Watercolor and Pastel Artists at CHAW
Editor’s note: In this post, Nancy describes her process and challenges in rendering, in words and paint, the timelessness of a gull amid shimmering ripples. Her resulting work of art is currently part of the show “Summer Work” at the CHAW Gallery, 545 7th Street, SE, Washington, DC.
Gull on the Shimmering Flats is one of a series of what I call my “meditations in watercolor and poetry” on the world around me—in this case, a herring gull at momentary rest on the Heal’s Eddy mudflats on Kennebec Point in Georgetown, Maine, where I spend my summers.
My previous paintings have been landscapes or still-life arrangements, and one of the chief challenges here was in choosing to portray a live creature. Although gulls do stand still, they tend to flap off when approached. I could not get close enough to observe carefully enough the colors and shapes of beak and legs and wings and so on, or even to photograph my chosen gull effectively. Fortunately, bird identification books, internet research, and my own drawing and redrawing enabled me to depict a bird realistic enough for me to then render in watercolor.
Before, during, and after my struggles with the drawing and painting of the gull itself, I found the background to be a completely different challenge. Often the backgrounds in my paintings are a kind of afterthought, filled in with broad brushstrokes. Here, the background is an absolutely crucial part of the painting. But how could I reproduce the shimmering quality of the mudflats in sunlight? Eventually I chose an impressionistic technique of small strokes of vivid, individual colors, thus marrying the more realistic depiction of the gull with a more fanciful abstract setting.
A third challenge concerned composing a short poem that would illuminate that moment of timelessness in the midst of changing tide and time that I experienced with the gull on the mudflats. Each phrase, each word needed to be just the right phrase, the right word, the right sound. Instead of sitting at my desk, where I usually situate myself to paint, I walked around, talking aloud to myself, composing and recomposing my poem. I think it now says what—and how—I want it to say. . . .
Here is the poem:
Gull on the shimmering flats
Conscious of mud and tide
Impart to us
In the face of change
My final challenge, one that I encounter in all my writing, in all my art, is accepting that I must stop, finish, sign and frame my artwork, publish (or give up to an audience beyond myself) my poems. At this point, relieved that my work is completed, I also find myself feeling grateful and joyful and even a little astounded that these challenges have filled a blank white paper with a swirl of colors and words.
wonderful rendering by Nancy Arbuthnot!