Comments have been pouring in on the painting I finally posted on social media today. Here it is, in all its Rainforest drippiness.

Rainforest Abstract Watercolor ©Ruth Armitage, Watercolor on Paper 22″x15″ $950

The rainforest around Sitka Center for Art and Ecology is astounding. Being there in relative isolation was both grounding and eerie. I’m used to teaching classes with about 12 eager painters sharing the awe. This time, I started the workshop on Zoom, released them to consume the videos and assignments on my website, and finally recapped each day with another zoom call.

While they were working I had an awful lot of time to ponder the work I had started. Just sitting  with my thoughts and an unfinished piece. Unfortunately, my thoughts were scattered and full of worry. It’s not just the pandemic.

My mom was in the hospital. She is home now and doing pretty well, but that day it was difficult to concentrate, with all the texts and comments on her progress.

I resorted to using my mark-making as a controlled pattern. This kind of repetition can feel calming and symbolic for me. People shared comments on how it looks sort of like text or print. To me it feels like drips or fir needles. And it reminds me of the ribbons of moss that cover entire giant trees.

Before I shared the painting on social media I showed it to my art critique group. Their response helped smooth my fears – it is a different painting for me, and different is not always good. But the positive comments have really helped me to remember that I just need to show up and do the work. I don’t need to be the judge of it.

When I first felt the work was finished, I didn’t really like it. It was too different. But one or two small comments from fellow artists and friends helped me see it in a new light. I call that a huge success. I overcame my impulse to reject something new surfacing in my work and gave it the chance.

When I’m teaching workshops, I often find that my paintings come out better. Because I’m trying to speak and paint at the same time (*trying*), I really have to concentrate on getting my point across. I also have to make sure that the resulting painting demonstrates the exercise or idea. And often, there isn’t time to reflect on whether the painting is a success or failure, because I’m either thinking about the next day’s work, or packing up to head home.

Giving this piece some time before I judged it turned out to be a good thing. Even though I work hard to be objective, my inner critic fluctuates between Pollyanna and Punch & Judy. It can be hard to know which of my multiple personalities to trust! You should hear their comments!

Pollyanna: Ooh look at that beautiful color!

Punch: Getting boring, better do something different!

Judy: No kidding! Step up the quality there, whacko.

Pollyanna: She’s not whacko -she’s wonderful.

Punch: She might be, but her painting needs help here.

Judy: Not too accurate, but it might pass.

Pollyanna: It’s better than accurate! It’s expressive.

A friend launched an online course this week, but it almost didn’t happen. She went from enthusiasm to doubt and back again multiple times. What finally tipped the balance was one comment from a repeat student. One short sentence like “I’m so glad!” You never know how much an encouraging word helps an artist or teacher to move forward.

We all have doubts.

I’m in the planning stages of my next online workshop offering. Comments from the last class have helped keep me going, even though teaching to a camera is not the same. Some folks report even better results with working at home, on their own, with input and inspiration via the internet.

“I liked being on-line so I could work at my own pace.” – Burt Jarvis

Have you tried online learning yet? I’m interested in your experience, the highs and lows. Leave a comment below to help me out by sharing your thoughts.

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