Saturday, 6 April 2013

The Portrait

Many years back I was sitting in the office of my Sensei (I teach and practice a martial art called Aikido). I had asked for a meeting and I told him I needed to stop training. Times were tough and I wasn't selling a lot of artwork. I loved Aikido but it just wasn't financially viable at the time.

He knew how dedicated a student I was, but he understood my predicament. He proposed a commissioned portrait for a years worth of mat fees. I had mixed emotions. I wanted to keep training, but portraits intimidated me. I offered to do a big landscape instead. He wanted a portrait. I reluctantly agreed.

I had been drawing portraits since I was five I think. I had The Beatles, White Album. It had these nice big 8x10's of the band. I used to draw them and my mom would critique them. I would draw comic characters and pretty much anything that interested me. In high school I even had some cartoons published in the local newspaper. With a pencil in my hand I was confident, but paint was another story.

I started painting while I was an amateur athlete. I was a long track speed skater. I also attended the local art college. I was part of the painting faculty. There were almost no fundamentals taught when I was there. I hope that's changed. What I did learn was that I was completely on my own to learn, so that's what I did. When my body said it was time to move on from skating, I got gallery representation and never looked back. I did mostly landscapes. I got into a pattern where I would design and idealize to suit my needs. When the time came to represent something faithfully I had a lot of trouble.

I'm not sure exactly, but Sensei's portrait may have been the catalyst for the "big change", much like the big bang except there was matter beforehand and no real sound...

I did the portrait and it was awful! Really, really bad. I had no clue what I was doing. Here I was, supposed to be a professional artist and I was stumped.

 He hated the portrait and so did I. He wanted me to redo it, so did I. Sensei was very compassionate, he never pressured me to finish it.

Then he had a stroke and five months later he died.

Classroom scene. Sensei like it but he wanted to see his face.

Although I tried, I never held up my end of the bargain.

Around this time I found Richard Schmid and Jeremy Lipking. I just stumbled onto their work. Living artists that could could paint beautiful realistic paintings! Through them and their paintings I also rediscovered John Singer Sargent, Zorn and Sorolla. I started to really study all their work and I got Richard's Book, Alla Prima: Everything I know About Painting. It just made total sense. I followed it to the letter. I also got Jeremy's book and DVD. Later I went to visit Jeremy and take a workshop.

It was an exciting time. By exciting I mean dreadfully scary and frustrating. In Richard's book he states you should never leave anything on your canvas that you know is wrong. So that became my personal credo. My ultimate goal was to be able to sit down in front of anything and represent it faithfully.

On top of all this I became a father and a stay-at-home dad. I decided I wanted to reinvent myself as an artist and change everything. With my limited time I went into the studio and began practicing. I wanted to finish the portrait I started. I thought that we should have a visual memory of Sensei in the dojo while we practiced. So I collected all of the reference material I had of Inaba Sensei and I began.

I must have done that portrait sixty or seventy times. I finally got to the point where I was satisfied.

We now hang the portrait up when we practice. It's a nice little memory of Sensei to the students who knew him. It also gives the new students a visual of the man that brought Aikido to Calgary.

To me it's so much more than a painting. It's a reminder of struggle, perseverance, failure, loss, gain, success and also how much farther I have to go. I see things that I could of done better, although it was my best effort at the time...

Inaba Sensei

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