Memory is a powerful thing, especially when it comes to color. It’s not so much that I can picture it in my mind’s eye. It’s more of how it feels.
This is how it feels to be in Tuscany as the seasons change. It’s not just one day, or one view. Autumn in Tuscany is ripe, full bodied, sweet grapes, dripping from vines. Families in vineyards picking by hand, deep purple fruit. Olives coaxed from limbs with a good shake, collected in buckets. Bound for the table. Vin Santo, sweet and earthy.
Appreciation. I think the pastel says it better than words ever could.
Years ago, my painting mentor Robert Mayo asked if I ever tried to paint from memory. Rather than copying nature, have you ever just painted what’s inside of you?
Mmmmmmmmmmmm. I still recall the feeling of puzzlement at his question. I had never considered such a question. He’d handed me a new coat inside out and I didn’t know what to do with it. How would I use such a thing? What is it for?
Plein Air or Memory Painting?
This question has lived inside me for 30 years. Now I find myself exploring some memory paintings. This one, like others in this series, comes from memories of painting en plein air at Bethel Beach.
Which way are you creating? Are you copying something out there? Or are you letting your heart and soul speak your own truth?
I remember another question put to me by my painting professor at East Carolina University, Ed Reep. Ed set up two studios for us. He had a still life in one. We put our easels in the other. He asked us to paint from the still life in the other room. Awkward and impossible, as I recall.
In a dream, rooms can represent states of consciousness. In these examples, I was being asked to go back and forth from one to the other. Stepping back and forth is good training for dancing with the creator.
In this painting, I began with my feelings of earth and sky. Drawing from memory of the feeling of being out there with my feet in the sand and my head in the clouds, I mixed a big brush full of Holbein Blue Gray with a touch of Gamblin Quick Dry White and laid in the sky. Going back for more paint, I switched to Ultramarine Blue.
Mixing Cad Yellow Deep with Manganese Blue, I answered the sky with warm green earth. I really wasn’t trying to do anything more than block in the color shapes of earth and sky. I was thinking I might take the earth sky block in on the beach to paint.
Before I knew what was happening. the landscape on the canvas was speaking to me. I slowed the process down. Sitting in the chair across the studio, I stopped to listen. That’s when I began to see the pink lights on the cloud. I painted them in and sat back down. Still thinking I would take the canvas out on the beach.
That’s when I saw the inlet. Lightening the sky color, I floated it in below the cloud. Then a line of light sand along the far shore appeared in my mind’s eye. Mixing ochre with white and a touch of red, I rubbed it out beyond the inlet. Creating the far shore. Did I get the symbolism at the time? No.
Back in the chair. It was quiet for awhile. Then I saw the nest. Right at the axis. A tiny vertical rising from the sand on the far shore with a y-shape at the top. Of course. I mixed Alizarin Crimson with some of the left over green. With a small palette knife, I scratched in the lines.
The Nest. I had put on the strange coat without a thought. Had the coat been turned inside out? Or have I? This IS my nest. Do I get the symbolism now? Yes. What does it say to you? Which way are you creating? Are you copying something out there? Are you letting your heart and soul speak your own truth?
I have been experimenting lately. I am experimenting with bold color shapes. Pink Cloud is a wonderful example.
As you may know, my painting method involves gestural calligraphy and intuitive color use. This approach has served me well. It’s a fine line between thinking too much and just doing it. We are talking about the marriage between head and heart here!
A dear friend asked me once, ‘why I paint so rapidly?’ I’m sure she was thinking, ‘if she would slow down and do it carefully, she wouldn’t have to re-do it so many times!’
What happens when I try to do it carefully, is that I have too much control of how it goes down. More importantly, the creator has too little influence when I hold the brush so tightly!
Cutting loose is a fine balance. Creating a dance between head and heart in which neither gets toes stepped on ~ and both shine!