Art should keep us continually learning. We must push beyond what we know in order to exceed what we thought was possible. On a hunch, you push your art in a direction you hadn’t anticipated, to the point it surpasses your own skill. From there, you must draw back, reflect, and experiment with the same hunch in order to master it. Locating that hunch within yourself and refining it is where skill begins. You are able to do what you don’t know how to do. Discovering this is the result of trusting yourself. This not only creates a progressive style, but keeps you excited about your own work. Rather than being predictable, your creations surprise even you.

You have to be a good editor of your own work, as well. Maybe it didn’t work the first time, and no matter how many hours it took, you must start over. Those hours still count, however. You learned what not to do. Maybe a fraction of the painting glimmered at you, and the rest fizzled. Starting over, you hold fast to that glimmer, exposing and expanding upon the good qualitites.

The painting titled “Bloody Knee (but the blood still flows)” challenged me to edit and experiment beyond where The Sidewalk paintings had gone before. The idea of bloody knees was something I had jotted down in a brainstorm. For me, “bloody knee” was exhilerating. You fall while attempting something you don’t know how to do. And to fall and bleed meant you were still alive and still trying. In skateboarding, you get hurt, and the best way to get past the pain is to stand up and skate it out. Don’t stop; continue.

From what I had carved in foam, I knew I was looking for a triangular composition which expressed the “bloody knee” concept. What resulted was a seated figure examing his knee where the jeans were torn. I tried for a long time to convey the figure in that moment of examination after having fallen, while at the same time carrying a reflective gaze. The figure is obviously wise from having fallen many times before. Although the first version of this painting worked, nothing captivated me. It was dull. Some consideration led me to paint over it entirely and start over. It coudn’t transform into what I envisioned without a fresh start.

I returned to the same figure with a focus on what mattered. My idea was conveyed with the gaze and knee alone, and so the rest was cropped out. The composition still felt cramped, however. Square. The whole point of working with foam was to avoid being tethered to the squareness of the canvas. I tried to accentuate the shape of the figure subtly with paper. It contrasted in plane as well as texture to the foam while adding new dimension. The painting was nearly complete it seemed, but a unity was lacking. The painting was not yet cohesive. It took a bold patch of blue, which at first I didn’t trust, to unite the painting. And now, having pushed myself to try new things, more techniques are at my disposal. Adjusting an oil painting with paper and watercolor are no longer foreign concepts to me, but will be utilized often. A whole exploration awaits!

Another instance reminds me of Bloody Knee, hiking through the Gila Wilderness as a kid. The sun fell behind the trees and a chill moved in. We were only about a mile down the trail from the car, but the cold set in fast. We started to run to keep warm, which helped a little, but it wasn’t until I ran too fast, tripped, and fell to my knees that my body warmth finally came back. There was a surge of energy and blood from being taken by surprise. Every part of you awakens in response to the unknown, and you learn from it.

Thank you for reading!

-Hank