Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Where She Finds Herself

A couple of months ago, before Not Barbie, an acquaintance asked me to photograph her.  I was a bit surprised to find she wanted to go outside, but I was game for it.  I have woods beside my house which are dense enough that the neighbors can't really see what's going on unless they are out on a walk.  This model, I'll call her Nan, told me she'd been going through a tough time recently - way too much stress, too much responsibility, and definitely not enough fun.  When I mentioned the possibility of photographing her outside, she jumped on it immediately as if I were offering her a ticket to sanity and peace.

When we got outside, she disrobed and immediately began to explore her surroundings.  She went inward, communing with the trees and bushes, many of which had just fallen during Hurricane Irene.  I photographed her among the fallen trees and dying leaves, giving me the sense that she was sitting in her nest, a home which offered her natural safety and protection.  She got up to walk some more.  She had been told by a psychic that trees were very important to her and she should spend some time in the woods.  She went over to a large birch and embraced it.  I could sense an exchange of energy as Nan received strength and succor from the giant.  I photographed her in that moment.

When thinking about which painting to create from the photographs of her, I was strongly drawn to that one.  I also had the idea to collage pictures of models onto a canvas and have them surround one of my models.  Nan's picture seemed a good fit for that.  I worked in Photoshop to try to figure out the composition.  I spent two days, in fact, playing with possibilities and options, trying to figure out what I was trying to say and how to say it. I guess all that thinking and experimenting was helpful, but I didn't come up with anything through that process.  Instead, I got sick of trying and finally just went to the canvas and painted a very rough sketch of Nan.  Then I went to my large pile of models I'd cut from several women's/teen's magazines my daughter had given me permission to destroy and began to arrange them around the outside of the oval.  It was exceedingly time-consuming to find them, cut them out, arrange them, glue them on, etc., but it was a fun process too.  Once that was done, I felt like they were too dominant, so I toned them down by glazing them with veridian and cadmium mixed with Golden's Semi-Gloss Gel Medium.

After that, I drew Nan on the canvas more carefully then couldn't wait to start laying in paint.  I got out my palette mud - what's left over at the bottom of the jar where I keep my turpenoid when it's too dirty to use anymore.  I pour off the turpenoid so the sediments can fall to the bottom then scrape out the paint that's left in the jar still.  I put that in another jar and keep it for when I need to tone a canvas or for whatever else - you never know when it'll come in handy!  It was perfect for the tree.  First of all it was almost the exact right color.  Secondly, it had a lot of glop and gloop in it - perfect for texture for the bark.  I got out my palette knife and started scraping it across the canvas.  Sloop, droop, slop, mess, scrape, glub, glob.  I took some texturizing tools and dragged them through the mess then added more paint.  It was really fun!  Kinda like making mudpies.  I really wanted to get my hands in there but managed to keep that impulse under control.

That was yesterday.  Today I couldn't wait to get back to it.  (I love that feeling - when I wake up wanting to paint, thinking about the canvas, excited to get back to it.  It's not an every day occurrence, so I've come to really appreciate it when I have it.)  I taught art at Crossroads then rushed home, had lunch, and came on out.

I assessed what I'd done yesterday and still liked it so I began painting her shoulder.  I don't have the light right on it - the white part doesn't read well since it's too confusing what the light is supposed to be.  I'll change that tomorrow.  I moved on to her face.  For some reason, it seemed very, very easy to paint her face.  I think her features must be somehow similar to mine.  They seemed very familiar and simple to paint.  She doesn't look completely like Nan yet, but it's a very good approximation for a first day of work.  I was feeling tired but couldn't wait to keep going so I painted the hand quickly - I wanted to fill in the entire canvas.  Then I did some more work on the tree to make it look more realistic.  I'm excited by the texture of the bark!

When I look at it now, I'm starting to see the message I'm trying to get across.  Chris came out to the studio when he got home from work and said it looks too chaotic to him - all those faces are bothering him because he wants to focus on her meditative sensibility.  THAT is pretty much my point - how can a person stay attuned to nature, or become attuned to nature, with all the input from the media and the rest of the world?  It's a real challenge to not let the thousands of images we see daily overtake us.

I may lessen the impact of the surrounding images a little bit by glazing it again so they'll be darker and less prominent, but I haven't decided yet.  Perhaps my dreams will tell me.

In the meantime, Nan can meditate on the tree, and all those faces can try to attract us to buy whatever it is they're offering (sex, clothing, lipstick, face powder - whatever), and I'm going to go to the grocery store then make dinner and share the evening with my precious husband.  Have a good one, y'all!

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