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I painted a rainbow!

by Susan Righter in My Artistic Journey
Painting rainbows…there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.  Show of hands…how many of you have painted a rainbow that looks at least somewhat realistic?  Yeah, that’s what I thought…heehee.  It ain’t easy; pardon my intentional poor grammar there.  However, now that I’m somewhere over the rainbow, both geographically and metaphorically, I will reflect on the painting rainbows metaphor for a moment.  
My latest commission, “Waiohai 2013”, was a beach scene in Hawaii featuring lush green trees, sand, water, blue sky and clouds, a surfer and a rainbow.  When I took the commission, I thought, “Oh, what a fun painting, this is a beautiful scene!”  In the back of my mind, I indeed thought on some level, “oh, how do I paint a rainbow…that’s probably hard.”  But, I didn’t doubt my ability to do so.  So, off I went.
Interestingly, I should insert here that I attach special spiritual meaning to rainbows.  When I see one, I almost always snap a photo, and I pay careful attention to my circumstances when I see one, as for some reason, I believe them to be a sign from God.  It sounds naive and childish to admit this to you, but, hey, I am who I am, and I believe this is part of the metaphor for me.  
I started researching rainbow paintings on the Internet, as any good artist would do.  It’s always helpful for me in the beginning stages to look at other artists’ admirable work in the same genre.  Well, when I searched this, nary a realistic rainbow was to be found.  Hundreds of whimsical, fantastical, and colorful rainbows abounded, but a realistic one?  No.  Not to be found.  John Constable, Rubens, Joseph Mallard and Robert Duncanson have painted rainbows with some success, but relative to the bodies of work available online by all painters, the lack of quality rainbow paintings was startling! Then it occurred to me, that most painters know this already.  
They know that it is hard to paint air, because a rainbow is basically air, nothingness, a vapor.  It’s a miracle we can even see a rainbow!  So, my consternation about the rainbow increased.  I worked on the painting and reached a point at which most of the work on the rest of the painting was done.  Time to put the rainbow in.  Hmmm–here goes nothing.
I glazed it in in the ROYGBIV order I was taught in elementary school:  red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.  Funny how some things stick with you. Long story short, it looked like a solid mass in the sky–like you could pick it up and carry it away.  No good.
There were at least 8 evolutions of the rainbow before I was happy with the look achieved.  It took lots of glazing with very little pigment, some sponging, some iridescent white and lots of focus.  
Now, for the metaphor.  I’ve always attached a positive, hopeful message to rainbows.  When faced with painting one, I was hopeful, yes.  At the outset, I didn’t doubt my ability to do so.  However, once immersed in the frustration of painting a rainbow, I ended up doubting nearly everything about my artistic ability.  It pushed me and challenged me in ways no other painting has.  I dipped into anxiety, frustration and negativity.  
I’m sure most people experience this feeling on some level.  It’s nothing new. However, I find it humorous and ironic that I was pushed to break through a wall by painting a rainbow.  I could have given up and said to my client–I can’t paint a rainbow–sorry.  But that would have been giving into the doubt and negativity, which is most definitely not what painting a rainbow should be.
So in painting a rainbow successfully, I persevered with the hope that I mentioned they symbolize and proved to myself that hope ultimately outweighs negativity.  I’ll continue to attach my mystical meanings to rainbows and each time, I’ll remember that I painted a rainbow!
Waiohai 2013
 24 x 36
acrylic on canvas