Thursday, December 27, 2012

Picking out the things you like

 Above: My palette right before I cleaned it for the last time, May 2012

In the fourth Betsy-Tacy book and the last childhood one, Betsy talks about how during the Christmas season they'd go to town and visit the department store (I think) where there was a huge array of Christmas tree ornaments. They'd spend hours admiring every one (in those days, they were all fragile blown glass), and finally, at the end, each girl (Betsy, Tacy and Tib) would pick out just one ornament for herself, and that one object would embody the spirit of the season.

Lucy likes anything with a hand motif. She also likes anything with suns and moons with faces on them (within reason). I find I like anything with an eye motif. I would buy a lime-green thing (my least favorite color to wear) if it had eyes embroidered all over it. In my painting, I never get sick of naked women. I've already discussed my love of sweaters, but in college I went through a phase of being particularly obsessed with taupe cardigans. I own about eight cardigans in shades from dark gray-brown to beige, and sometimes wear them all on top of each other, which is my idea of fun. Because of my habit of wearing three or even four cardigans on top of each other, and because of Harvard's habit of overheating the classrooms in winter, requiring the students to undress and re-dress at every class, I'd always be the last one out the door after the lecture.

Lucy and I went to the Folk Tree in Pasadena and I admired every single brightly-painted mirror and ornament of hammered tin. There were torsos and buttocks, flying skulls, hands with bright-red hearts on them, and dozens of desert animals. I lack the restraint of Betsy-Tacy and bought about eight. Lucy bought a silver ring with a large stone set in the top, and some silver earrings that look like tiny chairs. She is such a good present-giver, and spares no expense on the people who will really appreciate it (mostly her sister). The best presents I have given in my life are to guys who aren't that into me. If I could somehow convince myself that I was writing stories for a guy who wasn't that into me, I would be insanely prolific.

For some reason, creative writing teachers like it when they can read a story and tell it's yours, and painting teachers like it when you develop a palette that you like to use. It is so satisfying seeing classmates develop their own styles. I always felt, by the end of the semester, that if we showed a bunch of unlabeled paintings, we'd be able to figure out whose was whose. Even the wild "recipe" experiments of Non-Observational Painting and Monsters were about building up one's way of painting, not destroying it. In high school I was so unsure of everything, and in college creative courses (taken with mostly upperclassmen) they expect you right away to be sure.

My high school art teacher told us to put as few colors as possible on the palette, so I chose a selection of colors that I found exciting and authentic, and they are still the base of all my paintings: Cadmium reds and yellows, alizarin crimson, cerulean, indigo, pthalo blue, yellow ochre, various siennas and umbers, tons of white, and Payne's gray, never black. You can get a more harmonious black by mixing burnt umber and Payne's gray. The first story I ever wrote as an adult centered around a kid who was so obsessed with his watercolors that he wanted to eat them.

I've been having a huge crisis of confidence and direction recently.

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