Blog: Sowing the Seeds of Change

Christine Alfery

Posted on April 15 2020

Our Connections by Christine Alfery

People often ask how long it takes me to create a work of art. In their mind a task has a start, a middle and an end. Most artists think differently. Regardless if you paint realism or abstract, many artists struggle with knowing when a work is “finished”. As a conceptual abstract artist this is especially true – there is no set figurative idea guiding the process. Rather, I try to listen to the work, listen to the paint, find what concept is emerging. Sometimes it happens quickly, and sometime it is a real struggle. This current work is the latter – I really struggled with this work. 

 Sometimes creating art is a real struggle.

 I started this work before I left for Costa Rica - that was in January. It has been on my wall ever since staring at me. Here is what it looked like when I got back from my trip.

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During my time away I had forgotten how this work began. When I started working again I suddenly remembered – I HATE THIS CANVAS. It is a pre-primed canvas, which I don’t usually work with. Why? The paint SLIDES off. With the multiple layers I often use, it simply couldn’t hold the texture. 

 If you know my work, you know they are FULL of layers and texture. Following my usual process I added paint and waited for it to dry. It was THICK paint, and as it dried it began to crack. Cracking doesn’t bother me – cracks are fun, they add texture. But in this case the cracks started to peel off the canvas. 

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I realized at this point, this was going to be hard. I was going to have to add texture differently. 

 I worked with the yellow area and added some black and white.

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But I added too much paint, and it started sliding off once I put it upright. Below you can see how I started scraping the sliding paint off. If you look carefully you can see my white plastic scraper covered with the black paint. It was partially dry and there were soft spots of paint all over the canvas.

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I finally gave up and tore the top of the canvas off and tossed it in the waste basket.

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This is how I discovered the problem with this canvas - it doesn’t breathe. This type of canvas is usually pre-stretched, but I don’t work on a stretched canvas – so the primer used does not allow the canvas to breathe and the paint acts strangely. The canvas had waffles or waves in it as I worked. 

 Anyway the canvas was a different size now and I decided to move on with it. I told myself it would be interesting to see how I approach this challenge. Would I give up and toss the whole thing? Continue to scrape? Tear another section off the canvas off and focus on the bigger section? At this point I didn’t know – but I did know it would be interesting.  

 You may ask – why keep working on this canvas that I hate? Why not just toss the whole thing in the waste basket and do something that works easier? It is because when I create I am always seeking change. It is my mission to create artwork that is free, unique, individual, and true to me. When I struggle it is often the past that hampers my free flow of creativity. I am always seeking change – sometimes I don’t succeed, but I try to move on and grow from each experience.

 Yes, it would be easier to stay with the same, the comfortable, the familiar. When I’m struggling during the creation of a work of art is always tempting to stay with what has worked in the past. But when I embrace change, creativity thrives. By getting out of my comfort zone I can truly explore freely. 

 My style has evolved throughout my career. The works I make today may still show my hand, but they are completely different from my earlier works. If I had not challenged myself, pushed outside my comfort zone, embraced struggle and change – my work would look the same as it did in the 70’s. How boring to create the same thing over and over and over and over. I’ve been there and done that – I continue to move on.

 So I continued to work on this canvas that I hate. I am embraced the challenge, sought change. It was a struggle, but if it was easy, comfortable, familiar, I wouldn’t have the chance to discover something new, something unique, something I didn’t even know I was looking for. 

 And that is when the magic happened.

After working, reworking, and struggling with this canvas since mid-January (it is now early April), suddenly two trees emerged.

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I continued to paint on the canvas trying to make things work. I switched between actually painting on the canvas and using the computer to see what I might add. 

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Note here the trees are shorter – I realized once I stretched this canvas, I would lose most of the trees so I made them longer. 

One step before what was to become the final layer of paint I said to myself “ok you are done – it is ok – someone will like it – just stop”. But the more I looked at the blue tree with the complementary yellow background and the green tree right next to it – I said to myself “those are awful colors”. I argued with myself (this happens often) “what difference does it make if you totally repainted those trees” and the answer, as always was “it makes no difference”. So I jumped back into the struggle and continued to work. The sky went from blue, grey to orange, the entire background went from all green to all yellow.

The creative spirit returned, and I continued to work. 

Until finally – FINALLY – I could say, this is working. 

FINALLY I was able to say - I am starting to like the work I have ended up with.

FINALLY I finished the piece.

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But how many layers did it take – I don’t want to count. How many days did it take – I don’t want to count. Remember way back when the top was black and I started to scrape it off. There is the struggle, and at the same time, there is the creative life.

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It looks nothing like it did at the start – it is a different size, different colors, different composition. But evident in the final work is the struggle – you can see it in the layers and the texture.

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There are so many layers under this work. This creation, like all creation, was shaped by the struggle (and boy was it a struggle). By seeking and embracing the challenge, the seed grew into two beautiful trees. I did not give up and something unique grew out of the struggle. That is creation, that is creativity. 

It all sounds so poetic – embrace the struggle, seek change. But in reality, to be creative you must experience both the ups and downs of life - it’s failures and successes. If you had asked me if there was anything “good” about what I was going through I would have laughed – of course not. What is fun about struggling with your own ego? I kept telling myself “you can do this, you can salvage this work, you are not going to let this horrible canvas conqueror you”. I would be lying if I told you that the creative spirit was with me the whole time I was working and struggling with this work. At one point I thought to myself – there was nothing positive about this experience EXCEPT the final work of art. 

Looking back, I realize the creative spirit was playing with me the whole time I was painting. It wasn’t until the final layer was finished, when I finally tossed all of the brushes I had been using for the day into the sink, that I could finally say - it is finished, I am exhausted . . . . and it was fun.

Finally, the work is done. Finally I found the yes, yes, yes! 

Is all about the yes –

Say yes to all those treasures hidden inside of you.

Say yes to the fact that you are ok if you are not the best at what ever it is you aspire to be.

Just say yes to who you are and your creative life.

Sow the seeds of your creativity - you never know what you may grow.

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