Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Barn Owl for August
14 x 11 charcoal
Still available for $50 at LynneHurdBryant.com

This is another barn owl drawing, and marks the first day of my "unretirement" and first day as a full time artist.  I love to draw in charcoal, and do it often. It's about time for another 30 drawings in 30 days personal challenge, which will happen again for December 2015.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Making a Grown Man Cry

I have had what I hope is an epiphany.  That is to say, I hope I don't move back into the cave of my own reticence and fear.  Please bear with me here, my mind is running in two circles. 

I am 52.  I became a grandmother for the first time last December and the second time in January.   I wanted to be a grandmother while I was still young enough to chase them and spend time with them.  I had an excellent grandmother and I wanted to be an excellent grandmother.  It is a distinct, marked point of transition in one’s life, being a grandparent.  It is a rite of passage of a sort, and as my oldest son is 29, it is one I had waited for a bit longer than anticipated. 

I had another life mapped out for myself at 21, and it didn’t include getting married and having children.  I wanted to be an artist.  I knew this was my life’s work, my ambition, my passion, my direction, my life’s calling.  Because of some complicated family drama and a controlling boyfriend, I ended up pregnant and married, in that order, at 23.  I went on to have six children in all, being a single parent before my last child was born because he walked out on the family.  I was kept too busy to paint even during the marriage, I think because my ex-husband was jealous of my abilities and of the art degree I had earned that he had not.  Once we were separated, I scrambled to make a living to support my children by myself because I knew I would not have his help in that direction or any other.  I ended up building a career where I have been successful, reasonably happy, but after 17 years, bored and unfulfilled.  This is not my life’s calling.

I faced turning 52 in February 2013 by finding more than a few white hairs sprouting from my temples to be glints of light amongst my red curls.  The irony of this time in my life is that I’m a grandmother, “graying” and still frequenting the feminine hygiene aisles and trying to decide if I’m still young…ish, or if I’m sliding past being a middle-aged woman to be a wrinkled old crone.  Of late, I ask myself again and again about what the rest of my life will be like; long or short, happy or in despair, or dreaming more dreams that will be unrequited like a high school crush, or will I continue to live in fear without the confidence to follow my passion? 

I continue to paint, read every article, blog, newsletter, book about marketing I can put my hands on…and being too afraid of rejection to move on much of any of it.  My work has gotten progressively better, and on a personal level, better than I thought it would be even if I painted every day of my life for 50 years, which I have not done, yet and won’t have the chance to find out, at this point.  I have three days off from the drudgery of my full time job to paint, and paint I DO.  The process is incredibly satisfying because I’m producing something I’m proud of, to a point I suppose, but the finished product holds no glory, no expectation, no appreciation in me.   This fact is all twisted up with the above-mentioned family drama and the fact that my own parents refuse to hang my artwork on their walls and always have.  I had to be about the process, that was the only pleasure I was ever going to experience.  Until this week.

In December of 2011, a local family commissioned me to paint a memorial of a much beloved German shepherd.  The dog’s name was Kia and the summer before she had had to be put down, owing to ocular cancer.  There were many photos taken her last day, and these were handed to me for reference.  Her right eye was clouded over with the cancer, so naturally I didn’t paint it that way.  It is not a special piece, not one of my best.  The eyes are my usual effort and have some life to them, but I was not overly enthusiastic about my work.  This piece was to be a surprise Christmas gift for a local man as Kia was his dog.  I could not post it online, but I could share with the family who commissioned it.  I sent them text photos as I moved along.  They kept assuring me I was spot on.  I did the framing myself, cutting mats and making it what they wanted.  I took it to them, was paid and didn’t hear anything more about it.  The gentleman who received this painting is someone I know on sight, but I had not run into him in this time since and he wouldn’t know my face to put with my name.  I didn’t know what I would say to him when the time came.  I was not particularly thrilled by my efforts, even though I understood that my instincts and work were correct. 

This week,  my opportunity came. 

Me:  Your name is J____ isn’t it?

J:  Yes, it is. 

Me:  You have a painting in your home of a special dog named Kia. 

He looked up and met my gaze, eyes beginning to fill with tears. 

Me:  I’m Lynne Hurd Bryant, and that painting is my work. 

I held out my hand to shake his, as is polite.  By this point, he would not take my hand.  Instead, he grabbed me, held me tightly and told me that I had no idea how special that painting was for him, how very like her it is, how it is like having her there to keep watch, what a special dog she was…and wept openly, apologizing for doing so. 

Me:  She was your “life dog”?

J:  Oh my, yes; yes she was.  I miss her so much. 

Me:  I can absolutely understand that.  I’m a dog person myself.  I wanted to capture her just right, for you.

J:  You certainly did! 

Me:  It was a labor of love.

It was a labor of love…yes, all my painting is just exactly that, but my love and respect ends when I sign it.  I suppose I take for granted that my signature is the end of it, but it can be just the beginning.  For every hour, every stroke of midnight, 3 a.m. that I have spent with a brush in my hand, for every time I think I have tried and failed, for the sales that are there or not, hit or miss, for all the sighing over the portfolio of beautiful orphans who don’t find homes, for all the defeat, futility, inadequacy, fear and disappointment…I honestly had no idea of the power of my work that it would ever, could ever, touch another human being quite that way. 

This is a game changer.

It doesn’t matter that I have grandchildren, except that I’m blessed with more subject matter and a lot more love and joy in my life.   I can exercise artistic license and color the white hairs of betrayal.  The zigzagging hormones that bring tears at all the improper times are actually opening my heart and making me the more emotional artist I have wanted to be.  The job that is sucking the life out of me doesn’t have to be full time anymore and I can semi-retire, work rather part time at any point of my choosing. 

The brushstrokes we leave on the lives of others never fade, but I didn’t know that was literal as well as figurative.  It is time to put my fears aside and move forward with understanding and faltering confidence.  It is not too late to follow a 30-year-old dream and to paint like there is no tomorrow until all my tomorrows are gone. 

From the Dark Night into the Light

From the Dark Night into the Light

I had the opportunity to revisit a blog when it was published in Fine Art Views.  (Dark Night of the Artistic Soul, February 10, 2012.)  It was written two years ago this month, in February 2010.  At that time, I had been working in watercolor approximately six months, and that is almost all the experience I had with the medium.  

I obtained my BFA in 1983.  That summer I found myself pregnant and got married.  I went on to have several more children, go through a divorce and had no time to paint.  During those 26 years, I would often remark that I had the "soul of a watercolorist" in a rather grandiose way like I knew anything about the medium, or myself as an artist much less that I would ever actually find this to be my truth.  I think I always intended to paint again, but no one was more surprised I was when I did finally begin again, and in watercolor no less. 

I never really thought I had a voice or that I knew what to say, artistically speaking.  This is part of what kept me away quite so long.  In college I had painted flowers, I think because they are so colorful and I am in love with color.  After a time, I came to see them as the only subject I could paint. While my training was more structured and traditional than many programs today, it was not exactly what you would call classical and I felt rather inadequate to try other subject matter.  I honestly felt like a one-trick pony doing my one trick and not very well.  I'd be embarrassed to share all of my emotional wrangling during that time, accompanied by threats to quit painting again, and this time, FOR GOOD.

In summer of 2010, something broke loose for me.  I painted my first dog (Princess Bully) and I thoroughly enjoyed the work.  It was at about that time than I came to my theory of painting.  That is, you can only paint three things:  Color, shape and value...or the colors of the shapes of the value.  Under this premise, subject is not the issue because all subjects are approached the same way.  Bingo!  The dark night became light. 

In 2010, I asked if I were prostituting my talents.  Today, I'd say no because I don't view that I have any talent at all.  Rather, I have training behind me and I work very hard to learn and grow as an artist. If I am prostituting at all (and I am) it is the skills of my day job.  I feel like I am selling little a piece of myself to keep a roof over my head instead of celebrating the most important aspect of my life:  My art. 

All this said, I spend very little time with the Dark Night of my artistic soul and a great deal of time in the Light.  Because I keep a chronological diary of my work on my Facebook fan page, I can go back and see all sorts of progressions artistically, not the least of which is the fact that I paint the Light I feel into the work I do. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011


In August, I visited the studio of an artist friend, took off all my clothing and posed nude for him.  It is true, I am 50 years old, and I have body parts that have moved south permanently, not just for the winter.  I had friends ask me if I was embarrassed and the answer is no, not in the least.  What I exposed was merely the vessel, not the contents.  It isn’t like this artist asked me to reveal what is in my heart , what is important to me or the contours of my innermost thoughts.  If he had, I would have felt nude, naked, bare, exposed…vulnerable. 

As artists who have some time behind us, we can identify the painting we made after the death of a loved one, or the one after we kissed our youngest child goodbye before leaving them hundreds of miles away at college.  We know the piece we painted in anger after arguing with our spouse.  We know too well the commission we worked on into the wee hours until everything we looked at was a blur.  We have taken the weight of our lives into the studio and dropped it on the surface of our work.

We need to learn to paint naked.

We can be told to paint from the heart, we have all heard that.  I am sure many of us have been told that our work lacks emotion or movement or texture.  Of course it lacks emotion when you paint while seething with anger, or stoically holding in your tears.  You can’t paint movement when your knees are hurting because you can’t paint what you can’t do.  Why paint texture when your life course is bumpy?

Paint naked.

By now, you know I don’t mean for you to go into the studio, strip to the skin and paint in the nude, even if it would save your wardrobe.  I am suggesting that you toss away the pretense, discard the tension and loosen your grip on perceived reality.  Let go of your cares and find your inner peace.  Be nude, be naked, lay bare, expose the self and be vulnerable so that you can pour out the contents of your vessel.  In other words…

Paint naked.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Art and the Single Woman

Feline Eyes: Marmalade Tabby

I am frustrated.  My life has reached a rather frenetic level.  I am in a wet paper bag without the ability to navigate my way out of it. 

I am a single woman, an artist and a full time corporate worker.  I am responsible for every thin dime I have to spend.  I have no safety net, no spouse and no trust fund, but I have two jobs, one of which I work every day of the year, as in every day of the year.  I am responsible for my own meals and my own housekeeping.  I have grown children whom I chase around from time to time, and who often need my financial help, hence the two jobs I work.  Sprinkle in some serious health problems just for good measure.  My life is full to the brim, even if I don’t paint.  I have responsibilities to others, but I have them to myself as well.  In the midst of my chaos, my spirit demands that I paint. 

I am writing this on a Thursday.  Tomorrow morning, I must enter into the four days of hell I call my full time workweek.  Between tomorrow at 11 a.m. and Monday at 11 p.m., I will have put in more than 50 hours at my desk.  I will be exhausted, parts of me will be numb and my heart will be pounding at the impending joy of three days to paint…knowing full well that I also have Mount Washmore to climb, wash, fold and put away, that the kitchen is not fit for food preparation, not to mention the myriad of other household chores facing me.  God forbid I have to spend a full day driving 150 miles round trip to the nearest Walmart to stock my cupboard because it is bare.  So, much as I am excited to get to the brushes, it is going to take an energy and determination that has been depleted by selling my soul to the company store.

Certainly, it would be nice to paint full time.  That would be the goal, however unrealistic it might be.  I could achieve that by winning the lottery, but I have a greater chance of dying in a terrorist attack.  I could remarry and trade in my day job for washing someone else’s dirty socks and fighting over the toilet seat.  Again, I think the odds of this happening are about as good as dying in a terrorist attack.  When weighing marriage against the scope of my current freedom, it feels like death anyway.  I consider these things from time to time, and freely decide to continue my life as a corporate whore in a job I detest and one that is extremely boring and redundant.

I will now go back to my life divided.  There are the four days in the dark cave and the three days in the light, of rich colors and living in the Zen of watercolor artistry, believing that the struggles are worthy of my efforts.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

 Leopard's Blue Glare by Lynne Hurd Bryant

Art used to be relevant to life.  Look at Vermeer and his lustrous portraits of women working in the home, or at other "women's" tasks.  It was relevant to his surroundings, to the life and times of the artist and his models.  Even centuries later, his paintings provoke an emotional response.  Many people think this is because of their luminous beauty, but the truth is that this emotional connection is about its relevance.

Today, most artists don't paint what is relevant to their life and times.  We paint emotional voids in our quest to reproduce the dwindling beauty of the nature around us.  I look at my own work and have long felt that the missing piece is emotion and drama that might better connect my work to the viewer.  This is not so.  There is plenty of movement, texture and emotion in my work, but it lacks relevance. 

My latest piece, "Leopard's Blue Glare", made a relevant emotional impact in a way I didn't foresee.  I have a list of collectors who routinely receive emails of my latest paintings.  This piece was sent around the day that big cats and other "exotic" animals were senselessly killed in Ohio.  One collector responded to my email with intense anger about the incident, and praise for the beauty of the painting that drove home the slaughter in real terms.  The eyes of this leopard are riveting, and when viewed through this tragedy, seem to speak volumes. 

The emotion I felt was lacking in my work doesn't belong to me, it belongs to the viewer.  What is art without an emotional impact?  Certainly, grotesque and shocking artwork elicits a strong response, but what about beauty?  Shouldn't beauty bring about an equally strong response?  Beauty for its own sake is not relevant in this topsy turvy 21st Century world.  Surely art has to recognize this, and if it is to be an oasis, then let it be one that connects to this time and to this place.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Asking for trouble and finding it

 "Emu test drive" by Lynne Hurd Bryant

I don't know if being 50 has given me more wisdom about my shortcomings or merely a stronger desire to try to bend myself in new ways.  Sometimes, as when I dove into oil painting this summer, I am successful, while in others ways I am not quite so successful.

Enter a tempting offer to illustrate a book for an Australian author.  Am I game?  Sure...knowing full well that I am not an illustrator, that I was taught to paint what I see and to leave imagination out of the equation.  Illustrating a children's book requires an imagination and a skill I don't believe I possess.  My imagination, artistically speaking, has been painstakingly subdued in favor of a "clean eye."  As for the skill of drawing anthropomorphized animals from angles I can only see in my mind's eye, it is not subdued, as it is not a skill I have felt I ever I had, or would need.

Add into this something that never crossed my mind:  The animals in question are ordinary for an Australian child, but quite exotic for this middle-aged Western artist...echidnas, emus, wombats, platypuses and kangaroos.  Like most of Americans of my generation, the closet we got to a kangaroo was a zoo or Mister Greenjeans.  An emu is an easier prospect as they are raised, with ostriches, in my part of eastern Wyoming.  I see these foreigners frequently, but I had never even seen a photograph of a wombat!

To top off my anxiety about this project is an embarrassing factoid:  I have not made any art since the end of May owing to job scheduling, financial stress and illness.  Graphite pencils have always felt strange to me, because I am so much more comfortable with color than pure value.  I don't see life's issues in shades of gray, and likewise I can't see lifeforms in shades of gray either.  The preliminary work has to be done in graphite.

I am out of my comfort zone on every level here.  If the publisher moves ahead, all this work will need to be done again, but this time in colorful watercolor where I am much happier to work.  Time will tell if this was wisdom or a desire to bend in a way I am incapable of bending.