Sunday, March 13, 2011

Muses and magic

My mother, Frances Stock, was a painter. Soon after I finished my studies yet didn't quite know how I would proceed with my life, my mother commissioned me to paint the family portraits. I started with a painting of her.

The painting progressed well at first, but I was struggling with an overworked mucky face. One evening I came into the room to find my mother working on her portrait! I was livid. At about 4am I stormed back into the bedroom where the painting was set up on an easel and my mother was sleeping and flipped on the lights. I squeezed out a smear of white paint and blotted out the head, flipped off the lights and stormed out.

The following morning, I sketched in the head and face in about half an hour and after signing the painting, put down my brushes.

I have tried to work myself into a similar froth on subsequent occasions when a painting wasn't working but the magic didn't work on command.

Now, working on the illustrations for the Emily Dickinson biography, I find that I can't start work before nightfall. The book is demanding its own quiet time. Sometimes, as now, I have scrubbed off all the work I have done on it, redrawn in the figure sitting at her small desk, and seen it come together almost on its own.

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