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
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.
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!