My Mother’s Back.
One of the final projects for Reggie Ezell’s
Primitive to Modern 2017 San Diego class was to use
digital and hand tools to create a piece that would
become a postcard.
Being the pain in the neck that I am, I ditched the
gorgeous space photos and decided to start from
scratch. My mother has been heavy on my mind and
heart this year. She’s in the final stage of
Alzheimer’s disease. She doesn’t know who I am,
can’t speak in sentences, has to be spoon fed, has
moved to a wheel chair…all the things that make us
adults have been taken from her. Over the past year
I have done several pieces that were inspired by
her, my first art teacher.
My mother had five children; I was the oldest. In my
early childhood, I imagine a very pregnant mom
trying to carve out some time to just rest. And it
is here that a memory surfaces. I can remember
vividly laying on the big bed with my mother to play
a game we’ll call Make Some Letters. She would
expose her bare back, I would draw letters on her
back, and she would guess them. She was
terrible at this game.
She could NEVER guess. So, I would erase them and
with my little four-year-old finger draw a new set
of letters. Once in a great while she would get one
or two letters. Mostly, she failed. I wrote a lot of
words in those sessions. Sometimes her entire soap
opera, Days of Our Lives, would run whilst she tried
to guess even one letter correctly.
For this piece, I wanted to capture the simple
beauty of a quiet moment with my mother. I began
with Aquarelle watercolor paper. I covered it in
Ziller’s Wild Plum ink and sprayed it with water and
alcohol to get some interesting effects. Using my
57-year-old finger, I drew the letters on by dipping
my finger in the Wild Plum ink and drawing them on.
This gesture was so familiar to me that it
evoked a very emotional response to the process. Once everything was
dry, I went over the hand-drawn letters with Copperplate Capitals done
with a Nikko G pointed pen in Sumi ink. This represented the space I
had travelled calligraphically.|
Now for the figure.
I had drawn a reclining woman, but I didn’t like how it looked
against the purple. Using Reggie’s suggestion of printing out a
background, I found an old French manuscript on Etsy, which I purchase
(as a pdf download) and used to print my reclining woman on. I then
cut this out and pasted it to the composition. It was HORRIBLE. What
to do next?
About this time, Reggie posted a Pick of the Week by Maria Helena in
New Orleans. She is a friend and a brilliant calligrapher and artist.
The piece was made of multiple layers of calligraphy, and Maria Helena
remarked that she didn’t like it and tried using lines of color to
give structure to her piece. Genius!
Out came gold Schmeinke ink to create bands of gold over the existing
writing. I liked the effect, but it wasn’t finished. Then I cut up the
original wording, “One of my earliest memories...” (done in black and
printed on the French manuscript background), and lined it up between
the gold bands. Better.
Weirdly, my own memory held the answer. In the background noise of
this childhood memory was the theme music for Days of Our Lives and
the voice-over “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of
our lives.” I googled the soap and found the annual synopsis of the
show for 1965. Close enough. “Tom and Alice Horton were almost alone
in a house that once brimmed with the activities of five children,
twins Tommy and Adele, Mickey, Billy, and Marie...” I rendered this is
a variation of italic script in white Dr. Marten’s bleed proof ink and
a speedball C4 nib. This is the finished piece.