Many years ago, while I had only been painting full-time for about two years, mostly in pastel, I was invited to have my first solo show at a local college. Besides getting ready by steadily painting, a visit to to see the space was in order. I remember coming home the day of that visit with a sense of terror. I wouldn't, I couldn't, possibly have enough work, I thought, especially at the rate I was painting. I was also at that time exploring oil in depth, and working on building my portrait portfolio. This was a lot for one year! So suddenly, this gallery which I had visited on so many occasions to see others' work, seemed enormous! After a brief period of what is similar to what is called "writers' block"-painters get it too- I was frozen with fear at the prospect of bare walls at my first show, I had to find a way to relax. Working on still life always soothes me, and the idea of choosing personal subject matter, inspired by Van Gogh and his "Hiking Boots” the old red high heels under my bed looked like good subject matter. It turned out they were GREAT! I really hadn't intended on filling a whole wall with these shoes, but that's how it ended up. By the time the date came around I had 20; a substantial grouping.
As far as the process, the shoes were arranged differently for each painting, which ended up being just as engaging and fun as actually painting them. I started and completed each painting within a day, usually, but sometimes did finishing touches the following day. I couldn't have predicted how interactive this project would be. Friends and family would come into my studio just to help me arrange the shoes for the next day's study. It was all fun. I also set up each shoe scene in a "still-life box", lined with black or colored paper, to control the light-as I typically prefer to do regardless of the subject when painting a still life. This makes it possible to control everything about the light: the direction, the intensity, the drama, which I love. I was in a much better plan to relax with this series, and do what I knew to do, and see some success.
The "Red Shoes were very well received, and most all were sold before the end of that exhibit. I learned more than ever from that experience, including the essential requirement to relax, let go, and enjoy the process. This is a life lesson that goes far and beyond awards and sales for being able to paint a picture of shoes - or anything.
I have recently, on cold wintery days when I prefer to stay in and do a still life if there is nobody around to paint, revisited the Red Shoe theme as an exercise in oil paint. This is the first in that series to come.