It was a stepping stone for me in 2015 when I decided to put my watercolor skills to the test in a national painting contest. Although nobody really pushed me to spend the entire half of the month boxed inside the studio, I truly had that burning desire to work on a large piece for my entry. That time, I was very excited to get my hands dirty since everything felt new at that point. It would be the first national painting contest that I’ll be entering using watercolor as my medium of choice and of course, the challenge of painting beyond my usual dimension was “kind of” intriguing.
Having a good project to keep busy is essential for me to function well in an industry that requires so much technical stuff and creativity. I thought I was doing myself a favor when I had that responsibility of giving birth to a new artwork. A year after reminiscing that experience, I was clearly wrong. On a positive note though, despite how disappointed I was when the results came out, I have learned so much about expectations, outcomes, and ultimately, the value of hard work.
Personally, I was not ready for the challenge in terms of my skill set at that time. It was only a year after constant practicing on weekly paintings – there’s not much consistency in terms of strokes or techniques but rather just the frequency of “doing it.” I was never convinced that I am that good, nor that I am fit to enter into the world of professional artists. Who am I to join such competition?
But my inner child pushed me to go beyond my limits. “It won’t hurt when you try.” She annoyingly said.
The 11th National GSIS Painting Competition in 2015 had a general theme for representational works. It was not something I had in mind as I was expecting an open category where you just paint something that you desire. That year, my work should reflect gender equality and women empowerment – such a powerful theme to wrap my head onto. I was putting myself into a whirlwind of experiences when I said “Yes” to this opportunity.
It is inevitable though. The blank page syndrome always haunts me up to this day. Everything starts out with a blank canvas. It is a dilemma that I always face and yes, it’s a “love-hate relationship” that I try to work with. It is one of those moments that I’d always feel both excited and anxious. It is pretty much built in me to be ambivalent when forced to deal with a clean slate. It happens all the time – in writing, in painting, and in drafting plans. I freak out and overthink, to which, it pretty much takes a huge chunk of time during the entire process – but I believe in the long run, it’s worth it.
I am bad at painting human faces. I am not confident in painting faces, all the more women faces. But I have to. I really have to. Unless I will paint women as objects which will never be a good kind of representation. I have to paint humans. What’s the point for this challenge anyway if I am not up for it?
Pre-conception of the work is really difficult. The stress that went into my head has been exhausting to cope with. All the more those voices that present the positive and negative effects of my actions. I had no choice but to battle it out and weigh the consequences. It has always been that way: What to put, where to put it, what color, what expression, how big, how small, where should the shadow go, what type of hair, etc?
Aside from the elements of the work, there’s also that pressure of finishing the work on time. So, there’s that general goal of covering an area of the canvas in a specified amount of time. These were some of the bumps that I had to deal with at the beginning of the project. It’s an explosion of emotions at that moment.
Another problem was the amount of paint that is available on hand. The artwork size was 4ft. x 3ft., that’s 12 square feet. The paint tubes must be estimated depending on the amount of color needed. Plus, I had to pre-mix all the paint that I will use for the background to maintain consistency of colors. The truth is, I have zero skills in mixing the same color twice – especially if it involves so many combinations and writing it down (prussian blue + lamp black + burnt sienna) won’t help either as it will still be dissolved with (x) amount of water, which in reality, evaporates. Also, you can’t really measure the gooey paint that goes out of the tube.
I’m not a genius at that because it’s the kind of stuff that looks like it doesn’t need any attention, but it sure does if you’re working on a large-scale project.
When I was a kid and entering almost any painting contests was my hobby, I always had that signature “style” of using bottles as a representation of my works. That style went a long way, and it reaped so many awards because of its simplicity and fragility. For this entry, I had to make a tribute to that old concept.
So, the juxtaposition of the bottle to the entry reminded me of those childhood years, but only this time, I have grown up. It’s a sentimental thing that I felt the need to do just because.
The artwork concept is very simple. Women before are only limited to the work “socially assigned” to them. In the past, women can’t do jobs similar to those of men because of that “superiority” and “patriarchy” that is currently being dissolved. That’s why these women are trapped inside a bottle, corked shut to signify the limits of society. The hand (on the upper right corner) uncorked the bottle releasing these women to the world of opportunity – so there are women who are in the military, medical practitioners, lawyers, engineers, mothers, and even the disabled which are given equal opportunity to society.
The background then speaks a lot about the lower class, middle class, and upper class – a ladder that is of universal truth that everyone climbs.
It’s as simple as that yet the execution of the piece gave me a lot of headaches.
“One head at a time.” I sighed when I began working on the entry. It was a grueling experience, layer after layer, with only one thing to avoid – a mistake.
Watercolor is an art of no mistakes because once the paint is on the paper and it dries, there’s no going back, unless you can still cover it up. This is a lesson I have learned during my frequent watercolor practices. There’s no room for mistakes because it can be and it will be seen.
With that weight on my shoulders, I took my time in building the artwork, taking some break if I needed to, and coffee if I need to perk up. When I was in doubt, I would always pause and think about what I should do rather than instinctively do it with no hesitation and regret it. So it’s a slow-paced work in progress.
It took me around 16 days to work on the entire artwork plus two or three days for retouching and framing. There were some crazy nights too that I dreamed about the people on the artwork coming alive and talking to me – which I find common especially painting for so long. I might have developed “pseudo-hallucinations” during the process and it’s scary and also quite interesting.
There was also a time that I feel like I was going crazy – but I know that I was just working on an artwork. Psychiatric nursing helped a lot in terms of my self-awareness exercises.
Yes, I know, I said it should be avoided but somehow it still becomes unavoidable. I was too excited to finish the artwork because I finally completed two major (and difficult) parts: the female figures and the giant hand. It was nearly done as I have already painted two-thirds of the background from the lower class to the middle class bit. It’s the final, yellow-gold background at the upper class section. I had butterflies in my stomach at that moment because who wouldn’t? It was the last and final part of the artwork completion.
I was rejoicing while I was spattering yellow paint on the high-rise buildings on the background. I was even singing to some good tunes while at it. I was extremely flamboyant, cocky, and plain ecstatic that everything was falling into place. The struggle was nearly at its end.
And then some tragedy decided to happen at that climax.
For no reason at all, the brush that I was holding onto, simply slipped from my hand and slid down the coat of the female doctor, with its tip marking a yellow stain on that precious white cloth.
I wiped my tears and looked at the artwork again. I tried telling myself that it’s going to be alright and that something can be done.
It… was… hideous!!!
I cried again…
It was too painful to see something that you worked so hard for ruined in a mere millisecond of stupidity. I blamed myself countless times for that one mistake that is permanently there.
Because I was nearly done with the artwork and that dramatic climax happened so soon, I had no choice but to finish it despite my pure disgust on that single mistake.
As a solution to the problem, I covered the stain up with some grey paint, disguising it as a darker shadow. But it still shows. It can still be seen as a stain. Nothing more can be done unless I want to do the painting again and start from scratch. I can’t. It was too time consuming and I could not finish it before the deadline if that were to happen.
I kept my cool. I moved on. But at the back of my head, I just want to undo everything or press CTRL+Z countless times to bring me back to that moment of slip-up.
It was impossible.
I had to move forward.
And I did.
I finished the artwork with a bittersweet feeling.
It took a while for me to accept what I did wrong as it was purely an accident on my part. But the pressure that I have set and the standards that I have put up at the beginning of the project definitely evaluated the outcome of that experience.
I was crushed when all I could think of was that mistake – not the fun times working on the painting, not the hilarious part when I accidentally dipped my brush yet again onto my coffee, not the happiness I felt when I started documenting my work. It was always that one mistake.
Somehow, after a year, I have finally moved on and accepted it. I have learned that it will still happen for the many artworks that I will make. I have learned that it is normal to make mistakes and it is a normal response to breakdown and cry.
Ultimately, I have learned that even though one mistake could ruin everything that you have worked hard for, it should never overshadow the effort that you have put so much in making that one special project piece. I’m truly happy for what I have made. I accept my imperfections and carelessness as an artist. Most of all, I aspire to be better and to learn from that one, funny, mistake.
I may not have placed in the competition, but the experience taught me so many things about this hobby of mine. That it’s okay to mess up. That it’s okay to fall short from your own expectations. Because one way or another, those things will make you better and those things that you cried on will equip you with insights that will let you avoid future mishaps.
This was definitely the highlight of my 2015 project. smile
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Here are some random snapshots of the entire painting process.