting to get markings and anatomy correct when painting animals, people, and other identifying subjects), but my previous collections were probably 70% or higher art that was planned, used a reference, and was held to the boundaries of the project goals. I’d like to decrease that to 50-60%.

“Generational Tree” was of course a safe project for free painting because it’s simply a tree and a basic landscape (very organic, nothing precise about it). But I’d like to challenge myself and remove the safety net more often. I will still look at a reference when painting specific people when I want to capture a resemblance, but there’s no reason to look at a picture of a person when I’m painting an imaginary person.

But the decision to free paint more often is not really what I meant by laying my heart out. The theme of this new collection lends itself to meaningful work that I will be personally invested in, in a deeply emotional way. That will show in my art if I let myself be an instrument of the source of where creativity, expression, and raw (not taught, born with- or suddenly gifted with, such as after an accident, grief or a diagnosis, etc… in other words, a blessing) talent comes from. Arrogance has no place in art. Art is a language meant to share empathy with humanity. It is not meant to be hoarded or controlled by elites. It is not meant to be restricted to only the select chosen. It is not meant to be about the artist, the possessors of art, or the gatekeepers who decide which art gets seen.

Art speaks to people in ways that we can’t put into words. It is my lifelong desire to let my life be used to heal others. When people see something in my paintings that feels like a message of hope for their own lives, or a whisper from God “I see you”, or a confirmation of faith in humanity… that in a dark world, we still have light, love, compassion, and a deep desire for goodwill for all mankind, it’s beyond myself- it is a personal connection between the viewer and the art that no longer belongs to me. It’s a lofty goal, to be an instrument of healing, but I am honored to strive for this to be my lasting legacy. I’ll also paint lighthearted projects, not everything will feel so heavy. Look for a few paintings that are simply fun.

Thank you for being a part of my journey toward my lifetime goal of 1k finished oil paintings. Along the way, I hope that one of my thousand paintings (years from now!) will make a difference in your life. You are loved by God, and you are never alone. If I can remind you of that, then it’s been a good day.

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