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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Pigments of My Imagination

September 28 2016

When I first began to attend painting workshops, the drill at table was to tape the edges of watercolor paper down to a board to create a neat border.  Messy painter that I am, it seemed a fine trick to ensure that my colors spilled gracefully within a limitable space.

That practice didn't last long.  While neat, it made the works themselves seem a little childish, like children taught to color between the lines, or at least to clean up their extra-territorial spills.  

Lion of Judah, for Michael  '00
Watercolor, I soon came to realize, was meant to find its own borders, and interestingly enough, as I let it go on its own accord, it took on its own points of departure and arrival, none of them within regulated lines.  Few of them even reached the edge of the paper.  In my hands, the pigments and the white spaces they floated in negotiated their own boundaries.
And continue to.  Riverbed, above, is a new miniature I've painted, made into a card, and set aside for our November show.  See how the paint and water places itself lightly on the page, stroke by stroke?

I'll tell you what the secret is to that borderless scene:  a trusting hand.   It's a lot like making pastry (which, interestingly enough, I have little talent for):  a practiced hand knows not to handle ingredients more than barely.  Along the way, I've learned that light is best, both for guiding me into a image and for bringing to life the merest shadow of an idea.

Naturally, not all pieces work out...I can be heavy-handed, trying to "correct" errors (or what I think are errors), and suddenly a puddle of mud appears.  I can think I know better than the paint and its watery path, and force them in another direction; sometimes that works, mostly it doesn't.

Nancy Collis, one of my more patient instructors, wryly called me an intuitive artist, which was nice of her, since at the time I was busy not following her very sensible advice about what she called planning a painting.  I could take a photograph, for instance, draw a loose outline of its subject on my paper, choose my colors, and try to follow the "plan", but you can bet within minutes I would have turned that beautiful garden of summer roses into a sly bear entering woolly autumn woods on his way to hibernate.  Wisely, Nancy didn't argue, most probably because she knew that some things can be taught, and some people can learn them, but others...just can't.

So I go along with her kind word intuitive, letting my brush discover what I'm going to paint that day. Colors spontaneously suggest themselves to me, one by one, allowing a vision to grow in the back of my mind of a place I've been, like that Texas Hill Country dry creek bed I was remembering as I did Riverbed, or dreamed I've been, like those hills in the faraway country I had never seen until eight months after I had painted and given the painting to my boy on his birthday: Lion of Judah. Other more abstract visions defy spatial reference; they simply grow out of nothing beyond intuition itself.
 Even in three-dimensional, found-object hangings, the piece grows on its own; the materials I pick up randomly here and there seem to contain their own artistic destiny.
Treasures from the Sea

Here are a few more of the pieces I'm doing for the show, since several of you in comments on and off the blog (thank you!  I love to hear from you!) have asked to see what I'm working on these days. Although I've got some hangings and larger paintings in store, and probably a few more will come in the days ahead, I'm mostly busy making these small miniatures in watercolor or collage. They're hangable as they are, or can be framed in groups of three or four as my neighbor Anna did. As original cards* they can offer a lovely sentiment to those we love and like best, or make welcome gifts singly or a few together in a pretty bag.

As for their maker, these small paintings are, for me, like the lyrics I spent my poetry writing...visions of a moment behind which are inspirations and interpretations as individual and discrete as each observor, and yet also simply what they are...a dawning on a small piece of the world we might otherwise overlook.

House in the woods

             *Please note that these are all original works.  I don't make copies of them, so there is only ever one of each image.

Art doesn't have to be monumental.  Sometimes, a wash of color that evokes a place or time we want to revisit or dream about, or that shifts its colors as the sun and shadows flit across our walls, is all we need to bring home and inspire us.

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