There's a suitcase to be unpacked and memories to be stored in my minds' eye, but the studio calls. #20 is an homage to the water, the trees and the vivid blooms of the islands.
Today, I decided to experiment with a background akin to the one outside of my studio: dark, rain soaked and blue gray! I challenged myself to use opaque watercolors on top of the ground, seeing what I could accomplish with layers of paint. I feel that I've made a start and want to investigate further. The delicate nature of the watercolor needs a lighter ground, but I'm game for it, as a much as for a sunny sky--at least for a few minutes.
Landing in Kauai, I assumed I would magically relax into a state of being where one activity flowed into another--not the hurried hula I find myself performing on most working days.
While there were indeed many delicious activities; ocean walks, tropical flowers and rainbows, I was surprised to meet up with some of my oldest and most familiar demons; the ones that incessantly wish to compare myself to others who seem to be more, do more, achieve more.
A hold-over from childhood, these thought pests seemed more intense than usual, even creeping into my dreams. My sister, who had joined us, noted that sometimes in Hawaii, it seems that one’s stored up issues just seep out like lava--a kind of “detoxifying” if you will.
While the gremlins nibbled and morning doves cooed, I tried to set up a studio practice--sparer than my normal routine, but something to do in order to counter my inner detractors. I decided to sit down for an hour a day with watercolors and just paint something. I picked the simplest forms I could find; lemons and limes picked from trees growing in the yard and tiny birds of paradise that grew by the outdoor shower.
As I painted, I observed my initial antipathy to mixing the color green. It brought up memories of phthalocyanine green oil and viridian oil in undergraduate school and my messy complicated affair with oils). I persevered and, finally, loosened my association of mixing colors which matched my mood and began instead to evoke a feeling of relationship with the fruits I studied.
What I also observed, as the days peeled off, was that after painting I experienced a feeling of clairvoyance--clairvoyance in the French sense of the word, which literally means: “clear sight.” The fabulous leaf and flower forms that surrounded me seemed heightened, standing out as if I were staring at an intricate Indian miniature. I experienced an intensity of seeing similar to the high that practitioners of yoga describe. I felt loose and clear headed. I breathed effortlessly.
I’d like to claim, after this time away, that I’ve returned to normal life with no worries, sustained clear sight and a pack of good watercolors. But reality, like river water after a storm, is muddy. Spending time with transparent colors and resplendent foliage allowed me to see the landscape through the mist; there are always more layers--I understood again that we can never really remove ourselves from the complex relationships of people and situations, the endless rich entanglements of this world. However, like finding a blossom in the Hawaiian jungle, I can always locate something to focus on.
I arrived at my friend Stacey's last week with a lot of questions. I wanted to hear where she stood on the matter of staining and non staining pigments, her thoughts on hot vs cold press paper and if there was a better pigment or paper to use.
Stacey obligingly pulled out a reference book, The Wilcox Guide to the Best Watercolor Paints by Michael Wilcox and showed it to me. On each page there was a precis of every shade of watercolor known to mankind. She offered to loan me the book but the sheer weight of the information was daunting.
When I pressed her for the essential facts on these issues, I could feel her resistance. She explained that rather than reading about pigments, she prefers to work with the colors herself, testing one, then another with a whole cadre of colors. She opened a black notebook to a two page spread with the most mouthwatering series of colors I've seen in a while.
What was most interesting about the samples she had painted was that there was no
uniformity. You could see crystallization in some of the colors and in others, like viridian, there were speckles of plum and rust. "So, is that sedimentary?" I asked, pointing to the viridian wash. She told me that the paint water had remnants of many colors suspended in it--or, as she put it, "it's dirty water."
It was apparent to me that once again, I was facing the creative continuum of choice, trying to decide between two ways of approaching a painting or drawing. When I arrived that at her studio that morning, looking for answers, Stacey was telling me to experiment, to work by trial and error, always heading in the direction that that elicits energy and joy, rather than the road marked "I really should...."
Simply put," she said, "avoid the 'shoulds'!! "If it seems like you have a choice and one way is going to bring joy, go that way."