Recently I had the wonderful experience of a week-long oil painting class at Arrowmont arts and crafts school in TN. My instructor was Sandy Miller Sasso, and she was terrific. Our subject: “Evocative Still Life.” That means going beyond fruit and flowers, setting up a still life with objects that carry special meaning for you, the artist. Sandy described the process as rather like being a stage manager: you control background, lighting, and placement of important objects. Things in the foreground are painted in more detail; things in the background blur a little, fade into the distance. You create a mood, and hopefully a story.
Here is one of Sandy’s paintings:
She told us the pendulum symbolizes constancy and steadfastness in a world of chaos.
I have already found much refreshment from painting. It is also the perfect activity when my writing is blocked. I think working with color, shape, and texture in a physical sense uses a different part of the brain, but the creative process is similar. You start with a plan, but the plan changes as you work, and it’s important to let serendipity, or even mistakes, take over at times. Just like a character starting a conversation in your head, the paintbrush can have a mind of its own.
Although we were invited to bring objects from home, we also improvised with objects around Arrowmont’s studios. I fell in love with a bone, and this is what happened when I painted this still life two days after the election:
What does it mean? Perhaps how ephemeral things are, especially favorite pets like the little cat (made of wood, so not permanent in the archaeological record) or the African seed pod (the tall brownish-red object turned on a wood lathe into a vase). But bones, in the right environment, can last a very long time…
I look forward to incorporating these experiences into my fiction writing.