Senior Project Sketchbook/A Decade of Progress (Part 2)

Posted by Shannen Luchs on

According to my artist statement at the time, I initially planned to do 9 oil paintings for my senior project (the class listed as Painting IV, though I spent Painting III working on it as well).  After the issues I ran into in Painting III, I decided to abandon the 6 paintings I had already worked on and start 4 new oil paintings.  This post will talk about these first four (scratch that, three) paintings of the new semester.  I had planned a fourth painting - one of Sinann, the goddess I was named after - but further issues led me to not even do a sketch of her before abandoning this set of oil paintings and switching to smaller watercolors.

Part 2 - Painting IV (Oil Paintings)


This is the first page in my sketchbook.  Selene was a long time favorite of mine - I had painted a chibi rendition of her on the wall of my room and home and she and Brighid were my big two going into this project.  Honestly I'm surprised I haven't revisited her yet.  This is where my struggle really hit its height.  This is also where I started taking in progress photos of my work (with the absolutely terrible camera I had at the time).  

I consider all three of these paintings to be unfinished and none of them are dated.  I think I found this balance of composition after suggestions that my previous pieces had "too much background" (judging by my artists' statement - though I had been trying to render the nature each goddess was associated with - the sun, the moon, a river, etc).  So the figures are larger and the background is simplified (based on the "influences" we were all forced to provide - the gist I got from other art majors is that they worked in the style of their choosing and picked "influences" afterward - one of my non art major friends was particularly irritated by this ridiculous requirement).  Most of the artists I was familiar with and admired painted mythological figures in a more "illustration like" way so that's what I tried to emulate in these pieces.  Subsequently I abandoned the rich landscape backgrounds I enjoy from my earlier works in this series and eventually grew to hate these three pieces and the advice I followed to make them.  What variations in tone there are are almost lost unless you're on top of the painting - Anesidora looks better in comparison.  What I can appreciate about these pieces though is that they're a stepping stone on a journey of personal growth and a valuable learning experience.

I was going to dig them out and take better quality photos of them for this post, but they're huge and of poor quality so you'll have to be content with the smaller in progress photos.


Hecate was also a big deal to me as part of a triple goddess with Selene (Selene being the full moon and Hecate being the waning moon - hence the reversed moon phases around their borders).  This was heavy subject matter for me and I had accepted the reorganization of my approach to the project (after my Painting III final in which my professor encouraged me to change subjects - which was not happening) and was pleased with my progress at the time.  I was committed to my subject matter despite my rocky progress and the pit fall I was about to hit.  I adapted as needed to get through.  

I really feel like these pieces could have been better - even regarding my skill level at the time.  I have a wonderful oil still life (about the same size) from my freshman year that I spent about a month on - going to the studio every night to work on it.  I am very proud of it to this day and don't have the twitch to touch it up like I do some of these other pieces.  I think if I had spent more time on each of these paintings, if I had had proper guidance (maybe some suggestions on working with the human form, some historical examples of the subject matter (of which I have since learned that THERE ARE MANY)), time to learn from experience what I wasn't getting taught, I would have done a wonderful job on this project.  But I wasn't getting those things and hindsight is 20/20.  I didn't know what to look for or where to look for it.  I let the stress and pressure of this project get to me, and I rushed and abandoned things and restarted and restructured and listened to what little advice and guidelines I was given in vain - I was only punished for my attempts to comply.  I did the best with what I had at the time - and when I had more time I did more.


Amaterasu!  So nice to see a bright spot (pun intended) in these murky recollections.  I didn't have a strong attachment to her before this project (the sun and I have always been at odds), but really grew to like her though I struggled with this painting.  I wanted to represent the myth of her coming out of the cave, but after I filled in the border to get to a dark, rocky tone I wasn't happy with the way the piece looked so I decided to make her "cave" out of clouds instead - and the piece was at this unfortunate transition point when the first senior critique hit.  

I revisited Amaterasu in 2015 and 2019 and am much happier with my updated versions of her - the first of which is composed to be reminiscent of a sunbeam and the second with her framed in a sunflower in the colors of the lesbian flag, and the third showing the colors of the lesbian flag and her emerging from a cave (she was lured out of the cave by another goddess doing a strip tease).  


First Senior Critique

This is going to be very tough to write about.  *Deep breath*

I was, at this point in my life, absolutely terrified of public speaking.  Absolutely terrified.  Once, in elementary school, I burst into tears when I had to present a paper (my teacher excused me from presenting it, but warned me I wouldn't get another free pass).  I dreaded every presentation in high school; I was aggressively shy and wanted nothing more than to be invisible.  I always waited to present my papers last, in the hopes that something would happen and I wouldn't have to go through with it (it worked twice - once we had a fire drill during the presentation class and I ended up presenting my French paper alone to Madame in a study room in the library during homeroom, and once since we had run out of time for presentations my Psychology teacher let us each read only the first paragraph of our papers - which spared me from telling a class of teenagers that my research revealed how people had intoxicated themselves with ergot, leading to the popular image of a witch riding a broomstick).  Presenting arbitrary research was a (slightly) lesser evil - but this was deeply, deeply personal.  I had to go up in front of a group of professors and put my heart and soul on display - and my painting professor/adviser already disliked my work.  It was my worst nightmare and I was about to live through it. 

(When I finish this small series of posts I am going to do another post on my Ceramics senior project - how I did in that semester was strongly influenced by my experiences here and is a very different story - so that's something to look forward to.)

To set the scene not a lot of seniors do their senior project in the fall, so there were only about four of us (two of which were my close friends), and at least as many art professors.  Even speaking in front of this small group of people was intimidating, but I hauled my three paintings up to the front of the small critique room and stumbled through explaining the premise of my project.  I was hoping for some words of encouragement from my professor; after all I had followed almost all of his suggestions and requirements (with the exceptions of changing the entire subject of my project and not painting people).  Instead he washed his hands of me and threw me to the wolves - basically telling them I hadn't listened to anything he said and he had therefore left me to my own devices (which I should have picked up on as he gave me less and less feedback as time went on).  They tore me apart.  Looking back on these paintings I can see why they would - they are not representative of what I wanted from them.  I wish now I'd never listened to him and just persevered entirely on my own path - the result probably would have been much better, but perhaps it would not have led to the evolution of my current style.  One of my friends in the class asked me once if I ever doubted my own work and then she said something along the lines of "but then I thought this is Shannen of course she doesn't;" but I did and never did I have a crises of direction more than I did in this class.  The same friend told me after this critique she didn't know how I stood up there without crying.  

They critiqued my style, said my paintings were too "illustration like" (despite the illustration like influences they insisted I have and that I drew from for their sake), that it wasn't high art, that I should perhaps not be painting at all, that my goddess portraits weren't like portraits and weren't like landscapes, etc, etc, etc.  I did not cry.  I nodded along and took their criticisms diplomatically.  Some of the points they struck on my professor should 100% have pointed out to me and advised me on before the critique - but he didn't.  So there I was looking and feeling stupid after he had let me down.

I skipped my next painting class and brainstormed.  They want you to paint outside the lines until you get to the end of your major, and then they want you to paint within certain lines that they refuse to define until you find yourself on the wrong side of them.  Looking back at it, I am so so mad at the failing of the institution I paid to teach me art (the critiques I sat through during my second senior project made me even angrier).  But at the time I was freaking out; I had always been a straight A student and good at art and here I was at the final goalpost and it kept disappearing on me.  I don't know how it occurred to me to switch to a smaller scale series of 12 watercolor paintings, but once possessed with the idea I pumped out a prototype of the first in the series and presented it - and my new idea - to my professor at the following class.  He approved and I slammed into working on these new paintings hard and fast.


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