No, I did not just sneeze.
In mid-November I joined a class at Flying Leap Art Space called Working with the Masters. Each month the class studies a different artist, and luckily for me they had decided to spend two months focusing on interior paintings by Bonnard. The artist, born west of Paris, is characterized by layering white paint over blocks of color, using nondescript people and animals, and composing with slightly skewed perspectives.
The best thing about the class is, of course, the people. The ladies at Flying Leap come from various backgrounds. Some are trained artists, some have been painting only a few months, and every one of them is absolutely lovely and talented. Often studio classes are intimidating experiences where judgment abounds. Together the students here create a supportive and inspired environment, encouraging one another to take risks and delighting in their successes.
Good thing, because I was about to try a brand new medium. Gouache. I have always loved watercolor, but paint in oil 98% of the time. I like the control I have over oil paint—surprise, surprise. I painstakingly plot a composition, sketching it multiple times before making any mark on a canvas. Colors can be mixed on the palette or on the work itself, the tiniest details placed with single hair brushes. Texture is created with thick heavy strokes. Paint can be glaze thin, placed layer upon layer, wiped off or dried, whatever’s below the surface having its influence on the final effect. Oil can take months to fully dry, so a piece can be put aside to simmer for awhile and returned to after the artist has had enough space to make up her mind.
Watercolor is basically the opposite of oil, and not just because it’s water based. Watercolor is challenging to control. It dries quickly, but there’s still the waiting for wet paper to dry so you can paint the next bit without adjacent colors bleeding together. Said colors are usually not very intense unless they’re layered, and layering can be difficult because even when dry, the second it’s touched by water the paint becomes pliable again. Gouache is similar to watercolor, but with far deeper colors, closer to what I'm used to getting from oil.
Over the next few weeks, I experimented with gouache all over this sheet of paper. I did things I would never do with oil. I used my brush as a stamp for the floor tiles, I didn’t measure or try to place them in straight lines, and I let raw paper show through between them. A cat appeared on the rug of its own volition. I intended sunlight to shine through the wide-open window, but when it became clear that this was a night scene, I didn’t argue. (Unlike my pomegranate painting, where I fought against the anatomic reality of the content for weeks before deciding, reluctantly, to let it be what it was—a baby pang. Thank you, Georgia.)
My instructor and classmates encouraged me to cut out a paper moon and place it in the window. That way if I didn’t like it I could just move it, and if I did I could paint it in. Well, I decided I liked it, and in fact, I was going to glue that white moon right to my painting. And to stray even further from my norm, I was going to cut out a cat silhouette and glue that on too.
And oh, those spindly lines of the bed frame! How utterly freeing to place them, one by one, reflecting the untroubled, energized mood of the chair's orange stripes.
I hope you’ll forgive me for taking so much delight in my own artwork. But it’s sort of a new feeling, this liberation, and I’m giving up self-judgment and control and just going with it.