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Studio Notes

Not the painting I describe, but another one of mine.

Last week in the studio, we could see the agitation in Burrard Inlet. Large, rolling waves washed up all sorts of debris; the sky changed rapidly—opening, closing, lifting, descending—rain coming, for sure. An electrical charge in the air, and we got down to work, without much talk.

I taped paper onto three boards, mixed my palette, wet the paper, and worked in quick, loose strokes with a palette knife over the whole thing once. Then I put it aside and picked up another board. Added new mixtures to the palette, wet the paper, and again went at it with the palette knife, not squinting exactly, but close. Soft focus. I wanted it to breathe today, did not want to work in the dense, close, layered way I’d been working last spring. Stay loose, I kept thinking. Leave space. Stop. Step back. Return.

The pigment was getting thick in places, so I pressed other colours into the mounds that had formed. I mixed and re-mixed paint in small patches right on the paper and then spread some of  them out in a wide arc—then, I went in again with the palette knife to work daubs of pigment back into the mounds.

It was time to stop again.

I put two of the boards out on the balcony to let them soak in a light rain, grabbed my coat and went out to the coffee shop for a muffin. I stood outside under an awning and ate it, watching the rain, which was coming down harder.

When I walked back up the studio steps, everyone said, “There he is!” And Jim said he’d brought the boards in—they were soaked. “Marvelous!” I cried. And they really were soaked, so I tore off my coat and set about with paper towels, wicking up the water that had formed pools against the mounds of pigment. Slowly, patiently, steadily, I dabbed and soaked, all the while trying to leave the paint in tact.

How to describe what the rain had done to the background. It was delicious. A miracle. Nothing I could have done with a spray bottle. Spotted colour in astonishing russets and neutrals the rain had mixed on its own. A delicate spray that left plenty of room to breathe. And the mounds of veined pigment remained in tact—in places the paint had seeped underneath the partial grid I’d made with tape, and there it was: what happens when acrylic paint and rain are allowed to have their way with each other.

Jim and some of the others gathered round to look—as astonished as I was by what they saw.

A good day in the studio—something I’ll try to repeat next week, knowing full well that they are rare and come unbidden—like grace—but only if I keep showing up to mix the paints and watch, as patiently as I can, stepping out of the way just in time for a real painting to emerge.

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