I’m back from the road trip, muddling about until my body decides it’s home.

Muddling about includes mulling over ideas, thoughts, notions, and niggles that life has handed me. Here’s a set of thoughts that I’ve maundered through in the last few days.

People, making conversation with the plein air worker, often ask “How long have you been painting?” My stock answer is “Oh, about 5 years.”
But I was cleaning up some old piles of stuff today, and ran across a whole covey of watercolors and acrylics that were dated 1999. Now my math is bad, but not that bad. Somehow time, or memory, had gotten short-circuited. I remember the class now; it was “painting the figure in watercolor,” and I stumbled into it by mistake, much, I suspect, to the horror of the very nice instructor.

Rosie, Winter, 1999, watercolor, 15 x 22″

The revelation that I have actually been painting with some fulsomeness (the pile of paintings was quite large) since 1999, was followed by another, which came about from looking at these 1999 watercolor paintings and having to rethink a notion I had arrived at earlier that day.

I had been on an art “date” with a friend, whose insights into art are always illuminating. She talked about the “dead” color in one of the landscape painters whose work we were examining; when I quizzed her on “dead” color, she elaborated and showed me a number of paintings where the color either added liveliness or deadened the effect. I was impressed by her observations, and when I went home, I saw that some of the paintings I was despairing over might be saved by livelier color. While I was tweaking the color, I devised a theory about my own art development that went something like this:

When I first started painting, I concentrated on composition and representation. Then I moved on to focus on shape and forms. Then I seemed to be working mostly on paint, paint quality and brush strokes. Only now was I focused on color.

The listing of this process made sense to me. And I like these kinds of tidying up of my life experiences; it gives me a great sense of control.

That sense of control was proven almost immediately false, when I came across my 1999 watercolors:

Instructor Bob, Winter, 1999, watercolor, 9 x 12″


Unknown Model, winter 1999, Watecolor, 12 x 20″


Self-Portrait, Winter 1999, Acrylic on canvas, 22 x 30″


Blanche, Winter 1999, watercolor, 14 x 20″

These do not seem to me to be paintings of someone who isn’t thinking about color. Even the grey and pink self-portrait pulls the color and content together for me. Of course, some of this comes out of a lack of control of the paint medium — this was my first go at watercolor portraits and figures, so I was wrestling mightily with a lot of variables. But in the these paintings, the colors are, I would say, enlivening.

What happened, I now suspect, is I moved to oils. Oils can be made more precise — one isn’t stuck with whatever color dripped off the brush. Moreover, the oil paintings are done in the field, with local color guiding choices and perhaps confining imagination. Or maybe I am just moving away from my roots in textiles, where color choices are easier because the manufacturer or dyer gives the artist the color ready-made and the materials can be auditioned before being brought together in a final forum.

Adding fiber to the thought mix came about partly because I’m working on a small quilted textile piece for a fall invitational and the colors in it are vastly different from the ones I’ve been painting. I hadn’t noticed this until I started writing this post and was casting about my photo files for examples.

I’ve Been Here, Work in Progress 2008, 12 x 12″


Haines Public Library, 2008, Oil on board, 12 x 16″

This last is the kind of work I’m doing now. I think the color is lively enough here, but it’s of a very different kind from freewheeling lavishness seen in the 1999 work — and in the current textile piece.

Steve tells us that we should nibble at thought in these posts, but I have an appetite which seems to make my nibbles other’s meals. I would like to know — have you sorted through your art career process in a way that seemed to tidy it up, only to discover that it isn’t tidy at all? Or to discover that you really do know where you’ve been and how and why you got here? And what are your thoughts on color and how it works, besides to identify the red car above as probably not from Arizona (where all cars are white.)