If you haven’t kept up with this project, here’s a quick summary: I did the first 12 paintings all on the same big sheet of paper. Those were all fairly realistic still lifes. For the second sheet of paper, I’m doing more free/abstract reworkings of all the paintings from the first sheet. Since the first sheet gave me practice in rendering objects accurately from life, the second sheet provides practice in interpreting freely, without so much care for the way things really look.
The evening after I finished the penultimate painting on this sheet of paper, I was in my thinking chamber (a.k.a. the shower), reviewing all the various approaches I’d taken with the reworkings. I’d done simplification of shape and shadow, stylized 2D interpretations, changes in scale, deconstruction and bleeding of colors, inverting colors, free abstraction, symbolism and allusion and a little bit of surrealism.* Then it occurred to me that one basic thing I hadn’t done was remove colors altogether. I decided to try that with my revision of Toolbox.
I made a simple pencil sketch of the various implements, and then used a ruler to draw a diagonal line through the sketch. I washed the top half with dark grey gouache so the silhouettes would stand out in negative space. I was going to do the reverse in the bottom half — fill in the silhouettes with the same gouache — but then I thought it might be interesting to extend the pigment out as outlines instead. Eventually I filled in the label on the eraser, since I felt there needed to be some more dark on the bottom half, to balance out the composition.
I’d planned a black and white picture, but I guess I just love color too much. This painting looked dead to me — like a body with nobody home: an empty shell. But I couldn’t simply color in the shapes; that would be too childish.
The vertical placement of the tools, the tilt of my painting table, and the diagonal horizontal division all made me think of gravity pulling down. I decided to run with that. I wet my brush with plain water and dragged it down the center of one of the pencils, making an invisible wet mark. Then I put paint on the brush and made a dot above the water, going slightly downward until the paint mark touched the water line. The pigment ran into the water, spreading down in an organic, soft-edged shape.
I also added a few touches of color to the bottom half of the picture, applying the paint more or less dry and then blotting with a tissue (to soften the color and give it a slightly faded look).
I don’t much like the style of this piece next to all the others (or even on its own, perhaps), but as a reinterpretation, I think it serves.
And there you have it: the final painting of this sheet, and the conclusion of this stage of the daily painting project.
When I started this project one of my main intentions was to generate something I could look at — something that would give me constant pride and pleasure in my work, so I would feel motivated to keep doing more. This has done that, so much. Every day I sit or stand in front of these big sheets and just beam at all the pictures I’ve made in just over three weeks. I don’t know why I’m so obtuse, but I really didn’t think it possible. I knew I could cover the page, I knew I could make something pretty and interesting to look at, but what I didn’t know was that I could create THIS — this being a tremendous sense of creative validation, a self-confidence that comes from knowing what I can do, and doing it every day. I started this project from desperation, because in spite of knowing intellectually that I was capable of making good things, I wasn’t doing it and I felt utterly worthless as a creator. Now I feel the complete opposite. It is not too much to say this has changed my… well, maybe not my life, but my entire outlook, and that’s almost the same thing.
The first painting I made in Boston was this self-portrait with my hand covering my mouth: stifled, unspeaking, self-censoring.
Painted September 29:
I hung the painting in the apartment entry, but after finishing these two big sheets (and another portrait which I’ll share some other day), it didn’t seem right anymore. And I knew what I wanted hanging there instead. I got out some heavily textured paper and got to work for another hour, and made this:
Bold words and bold colors to replace the self-censoring portrait. Yes, yes!
*These are all my own terms; I don’t know how closely they correspond to what’s taught in art history or practice. I have almost no formal art training and so, when I don’t know what to call something, I turn to my writer side, and she comes up with a description.