Yesterday some friends on Facebook, and in life, sent a not so subtle challenge my way – kind of a cross between a dare and a very strong wink wink nudge nudge – to paint a Purple Gallinule. Sandra had captured one on camera a few days before during an Everglades explore and Bethany couldn’t get over how remarkable the colors were. If only her whole house could be decorated in the purples and turquoise colors of the gallant Gallinule she would be so happy. That’s when the implied dare came my way to paint this remarkable bird.
Seriously. I do not paint real things. My go to medium is alcohol ink, and my go to genre is abstract – and to be more precise – up close pieces and corners of impressions the natural world leaves on my mind. This Gallinule had a beautiful eye, and a puffin like beak, and together they formed a sweet expression that whispered ‘gee, I sure love this moment, being a Purple Gallinule standing knee deep in such a sloshy space that is both green and wet at the same time.’
Yeah. I don’t do that.
I laughed and responded, “If only.”
For the next few minutes my own subtle dare rolled around in my brain. If only. If only. If only. Why not? Why not try? My mom never thought she could paint portraits of my babies, yet she did so, beautifully! She never thought she could paint a deer in whited silhouette grazing in the woods, but she did. If she could try, then so could I. What might I realize?
After clipping a large sheet of watercolor paper to a canvas board still in the plastic wrap, I gathered my watercolor pencils, pan set, water pens, a cloth for dabbing off excess, a number 4 drawing pencil, and an eraser, it was time to sit and stare; staring at Sandra’s image and then my blank page, back and forth, imagining the first line; staring at the colors and pulling the pencils I’d need and; staring at the expansive blankness, asking it where to begin.
I drew two lines, one horizontal and one vertical, intersecting at the center of the page. This created something solid – a reference point that grounded me on both the photo and the blank space. From there I began sketching in body parts taking care not to press so hard as to leave an indent in the page or gray the paint later.
I realized these were artist’s thoughts – laying out – planning – choosing materials. The many playful experiences with alcohol inks had taught me skills that would transfer to other mediums. This was unexpected. I realized that all the drawing classes I’ve done online, the acrylics tutorials, and the art journal projects had taught me about so many kinds of materials, layout, sketching, erasing and layering in. I realized that all the copying and following along in teaching videos served to strengthen my artist legs so that I could begin walking on my own in directions I’d never planned. I realized I knew what to do.
Once the general sketch was down I lightly erased the first section I planned to paint, getting rid of as much carbon as possible and still see the plan. Laying down the colors was much easier than I thought it would be and switching back and forth between watercolor pencils and pans seemed like the best way to capture the many colors and shades on this spectacular bird.
Every so often I would snap a photo of the work in progress and study it, not sure why this perspective helped me see things in a new way, but grateful for it.
Over the course of the next several hours, followed by a morning of painting, photographing, and more painting, my piece came to that point where an artist suspects one more dab or stroke would lead to unwanted effects – clutter if you will – or even disaster. It was time to stop.
All in all, it was a pleasing result. In fact, the whole process was satisfying and felt a little like redemption – like being rescued from the rut of seeing myself in overly limited ways. Not coincidentally, I’m sure, it illustrated ideas expressed in a poem I'd found, tweaking and considering the day before… just before the implied dare ever took hold.
I awoke that Thursday morning with my mom on my heart, although there hadn’t been much sleep at all. From one thousand miles away, I could feel her, and what I felt, felt like leaving. She had been admitted to the hospital the night before with an infection in her leg. It sounded simple but, in the pit of my stomach, I knew it was not going to be simple at all.
The sun was still below the horizon when I meandered into my studio and turned on the quiet little lamp on the ink stained table. The stains were my favorite part of the table and I held them as evidence that something important was happening.
For some reason, certain poppies fluttered in my head – those same poppies I'd painted last fall when I was dabbling in acrylics. Mom loved them. Why didn’t I give them to her for Christmas? Why was I waiting for her birthday? Sure, she loved the snowman catching snowflakes painting, but is there a rule that says a daughter can’t give her mom two paintings while everyone else gets just one? No. No rule. Just worry. Always worry.
Writing is how I figure things out along the winding path.. I love company, so thanks for stopping by. I hope you'll share your thoughts, too. The comment boxes are always open.