Shadow and light

I am by no means a professional artist, but in the last eight years or so I have taken great pleasure in painting. I love to fill my free time with it and even though my hands can’t do what I see in my imagination, it doesn’t really matter.

Now that’s a big thing for a perfectionist to say.

My foray began several years ago when an organization I belonged to hosted a couple of weekend art workshops at our 11,000 square foot retreat centre in Dorchester. This event welcomed artists of all levels from all over Atlantic Canada.

At the time, I had just started writing fiction, but had no experience with art. I catered their meals and I washed dishes and made beds and I listened. At first, I smirked because they sort of…floated. They were lateral thinkers who spoke about art in ethereal ways and used jargon that I didn’t understand.

But on the other hand, they were non-judgmental, they appreciated every artistic attempt anyone made, no matter how juvenile and they managed to convince me that since God a) created the universe and b) created me,  His same creativity must also live in me.

Furthermore, since that same creativity is as unique and limitless as God is limitless, I could no longer use other people’s accomplishments as an excuse not to try.

I chewed on that for quite a while. Kept writing, working towards my goals. And then, one day a couple of years later, I picked up a brush.

I’ve taken no courses. I have gathered a little bit of knowledge from my husband, who is a talented cartoonist and from a growing stack of how-to books in my closet. But to be truthful, studying books with titles like Human Anatomy made Amazingly Easy just frustrate me—because it’s not amazingly easy. It takes lots of practice.

And why would I want to be frustrated when I’m doing something for pure enjoyment?

As an intuitive person, I approach almost everything in life intuitively: my work, my play, and the way I learn. I would rather just do it, and do it again…and again, until I develop some proficiency and achieve results on my own terms. This is the torturous, long way round and to analytical people in an analytical world, that method doesn’t make much sense. I’m a square peg in the Western world’s round hole. And as much as I’ve tried to be different, it’s the only way I can steer my brain.

Despite the amount of time it’s taken me, I’ve grown from this experience and I thought I would share three of my conclusions with you:

Painting has made me more observant. The way your eyes crinkle at the corners when you smile and the shadow your one little dimple casts—I see it now. The blueness (or brownness or hazelness) of your eyes, except that little bit of green in the centre; the colour of your hair—it’s not actually as dark as you think it is. Black isn’t really black. The grittiness of birch bark, how it curls and waves. The veins in a leaf, the shape of that lone tree on the horizon line, the way the paint peels off a deck. Before, all these things were just backdrop as I sped to my next destination. But I notice the details now.

Painting has emphasized the importance of savouring moments. It isn’t just the look of the waves on the water or the colours of the buildings on a cloudy day that I try to capture—it’s how those things make me feel. This painting of Italy, for example. I think about my niece who took this photo while in Venice. I wonder how she enjoyed her trip and the experiences she had there. I wonder what she was thinking as she stood on a footbridge and looked over at the next.

And this one below, of my daughter Sophie at the Bouctouche Dunes in Bouctouche, New Brunswick on a spectacular August day.  It was cool and cloudy, but the children played at the water’s edge and laughed while they picked up periwinkles and ran from tiny crabs. Everyone was happy.

The moment is gone, but it comes rushing back to me whenever I look at the painting.

Painting makes me see the world as shadow and light. It is at once simple and profound. All colour is light and all light is colour. Colours are dull on gray days, vibrant on bright days, pale in the morning, warm and rosy in the sunset. Which do I like the best? Even the dullness has a mournful beauty. Shades of green and yellow in the summer;  white fades to gray and purple-black in winter twilight.

The shadows and the light go together. Otherwise an image has no texture, no meaning. Without shadow, everything is flat, dimensionless. Shadow gives context to the light.

Interpret that how you will. I’m still chewing on it.


  • Trevor Wilson on November 17, 2012

    Great Rhonda! truly an interesting read. I especially love and appreciate the way you describe the new way you observe landscape and people. This speaks volumes to me, and I have never heard it articulated in this way. I happen to share this eye for details and probably should pick up the pencil and brush again.
    Your paintings shown here are actually very good.
    Is there a book with your illustrations in the near future? Just sayin’…….:) 🙂

  • Rhonda on November 17, 2012

    Yes! Pick up your pencil and brush. Looking forward to seeing what you produce!

  • Deborah Carr on November 17, 2012

    Your paintings always amaze me. I think there will come a day when I have to pick up a brush, but for now writing gives me all the same things that your painting has given you. And I think we all learn differently…I have a book that breaks down plot lines into a step-by-step process that makes my eyes glaze over. I work, instead, at fine-tuning my intuition, so I can recognize when something is right (or completely wrong). But I’m not sure my brain will ever be wired to analyze why it might be so.

  • Rhonda on November 19, 2012

    Deb, I would think that painting would be as natural an extension of your connection to the outdoors as your writing is. I bet you’d be good at it.

  • Suzanne LeBlanc on December 10, 2012

    So good that you share all this in a way that helps me to see the artist in myself. Art is about seeing isn’t it?

    I am learning more, again, that art, both doing it and seeing it, can lead us closer to God. We live in right brained kind of world. The ancients gave us many examples of accessing the Divine through art, music and other left brained activities.

    The Creator shows us Himself in so many ways, we just need to see. Painting, you remind me can help me to see.

    Thanks! I needed the reminder to participate more in art.

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