Friday, March 3, 2017

Fumbling Towards Watercolor Ecstasy

Just in time for Women's Month, I am charting on a journey to self-discovery in art-- my identity as a woman, as an artist, as a writer, as a black body, as a vegan. The newest works have been brewing inside for a while. These aren't necessarily finished ideas. They're roots of something larger. I am hopeful that the ripened fruit is exceptional. 
I have always had an interest in combining writing and visual art making together. To weave these separate entities is dangling a hope for conversation between left and right sides of cerebral, to get creative counterparts to integrate on the same wavelength. This quest is still going through a maturing process right now like a breathing baby crawling into awkward adolescence phase before reaching the cusp of onerous adulthood.
For starters, I am enrolled in a continuing education class at PAFA taught by renowned watercolorist James Toogood-- whose last name speaks for itself. So far, I've been learning remarkable things about watercolor (like grisaille underpaintings can be achieved for example)-- unexpected treasures from a medium deemed "too difficult" or "not sophisticated enough" in varied art circles.
Watercolor on wood is beautiful. Thoughtfully engaging transparencies over the natural grain integrity makes for a more intriguing composition. Artist Audrey Kawasaki is well known for her sultry oil and ink paintings that show hints of the wood grain and notable degrees of light layering. Thus, I was invested in using her as another teacher next to Mr. Toogood.
I found reasonably priced fine wood panels at Artist & Craftsman. I also bought vegan friendly watercolors (brands like Windsor & Newton & Holbein have plentiful animal free colors) and synthetic brushes. Plus a classmate mentioned a great alternative to the sable brush. She, a vegetarian, too is against animal products in art making practice.

Before I began my drawings (self portrait renderings suspended on fragments), haunting words came to mind, awful sentences from childhood reformed in another kind of way in my life now. The upended phrase "if you didn't have those" pertains to an infinite amount of what could be negatives and what if attributes. I wrote this out in a uniformed repetition with a B pencil. I then drew the portrait over the text, making sure to leave the residue of mantra visible.
This is the full on graphite version-- second coating using only a 6B pencil. Progress similar to repeatedly writing the fragment, this took hours, but felt incredibly gratifying. I rarely slept. Once the roll started, to stop seemed to torment me. I would sleep dreaming about drawing/writing/finishing. Honestly, I spent more time sharpening pencils than anything else last week.
The finished version of "if you didn't have those." Also, I must admit to reminiscing about Johannesburg often. The patterns, the atmosphere, that world clings to me like a second skin, a secret weapon that comes out at wherever I choose to wield its power. I used distinguished colors in the design of this portrait fabric, having wanted to carve out my memories of South Africa in some manifested fashion.
"if you weren't so dark" is the second piece. This pertains specifically to flesh tone. Colorism is a huge martyr in black community. It can stain a fragile mind longing to find beauty and worth in themselves. Often times, the refusal hurts a million times worse when it's your own community performing the sacrificial ritual-- telling a person that their brown is too brown, too close to ebony, too close to "ugly."  In this portrait yields a tenderness and appreciation for design principles, a defiant determinedness. The fragment is in cursive, slanted at diagonal intervals, with the face again layered overtop and watercolor coated. 
They made their public debut in at PAFA's Insider III show in Gallery 128. These are the beginnings of an idea, an idea slowly gaining traction and picking up an ample amount of steam. For me, it's important to decipher meaning in what people have said or write about me, about people I know, about complete strangers. I'm also searching through this quiet, versatile medium for myself as an artist trying to survive without oils and acrylics. Can I make this work in my post-graduate school world? 


  1. Really beautiful and powerful. I'm very moved. I can't wait to see the rest of this story.

  2. Your art is so beautiful! Thank you for sharing your process; it's amazing to see how you created these two pieces!

    1. Thank you so much. I appreciate your generous words. Glad you enjoyed seeing the process. :)