“Enjoy the Silence” is providing the soundtrack to this blog entry. Not the original, but the positively venomous version by Anberlin. It adds a dynamic counterpoint to the measured threat implied (hopefully) by the scene.
This painting has had a long gestation. The concept first presented itself to me, while I was paging through my copy of Time-Life’s “Great Photographers”. This is the same book that provided the germ for “New Haven”, “Adrift”, and “Passage”. At about the same time as the first boat painting, I started preparatory sketches for “The Next Move”.
It was when I came across a black and white photograph of her that the idea for this piece came to me. Her gaze was so steely, so calculating, yet the photo gave no hint as to cause of this look. My imagination went to work, concocting a scene that could capitalize on the woman’s magnetism (she is, after all, the famous turn-of-the-century Parisian actress, Sarah Bernhardt). I also wanted to situate her within the fantasy world established by previous watercolors, “The Child Bride” and “The Rabbit King”.
After about a hundred sketches of all or part of the scene, I finally committed the outlines to the watercolor paper. Next, the main areas of color were blocked in. I tackled the main contours of the dress next. That seemed to pose the greatest challenge, so I wanted to be sure I’d be able to pull it off before getting too far into anything else. The purplish spot on which the lady’s hand is resting didn’t quite come off the way I’d hoped, and I ended painting over it with a crimson wash to try to cover up some of the mistake. The fortunate accident of that move was a satin-like effect.
The crinkly dark ruffles were the hardest part. I botched them almost immediately, and knew it. This weighed me down for weeks to come; my displeasure with that part spread to the whole painting and made me lose confidence.
The picture remained in roughly this state for a long time, while I mustered up the courage and materials to pull out a victory.
There were a couple of convenient excuses to avoid this work for a while. First, I was starting to create a lot of digital drawings at home rather than going to the studio. Secondly, I needed a good source image to complete the details of the animals. In other words, I needed to either bring my painting home, or my laptop to the studio. This little added layer of complexity was plenty to derail the proceedings.
Until this week.
A few tentative stabs led to two final two sessions that brought the piece together. Work was methodical and deliberate, building up deeper and deeper shadows, adding layers of detail, and defining edges more and more specifically.
One of the keys ended up being something as small as the shadow on the near side of the lady’s nose. I had been talking to a studio-mate and recounted something I had noticed at a recent exhibit of Rembrandt’s work. The darkest shadow in his portraits was invariably the one on the side of the nose. My memory thus jogged, I applied this trick here and it worked.
The final details were the lace-lines on her dress. These were not that tough. They’re just loose interpretations of the texture, not especially beholden to the exactness of the actual garment.
Whew! It’s such a relief and an accomplishment to have been able to chalk this one up in the “win” column, even if it doesn’t *quite* live up to the epic span of its creation. Now, it’s time to plan The Next Move.