Finding One’s Own Voice

Working till the Light Fades

Working till the Light Fades

The snow falls on no two trees alike, but the forms it assumes are as various as those of the twigs and leaves by the genius of the tree.  So one divine spirit descends alike on all, but bears a peculiar fruit in each.  The divinity subsides on all men, as the snowflakes settle on the fields and ledges and takes the form of the various clefts and surfaces on which it lodges.

Henry David Thoreau, Journal, January 30, 1841

I finally laid down the watercolor brush as the sun faded from my studio windows.  I have refused to work under house lights on this watercolor, and really hated to lose the natural light.  I felt that I still had so much energy and enthusiasm left in me to proceed.  I only hope that the appetite is still there when school ends tomorrow.

Relaxing over the Journal of Henry Thoreau, I was suddenly gripped by this text I’ve just posted.  As a high school teacher, I have tried for years to encourage my students to find their own voice, to seek their own path.  But what a powerful metaphor Thoreau uses here!  It certainly got my imagination going, the notion of inspiration couched differently in individuals.  Throughout my years as educator and artist, I have tried to avoid those cookie-cutter templates that hold the attention of public education and taste.  Those who know my work are aware of my deep admiration for the watercolor technique of Andrew Wyeth.  Yet I knew years ago that I did not want to set a course to “ape” Andrew Wyeth.  As a student of art history, I have always wanted to emulate particular features from a number of artistic heroes, rather than “channel” one.  I have always wanted to assemble techniques into some kind of a toolbox, and in the process, hope that some kind of “style” might eventually emerge that I could call my own, my own voice.

On the last blog I wrote about drybrush and my attempts to weave it over watercolor wash, hoping to find some kind of “musical” composition in the combination.  Today I want to address color.  In my years of studying Andrew Wyeth, I always wondered why his neutrals seemed more “lifelike” than mine.  Once I threw away my sepia, burnt umber, paynes gray, burnt sienna, etc., I found myself moving closer to what I wanted.  My palette has been very restricted over the past few years, working almost exclusively with primary colors.

close-up of bottle in progress

close-up of bottle in progress


This vintage sign from which I’m working measures 36″ across.  I’m getting lost in it, as I sit just a mere five feet from it in my studio, with the northern lights bathing it all every afternoon.  I’ve been mixing the brown pigments in the Coca-Cola bottle from a combination of Winsor Blue (Red Shade), Transparent Yellow and Winsor Red.  Three years ago, I would have been using sepia, burnt umber, raw umber, or something of that nature.  I’m fascinated to see these three colors meshing and watching the gradations occur as I add water.  Staring at the sign, I’m fascinated with the imagination of whomever painted this Coca-Cola bottle.  The right-hand side of the bottle neck is outlined in dark green, with an aqua pin-stripe on the inside, before transitioning into that warm brown “cola” color.  The highlighed facets of the bottle are warm gray, and there are plenty of pools of bright red flanking the cola-brown.  As I continue to explore the surface, I’m intrigued by all these aqua highlights that occur across the surface.  I’m also trying to solve the myriad of tones appearing in the abused part of the white surface of the sign.  It’s been hit with a shotgun blast, and there is much corrosion as well.  There are so many different values mingled among all that damage.  The drybrush and scrubbing of the surface here is presenting a different kind of a challenge than the myriad of details covering the bottle image itself.  The longer I play with my palette, experimenting with the color mixing, the more I feel like a mad scientist in his laboratory.  It all adds to the fun and intrigue of the studio.

I am fully aware, as I pursue this, that I am doing copy work, much like an electric guitarist covering someone’s else’s published music.  This just gives me all-the-more respect for the original creators who design works like the one I’m copying.  Perhaps one day I’ll create something original.  But for now, I am still training the eye.  I still recall my Art I teacher, Mr. Scucchi, telling us ninth-graders: “I am not here to teach you to draw.  I’m here to teach you to see.  If you can see it, you can draw it.”  I’m still working on the vision thing.  I recall with amusement something attributed to Paul Cezanne when he was praising his colleague Claude Monet: “Monet is only an eye, but my God, what an eye.”

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal because I feel that I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

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6 Responses to “Finding One’s Own Voice”

  1. Duncan Says:

    Great post! It’s really coming along nicely! Again, I’ll reply with a Thoreau reference. I’m in the middle of Solitude right now and I have found so many great quotes, lines, and passages that nearly the entire chapter is covered in sticky notes!


  2. Anna Cull Says:

    I wanted my comment to be something profound but all I can think of to say is… “yes”.


  3. Deanna Tennent Masterson Says:

    The contrast of the elegant fence & old sign is really good. thank you for an interesting post, lots of things to think about.


    • davidtripp Says:

      Thank you, Deanna. I’ve had much on my mind lately, and was really happy to unload. Thanks for noticing my fence and sign contrast. I’m still working on that relationship.


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