Brushes and Bourbon and Blues / by Alice Absolutely

“I’d like to be a fly on the wall for that…”

This has been a rough week.  Nothing extraordinarily bad happened in my world, but all of the yucky stuff that routinely happens seemed to comingle into a long string of, “Really?! This is what we are doing?!” this week and there were few highlight moments to balance out the crap.  When I encounter a single day like this, I get life back on level by soaking in a warm bath for an hour or so and that always seems to make it better.

As I was contemplating taking my fourth extended soak in the tub for the week and venting about my week to a friend, I made the comment that this particular string of bad days warranted a “Brushes, Bourbon, and Blues” night.  He responded, “I’d like to be a fly on the wall for that.”  And I immediately thought about this blog post that has been sitting on my draft board for nearly seven months now.  It was originally titled, “Paint With A Friend.”  I think it finally fermented itself a better title.

Aside from the need to get my head right, “Brushes, Bourbon, and Blues” nights produce some of my best work.  So when my friend Codi reached out a little more than a year ago saying he was going to be in town visiting family and wanted to stop by to paint with me, I knew the sort of painting occasion I needed to throw together.

Ok, let’s back up a little bit.  I’m getting ahead of myself.

Remember, I have zero artistic ability, or so I thought for the first thirty years of my life.  My friend Codi was under the same impression about himself and had just recently discovered otherwise.  As he was working to develop his process, he decided he wanted to see me work through my process.  Up until he asked if he could join me, painting was a solitary process for me.  I always isolated myself from other people in my house while I painted.  If someone intruded upon my work, I would stop to chat with them, but I waited until they left before I began painting again.  I found Codi’s request to paint with me intimidating.  I didn’t have a process…I paint the emotions I’m working through.  I mean, I guess I have a process—but I imagine it to be something like the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.  It goes something like this:

  • Emotions are bothering me and I can’t process them or talk about them with people.
  • I let them irritate me for days.
  • I finally breakdown (sometimes a literal emotional breakdown) and go to an art supply store.  (Art supply stores are Zen shrines in my world.)
  • I pick out a canvas—the more the emotions are bothering me, the bigger canvas I select.
  • I let the emotions ferment in my brain for another few days while I stare at the huge white block in my living room.
  • I set up an area to do the painting.  These emotional things are messy, and paint gets everywhere.  Occasionally tarps are involved.  (One day, I’ll have a proper studio and it won’t matter where the paint ends up…)
  • Eventually, I browse through my paint to pick colors/textures/mediums that seem to correspond to what has been rolling around in my head.
  • Then, maybe, I go to work…

It isn’t really a process.  I stop and start several times throughout these events.  I change my mind about colors and canvases.  I set up paint areas and then take them down to clean house or entertain guests.  Sometimes the process stalls and the unfinished canvas will lay around for months before I can go back to it.  Sometimes I start on something, think I’m ready to process those emotions, only to find out I hate it and paint over it later.

I didn’t want to drag my friend through this emotional eco-disaster.  He was more of a see something, paint something sort of artist.  I was sure Codi did not want to spend his Saturday evening strolling through my toxic emotional waste dump.  So, I dropped back and punted.  It was going to have to be a Bourbon, Brushes, and Blues night; if the painting failed, at least the drinks and music would be good.  At the time, I was not trying to navigate any emotional wastelands, so I didn’t have canvas on hand being worked, but I had old pieces I didn’t like.  I grabbed a stacked triptych, fell in love with some metallics to mix up for a pour, lined up some bourbons for tasting, and put the playlist on shuffle.  I did my best to act like I knew what I was doing.  Acting like I know what I’m doing has NEVER produced any art worth claiming…

Spirit,  The piece from that particular Bourbon, Brushes, and Blues night.

Spirit, The piece from that particular Bourbon, Brushes, and Blues night.

But like any Brushes, Bourbon, and Blues night, the bourbon started working out my mental blocks and the painting started to take shape for me.  All in all, one of my favorite works came out of that painting experience.  I wasn’t sure about it at the time, but I love the work now.  As with any experience in paint, I hope to grow as an artist.  This particular painting experience taught me that I did have the talent and artistic aptitude to paint at will.  Considering what motivates me to paint, this was an important realization for me: I could call upon myself to paint when I needed to rather than only being able to paint on an emotional whim.  This realization helped me take myself more seriously as an artist.

I also learned the power of collaboration.  While Codi and I worked on two separate canvases, talking through my work, answering his questions, and deliberately considering what my next steps would be made for a better piece that evening.  Because of this experience, I now reach out to other artists for input on works when I find myself stuck.  I do not always take the advice given to me, but opening myself up to consider other opinions has made me a stronger, more diverse artist, with more tricks in my artistic bag.

I believe strongly in my method, but I acknowledge it is my method and wouldn’t work for everyone.  When I’m mired down on a work, mired down in my emotional process, or mired down at my 9 to 5, I trust a Brushes, Bourbon, and Blues night to help me work through the turmoil in my brain with benefit of a piece of art as a result. 

In case you are curious, I usually let Pandora pick the Blues music for me or I turn to my B.B. King collection.  Blues doesn't always end up being Blues.  I am a fan of painting with (in no particular order) the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sublime, Bosstones, Tupac-era West Coast Rap, Beck, Aerosmith, Creedance Clearwater Revival, Nirvana, and The Beatles.

As far as bourbon goes, I recommend:  Elmer T. Lee (I’m jealous if you can get your hands on a bottle—PLEASE, hook me up if you do!), Angel’s Envy, Woodford Double Oak, Booker’s, Blanton’s, or Basil Hayden (but only as a last resort).

This is not a sponsored post

My best Bro-friend, Codi.

My best Bro-friend, Codi.