The title of today’s post is plucked from one of the songs on The Smashing Pumpkins’ exquisite album of rejects and b-sides: Pisces Iscariot. Sure it’s a stretch, but runners are always touting the benefits of a good stretch. I basically searched my entire media library to find any song titles referrencing the word “plum”. Plume is all that turned up.
Why anyone would expect to find a song with that specific fruit in the title is a real question. There is some precedent: The Pumpkins’ name is vegetative to begin with, and they *do* have songs called “Rotten Apples”, “Cherry” and “Mayonaise” [sic] among others. *Mayonaise*, for goodness sake! My curiosity thus piqued, I started poking around a bit. Elton John turned in “Rotten Peaches” and then there is Cibo Matto. They have enriched the world with an entire album of arty hip-hop on which every song has a food-based theme.
With all these quasi-relevant choices, how did “Plume” end up getting the nod? Well, the perfect post title would have been “Two Plums”, but so far no songs have been made with that evocative tag. Plume itself comes really close, though. In some Germanic words, the plural is formed by adding an “e” to the end of the word. Therefore, if you start with plum as the root word and add that extra letter, you essentially end up with the equivalent of “plums”, pronounced “ploom-a”. Try saying it out loud: that’s a recipe for a fun evening.
This all is just proof that, with a little imagination and disregard for logic, you can draw a connection between just about any two things. Besides, the song is a kick-butt slow-burner featuring the lines,”My boredom has outshined the sun…. I just want to have some little fun.”
The story of how I chose the subject of plums for a painting is equally prosaic. I was shopping at the Sun-Ray Byerly’s grocery, and stumbled across a display that looked like a stack of yellow breasts with bright red nipples! Lest one get the wrong impression about what kind of establishment they run, Byerly’s offered a sign informing shoppers of what they were actually looking at: Lemon Plums.
I bought two.
There was just something alluring about their vivid color and translucent flesh. I was itching to tackle something more brilliant and organic than the usual coffee mug. It was also time to try out a painting technique that relied less on layers of color washes, and more on stabs and blobs of color.
But first, a sketch:
With the main masses and shadows of the composition more-or-less decided, I proceeded to prepare my watercolors. There was a sheet of watercolor paper that had been stretched on a frame earlier in the week, ready to go.
First came the main colors and shadows. Already shadows are beginning to be suggested in the fruit, on top of the napkin, and under it. The table-top was going to be a real challenge. It was a small art cart encrusted with layers of rust, paint, and who knows what else. At this stage, the dominant brown is peppered with brighter colors, in a near-random pattern.
Over the next few hours and the next day, the shapes are defined as deeper hues are added. The details become increasingly deliberate.
In this near-complete stage, you can see the mottled skin of the plums coming to life. The reflected light within the shadow on the underside of the near plum was especially difficult to capture.
Some paint splatters from the cart surface were indicated with a few dots and scratches of opaque color. These can be seen in the lower left corner, and above the upper right corner of the napkin. The opacity is achieved by mixing a good deal of white pigment into the watercolor. Certain pigments used in paint are naturally more transparent or opaque. The white used in this picture is actually fairly clear, so it was not ideal. But it’s what I had on hand.
At this point, things were looking pretty good, but a bit static. As I’ve noted previously, this is the stage of painting when it is crucial to stop looking at the subject, and just focus on the picture in front of you. This one needed a break from all the busy brown splotchiness.
I loaded the upper inch of the painting with a thick line of water, then gently lifted off as much paint as possible, using a paper towel. The final step was to re-finish the newly lightened band of paper.
A few layers of that white paint did the trick. The white area suggests a wall behind the brown surface. It also “opens up” the painting and balances the lightness of the napkin.
Nature has a funny way of reinforcing good behavior. Just in case I felt tempted to go back and continue ‘refining’ this work based on closer and closer observation of the fruit, they changed color completely! When I returned to the studio for that final session, I found the plums had lost their ‘lemon’. They went deep red/violet… and were sweet as candy!
If only all artistic endeavors had such tasty endings!
…and, in parting; a snapshot of the scene prior to the transformation: