Kestrel No. 3, featuring all handmade watercolor paints made from local stone and clay sources. Panic stage navigated.

The “Panic Stage” in a Work of Nature Art

There’s a new work in progress sitting on my easel. By the time I’m done with this post, it’ll probably be a finished work. It’s another kestrel, and I’ve reached a reliable stage in the process. I call it the ‘Panic Stage’.

My Process

The photo above, by Terry Stanfill, is the one that served as the model for my painting. In the end, it didn’t look exactly like it, but I think it’s close enough and the differences are not necessarily bad ones.

When I first start a painting, I start out with a sense of excitement. I can’t wait to see the finished image. But usually there’s a whole lotta grief and misery to get through before I reach that point.

What is the Panic Stage?

I imagine there’s a point like this in the process of any kind of creative act. It’s when all seems lost, like you just cannot do the thing you set out to do and it feels pointless to continue.

There is most certainly a panic stage with natural childbirth – at least there was in my own three experiences and also with the the birth of my grandchildren. Any act of creation, whether it’s visual art, hand-crafted, or written is like a symbolic giving of birth. In the real act, the panic stage occurs just before it’s time to start the first real push. It’s when the mother in labor wants to quit the natural way and wishes she’d opted for the pain-killing epidural. Because it hurts. And it’s hard. And there seems to be no realistic way to achieve the birthing without dying in the process. That’s the panic stage.

Of course, it’s not so dramatic when it comes to creative birthings, but some of the emotions are pretty close, ha.

And when it comes to my kestrel paintings, it seems I have to push through a point where I want to throw it away in every one. Thankfully, I have a lot of encouragement from friends and family to talk me down from the ledge when I hit that point. I just hope this sort of thing eases some as I get more experience.

Progression Pics Help to Push through Panic Stage

I take photos of the various stages of my work because it helps me to look at it with a different perspective. What I hope is that one day I’ll see the problems soon enough during the creation of the work that I can fix them early on and avoid the panic stage all together.

Once the background is applied and the light sketch drawn in, the eye is the first thing I have to paint. If I can't get the eye right (position, size, expression), none of the rest of it will matter. I'll avoid the panic stage altogether if I can't get this part right, ha.
Once the background is applied and the light sketch drawn in, the eye is the first thing I have to paint. If I can’t get the eye right (position, size, expression), none of the rest of it will matter and I’ll avoid the panic stage at the end altogether, ha. It at least has to be set up to a point where I know I can make it work.

Sometimes something is wrong and I can’t figure out what it is. In the photo above, I know the eye and the nose are going to need some work, but it’s there well enough that I also know I can fix the problems. So this doesn’t bother me. They are at least done to a point where I am confident that going forward won’t be a waste of time.

Seeing the photo on Instagram or Facebook lets me see it as if I am looking at it for the first time.

What Could Go Wrong?

Lots of things aren’t always evident at the start. Sometimes it’s not until I start working on a certain part that I realize the off-thing in another part has thrown off this part too. Often I can tell right away when I see it in a photo I’ve posted what the problem is. It’s when I can’t see what the problem is that the panic stage really starts to set in.

An angle might be off. A line might be curved where it should be straight. Both of these issues occurred in this particular painting, and they often happen when I am drawing or painting anything. The key is to be able to see it and make the necessary changes. And that’s where the progress pictures come in really handy to me as the creator.

 

It is still looking good to me at this point. I haven't seen the problem yet. I'm definitely not at the panic stage. I'd say I'm still in the euphoric stage, lol. No panic stage yet.
It is still looking good to me at this point. I haven’t seen the problem yet.

Helping Others, Helping Myself

I like sharing them publicly so that if anyone else is out there trying to create something, they will see the agony another artist goes through during the process and not be so afraid when they encounter their own sense of dread halfway through it.

But I also like getting the feedback and encouragement my friends offer while I’m in the middle of a creation. It motivates me to continue. It’s also good for marketing. People love to see what went into something they might be interested in buying. I know I do.

The Awkward Stage

Right now, kestrel #3 is at that awkward stage. The spot where nothing looks right and I question whether or not I should just wad the page up and throw it in the garbage. It’s not the Panic Stage still, because I haven’t tried to fix anything and failed yet. I just know something’s wrong.

It's the tail. The tail is slightly off in the angle, making all of the other lines wrong on it when I try to add the feathers. Panic stage is starting to set in.
It’s the tail. The tail is slightly off in the angle, making all of the other lines wrong on it when I try to add the feathers.

Found the Problem

It’s the angle of the tail. So I erased the tail and started over on it. Three times! Finally, the tail looks like it should and I am happy and can move on. Panic stage eased somewhat.

He's ruffled in the wind, but there's something else wrong. I'm at the panic stage of this creation.
He’s ruffled in the wind, but there’s something else wrong.

But now I can see that there is a line issue with the wing tips. It needs to be straight, not curved. And I can fix this now that I recognize the problem. Until I saw the picture in another way, on the progress pic I posted, I didn’t see the problem but I had been fighting a disturbing sense that something was not right.

More Problems

Once the wings were fixed, I noticed the barring on the back was all wrong.The lines were traveling the wrong angles.

I’d also gotten too heavy handed with the black, and there was too much black. Everywhere. The average person might not have noticed the misguided bars or the fact that I used too much black, but if someone really loves kestrels, this is something they would have noticed. So I picked up all the color from the upper back. Then I had to pick up the color from the middle wing. And I had to remove some of the black around his eye.

Then I had to replace some of the black that made up his eye, lol. I was really entrenched in panic stage by this point, let me tell you.

When I finally got it all repainted, it was much better and worth all the effort.

Pushing Through

I’m past the panic stage now, but there are still issues to fix going forward. I know what I need to do, though, and that makes all the difference in the world.

When have you ever experienced this sort of dismay? When you hit a panic stage do you quit, or do you push through? How long does it take to overcome the feeling that you’ve just wasted your time and resources to get to that point? Thankfully, this phase is usually short-lived for me if I am able to keep working and I don’t quit.

Whew! Finished.

I’m quite pleased with it now that all the grief is over. I’m also glad I didn’t quit when the work of it got tough. Soon this little kestrel will be on her way to a new home on the west coast. Here’s the photo I used as a model.

Kestrel photo by Terry Stanfill. Used with permission.
Kestrel photo by Terry Stanfill. Used with permission.

Like seeing my process?

Here’s another of my other posts with progression photos. I’ll try to begin adding a progression post with every painting or work I do going forward.

Green Dragon (prismacolor pencil)

 

The Dusty Sand of Doha

My plan all along was to gather a bit of the sand of Doha before I left for the sand-stony ground of home. As it turned out, it was harder to find than I expected. Everywhere I went was nothing but pavement and cobblestone pavers. Any ground I saw usually was either landscaped medians between highways, or busted up rubble from construction. Eventually I realized that busted up rubble, wasn’t rubble at all, but the way the ground just looks here. So the sand of Doha is all around, even in the air. There just wasn’t any handy enough to scoop up in the places where I went.

Other places have bigger rocks and chunks and it really does just look like busted up concrete.
Other places have bigger rocks and chunks and it really does just look like busted up concrete.

Hourglass Sands Trickling Away

We didn’t do any touring of the countryside away from the city where I might have been able to just get out and scrape up a little into a bag. Today is Wednesday of the last week I’ll be here. My clothes are packed up now except for an outfit to wear out to eat and an outfit to travel home in. I began to worry I might not get to bring any dirt, sand, or rocks home with me after all.

I realize this may not be a ‘typical’ worry of people.

However, I want the sand of Doha so I can try making a watercolor paint from it. I’ll name it “Sand of Doha”. Or maybe I’ll come up with something more imaginative. I’m really jealous of all the names of the paint collections I’ve been looking at online, and every time I try to think of a name for my own first set of colors… it’s just so plain in comparison.

No Easy Way to Find the Sand of Doha

Today it's 108*F and feels like 118*F. I'm standing in the shade of a date palm here.
Today it’s 108*F and feels like 118*F. I’m standing in the shade of a date palm here, right across the street from the apartment. I probably could have swept the street and gathered up a lot of the sand of Doha that way.

It’s been so hot that I haven’t gone any further from the apartment than from the door to the car. Plus, I didn’t know how well the residents of this place would take to a stranger, an obviously western woman at that, walking down the street alone. So I just didn’t want to take any chances and stayed close to the apartment. When I went to town, I took an Uber ride (which by the way, operates fantastically here!). That didn’t offer any chances.

When I went outside to bring the garbage to the bin it didn’t feel as hot as it has lately. I wandered a little bit. On the side of our apartment there was a stretch of un-paved ground.


Found some of the sand of Doha here in this little patch of unpaved dirt.

See those poor shriveled up plants? I’ve seen a few gardens here. They look a lot like that. Most of the gardens are very small and covered with shade cloth, but they’re still brown and shriveled. Maybe they’re done for the season. Or maybe it’s where the chickens are kept. I hear roosters crowing in the mornings and evenings here. Someone nearby, a few someones, keeps chickens somewhere.

Success!

I ran back inside to get my handy little plastic cup I had on standby for such an occasion. The ground looks hard here. It literally resembles concrete dust with bits of construction rubble spread throughout. So when I went to scoop the soil, I thought surely it would be hard and I’d have to scrape.

Not so.

The cup sank down into the earth as if it were butter. I gathered up a nice bit to take home and experiment with.

A little of the sand of Doha and a feather too.
A cup full of sand and a feather.

Soil Texture

The light and looseness of the soil surprised me, but it shouldn’t have. On windy days here, the sand kicks up into the air and lingers even once the wind has died down. It’s more like dust than sand. It’s not like the sand in Florida or any of the coastal places I’ve been in the U.S. This stuff consists of some very lightweight materials, like talcum.

A brutal and hot, hazy day with sand and humidity in the air in Doha, Qatar.
A brutal and hot, hazy day with sand and humidity in the air in Doha, Qatar.

Anyway, if no one takes it out of my bag during a searches at the customs counters, I guess I’ll get to try out the idea of making a watercolor paint from the sand of Doha after all. If it works, it’ll be a very limited quantity color unless I can get Rob to go around scooping up sand for me once I’m gone, ha.

More Sand of Doha

There is still the possibility that I’ll get the chance to go to the Corniche, which is a walkway and park along the coast. I haven’t seen the museum yet, which is in the same area. It’s just been so hot it’s hard to enjoy doing anything that requires walking around outside. But if I go, there will be the opportunity to get a little more of maybe a different sort of sand here.

Closing Notes

An interesting thing I’ve noticed here.

The water is HOT. I tried to take a shower around mid-day the other day and nearly scalded myself. Not even kidding. Even the cold tap water gets too hot for a mid-day shower here.

I’ve enjoyed my stay here. Walking through the souq, knowing the people here still shop in that environment and that it isn’t just a tourist attraction, is interesting. The air is full of sounds – of traffic, yes, because the highways surround the blocked off market area. But also sounds that haven’t changed in centuries. Shopkeepers haggling with shoppers, doves cooing, and the clink and clatter of merchandise being traded for in a setting as old as the history of civilized man.

A view from the Souq Waqif.
A view from the Souq Waqif.

There were old men in traditional garb with turbans and gowns pushing wheelbarrows fitted with cushion. They sat in the shade cast by the buildings on the cushions. When one of the local women came out of a shop laden with bags, the old man would jump out of his wheelbarrow and rush over to her to see if she wanted to hire him to cart her bags for her. I asked one of them if I could take his picture, but he said no. I figured he would, but that’s why I asked first. It is against their religion to have their photograph made (I think) and I didn’t want to offend him by taking that from him without his permission. So no pic of that to share, but I’ve seen them online before.

The Food!

The air is full of smells, too. My favorite dining experience was at the crowded little Yemeni restaurant, surrounded by nothing but the sounds of people speaking in a language I couldn’t understand and the flavors of foods whose names I couldn’t pronounce. Tasting the foods of a place is one of my favorite things to do when traveling.

Qatar is a small country on a small peninsula jutting out into the Arabian Sea. Almost everything is imported here from surrounding countries, including the labor force. So there are restaurants with authentic food to represent pretty much every group. There were a lot of western fast food restaurants here, too. We tried one to see how the menu looked, but the food was awful. If you’re in a foreign country, just try eating as the natives there do, rather than trying to find something familiar from home, haha.

What Did I Not Enjoy?

The only thing I didn’t enjoy was the heat. It is oppressive and I am amazed that anyone can ever get acclimated enough to work outside in it. Rob has to work outside sometimes with his job, and it’s very hard to do without becoming heat stressed and sick by the end of a day. There is no way to capture that experience in a photograph. Even telling you the temperature won’t do it. If you’ve never been to the Middle East and want a close approximation of how the heat feels, go turn on your oven and let it preheat. When the alarm dings to let you know it’s ready, lean over and open the door. Don’t lean in so close you get burned, right? But when you feel the whoosh of hot air coming out and blowing across your face, that’s pretty close to how it feels here. Seriously.

I didn’t do a very good job of journaling to write all of these things down, even though I brought a journal and intended to do so. I didn’t get very many photographs on this trip either. While Rob was at work during the weekdays, I spent my time painting and writing on my novel. I wanted to do some sort of painting that would capture the spirit of being in the Middle East, but I also wanted it to be relevant to home.

So I painted a falcon. Except I chose a falcon native to the Ozarks to be that representative, the kestrel. Now when I look at those in the future I hope they stir up the memories of how it felt to be here searching for the sand of Doha.

American kestrels I painted while in Doha, Qatar, 2018.
American kestrels I painted while in Doha, Qatar, 2018.

Nature Art Anywhere, Even in the Desert

I brought my sandstone powder and watercolors with me on vacation to Doha because I wanted to be able to experiment with them during the days while Rob was at work and I was at the apartment. They’re fortunately very portable, so it makes it possible to do nature art anywhere. Even on the other side of the world, in the desert and the city.

Going through customs with me made me a little nervous because I wasn’t sure how they’d be taken if my bags got searched, but no one seemed to care about them. I packed my brushes and art pads in the same space so it would be easy to see what they were for, just in case.

They weren’t quite dry yet when I left but the arid desert air has certainly taken care of that. I had just finished making the last tin of paint the day before my plane left, so I hadn’t had time to do any doodling at all since they’d dried to see how they would work.

Handmade Paints

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The first attempt was okay. Not my best work, but since it was the first time trying to use the paints, and the first time in I can’t remember how long working with paint and brushes, my expectations weren’t high.  I wanted to find out how the color went down on the watercolor paper and at the same time capture the way it looks here at the apartments where Rob lives.

Ha, for the sake of anyone else trying to do art and finding that it’s not working for them, I am going to post this side-by-side of the painting and the photograph. It really makes me wonder what was going on with my eyes as I was painting. The two look nothing alike, except that there is a palm tree in both. Maybe it’s an eye-hand coordination issue. Whatever the problem, I’m glad I decided to go on and try something else afterward.

You can do nature art anywhere, but there's no guarantee it's going to be 'good' art. This is my rendering of the way it looks outside the apartment here in Doha. I like the palm tree but the rest leaves a lot to be desired.
You can do nature art anywhere, but there’s no guarantee it’s going to be ‘good’ art. This is my rendering of the way it looks outside the apartment here in Doha. I like the palm tree but the rest leaves a lot to be desired.

 

I like the palm tree, but the buildings are wonky and look nothing at all like the real buildings, and I didn’t even attempt to put the cat in there.

Nature Art Anywhere

Falconry is big in the Middle East. There is a falcon souq (market) here and it’s on my list of things I want to see. Since I had falcons on my mind, I decided to try painting one. I decided to paint an American kestrel because it’s our native little falcon and one of Rob’s favorite birds.

This painting came out MUCH better than the first one. I should stay away from trying to paint urban nature scenes, I think. I used a photograph for this one too and it ended up looking much more like the original than the apartment scene did.

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Portability

Colored pencils are probably more portable than anything else for doing nature art anywhere. A single regular pencil would do to capture quick scenes. I started out packing a regular pencil. And a few colored pencils. Then I added a sharpener and eraser to the little pouch. Then I thought maybe a few more colors wouldn’t hurt. Before I knew it, the whole box of 132 colors was in my suitcase. And then a few days before my departure date I started playing with the sandstone and making watercolors.

So then I wanted to also bring those.

As you can imagine, I didn’t bring as many clothes or makeup or shoes as a woman might bring on a faraway destination trip. But I did bring art supplies. And I’ve found that I can do nature art anywhere. Even on the other side of the world when it’s too hot to go outside.