In France this summer I was invited to paint by two musicians who are renovating an old stone house and barn set in the rolling hills of the Midi-Pyrénées. After enjoying fresh limeade and the rich tones of a cello emanating from a back room, I set up my easel in a shady spot where the road bends between house and barn.
I started laying in a sketch over a cadmium red underpainting. I often tone the whole canvas a thin red, which creates some rich color vibrations when that red underground peeks through the final painting. It also reduces the anxiety of staring at a blank white canvas not knowing where to begin.
Some artists lay in a sketch with charcoal or pencil. I prefer to start right away with paint, using a monotone raw umber diluted with turpentine to indicate lighter or darker areas of the scene. Often I draw and wipe it off a few times before I commit to the painting. Knowing I can wipe off allows me to forgive myself for the mistakes I am about to make. Yes, painting can be fraught with anxiety and fear - of self-doubt or anticipated judgment by others, of not “getting it right.”
As I paint often in public places, I am accustomed to people watching as I work and not at all bothered when the viewers are very young – they are always more direct and honest critics. As I was drawing, I had that prickly feeling that someone was watching. I looked over my shoulder and there she was: 7-year old Mia, a resident of the house. She looked a bit concerned about my drawing, but she stayed silent as a mouse, riveted by what was unfolding on the canvas.
Drawing finished, I began laying in color, starting with the sky and distant air, then dancing my brush around to the pavement, grass, eaves and roof. As the painting progressed, Mia looked relieved and began to point out happily that “this part is that building there, and there’s la maison de Francis next door.” I asked if she had a sketch book, and she came back with a colorful book and a set of markers. We worked together in silence again for a long while.
I was nearly finished when Spiderboy flew up on a bicycle and came to a screeching halt behind the easel, accidentally tipping turpentine into the grass. The 4-year old superhero was frozen by this act of art, transforming his view from the swingset into a recognizable image on canvas. Mia pointed out that I had missed the potted plant at the far end of the barn, and I added it in as a finale. A day later I heard the report: Mia has announced she that she would like to be an artist when she grows up.
|The finished work (note the cute plant in the red pot at the end of the barn, courtesy of Mia).|