I found the photograph of this woman in an out-of-print book while living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I wrote to the publisher, asking for permission to do a painting of the woman and received a letter from the photographer giving me permission to use any of his work I’d like. He closed his letter with “Keep your powder dry”. I looked that up and it means, as a photographer in the past, it was important that the powder used for a flash to be totally dry. Otherwise it wouldn’t make its flash.
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
This particular photograph was taken of a woman in the small town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Maybe you’ve heard of a game show called Truth or Consequences. Quite a long while ago, the game show folks put out an offer to pay a town to change their name to Truth or Consequences.
Applying Masking Fluid / Frisket
I did this painting later on. The photograph in the book was an old-looking black and white image. I did a draft painting, making the woman’s scarf look rather like a wet on wet mish-mosh of blues and purples. Hated it! For my second attempt I found a piece of cloth in my sewing box of fabrics. I decided to pretend it was her scarf. I imagined her son giving her the beautiful scarf as a gift and decided right then to call it The Gift. The cloth has so many little flowers and curly stems that it was going to be a challenge. I remembered that I had some masking fluid (frisket). I drew out the flowers and stems lightly with a hard pencil and then dipped a toothpick into the masking fluid and drew over the faint lines again with this fluid. I did a nice bluish watercolor wash over the whole scarf. I had also drawn the hairs with the toothpick dipped in frisket.
Removing the masking fluid / frisket
Once the watercolor was dry, I gently rubbed the frisket with my index finger, lifting it off the paper. I didn’t want to damage the paper. Sometimes if you leave the frisket on too long before doing the paint, it will be impossible to lift off without taking some of the paper with it. This time I removed it right away and it came off easily. As I removed the first bits, I used those to rub on the frisket still on the paper to lift it off. Using a fine tipped brush, I added the colors of the pattern on the cloth.
The first piece I’d done of the woman was actually far more work. The pencil work needed to be done in tiny little circles so that there would be no tall-tale signs that it was shaded with pencil. The upside of pencil is that it can be erased. The downside of using watercolor is that it can’t.
When the woman was fully rendered, I did a quick wet on dry wash for the background to set off the white of her beautiful blouse. For the final touches, I used a toothbrush, dipping it into some Burnt Sienna, to stipple across the white background of the painting. I laid some torn pieces of paper over the white blouse to protect it from getting splatters from the stippling. Next, I held the brush in my left hand, pointed towards the painting. I raked a toothpick across the bristles gently to see how much splatter it would create. Where it was sparse, I added more.
What do you think the gift would be?
Once the painting was finished, I decided that the scarf wasn’t the gift. The woman’s smile was the gift…in my mind. I named the work The Gift, but intended for the viewer to decide what the gift was.