Well, it's only fair that a sabbatical predicated on an aqueous motif should start with bailing water. Here's where I've been: Swabbing the decks!

My sabbatical began with the reclaiming of a much-loved, calmative former studio space. I've missed it a lot, and I'm glad to be back. Early on, I even posted a sign outside the door: "The Refuge."

The Refuge promptly flooded - again and again and again. I moved in an easel with rubber feet, gave thanks that much of the rest was already on wheels, and continued onward. Tonight I am, in fact, tapping these computer keys in The Refuge, at a spacious, comfortable desk that my husband used throughout his childhood and a bit beyond. Now the drawers are filled with porcelain palettes, printmaking tools, tubes of watercolor paint. The legs of the desk are up on little glides. Good thing, as a bit of water continues to accumulate.

Because I can imagine my husband using this desk as a brilliant, intent young man, it gives me a warm feeling to sit here; but my feet are damp with water that seeped up through the floor tiles, and then through the soles of my normally cozy houseshoes and thick cotton socks.

In the wake of the first flood - a clue that things might not go as planned - came a tsunami of other demands: health problems for a loved one who is reliant on our care; new and urgent needs from others; unwelcome stresses that descended unannounced; many strains and fault lines that had lain buried in the sand before. A painful time.

Well, I'm still here. Now, I hope I'm finally getting down to the business of life: calm, creation, and listening. Those are the things I need.

Lately, I've acquired an insistence on working from life. That's apt, as I have been fairly well desperate to recapture my own life. Most painters, me included, will tell you that working from the life is always preferable anyway; everything you need is right there in front of your eyes, and you have only to see it. That is not the case with working from reference photos, which may seem to capture so much and yet reveal so little. I still prize my trove of photographs, but perhaps for different reasons. More and more I tend to look through a sheaf of visual reference, then put it away and paint what I want to see.

It has become satisfying to work from a single motif, reworked and refined from memory and imagination, over and over; as Degas did in his last works, while his sight steadily diminished. I have waded into painting what is in my mind. The challenge is rigorous, but comforting. And, I have taken a perverse (and characteristic) turn toward obstinacy. I can't seem to paint anything casually any more.

My, that sounds dour. I'm sure the phase will pass.

I'll post images when they are ready. However, the yeast in them is still bubbling away. The heat of the oven raises the yeast's creation to its greatest heights, and then kills it. You can see why I'm in no hurry to go there.

© 2007, Brie Dodson

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