Prior to the finished product we see and the paintings we buy are hours of deliberations, days of customer coddling, and the dreaded creative block. We asked famed artist Yaeli Vogel to share a running narrative of what goes on in her mind in the process from concept to completion.
I should really paint… the ideas running through my brain are endless. Then why, when I’m standing in front of the white canvas, staring at it, does nothing come up for me? Maybe I should take a break for a few minutes. Don’t tell me staring may not warrant a break. It’s hard work staring down a stubbornly blank canvas.
Step one, okay. Refer to my list of inspiration ideas (the ones I jot down every second — you know). I pull out my phone to open the Notes app and there I go, tricking myself into a break: I can’t neglect this email, and I should ensure no important WhatsApp messages came through. Two unproductive hours later, and deep down the rabbit hole of my phone, I feel overwhelmed, so I shut off the phone. My brain is spinning off in a million directions. Why did I grab my phone to begin with? Ideas… right. Square one doesn’t feel great from this vantage point.
I flip through the potential concepts. This one? Too complicated. That? Save that for another day. No, not that one either. Too structural.
I catalogue my excuses and come up with one thought: just paint. The whiteness of the canvas simultaneously frightens and irritates me. It’s looking at me, like a conscience.
Today, I’ll allow instinct to guide me. What if I… make an entire painting with just blue? My heart skips a beat and I’m excited — that’s when I know I’m being guided. The entire palette is instantly transformed into a sea of blue. I dip my brush and scoop off the largest amount of paint and place it on the canvas.
Dark-blue waltzes around the middle, surrounded by cobalt and cornered by Prussian blue. It’s thick; I add some water to the brush while continuing to sway the brush back and forth, and it hits the consistency I’ve envisioned. Therapy is getting all that color off the brush and onto the canvas.
I twist in some phthalo blue and combine it with white. Oh, that’s so good. The depth of all the color combinations is making my heart sing. I continue dancing and my hand is moving to the music of color. The entire canvas is alive.
I stand back.
The beauty of color on a canvas never gets old. Sometimes I see something instantly, and other times it can take a bit for something to download. Today it’s not instantly clear. I walk away from the canvas for a bit and come back with fresh eyes and a clear conscience.
I take a break — this one well-earned and deserved, one that will serve me very well. Inspiration hits because I’d completely forgotten about the painting, and when I glance up from the corner of my eye, I see it: One musician with a double bass and another musician with a clarinet. Now I need to transfer the vision from mind to brush. This part gets tricky, because I don’t want to lose the energy of the first round, but I need to add more to the canvas to bring out what I see.
I tell myself: One step at a time. You will be guided. Relax into it. Just have fun. Don’t be so serious. That’s where the magic lies, right?
I continue spreading that light-blue and turn that into his shirt. See the dark stroke over there? I enhance that and there you go — that’s his foot. I stand back. This needs a lot more. How will I ever find my way through? I push through, adding strokes, intensity, interest.
What do I want the viewer to be drawn into first? How will the viewer be moved? It becomes clear that the music needs to be the focus. It’s the song. It’s the energy! I butter some cerulean blue on my finger and tickle it onto spots that are calling for it. Add more there. And there. And there. Stand back.
I’m in love. And I tell that to whoever’s listening.
I leave it on the easel for another few days to see if there’s anything else that’s bothering me about it. Once it’s all good and I’m completely satisfied, I sign my name.
Then comes my favorite part. “I love this painting so much! The size isn’t right, though. Can you paint it again in my desired size?”
You want me to go on a journey again. How can I reenact all that emotion? It will be stale. I can’t. Each time, there’s one and only one. I can paint a brand-new painting, a similar one, maybe — but not this one. The magic is in the journey, and this journey was found here in this painting.
Or, “I’ve been searching for a painting that speaks to me and I just found it! I love this so much and need it in my home. Look, right for this spot! It’s meant to be! So, what’s the best price you can do for this one?”
A price that would be worth it for me to let go. I just left a piece of me there, on the canvas. I want to hold onto it forever, but I also want my paintings to grace your walls. That’s where they belong, and I completely understand that. My hands are a vessel, painting something that G-d wants onto the canvas, adding beauty and consciousness into His world, where each one is so unique and unknown. The curiosity gets me each time: What will be? How will this turn out? I never want to stop improving on this work. I see myself as 95 years old and still painting, taking this journey in perpetuity.
That’s living. It’s progress. It’s potential. And it’s priceless.
Yaeli Vogel is an Israeli-born artist, now based in New York, who brings her unique contemporary artistic vision and expressionistic technique to a wide variety of Jewish subjects, including weddings, Jerusalem, and Biblical images. Yaeli works across multiple media, including acrylics and watercolors. Learn more at yaelivogel.com.
(Originally featured in Family Room, Issue 28)
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