This painting shall be a bit of a surprise I suspect. As I mentioned on Monday, I have only one 15 minute sketch of a figure, a few passages from The Underpainter by Jane Urquahart and an image for a painting that wouldn’t leave me along.
I set up my palette and haphazardly mix a couple of colours in the usual loose Terrill Welch fashion.
You may have noticed before, I do not usually sketch in my paintings but prefer to use an underpainting to guide the development of my work. However, I did put in just a view pencil lines on this 24 X 18 inch canvas for this one.
A few quick strokes with a large brush as the story begins to unfold…
“Still it moved me, this wildness, and so I drew Sara standing by windows, looking out towards the frantic lake, the hectic sky. I drew her stillness in the face of torn clouds and rain – I wanted that contrast. Also, I was attracted by the muted light that came into a room when the sun is buried under blankets of heavy clouds, the soft-blue tinge in lends to the skin.” (p,167)
Using my sketch as reference I create the composition – not standing as in the story but sitting and unlike the sketch, she is leaning slightly out a window. Neither the story, nor the sketch is a perfect fit. I am on my own with mostly the image of the woman in my mind’s eye for guidance.
The underpainting is complete. I need to let the painting rest and set up. If you look carefully you can see that the figure is clearly looking left as in the sketch and as I intended.
“The next day the storm had finally worn itself out. The sky was a piercing shade of blue, and not a tree, not a leaf was moving. But the upheaval in the lake, the thunderous noise, was worse than ever; the water inkier, the whitecaps whiter…. In the middle of the morning – there was sunlight now, coaxing an impression of pastel colours from under her skin – Sara leaned her forehead against the glass of the window and said, “I can’t do this I can’t stand her any more.” (p. 169)
I start to build up the image. The colours are harsh and seem like they will never come together. I am tired. I have been painting for a long while. I didn’t notice at this point but she is starting to come alive on the canvas and has turned her head slightly to the right.
“I put my brush down on the ledge of the easel. “All right, we’ll take a break then, “I said, though nothing in wanted to stop.
“No, it’s not that…” she said. “I can’t look at the lake any more. I can’t bear it.”
I stared silently at her familiar back. I never thought about what Sara would be doing while she was posing. I was interested in anything that belonged to her in the immediate vicinity, felt that knowledge of the objects around her would enrich my drawings and paintings. But while I was working I believed that the gesture I ha prescribed was absolute; her pose, my line, the contour of her shoulder working its way into the composition on the page. I believed that I was drawing – deliberately drawing space around me so completely there would be no other impressions possible beyond the impression I controlled.” (p. 170)
I am happy with how far I have come with the painting. But you can now see that she has turned her head completely and is looking out at the view on the right. Who am I to argue? Not that it would have done much good I am sure. This is one refined and determined woman.
“There full days of staring at a seething lake, larger and wilder than some oceans, a man seated behind you concentrating on the seventh vertebra of your spine or the blue veins at the back of your knees, the dispassionate scratch of the pencil reproducing the creases in you flesh. What did I know of that?” (p.170)
My body aches with the fatigue of painting. My mind plays with that of the woman I am painting. “Who are you?” I ask. But she does not answer. I listen to her essence as it slips between me and the canvas. Finally, I can do no more. I must leave it until morning.
“It would be years before I could admit that although I wanted every detail of her in my painting – her body, her ancestry, her landscape, her house – wanted the kind of intimacy that involved not just the rendering of her physical being but also the smell of her skin and hair, the way she moved around her kitchen, the sounds at the back of her throat when she made love, I would have preferred not to have been known by her at all.” (p.170)
I wake a five a.m. anxious for daily light. I write, I tweet and I fuss until there is enough light to paint. I switch my white paint out from the faster drying titanium to zinc. I review my blue paint. I fix my mind’s eye on the light and the reflected light. The room is lit by another window we can’t see. And there is the light from the sky and sea which we know is there but we only know this through the muscles of her back as she sighs into each wave and each bit of breeze coming off the water. The day goes on like this – one brush stroke over another. Then without warning, the painting is finished.
Oh, there are still a few things, possibly, to tidy up. But, for the most part, it is done.
I put down my brushes. I search THE VIEW. Have I allowed her to know me?
Note: all excerpts in bold quotes are from The Underpainter (1998 paperback edition) by Jane Urquhart.
And THE VIEW is not for sale at this time.
Sprout question: Can you tell us about something your muse aches create?
NEWS FLASH: Knock me over with a feather! I have just discovered that I am on this international list of 21 Artist to watch in 2011 published by Skinny Artist.
© 2011 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.
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From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada