Full Circle No. 1

As I walked through the parking lot, a feeling of intense pride washed over me. I opened the car door and slid into the driver's seat and set my purse down on the passenger side floor. I leaned my head back on the headrest and tears started forming and leaking from the corners of my eyes and trickled down my cheeks and onto my shirt. I had just sold and shipped my first painting and the validation of someone wanting to buy my work and have it shipped all the way from my little studio to their house halfway across the country felt so good that I simply could not contain my emotions.

Circle Collage.jpg

I thought about all of the years I quietly scribbled circles on surfaces that would later reveal my proclivity towards the sacred orb - Pee Chee folders, random scraps of paper, in them margins of grocery lists, tiny notebooks housed in the dark pit of my purse and finally, sketchbooks that would hold the truth of what I'm literally drawn to and give me the blank page to do so. After decades of seeking out and being drawn to the shape with no edges, I finally gave myself permission to make the marks I'd been wanting to make my whole life - the geometric shape that pleases me most, the circle.

The assignment was to work off of a paper collage that I had made earlier in the week, but when it came time to translate that onto the canvas I ended up hating what was on the paper. When I approached the blank canvas, I was in a funk and felt totally paralyzed by the possibilities. The assignment was to create an abstract painting on a 30" x 30" canvas, the largest canvas I'd painted on yet this semester. I think that kind of freaked me out.

Photo credit: Professor Claudia McCain

Photo credit: Professor Claudia McCain

My art professor met my mood with an exercise to help me get out of my head. We mixed up watered down acrylics and laid out sheets of paper on the floor of the classroom studio. Next, she taped a paintbrush on the end of a long bamboo reed and encouraged me to paint like I draw in my sketchbooks at home.

After a half an hour of painting on the floor, I felt ready to face my blank canvas. My professor is a genius, which I already knew! I painted big, imperfect circles and affixed a few handmade papers to give the piece a collage-like beginning. They ended up symbolizing little pieces of me, the old me, on the underpainting of this new work. I stopped here for the day and loaded it in my car to take home. It felt like something had broken open in me and I couldn't wait to continue working on this painting.

Over the next week, the painting started to take shape.

The colors really picked themselves for this assignment and I just kept turning the canvas, applying the pigments and doing what intuitively felt right. I didn't overthink it and painting it brought me a kind of peace I needed. I could escape into this painting and I loved the joy it gave me.

I ended up bringing several plastic circular items from home and dipped their rims in paint and pushed them into the canvas where they felt good in the overall composition. I didn't overthink this step or try to achieve perfection. I simply did it and moved on. Black would symbolize the darkness of my earlier days and the chaotic mark-making would slowly blend the old and the new together, making it more of a beautiful mess.

My professor encouraged me to use paper cutouts to play around with the next phase of the painting. This is a safe way to experiment with my concept for a portal into the painting without the commitment of placing paint on the canvas. It helped immensely.

I ended up adding some white circular rimmed shapes here, too, because there were good things in my past, too - my husband, the birth of my child, the safety of my own childhood. It wasn't all dark and gloomy. I need to remember that and balance out my memories from time-to-time. The white would serve to that end.

All of the initial marks up to this point were painted with acrylics, which dry much faster than oils. After months of painting exclusively with oils, it was nice to get quick-drying results that would serve as the foundation of the painting and that I could easily paint over the next day and build up the underpainting. This is a lesson I will take with me into future paintings. Acrylics first, oils last.

I didn't photograph where it went wrong here, probably because I was so disheartened, but I painted the outside of the white paper circle in a dark purplish-black color. The idea was to have look like a porthole to my soul, with the chaotic and colorful center juxtaposed with the calm new outer layer that is recovery for me.

It ended up looking ridiculous and dark. It made me feel sad when I looked at it and so it had to go, but how?

My professor quickly reminded me about the beauty of oil paints and that you can just wipe it back and remove what you don't want. Her words reminded me that I don't want to hide all of my underpainting, the lessons from my past but, rather, just simply apply a thin layer of the new me over it, a lighter top coat of oil paint, and still let those lessons of the past come through. They're important and necessary. They make me beautiful and have given me wisdom.

And so that's what I did. I wiped the outside perimeter of darkness away, enlarged the circle and the beauty of what was underneath came to the surface, too. 

Full Circle No. 1 - acrylic + oil on canvas 30" x 30"

Full Circle No. 1 - acrylic + oil on canvas 30" x 30"

This is the final result.

The process from start-to-finish has been full circle for me - from the early fascination with circular shapes to the circuitous route I took to finally enter recovery from alcohol. All of it necessary. All of it worth it. All of it dark and light. 

I will be making more paintings in this style to create a series of paintings under the Full Circle premise and number them accordingly. You can find Full Circle No. 2 for sale in my marketplace now.


Thank you to Maria from Illinois for engaging me to sell my work and honoring my hard work and process by hanging it in your exquisite home. You will always be my first, darling, and for that I'm eternally grateful.