May 2013 Newsletter

May 2013 Newsletter

Kelly by Sheila Dunn_detail

Do not isolate! Nothing exists in isolation!


Like some lingering litany from my art school days, these lines echo over and over in my head as I paint.


The voice behind these words is Patrice, my painting professor from undergrad. She would repeat them nearly every class period (some might argue ad nauseam). It was as though she wanted to imbed this idea into our very being. And it worked. All these years later, this concept remains the most valuable tool in my painting arsenal.


An example of isolating and why Patrice tried so hard to break us of the habit before it began:


Imagine you are a bright-eyed freshman in Figure Painting 101.


You begin your four hour studio class by sketching a rough outline of the nude model lying prone in front of you. Initially heeding the “don’t isolate!” advice, you work to cover the entire canvas with graphite lines that nearly resemble a figure.


Now comes the exciting part! You have spent an hour mixing various flesh tones on your glass palate and can finally begin applying paint! But instead of filling in big sections of light and dark, you decide the left eyeball is a really good place to start. And so while Patrice is not looking, you spend the next 90 minutes filling in 1/100th of the canvas – accentuating every single eyelash in excruciating detail.


Blurry-eyed from squinting, you finally back up from the canvas to admire your masterpiece.


And with a resounding “F@$#!!!!” you realize your perfect eyeball is not so perfect after all.  In fact it’s two inches too far to the right and now your figure more closely resembles a Cyclops.


At this precise moment the model gets up for a stretch break (following two hours of complete, how-the-hell-does-she-not-even-scratch-her-nose stillness). She throws on her robe and makes a casual loop around the fume-laden room, checking out everything behind the easels. As she approaches, you desperately want to explain that no, in fact she does not resemble a horrid mythical beast. That she is actually far prettier in real life. That’s “it’s me, not you”. Instead, you make a beeline for the sink to wash your brushes, avoiding her reaction.  


Now you are faced with three options:


1) Keep going and hope that once you fill in the rest of the painting, the Cyclops eye won’t matter. After all, it’s only two measly inches, right? And painting over your perfect, if misplaced, eye seems unfathomable. Look at all those eyelashes! So you keep going, and years later when the painting is still hanging over the couch at your parents’ house that damn two inches is all you’ll notice. You might as well have titled it, “The Eye”.


2) You decide to leave the eye where it is and just redraw the head. That won’t be so bad! But then comes the realization that redrawing the head means redrawing the neck…and the shoulders…and the torso…and the hips…and the legs…and on down until the feet are completely cut out of the composition.


3) You pull up your big-girl-art-school pants and start over, painting a layer of white gesso over your precious eyeball because you realize it is wrong and awkward and will always be wrong and awkward until you change it. And if you’re not feeling courageous enough for this, Patrice will gladly change it for you.

Nicholle by Sheila Dunn_detail

I’ve spent a good amount of time lately thinking about this lesson and how its significance expands well beyond body parts on canvas.


All these years later, I’m still learning the importance of harnessing all my courage and choosing option #3 – not just in painting but in life. It’s not easy to gesso over an eye – or to end a relationship or job that isn’t in line with your truest self– but it is always worth it in the end.


With time and practice I’m learning to pay equal attention to all parts of the picture, not just 1/100th of it.


I’m learning that each section makes sense only in relation to all which surrounds it and all that has come before. I’m learning the deeper meaning of “nothing exists in isolation” and that these four words are a very good mantra to hold close. I’m learning that when I live and paint from this place of connectedness, option #3 becomes a lot less scary.


These days when the time comes to summon all my courage and start over – to whitewash the dreaded Cyclops eye – I no longer fear a stark white space.


These days I trust a thousand other shapes and brilliant hues will remain, holding me in place.

Artist Sheila Dunn at Sparrow show

Upcoming Openings:

Sheila Dunn art opening at Thump

first friday artwalk at thump in bend!

june 7th from 5-8pm
come check out my brand new series,
drink some vino and catch some great live music
from Dan Paggi of Biv and the Mnemonics!
Artist Sheila Dunn at Sparrow in Bend Oregon
                                   Opening at Sparrow Bakery in Bend, Oregon

Recent Work:

"Kelly" by Sheila Dunn


Nicholle by Sheila Dunn, oil on canvas, 30"x40"

What's Been Playing In My Studio (on repeat):

"Who Needs Who" by Dark Dark Dark

"Muchacho" by Phosphorescent