The Comforting Quilt of Art
My mother in law passed away unexpectedly as I was leaving for the San Diego Art festival, and my husband was flying east for a business trip. Parallel to festival commitments, and business travel, the process of juggling out-of-state loss began; death certificates, additional travel, burial arrangements and notifications.
While we were in different cities, on phone calls, getting adjusted to the forever-ness of this new absence, I took respite in night time art-making. Emersion in pigment swirling, shape-making, and the wonder of stacked, transparent colors is both an escape from sad thoughts, and comforting, solid company.
Painting as a process is strong enough to lean on while stepping timidly down the stairs of bereavement. Every rough patch of road in my personal history leaves me swelling with gratitude for the refuge of art, which I’ve turned to again and again.
A Secret Symbol
My mother-in-law raised birds for decades. She hand-fed parrots and cockatiels so they’d be socialized and comfortable around people holding them, talking to them and loving them. Her birds were her babies, and over the years, she avoided long-distance travel or attending events that would take her far from her chicks for any length of time.
It feels fitting to put a bird figurine in this watercolor, while I think about her life, her sons, and what was important to her.
There is a definition of the five stages of grief. Perhaps wrapping sequential containments around each passage of time after a loss serves the finality of it in more bite-sized, digestible portions.
In my own organization of shapes in a painting, maybe I’m doing the same thing; tending passages of color like a farmer tends crops, staying busy while I process a departure, one color at a time.
Be Like the Bird
Be like the bird, who
Halting in his flight
On limb too slight
Feels it give way beneath him,
Knowing he hath wings.
Links on Art + Grief
- In this story, a simple illustration on social media helps the writer come to terms with her own grief
- This article explains the stages of grief, and the way art and creativity wraps a safe vessel around that process
- In this piece, a young man searches for poems about grief to help cope with the loss of his father, and when he doesn’t find what he’s looking for, he writes them himself.
- Author & Artist Austin Kleon assembled this list of artist’s quotes about the cure of drawing. Read it here.
An ingredient of bereavement, to me, is our perspective on time. How many circles around the sun do we each get to complete? With loss, I inevitably think about my own mortality. I’m not being morose… The notion of limited-time can lasso distraction and force an inventory of what’s really important.
It’s an alarm clock of motivating perspective. I think about the stockpile of ideas, photos and sketches I’ve stashed, waiting to become art. And then I wonder how I would prioritize my time to get them finished if I had a clock ticking with a visible end in sight. Would that motivate you?
Sometimes, artists let fears drive the bus, thinking we’ve got all the time in the world, and that stops us from diving into art-making with the conviction of everything we’ve got, regardless of the outcome.
Well, I want to drive my own darned bus, and to hell with all-the-fears. What about you? There’s so much to do, and who knows what our timeline looks like? I wonder what personal projects my mother in law planned for this summer, and what were the things she meant to get to, but didn’t.
If she were looking over my shoulder, she’d probably say Quit typing and Grab a brush.
Trying New Watercolor Paper
The paper under this watercolor is newish to me, and I’m experimenting with transparent, glazed layers, and lifting non-staining colors with a clean, wet brush to lighten shapes.
I usually paint on plate finish or hot press paper; both are slippery smooth and leave all sorts of pigment-piles with brush marks here and there.
In contrast, this paper has a lot of tooth (nooks and crannies or a pebbly-surface), so the pigments spread over the miniature expanse of hills and valleys, and sink into place in an evenly dispersed veil.
This weight (300lb) paper doesn’t need to be stretched or mounted before painting. I taped it to a board so I could work on the painting while standing at my easel at an art festival. Have you tried Arches 300 lb rough, and if so, which media do you use on it? Watercolor? Acrylics? Alcohol Inks?
I think now is a good time to shut down my browser, grab some tea, and break out my watercolor palette for some painting today. What do you think? Can you join me? Even just for 15 minutes of swirls and doodles?
With that free pen from the bank, on the back of a utility bill? Draw me a flower, or a map of the back yard. Anything will do.
Thanks for visiting today, and I’ll see you in the next post –
Drawing isn’t work, it’s a form of prayer.
~ Christophe Blain