Listen With Your Hands
I don't really need to start on painting #3 just yet - I'd done a mood board for her, to just think about things like what colours/skintones, etc I might play with. I knew what the mood was I wanted to create, what she'd be doing, and had at least some vague concept in mind. But after finishing Beethoven I felt so exhausted (not just from the pressure of getting it all done in time for that deadline I'd set for myself but also worrying about it being good enough - the art, the music, all of it - and I also needed to step back and get other things done for a logo commission and the calendar project I'm participating in. But this morning I just...eh, sometimes you feel drawn to paint and if it's the weekend and I have a little time with morning coffee, then why not?
I sat down with every intention to start sketching out her pose but it wasn't hitting me yet, what I wanted. Unlike Beethoven where I had this whole concept locked in my mind for so long, because he had been in my mind for so long, this was different.
I was chatting with another artist the other day and we were talking about what I was planning with this piece and I said, "I have to start them, to meet them, to understand what it is they want me to say." (This may sound crazy but she got what I meant!) Music has always felt kind of similar to me, really - the idea comes to me, just something that keeps repeating in my head. Maybe it's a beat, or motif, or melody, but if I like it, then I have to grab it, and it then becomes my job to refine it and tame it into something that I like enough to finish, or share (and often, I don't reach that point). But I don't sit down and think "I'm going to create X" that often, though sometimes that, too, is necessary. Painting is shaping up, at least for me, to feel very similar.
Me: "I'm going to paint <x> doing <y>."
Painting: "Oh really? I say 50/50, tbh. Start painting, then we'll talk."
And of course while I take some liberties with style and subtle "magical" qualities, I also try to capture something of who the person really is from my point of view. I'd been looking at photos of her and trying to think of...how to make her still "her", the petite, dedicated and serious person she was. And then I remembered something I'd read, which she had written in her autobiography:
""One of our joys was to go into our workroom at night...the glowing tubes looked like faint, fairy lights..."
Uranium. Polonium, Radium....she kept radium salts by her bed at night because she loved how they glowed. She kept little bottles of polonium and uranium in her pockets before storing them in her desk at work. Did she know these would kill her eventually? If so - when did she find out? Because if she did know - or even suspect it - it never changed how she handled them.
"Of course", I thought - she would not be looking at us at all, for we are not her focus. Unlike Ada, who smiles at us ever-so-slightly, as if to say "I was right, wasn't I?", and Beethoven, who stares back proudly & unflinchingly, Marie Salomea Skłodowska Curie is busy right now, on her quest, even as it would eventually kill her.
Simply dressed, a woman of determination and practicality, she dutifully loved and cared for her family but her passions were first for knowledge, the thing that drove her singularly forward...she would be looking at that enchanting piece of death in her hand, charmed by the unlocked mysteries that she was determined to reveal.
Her eyes - turned not to us, but to it. And with that, the eyes (or rather, one of them) came first...
I do like drawing eyes though - and it's not uncommon that after I map out a face, I often start doing the "main" eye of a photo. I wonder what drives that, but it's the same with makeup, I realised today - I have always had far more eyeshadows and eye brushes than one practically needs, living where I live, and how I live. It's definitely "a thing" for some reason. If I'm just idly doodling, it tended to be either horses' heads, or eyes. The former I can explain - my mother's influence and growing up with Arabians - the latter, less so.
It's quite interesting painting these people, and a little surreal to discover how what I thought was a process of just painting and getting better at it is really just as much about why we do what we do, when we do it, and a surprisingly intimate process of meeting another person, one that is long gone, in the process of attempting to capture some essence of who they were.