Tuesday, June 28, 2011


The past couple of months have been really good for me. Jason is not working (officially, anyway) and we've been tag-teaming with the kids so we both get some time to work on our myriad projects.

My myriad projects, of course, being the paintings I started before Isla was born. I do this thing where I start like three or four or seven pieces all at once, and they all poke along for a while, then I lose steam or have a baby or pack up and move entirely, and I balk at finishing them.


We're moving again in four weeks, and NOW IS MY TIME. Here's a piece I finished several weeks ago, but haven't posted because the working title -- "B500" -- was just not going to cut it. Naming paintings is harder than it looks. Try it.

But before the name, the evolution:

I started with a collaged background, and went over it with some wash-y gesso and ooh, drips. That's painting with abandon.

Like usual, I wanted to create lots of layers, but have them be transparent enough to show depth and texture.

Then I got a projector! I did some contour drawings on transparency paper and played around with the position of the bones before painting them on. It felt kind of like cheating, but that's what projectors are for. Besides, Andy Warhol did it.

It stayed like that for a while, mainly because I liked the bones too much & didn't want to go over them. Liked them, knew they had to change: my familiar dilemma.

Also familiar, the stage we'll just refer to as "miasma":

I have to mess things up when I can see that I'm protecting something. Most of my pieces get to this point, either "miasma" or "circus." (The commission piece I did in 2008 even had a "massacre at the beach" phase. Oh yeah.) The good thing with this piece was that I was just painting with acrylics, so I didn't feel bad about that step at all. It was a relief, actually.

It was even more of a relief to bring it back:

Most of the time I feel like I'm still exploring what paint can do, and there's something unexpected every time. There's what I can see in my mind, and then there's the inevitable stumbling blocks when I try to manipulate the media.

For this piece I wanted it to look like someone spilled some tea on the canvas.

I was finally getting what I wanted with the layers, so I just wanted to make the bones a little brighter without changing everything else. (There's kind of a lighting discrepancy between the photo above and the one below... I really didn't do anything to the background)

I used a soft pencil to reassert the outline of the bones, then smudged it with water to soften the line. The graphite, together with a little more light paint to solidify the bones, made just the right amount of contrast to focus the piece and finish it up. I'm pleased.

18 x 24 inches, acrylic and mixed media on canvas

The bone swooping out and to the left is a rib, and it's articulating with two vertebrae. Stacked like a puzzle, like sculpture.

And the name: Tisane is a lovely word for what is basically herbal tea... but I didn't choose it because I took the tea-spilling idea so seriously. Here's the definition I liked: "an infusion (as of dried herbs) used as a beverage or for medicinal effects.

For years I've been offering up different configurations of bones and flowers as gifts to friends who have suffered injuries, as a sort of charm, or a way to remind them that their bodies are amazing and capable of healing. I know when I'm in pain I get ornery and resentful and impatient; I focus on the discomfort instead of how to take care of myself.

This piece is a reminder, then. A recognition of the body's natural ability to keep itself in right balance.

A visual infusion for medicinal effects.


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