What We Make
I started using white. I put it in every picture until all my apples looked like sallow onions. They say that white won’t enhance anything, just thins the intensity. Like boiling the salt out of water. Or scrambling an egg. You don’t like the runny part, do you? He would ask me, spreading his hands over my plate so that I couldn’t see the mess he wanted. No, you can have it. I always gave him my breakfast.
Someone told me you can fall into bad habits if you use white consistently. It’s an analgesic. When you want to lighten the sky, you dab the zinc into your blue. When you want to push a little pathway across the thicket, you blot ivory into your Payne’s Grey. It saves time. That’s why I started dumping all my pigments into a bucket of white. It was mostly just to save time. He liked to waste his—ordering the wrong dish or trying on pants he didn’t intend to buy. After he left, I had a lot of time. I kept storing it up because I wasn’t sure when I would run out of it again.
What We’re Making: The First Coat
I’ve heard true love will convince you, the way varnish makes a painting more believable. You dip your brush in clear liquid and coat the canvas until you’re staring at a work of art. It takes several layers to absorb a color’s brilliance. Of course, varnish protects from oxidation, which is why people find themselves with the same patina every year. I’ve personally never used the gloss. It hardens my brushes and I’m dissuaded by the results. Once, our teacher watched me paint a model sitting in front of a mirror. She said it was peculiar to dull the light with gobs of green and grey. The model settled into the chair like a stain. She stared at her reflection as if she’d found it in a dirty bottle—the kind that washes up on the beach with a letter twisted inside. People who fall in love don’t paint with mud. Where is your passion? Our teacher always asked. You give up and start to make a mess or realize the mess is whatever you’ve been making.
What We’re Making: Replication
No one believed I could do it. I wasn’t even sure myself. The trick is beginning from the outside and working your way toward the middle. The paint thickens as you approach the center, where the real trouble happens. When I was a kid I hated fireworks. Every July I hid under my bed with our cat and stuffed toilet paper in my ears. I became very sensitive to color and light, drawing portraits of my mother at the kitchen sink after she’d taken off all her makeup. Skin is impossible to paint because it’s translucent; there are too many layers. Everyone said I would do something great with the portraits, but all I could think of was how to draw fire. I wanted the canvas to burst open, burning their faces. Last night I colored my bedroom walls grey. When you mute one thing, you can see another more clearly. My mother eventually stopped wearing makeup. Sometimes her eyes were muddy. Sometimes they swelled like red coals under an ash heap, the paint so hot, I’d forget where to put it.