a week with matisse

i’ve mentioned before that i’m a bit of an online class junkie. i often juggle more than i can count on two hands. yes, that bad. thank goodness they’re not terribly expensive otherwise my husband may trade me in for a lower maintenance model 😉

i was especially juiced to get started on my 2014 classes. a few of them are long term classes, spread over months and a couple over the whole year. this staggering of start dates and posts allows me to dip in and out as i please, and since my brain prefers to work on more than one thing at a time i can usually be more productive this way. until i’m not, and i end up a gibbering overwhelmed mess, rocking in the corner of my studio because i tried to paint ALL THE THINGS.

but that’s a post for another day 😉

right now, one of the courses that has me most inspired is Studying Under the Masters with Jeanne Oliver. it’s a 9 week course, with 9 teachers delivering lessons on 9 masters. essentially, we’re all apprentices.

let me tell you, at only week 2, the class is already jam-packed with content.

our first week lesson was centred around the work of matisse. yeah, i got to the point in the end. we’re encouraged to learn by copying a painting by the master, and then to take away what we learn and apply it to our own work.

and at the end of my week with matisse, i’ve learned that:

  • his colours are amazing and not always easy to replicate. even though his work is vibrant, there’s a subtlety that i struggle to capture. i’m not sure if this is a difference in medium or not (he worked in oils, my painting was acrylic).
  • his brush strokes are loose. i had to resist the urge to blend, and occasionally tightened my grip on my paintbrush. i’m sure with practice the looseness will come more naturally.
  • i’ve always photographed my work in its stages in order to see where i’m going wrong but i’d like to do that more often, maybe after each layer, so i can document the many changes each piece undergoes.
  • i want to experiment with colour and try to use more non-traditional flesh tones.
  • i’m less afraid of attempting to mix my own colours.
  • loose strokes are conducive to larger paintings rather than journal work so i’d like to go big at least once this year.
  • the female figure can be rendered with just a few simple lines and still convey a fleshed out image.
  • that one week with matisse isn’t nearly enough.

matisse progression


the difference a day makes

on extraordinary days, the painting is easy.

i crank the music and finger paint and it feels like floating. effortless. on extraordinary days, i forget to eat, ignore the iThings that are usually within arms reach and the next time i glance at the clock a whole school day has passed and i’m running late to pick the girls up.

two days ago, there was such a day. i finished two paintings. i wanted to pull them to my chest and twirl around the room with them because finally i was an artist and everything i painted from now on would be easy and beautiful and would swallow whole days.

but then yesterday, i forgot to breathe. i laboured for hours on a seemingly simple piece whose background i’d completed days before. all i had to do was paint the character and its story.

i put down a layer. then another to cover the first. a third to cover the second. all the while, inhaling and not exhaling. no music played and i didn’t forget to eat. and i cried out, “why is this not working?” 

every distraction was a welcome one. i replied to every text, drank so much tea i couldn’t bear the thought of another cup, and despaired. i was sure that if i stumbled across the perfect quote (i googled for hours) it would all come together.

i limped up to and over the finish line eventually, before i remembered this wasn’t a race. and i’m so underwhelmed by what i produced, i could tuck the piece away and never look at it again.

but the lesson is there among the layers.

creating something from nothing isn’t just for extraordinary days of music and blissful floating between pieces (how romantic that sounds!) dabbing paint here and there. it’s also for the days of struggle, of forgetting to breathe and feeling like a talentless hack who simply got lucky the day before.

it’s for the days of rest, of leaving a painting unfinished and to sketch for the joy of it instead.

or not sketching, but sitting, refilling and believing in the extraordinary days to come.

day one day two

the search for symbols

i’m not complaining when i say that i’m swamped with courses, both art and writing. the juggling is an art form in itself, one that i relish. i’m a better person when i’m busy. there’s a whole lot less hopelessness in the downtime if the uptime has been productive and full of all the things. 

just one, story101 with Elora, is writing related. it’s the one that is slowly helping me put words down, both here and in my art journal.

sometimes i’m paralysed by all that i take on. until i remember to work at my own pace. i think i’m going to drop the ball. and then i don’t. i need to remember this before the paralysis.

right now, many of my art courses have reached a serendipitous place, where the teacher-artists are asking the same question.

what are your symbols and marks that will truly make your work your own?

and Elora asked,

what keeps you awake at night?

usually, not much at all, thanks to the crazy-person meds, but sometimes having a bipolar brain means i am so very awake. this week, in my awake when everyone else is asleep state, i thought about my symbols and marks.

there are some that appear in my work without any forethought – the spirals, circles, chevrons, leaves, letters and random scribbles. these just happen when i hold my pencil in my non-dominant hand. i remember so clearly as a child, wishing i was ambidextrous, or at the very least, a lefty, and practicing wonky circles or my name repeatedly.

circles grow

houses. there have been many, and not all of them homes. i try to represent them by styling them differently. tall, squat, shingled, pointy… a tent shape for the wigwam i used as a cubby. i can’t quite recall who, or where, just the wigwam.

home houses

the rest of my symbols are representative of weekends at my grandparents’ house. the unchanging place that anchored me.

three parallel lines. i’m reminded of the times when my brother and i would draw cricket stumps on my grandparents’ garage door. the slam of the tennis ball on steel. my grandparents never interrupted our play, no matter how noisy we were.

circle line circle. a rudimentary skateboard doodle around my borders. We’d careen heart in throat down the steep driveway and pull a hair-raising 180 right before the inevitable crash into the garage door.  i had a gut instinct faith that God had my back even then.

stick flowers. lupins from a garden that also grew gooseberries, fuchsias (i would pop the flower pods open before they were ready) and potatoes, and had the best worm collection a pair of grubby children could wish for.


a cross inside a circle. a tennis ball inside a pair of tights. i’d stand with my back against the wall and whack that tennis ball around the compass, never fearing i might swing the ball into my head instead of the bricks.

never eat shredded wheat never eat shredded wheat never eat shredded wheat. north east south west.

faster and faster, changing the order. some combinations were more difficult and dangerous than others. north south west east.

forehead chest shoulder shoulder.

i was fearless once.

and faith full.

at first, a whisper

online, i tend not to stay in one place for too long. i’m told i have Romani heritage. i certainly moved around a lot as a child. across cities, to new continents and back again.

i’ve settled in this city for almost three decades now. i stay rooted here because the people i’ve gathered around me are worth standing still for. but standing firm does not mean not growing. i stand, i grow tall, and sometimes i twist in the wind. usually that’s a good thing. i don’t break, see.

the footprints of my nomadic childhood are now the nomadic digital footprints that have led me here. from the old space, filled with heavy words and stories i grew tired of telling. there, my voice fell to a hush. i tried to stem the drying up of words. i redecorated. look! shiny! but i knew, even while the paint was still wet, that i was done there.

there was no room among the cumbersome clutter of discarded stories for the whimsical nature of my paintings.

i wield paintbrushes dripping with purples, turquoise and neon pink.

those colours are the perfect complement to dark, inky words. just not the words that came before.

those colours make the words flow again. because of the art, the words are back. back, but different, even when they tell of the hard things. they are messy and splotchy ink blots, and written wrong-handed, not right-handed, with brush and pen and whatever is within reach.

they are handed down from others who are wiser. they are gifted. they are found.

they are found.

they are whispers spilled among the whimsy.