Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas




August 2006


"It is difficult to say how long my preoccupation with rocks will remain active, or how many paintings will finally feature them. Writing about painting sometimes tames my muse, and she becomes silent as a stone."


Judy's Journal, June 2005



When a Painting Initiates a Series

Dear Reader,

In my studio I have a black chair to which I retreat when studying a painting in progress. I sit there and struggle to see its successful passages and faults. Or I may simply sit and take a break from my marathon dance with the easel. I also go to my chair when I sense that a piece is nearly resolved and let my mind drift into its colors and shapes.

In April, I contemplated the twelve inch square canvas on my easel. It was an abstract painting full of landscape references. I thought, "What if I were a camera and when my shutter opened, I saw this image? How could I show that?" And then, "If I were walking along and came upon this scene, my pulse rate would certainly increase." I asked myself how or if I could possibly represent that serendipitous event visually. I wrote in my journal to see if writing the problem out would give me more ideas. It did.

I wrote about an EKG readout. How could I show the heartbeat increasing? How could I show the before and after sequence? A triptych might work. I placed two more twelve inch square canvases on either side of the "scene" and painted both canvases with one color taken from the center painting. Next I located the center painting's horizon and put down three dots on the left canvas to represent the calm, pre-scene pulse, and five dots on the right canvas to represent the excited pulse.

I stood back. Not dramatic enough. Taking my colored pencils, I drew lines emanating from each pulse point. It worked. On the back of the center painting, I wrote: "When read from left to right, this triptych represents the experience of feeling one's pulse quicken after coming upon a scene that excites the eye."

Would the three canvases be hung separately or joined? I decided that they should be joined. But how? "Braces," I explained to my husband, John, who dutifully went on the first of many trips to the hardware store. Once the sound of the electric drill quieted, we tested the sturdiness of the three canvases. Good, but not good enough.

We went off to the Large Building Supply Store Near Us and explained the problem (a.k.a. challenge) to one salesperson, who shrugged an "I-don't-have-a-clue" sort of shrug. Undaunted, we sought out another person, and luckily found one who seemed to love thinking about something that didn't have an obvious answer. His solution was to insert a set of bolts to join the three canvases. After careful measuring and drilling, the triptych was sturdy and complete.

"Pulse Triptych One"

Four months later, I have made eight paintings in the Pulse series. I worked so
intently that, at one point, I broke out in hives. I was and am obsessed with this series. Anyone who comes to the house gets dragged into the studio and must have a viewing. Now to find somewhere to exhibit the series. By the time that is arranged, I probably will have painted more Pulses. As I have said to more than one person, "They are just so much fun to make!" Should art making be this much fun? Absolutely!

The opening quotation, which was taken from my June 2005 journal, talks about not knowing how far an obsession will take me, and wondering if writing about it might silence my muse. I was writing then about my rock-inspired series and had fourteen pieces. Today, I am working on what will be the twenty-third painting with rock images, so the muse hasn't deserted me yet.

I have painted a third group called Verticals. There are only three so far, but it feels like a series. When a painting becomes a "vertical," it means that I am interested in breaking space into long, slender shapes. Rocks, Verticals, and Pulses are three concepts or symbols that continue to end up slathered in paint. Are they really three paintings that come in many parts? Is each an evolution of an idea, the way drafts are in writing? Am I working toward one final rock, vertical or pulse painting? The answers will have to wait until I have completed my last painting.

If you have comments, questions or experiences of your own about what it is like to work in a series, please contact me:

Next month's subject could end up being an extension of this month's: exploring recurring themes in my poetry. See you then!