Posted by: jeanne | November 16, 2008

cancer art 6?

every morning when we get up, jim and i discuss the next day’s painting. this morning i said i was thinking about putting in some ochre for the main skin tones. jim encouraged me to put in whatever background i had in mind as soon as possible, and i had already thought to make it the same blackish green that he put on a recent portrait of my kid that hangs in our bedroom.

when i got to the studio, i continued my old habit of putting on color, which is to put it on everywhere. more abut this in a minute.

i’m using pigments for the first time. usually i used tube colors, like 99.9% of artists around the world. however. pigments cost less and the only difference is the binder, and jim has a shelf full of beautiful ground pigments in jars, and so now i’m making my own oil paint out of mineral powders and linseed oil with maybe a little chalk as an extender. it’s way cool. it’s like learning to paint all over again. and it’s something i like to do in my fabric work – mess with color. when dyeing fabric i mix up powders into pastes and them paint them on the fabric. there’s a completely different feeling, a different srart to each impulse of the painting process, when you use tube oils versus mixing up pigments. the act of mixing is purposefully meditative, as if you’re standing there taking on the mantle of every painter who has come before. very ritual. very witch.


the first color i put on was yellow ochre, which is much more powerful than i was expecting. just the end of a palette knife of light brown powder and i had enough to paint two skins, so i had to keep adding turpentineand linseed oil to dilute it, and it was very runny, so jim lent me a tube of linseed oil and chalk that he mixed up himself years ago. it gave the paint some body so i could spread it without it running all down the canvas.

i painted the skin areas yellow ochre, tho it doesn’t really show in the light i took the photo in, it turned the skin a jaundice yellow, which was attractive in a strange way. her skin glowed. i ended up painting the entire skin surface with ochre, over the shadows. there’s even a halo of ochre around the body, because i had so much thin paint that i extended my brush strokes past the charcoal outline (cuz in normal pictures especially watercolors i don’t like to show my lines in the end and go to great lengths to erase them. in this picture, that’s the least of my considerations. lines are fine.

then i turned to the background. a blackish green starts with green. i’m following watercolor principles here and using the white of the canvas as a color to play off of, so strongest color first. acid green. i love this color. it’s one of my tuebe colors, and i have a big huge tube that i can wrap my hands around and squeeze like a giant tube of toothpaste. the joy involved in actually forcing out a thick stream of brightly colored goo, i can’t tell you. it’s so primordial.

there’s a story they tell on jim. when he was a baby his mom came to get him after his nap one day, and found he’d managed to take off his diaper. this is a stage. my grandson just went thru it. the thing that he’d done that starts legends was that he found some handy self-produced, fresh and malleable poop, and used it to paint the wall behind his crib, the railings, the head and foot boards, and the mattress.

anyway, i thinned down a bunch of sap green and stuck it on the background. and then, because i had some left, i went around the skirt and put green in the shadows. then i put green in the shadows of the skin and in the hair. so you’ll see my kid is actually all green at the moment.

tomorrow i’m going to start in with the purple.


i’d been thinking about the back. i’d been considering using the stretchers as a symbolic coffin for the poor creature on the flip side. when i stretched the canvas i just leeft the tail ends of the canvas, not bothering to trim them because who knows i might have a symbolic need for a rattily-assembled canvas. but i thought about the coffin idea. the box. boxing in the possibilities, thinking inside the box, the packaging of youth and beauty, the marketing of cancer related products.

so i restapled the canvas to the stretchers along the side, and took a new razor blade (a new broom sweeps clean, and besides if i’m going to be doing surgery on myself, i’d better use a sharp scalpel and use it like i mean it.) i didn’t cut the corners, because i’m not too sure of my restapling there because i had to fold the canvas at the corners. so i’m going to get jim’s advice on this tomorrow.

i guess i’ll give it a nice stain and then rub some wax into it for that burnished look. maybe paint the inside edge white to represent the satin lining of your typical coffin. the coffin idea is a bit obvious, but since i’m being cartoonish, caricaturing the doll-like qualities of today’s (socially approved) woman, obvious is good. so okay.


i figured i’d try out this fabric stiffener i’d bought from some art supply warehouse. the side of the breast that will have the prosthesis doesn’t need stiffening. it has to be its own unique softness and feel because i’m going to want peope to go up to it and squeeze it. so the other side, the one that people will be encouraged to go up to and put their own breast into , that’s the side that needs stiffening.

now, this step took a lot of time. because i’m not sure what i’m doing. i recently did a fabric collage wallhanging without using stitching because i glued the whole mess down with acrylic gel medium. it stiffened but remained flexible. i suspected this fabric stiffener liquid was something like acrylic. or white glue. so i put some on my hands and when it dried i peeled it off and had a look at it. thin, stretchy, gluelike. fine.

so i lined the original case that the prosthesis came in (donated by someone who no longer needs it, rest in peace) with part of a plastic bag. then i really struggled with lining the inside of the bra with plastic so as to keep glue off the net lining. (altho come to think of it, i don’t need the net lining to be loose on this side. and maybe on the side that’s holding the prosthesis, if i just glued the form into the bra maybe that would be a good thing. i’ll think about these things tomorrow, as scarlett said.)

i couldn’t get the cup lined properly, so i stuck the breast form into a plastic bag and put that between the two layers, and that was good. so i poured a bunch fo glue onto the outside of the bra and worked it into the fabric. then i turned it back over and mushed the sack of whipped silicone until it completely filled out the bra cup. and then i stuck it in the form box (with its little egg carton type nest for one) and left it to dry.

we’ll see how many times i have to do the coating and drying step. and what else i’m going to have to solve in a technical way as i go along doing this.

renee suggested that i sew the bra onto the canvas with pink ribbon on the front, but to use cat gut surgical stitches on the back. so i’m going to contact my surgeon’s nurses and get them to ask my doctor to snitch a roll of stitching thread and a spare needle next time she’s in the operatig room. and i’ll use that rather than actually order some online. another level of relationship, to include my medical team in my art.  great idea, renee.

there’s a lot of metaphor in this painting. there’s a lot of metaphor in everything, and in fact one of these days i’ll devote a post to how everything is metaphor. but not now.

i said i’d talk a bit about my habit of putting on color. i always want to do a painting in some verion of the way one does a painting. there’s a tradition. and i taught myself how to paint, so there are big chunks i missed. whatever. so i’ve been watching jim paint, all these two years or more when i did n’t do much work with canvas and a brush, bt did most of my things in fabrics and dyes. it’s all art, but different materials and techniques is all.

anyway, i’ve been watching jim build figure after figure and finish painting after painting, and i liked to think i had the whole process in mind when i started out to do this new work. but whenever i’m left to my own devices i fall back on what i know.

this is why i hit it with red, and then yellow, and then green and tomorrow purple. i’m not painting from life. i’m painting from a picture. i’ve been doing this for the thirty years i’ve been painting. while i was an anal-retentive microscopically faithful painter, some years ago, my highest ambition was to copy a photograph, as it turns out. and photos lie, distort, misrepresent. they’re not a good metaphor because they lack depth and perspective, no matter the detail they supply. anyway, what i’ve become fairly good at over the years is reproducing a photograph on another two-dimensional surface. so whoop de do. not that i’d be any better if i only worked from life, but then my faithful representation would be to skin tones and shadows of form, ratherthen layers of emulsion and dots of color. it’s a different emphasis. that’s why i moved to abstraction from my formerly anal style. this painting may not end up any more finished than it is, tho i’m going to give it a try. usually when it attains enough reality not to be anything else, that’s when i stop, or move in another direction. but we’ll see. all this is a metaphor for life, and my life especially.

my point here was that i paint using every color because that’s how i see a picture when i look at it long enough. in fact, that’s how i see reality. there are some days when i go around and marvel that everything i can think to look at has some purple in it. for instance. so whe i paint a picture, i use every color but white, because i started out as a watercolorist and have remained pure to their rabid hatred of white paint. ugly gray mucky stuff.

the same for this novel i’m writing. today i didn’t post my written work of the day, because today i sat downstairs trying to compose the last part of the chapter i’m working on. i had a list of high points, things i wanted to say or have happen right about now. then i took each one and filled it out, constructing dialog, including physical details and ruminations. then i took each part and rearranged them into a logical sequence, and then i was in the middle of expanding it into lines and sentances, and will have it in a state to post after tomorrow’s work on it. but i realized in the middle of this process that this is the same way i paint. i take up a bush of some color and go around the canvas gdabbing it everywhere that color could go. and then i take up another color and use it until there’s noplace i haven’t covered. and then another. every color but white. and i take up a rag and rub some of it out, and correct spelling, etc.

this is why i wonder why i don’t just settle on one thing and do that. i could make great headway if i just would do one thing at a time. but since i finish most of what i start, i can’t fault that as a method. but really, i’m doing the same things with whatever materials i pick up, so you’d think i’d want consistency, or get consistent results, or something. but i’m always picking up another way to do or say something and flailing away at it until i achieve some level of medium competency, and then add another thing with just as steep a learning curve. my lifelong passion for knowledge, or just fumbing?

i had more to say, but i can’t figure out where i wrote it and saved it. it’s probably still downstairs on the laptop (somebody gave me).  it’s well after midnight; we were at a party this evening and of course i got a dose of msg, but i planned for that, and came home and went right to bed with a big glass of water. but tho i zonked out like i’d been poisoned, i was up a few hours later and couldn’t sleep. my joints are achy and i’m as dehydrated as a tomato plant in my back garden. and i’m not thinking clearly. this might be because it’s so cold in the back room where i type that my hands aren’t making sense on the keyboard. besides which the dogs are stirring and will want me to take them out for a frolic in the neighbor’s yard, which i’ll do as quckly as possible, and then go back to bed and let poor jim’s sleeping backside warm me up.

i love my life.


  1. Jeanne, I really like this post (maybe because I’m in it, har har).

    I love the green and I love the pink on the inside, even though it is a groovy green it is still subtle, whereas the pink is hot and draws more attention as in “look at me, I’m still pretty, but I’m not”.

    Now I’m rambling but I really like this post and I really like that you stated you love your life.

    I go through I love it, I hate it, I’m happy, I’m sad. Glad you are in the love part.

    Love Renee

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