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Paddling Against the Current

‘Cesar’ Paddling Against the Current – Rio Jama – June 2015

“There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say “It is yet more difficult than you thought.” This is the muse of form.    

It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
― Wendell Berry

Frigates practice touch-and-go aerobatics --- Thursday morning, June 5

Magnificent Frigates practice touch-and-go aerobatics — Thursday morning, June 4

Fatigue and sore joints linger as I slowly reclaim my normal life ‘after dengue.’   Painting presents some new challenges; one is an unpredictable shake that suddenly takes control of my hand and then vanishes just as quickly.  I ignore it and assume it will eventually grow bored and vanish.   The fatigue affects my ability to stick with the painting, and after an hour’s session, I usually stop and rest for another hour.   The birds provide excellent distraction for those commercial breaks.


The watercolor study ‘Before Dengue” —

Painting this watercolor has been work.   It has also provided a necessary discipline for me to show up for work even if I feel like playing hooky.   I stare at the painting and nudge myself to move forward.   Losing electricity hasn’t helped, but I moved my work area to a window and cut fresh flowers for reference.


The first few sessions were brief, and I realized that I was not as strong as I thought!

We were without power all day Saturday and most of Sunday. Building a bit more physical strength, I squeezed in several painting sessions and then slept for ten hours.  While painting on Sunday night, we lost power again;  that’s one way to stop progress on a painting! On Monday morning, I could not find the painting.  I eventually found it propped on a shelf, where I had critiqued it the night before by candle light.


The painting and I have argued a lot; I was unable to access the reference photos. The colors seemed wrong, and I could not find any remnants of dead butterflies in the yard on on the road.  “Does it REALLY matter?”  I asked myself.  “Of course not.. just paint…”   I worked from memory and darkened some areas of the wing and focused on meticulous details.


Little by little the painting gains depth.

Using fresh foliage for reference, I floated in the subtle shapes of the secondary cast while pondering how to work in the background colors — or to take an easier option and leave the background white.  My fatigue prompted me to leave it white, but a more-stubborn part nudged me to keep working.


The yellows looked too anemic, and the butterfly seemed too pale.  I added a deeper wash on the butterfly’s wings on Monday or Tuesday.  The second yellow flower was too strong in color, and it needed to fade into the background.  My attempts made it look muddy.  Each day the power was off during the daytime and was back on around sunset.  I looked at the images on the computer and promptly scrubbed the darker color from the butterfly’s wings.  I knocked over containers of water.  The jar of brushes fell to the floor.

I pondered abandoning the entire painting.  I remembered being afflicted by these same insecurities about twenty or more years ago.   I suspected that my fatigue was influencing my self-inflicted negative feedback. I also remembered that a little patience and several more hours usually turns a questionable painting into a stronger one.      Although it took almost a week of ‘touch and go’ sessions, I reached this point on Wednesday, when we lost power again.   I worked until the natural light was totally gone


The dark reds stained the paper, so the colors did not lift ‘back’ to the lighter orange. There are more washes to apply to the background areas, which will give more depth.

Wendell Berry’s words gave me comfort, and they will help me bring this watercolor study to an end.  The painting will forever be special, however, as it represents my road to recovery from dengue – and perhaps from chikungunya as well.

A friend wrote today and stated,
“It hurts to know you’re in pain.
I only know SuperWoman
Who has the energy of a 17Yr old..
You will heal of course.

I wondered if I should share the negative side of painting, but I realized that it’s important for others to know that we all have days when things don’t work out as we’d hoped.  We have self doubt and we question our choices.  And sometimes a professional artist creates some duds.   So here I am, hobbling along physically and at times with inner struggles as I find my way back to good health.

Thanks, everyone, for your continued support.