During my watercolor retreat back in February, I had arrived early in the day, and found myself alone in a quiet land, with the buzz and flutter of winged creatures for company. The softly rolling river created a backdrop for the solitude, and I enjoyed the opportunity to explore the property, snapping photos of whatever caught my eye.
This particular beauty I had never seen before: a redbud tree. I fell in love with her brilliant red and pink flowers (hence their name). Nested in the crooks of gray bark, they were… well, stunning.
An explosion of spring wildflowers in the Sierra Nevadas, pops of color in the landscape stood out as bright heralds of joy. Back at home in my studio, I began my studies with 2-dimensional black and white close-ups of various buds. I then developed a color palette for the painting as the design was forming into a vision for the piece in my mind.
Yesterday, I showed these photos to a fellow artist, and as I talked about my process, made a discovery. In my practice, there has been an unconscious process in which I seek just the right interplay between detail (intense learning through observation), and feeling and gesture (my impression of the subject). Working out the details helps me gain a type of intimacy with the inner workings of my subject, such as its formation, shape, line, and color. Yet it creates a distance from the feelings evoked when we first met along the path. Imagine dissecting a beetle into its wings, head, body, and legs. You no longer have a beetle anymore, but just the parts that assemble to be her. They are not the same, the parts and the beetle, and when assembled, she becomes something more.
I’m still playing with this beauty called redbud… she’s still teaching me, and here is where I am today with her. I wonder, now that I am aware of what was previously an unconscious process, how that will change things…?