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  • Writer's pictureFrances

Watching Paint dry

Updated: Jan 11, 2023

I don't exactly know how or why it happened—I don't even know what day it was—but for reasons that are part mystery part pandemic brain, I started...painting. Just out of nowhere. Cora had been joking about making me paint with her so she could make fun of how bad I am at it (she's not always wrong). We were at Dakota Art, the best art shop in town, and she said "Mom, it's time. You need to get some watercolors and paper and try it." So I bought a wee noncommittal watercolor set and some small paper, as if maybe I made my paintings small enough they might not have to be anything. They can just be little attempts. Diversions, my father would say with a tone. Whenever he called something mildly diverting you knew it was just plain trash. At any rate, I learned as the ancient masters had, by sitting down and watching YouTube videos. I also spent time looking at lots of paintings I love, and paintings I do not, and then trying things.

My dad was a painter, and though he was not one for public display, he did hang some of his paintings in our house—and some of those hang in mine today. He also worked primarily in watercolor, and I wish we could compare notes, talk about what works, about composition. Luckily, I paid enough attention to him to be able to work through some basics, but I could use his keen eye and his deep knowledge of the materials themselves.

A semi-abstract forest with birds and a red sun
Smoke Season by me.

I started with a landscape. Professor YouTube talked me through prepping the paper, which brushes to use, which colors to use, and then he whipped through a painting like Bob Ross on meth. So I tried my hand, rewinding and pausing my way through it. I didn't do a great painting, but after playing around for a few days, I did something I liked. I called it Smoke Season. And then I made another one and now I have a Smoke Season series. It's a response to my anxiety about both the coming of the smoke every summer, and as a reaction to the End of Everything we're going through right now. I experimented a lot with materials and techniques and really enjoyed it. I have several Smoke Season paintings now, and I truly enjoy making them. This summer was also a season of loss, and these mournful and hopeful paintings really helped me.

I was also missing sailing. I created a few harbor abstracts, and then this abstract abstract. The landscape came later, a palate-cleanser after Smoke Season. I framed a few of my paintings and then they felt, I don't know, right. They felt real.

Three paintings, one abstract, one harbor, one desert landscape

My gallery wall.

My favorite thing of all is the Little Free Gallery (read more here), a tiny gallery at the end of my block. It has little tiny easels and little patrons and little tiny's adorable. Neighbors add and retrieve works of art, children gather and collect art kits for collages and tiny watercolor sets, and artists contribute paintings, photos, and collages, all in miniature. I love working in tiny scale and participating in a community art project. The pieces are wee. Working in this tiny space is both freeing and quite fun. I'm so grateful to my neighbor who manages it so well.

bookmarks that have birds, trees, bright suns on them

Little Free Gallery additions.

I don't know where painting is taking me, or whether it'll be a forever state of things. I just know that it's a whole new way my brain stretched this year.

This is one I did as an homage to my dad's minimalist landscapes. I miss him every day. It sits by my bed and reminds me of him, and of mama who would have loved this new direction.

A blue house, red sun and three green trees
Three Guardians

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