In Painting, The Conditions Will Never Be Perfect.

A morning monologue about waiting for the right moment to make our work and a little about the color red.

The conditions for making a painting are never perfect. If they had to be, the work would never get done. During a visit to London in October, I stumbled into Chinatown at the end of the day. I entered through one of the gates, rounded the corner to see people bustling down the middle of the busy street. The light of the setting sun was falling perfectly under the threat of rain clouds looming overhead. The dark shapes and contrasting filtered white light formed the cast shadows of the people in the street. These shapes lead my eye to a focal point on the horizon. The warmth of the red Chinese lanterns, illuminated by a sliver of silvery light from the sun, hung in stark contrast to tall buildings from which they are attached. Unaware of themselves as subjects for my next painting, the scene arrested me. I stopped in the middle of the road and shot a dozen reference photos.


The inspiration photo was taken in London’s  Chinatown ©janalbussanich2019

Photos, for me, are paintings made with a camera in my hand. I see pictures made with paint when I look through the lens of my camera. But here’s the thing. I could have easily missed this moment altogether. I was in an unfamiliar part of East London, the rain was looming, people were hurriedly moving past me, I felt slightly cold and was debating the need to dig my raincoat out of my bag. I was hungry, or was it hangry? Aware of darkness falling, with a 15-minute walk to the Central Line and a 30-minute ride on the crowded London Tube, were all good reasons not to slow down long enough to capture the scene. Maybe I’ll come back to Chinatown tomorrow? I could be more intentional about my visit if I weren’t feeling tired. I wonder if the sun will be shining or if the clouds will form themselves in the same way tomorrow? Maybe I should check tomorrow’s weather on the Weather App? With each question, the golden light was disappearing. Experience has taught me that these moments are fleeting and that once passed, they’re gone forever.

A few days later, in Wales, I finally had some time to make the painting inspired by my visit to Chinatown. I had not planned to paint big on this trip, so I did a small sketch in my art journal. I was about 1/2 way through it when I knew enough to start again on a larger piece of paper.


Art Journal Sketch – ©janalbussanich2019

Because I travel light, I did not have any large sizes of loose paper to work on. But my colleague, UK Artist Jean Perrett, offered me a sheet of some handmade paper that she had brought to Wales for our painting holiday.

What I love about this piece – Chinatown London: Lifted – is that it embodies some of the challenges artists encounter as they try to bring their art into tangible form. Sometimes the difficulty is a lack of funding to buy materials. Other times its scarcity of products. But often, it’s all the things I mentioned above that become roadblocks to making our art. For this piece, the unique and unfamiliar paper presented challenges because it’s not my usual ground for painting. Soft and slightly flimsy for a medium-weight handmade paper, it behaved and took on paint water differently. So not only was I creating a new idea in my art, I was trying to make this paper my friend at the same time. Getting to know your medium of choice and the tools of your craft is essential and an often unknown part of the learning process for those who are new to painting.

I’m celebrating 10 years of painting with water media this year. From the beginning, my work is marked by the use of Vermillion or Chinese Red. I’ve painted red trucks, poppies, trees, and skies. Red is considered the color of life. It is associated with blood and eternity. It’s use dates back to 7,000 to 8,000 BC. I don’t know why I like it so much. I just know that it’s part of my palette, and anytime I avoid it, my paintings feel like they are missing part of me. It feels like I didn’t show up on the paper.

Chinatown London: Lifted

Watercolor and Caran d’Ache Classic Neocolor II Water-Soluble Pastels on handmade cotton rag paper. 23.75″x15″ Framed with glass mat Available ©janalbussanich©2019

This painting is a breakthrough piece for me. It represents a different era in my work. As a result of this piece (+ 10 years), I’ve just completed a body of work that was not possible without this one to open the space for them to be. And, this is what I love most about it.

Join me next weekend for a Holiday Open Studio in the historic Old North End of Colorado Springs, CO, USA.

Emergence of Being: This Thing, it lives inside you.

The thing – your art – is living inside you, and it’s demanding something from you. It wants to be seen or heard or acknowledged in some way. It’s pushing from the inside out. And there’s this internal wrestling match that goes on, like an argument with yourself about existence. This essential part of my whole being was cut-off and causing me to suffer needlessly. Once I came to understand that I wasn’t living whole, I wanted to end the pain caused by self-annihilation, the pain that comes from cutting off pieces of our creative selves. I finally figured out that the silence of being cut-off is actually not a quiet place. 

When you finally agree that Being creative is part of how you are made and you set about to let your art emerge, you run into obstacles that feel surprising. Still, the thing persists, whatever it is, that voice continues to clamor for your attention. And your art pursues you and asks you to go places you never thought you would go – both internally and externally.

The first step to becoming more of who I am was to call myself Artist in the absence of any external proof. I bought supplies, set myself up in the corner of a room, and made a hopeful start. Soon after, it felt hard to show up to do the work, and that was a confusing time. As we try to answer the call to express through our art, we become aware of it’s constructive and destructive power to heal or hurt ourselves and others. There were times I felt so desperate to get into the place where making my art would be possible, that I thought I would implode. I wanted everyone and everything (the destructive power at work) to get out of my way. Other times, I planned, made space (the constructive power at work), and showed up at the paper with time on my hands and supplies ready but found I could not put a mark on the paper. 

When I first started exploring my art, in earnest, my husband was like, “Oh, look, isn’t that cute. My wife’s an artist”. But as time went on and I became possessed by this single idea of living coherently with myself and my art, that sentiment became something like, “Holy S4!T, my wife is an artist”. This is, in part, because that thing that I’d cut-off was no longer the loudest voice in my head. It was now the most booming disruptive voice in the room (and that’s a post for another day). 

After a decade of becoming more of who I am in my life and art, I’ve learned to manage the Thing instead of letting it control me. “Managing” means listening to it and trusting my instincts about when, where, why, and how I produce my art. And, I no longer feel like a fraud because I’m no longer defrauding myself about my own identity. Most days, being Whole and living with Integrity of Self feels like winning the lottery.

Who are you? What does it mean, what can it mean, what will it mean? 

Learning about Gelli printing from Sprovtsoff Studios

Today we hosted a workshop by Tasha Sprovtsoff with the goal of using her Gelli print process to create a ground for watercolor painting. I made this print with a layer of Golden’s transparent watercolor ground, Daniel Smith’s Cadmium red, yellow spritzed with Ultramarine and Prussian Blue. I made a graphite drawing and painted in the street scene and people.

Title: London Chinatown, Gelli That.

Watercolor Gelli print.

Watercolor Gelli print with graphite drawing.

Watercolor Gelli print and painting.

Thank you, Tasha, for sharing your knowledge and skills with us!