Dear Mr. Chihuly
Unfinished Business

Somewhere after 1997 and 1998, my father was moved to Sylvia Thompson’s Assisted Living in Sedalia, Missouri with Alzheimer’s Disease. When Dad no longer knew me, a part of my life died. I had been actively painting and was represented in many shows, up until this time. I had many watercolors on the board and almost completed. Other thoughts of photography entered my time through safari photography in Africa. I had all the time in the world to complete all these unfinished works. No hurry.

The watercolor I am showing you now is not a traditional, representational, or a realistic piece, which many of you think I can only do. But painting is the same, just different names and techniques. A goat is a goat! It was during this transitional time of the late 1990’s that Trish Mayberry and I went to a Dale Chihuly show at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts. I had never seen such a large exhibition of his work. It blew me away! The glass that is. Along with his huge display of glass were several of his watercolors expressing his glass creations. He failed miserably as a water colorist. I wondered if I could pick up his gauntlet and interpretively paint his glass as an underwater shell scene.

I bought a lot of real different shells, as well as a packet of Chilhuly’s cards showing his glass art for reference . I wanted to do something so difficult and complex to make me grow. Reaching for the unknown is like going to the gym, doing a brand new exercise, and being sore. I was scared, because I had no idea how to paint it.

I soaked the half-sheet of cold pressed watercolor paper in water, then mounted it on a quarter-inch thick piece of gridded Masonite board. I taped it down with regular brown tape and let it dry drum head tight. I drew the sketch with a mechanical pencil, and began the painting. My approach to this piece was entirely different from anything I had ever done. I usually start in the upper left hand corner and work down and right through the painting. This painting was a challenge for me to learn. I had an idea to paint a controlled area, then lift parts with a short-scrubby brush, starting on the far right side. I moved through that from the high lighted area to the back, darker areas. I am an advanced PADI Scuba diver, and wanted to represent the underwater life with exciting movement and color.

Starting and stopping throughout the painting did not help my continuity of thought. Traveling and painting did not get along very well. I finished the right third of the painting, and started on the middle third, working from the back most shapes forward. The initial glazing went well, then I lost it. Instead of staying with the horizontal banding, I did it vertically. When I finally realized my mistake, I was really down. How stupid! I tried lifting the area, but only succeeded in roughing up the paper causing the colors to bleed. I stopped working on the piece for 14 years.

It hung around my studio; moved it from place to place. I had no renewed interest in restarting the painting. My father passed away, my mother passed away from breast cancer, my son and his family left for California, I archived all my art work, I beautifully framed all my paintings, set up two companies and websites with shopping carts, and continued to win awards with my African Safari Photography.

Now that part of of my life is completed, I am ready to be a real water colorist again. Finishing an old painting is like cleaning an old, loved skillet. You have to get through the crud before you can see the beauty. You have to make yourself do it before it is enjoyable, although a painting looks much better in the end! It takes your own commitment to pledge to yourself to finish all the work you still have in your studio. I know, stuff comes up in your life and you are a little lost. Find your comfort zone, and start painting, even if it is only getting your supplies out and arranged. Once you fill that water container and flop the brushes in to get soaked, you will be on your way! I did it, you can too!

This painting was in only one show, “The Arizona Watercolor Association’s Fall Show, 2014”. It failed to get into any other shows, but was the gateway for my new linear approach.

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