Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Light and Dark (05/21/09)
We had parked the car at the bridge of the second bend of the river, where we had caused a stir among the old fishermen. Mom was a sight in her capris, orange-gingham shirt—tied at the waist, and white scarf wrapped around her head, flipped over her shoulder. She was channeling Jackie O, I was sure.
According to mom, the spot was just beyond the third bend, next to the ruins of a small, brick furnace. A mile of following a foot path along the river, and I was sweating. At seventeen, I didn’t want to sweat—unless it was with Cory Schliemann. There lay my chief thought. And though I’d kept him a secret from my parents, I didn’t feel one iota of guilt, being nowhere close to doing what my friends were doing.
“We’re here!” Mom made her pronouncement from the far side of a strand of oaks enveloped in mountain laurel. I caught up with her, and we stepped out into sunshine. Wow. She hadn’t mentioned that the spot was at the foot of a brilliant green ridge that jutted dramatically overhead. It was so lush and fresh, the trees having just acquired their foliage.
I couldn’t give it to her, though. I said, “This is what you dragged me all over hill and dale for?”
“Actually, no.” She pointed with her stool. “There, to the right of the furnace.”
“Don’t you see that humongous clump of white peonies?”
“Well, yeah, but barely.”
“Come on; they’ve just blossomed.”
Their beauty and delicacy became apparent as we moved closer in the tall grass. Moments later mom had her easel unfolded and set up. From her backpack, she pulled two large squares of cloth, one black, one white. “I’ve been studying a concept called, chiaroscuro—the Italian term for contrast between light and dark,” she said. “I thought we could try it here.”
I’d survived the surrealism of her Salvador Dali phase, and the pointillism of her Seurat phase. I figured I’d survive this, too. She handed me the black cloth. “Hang that from the tree branches behind the flowers, like a backdrop.”
I did as I was told and when I stepped back, I was truly amazed. The petals had appeared white before, but against the dark background they actually popped as mom liked to say. “That’s what contrast between light and dark does,” she observed.
We had stretched our paper onto plywood the night before, so we were ready to paint—beginning with the negative space. Hardly any color would be needed for the positive space as the white of the paper would serve as the white of the blossoms. We squeezed dark pigments from miniature watercolor tubes onto miniature palettes. Mom handed me a bottle of water after pouring a few ounces into her basin.
A half our later, we checked one another’s paintings. Mom’s had a modern flair; she was an open painter. Mine was more traditional, tighter. But we had both chosen the same cluster of three exquisite blooms.
“Now drape this one.” Mom handed me the white cloth. I draped while she cleaned palettes, washed brushes, and poured fresh water.
I was seated and ready to start when I looked back at the peonies. I turned to my mother who was waiting.
“Well?” she asked.
“They don’t look as white anymore. They’re tinged with green.”
“How about that?” She wet her flat brush. “You know, there’s nothing wrong with using a dark backdrop to make a subject appear lighter than it really is. When you’re painting.”
“Huh?” She was going somewhere, I just didn’t know where.
“That’s not the case when it comes to relationships and personal behavior.”
She may have been a second-rate artist, but that sharp eye saw right through me, nothing hidden. I couldn’t give it to her, though. I said, “So you think I should use phalo or sap green?”
“Oh, sap,” she laughed. “Definitely sap.”
I said not another word. Not until we were bidding the old fishermen goodbye, their smiles impossible to resist.
Sort of like Cory Schliemann's.
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