At the beginning of October, Sheila sent me her challenge piece. She works in textiles, and the challenge is for me to respond to her textile piece with a painted piece.
Here’s Sheila’s quilted art:
Sheila Barnes, Jockeying in the Queue, 16 x 12″, plus frame. Hand-dyed cotton, machine stitched, 2009
October was not my best painting month. Some things got done, with some difficulty, and others got put off. But my version of Jockeying should have been started about five weeks before it actually got started, which was about 2 weeks ago.
The backstory of the painting goes like this: I love the notion of good activities jostling other good activities (an embarrassment of riches, as it were), and my life is filled with such. So I decided to set up a still life with “things” that represent the jockeying of the choice elements in my quotidian, examples of what I want to be engaged with, simultaneously, and equally well, all the time I’m awake.
While I couldn’t include everything that jostles me (no music here, for example) and while I needed something of a “queue” — I.E. a line — I still included some major loves. I chose a serious non-fiction book (Rembrandt’s Eyes by Simon Schama) and a book of poems (What Do We Know by Mary Oliver), some brushes and a palette, a glass of wine, my favorite cup with tea in it, a piece of charcoal, a spool of thread and scissors, and what started out to be blank, watercolor-paintable postcards, but ended up as a small notebook. (I decided against the big brush on the palette).
All these items were lined up, sort of, on a rolling table that hangs around the studio. Behind the table I draped some fabric, not to paint but to block out the distracting junk on the table behind the table. (I could ignore the distracting junk on the floor beside the set-up.) Then I put up a strong directed light source to clue me in on shadows and depth, and started the painting.
The other part of the idea of jockeying, besides showing the elements of painting, sewing, reading, writing and drinking that fill my life, was that in my head I had long wanted to do another classic still life. I have only done two still lifes prior to this one, and only one of those was “classic.” In a PCC class I took, the instructor, Ms Guttman, taught us about laying on thin layers of oil paint, allowing each layer to dry before the next layer was laid on; “classic,” she said, called for at least seven layers. This method of laying on layers of paint achieves the feeling of depth that some of the old masters achieve. My desire to paint this way has been jockeying in my queue of desired painting modes for some time, so I decided a still life, done in the classical manner, with examples of the fun elements of my existence pushing against one another, would be my answer to Sheila’s elegant triangles. And oh yes, I always wanted to do a dark background, a la Rembrandt, against which the still life would shine; that became the last element in the queue to be settled upon.
Underwood, Jockeying in the Queue, 16 x 12″ Oil on masonite, 2009
Ya win some; ya lose some. I didn’t start early enough, so my seven-plus layers of paint had to be put on before the prior layer(s) were thoroughly dry. Hence they sometimes smeared rather than glazing. Not always, just sometimes. And I certainly didn’t start early enough to put on lettering, for which the painting has to be entirely dry. (Odds are, the painting is not, even yet, dry.)
I finished up at the last possible moment, stuck on the lettering as best I could dab it, and later cleaned up the worst of the smears in (gasp) Photoshop and Paint. At this very moment I am seeing more of what has to be done to the painting. Which doing will have to wait until December or January.
But anyway, the idea feels appropriate, and I managed to use blue for the tabletop, echoing Sheila’s blue background, and I honorably fulfilled my pledge. I also managed to work in layers (they were drying OK until the heat got turned off for the construction project), made a nice dark background on one side and lovely browns on the other (although more layers would have been even better). So I sent off the image to Sheila and turned off the light, emptied the by-now molding cup of tea, threw out the vinegar that substituted for wine (I was reluctant to waste good wine on a still life that was unlikely to be a masterpiece,) and set everything else to rights.
Next year is coming, and I might even try another classic still life sometime in the future. My desire to do one has been properly sent to the back of the queue. –-June
Although another desire has pushed its way toward the front of the queue. I want to learn more about setting up still life materials, well-designed, yet specific to my own vision. We’ll see whether that pushy thought gets to the front of the line.