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  • Bryan Jernigan

Show Your Work!

Rewind to before COVID-19. I was sitting in my office when our vice president stopped by for a bit of casual conversation. Eventually, the topic got around to my artwork, which I am reticent to share in my work life because somehow it feels a bit icky.

Blending my two lives – that of a professional communications director in an international trade association and that of an artist painter and instructor has never come easily to me.

I don’t want my professional colleagues to feel obligated to purchase any artwork from me unless they truly feel it moves them. In fact, most of my colleagues don’t really know I am an artist or, if they do, they have never actually seen my work.

How many people have you told you’re an artist only for them to conjure up a “paint and sip” class in their minds and then give you that tight little smile that speaks volumes without saying a word?

Well, back to the story…

My colleague commented on my work neighbor’s calendar of my artwork and asked, “Did you really do all those pieces? They are beautiful. I mean, like, I want those in my house.”

I was completely flattered, if not caught a bit off guard, but I appreciated the recognition, even though it was a gray area between my aforementioned two worlds.

Then the question.

“We are looking for a new piece of artwork to go into our reception area. Would you be interested in the project?”

Followed quickly by…

“Or would that be weird, considering you work here?”

In that moment, I went from a quick intake of halting breath to a quiet exhalation.

She got it!

She understood that it must be weird for me, and yet she was at the same time very earnest in gauging my interest.

I would be less than honest if I said I jumped at the chance. I actually took a day to think about it.

The piece she requested would be one of the largest I’ve ever done – five feet by four feet. The subject matter would be representational, instead of abstract. And she was interested in having me manage the framing part, not an easy feat in itself.

Now, when I say it was representational instead of abstract, that’s not to say I’ve never painted representationally. I used to paint representational landscapes all the time. It had just been a few years. This was my first point of consideration. Did I want to go back there?

The second point of consideration. If I did go back there, would there be a way to incorporate what I’m doing now (abstraction) into the painting somehow, so I could make it mine?

To reference my past interests, but highlight my current interests, so that they would be happy with a finished piece that met their needs and I would be happy with the marriage of my past and present – could I find a way?

After a day, I thought, if I don’t at least give her a proposal, I’ll never know what could’ve been.

So, I did it.

After speaking with my colleague once again about subject matter, I ended up offering several landscape photos I thought I could reasonably reproduce in a painting, eventually settling on a mash-up to two different photos – a farm on a hill and a cornfield in a place of prominence that dominated the foreground. The trade association represents commodity corn in the U.S., so the visual made sense.

It didn’t take them long to say yes.

It was then that the real panic set in.

I had a million questions – mainly tied to my ability – that reared their ugly heads.

Impostor syndrome writ large.

I took a deep breath, acknowledged all those feelings and let them pass me by.

I then made a list of all the steps – and the order in which they should play out – to get the piece from sketch to finished product. I even scratched the first list and inserted other items I had forgotten to include, I reviewed in an old textbook a chapter on “gridding” so I wouldn’t forget how it was done (yes, it had been that long since I last gridded out a piece) and I scanned the internet for the best sources for supplies.

After careful consideration, I landed on a wood panel as a substrate, but could not source one locally, so I had to order it from Florida. The substantial cost alone, not to mention the shipping, had that old friend, fear, bubble up once again. How could I invest so much money into just the substrate? I certainly better know what I’m doing once it gets here, or the money will be wasted from the get-go.

Then, when it arrived, I opened the box to find that there was an edge dinged in transit, necessitating another to-do list change before I ever began!

I screwed up my courage, reassured myself, “You got this. You know how to fix that. You show your students at least once a semester. Spackle it, sand it and be done already.”

The whole journey of this painting – that I affectionately called “the Beast” – was a series of lessons in trusting myself and my abilities. There were whole passages of twists and turns – patching a minor imperfection, meshing two photos together into one new piece, gridding twice because I didn’t get it right the first time, establishing and documenting paint mixes so if I ran out of paint (which I did multiple times) I could remix the same color, infusing abstract techniques to illustrate the cornfield in a way that worked with the more representational aspects of the farm and then choosing a sky color only to decide to change it in the end.

All of these challenges presented the hurdles I needed to surpass them and make me stronger as an artist. Each one gave sent me on a circular mini journey of fear, thoughtfulness, planning, execution and triumph and brought me that much closer to the end result.

Here are a few photos of that journey, but I was also insightful enough to video most of it as well. If you’re interested in seeing it from beginning to end, you can check out my Facebook page under my Videos tab to see how it went in real time.

Whoever coined the term “as interesting as watching paint dry” must’ve never done it because it can be just as emotional and challenging – physically and mentally – as any other activity or sport.

At least it was for me…

CREATIVITY CORNER: We are now firmly ensconced in a COVID-19 reality. Most people are choosing to social distance, but with it comes the challenge of not going stir-crazy. More and more, I hear people relying on creativity to get them through. Thank goodness for movies, books, art and those involved in making them! With that thought in mind, I went for a walk along a trail near my home in Northern Virginia and captured snippets of things that caught my attention. Then I strung them together to create a longer video of each of those things. I challenge you to get out your paper, mark-making tools and a few tubes of paint, watch the video and, without stopping it, react to what you see without thinking about it. Watch it as many times as you like – just don’t stop it – and create an abstraction from the things that strike you the most. Post below or on my Facebook page. I’d love to see how your pieces differ from others, to see how we are all creative in our own ways. Happy creating!


If you like my blog, please consider sharing it on the social media channels you have. The more people who see it, the more followers I will gather and the larger the social community of creatives we will establish here. Thank you in advance!

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