If you are a follower of my blogs for The Write Conversation, you know that in my January 26, 2021 post, I said that As far back as I can recall, I have looked at old paintings and photographs and tried to find the story within them. As a literary artist, the creation of them sparks the creativity within me. A few years ago, I found myself not looking so much at the obvious, but at the not-so-obvious. In other words, looking around the edges and into the distance, then pulling forward so as to see the work from a different perspective.
I showed a painting as an example then wrote an opening scene to a work of fiction based on what I saw (and saw beyond) on the canvas.
This brought a memory to mind . . . one of a painting that hung in the hospice center where my brother was treated and later died. The painting was large. A landscape. A narrow winding dirt path in the warmth of a summer's forest, the sun's rays breaking through the boughs of the evergreens. Whenever I took or made a phone call, I often sat near it, gazing into it, wishing I could somehow leap into it . . . and run . . . and run . . . and run into the safety I imagined dwelled at the end of the path.
Now that I have completed The Healing Trip (all 25 entries), I would like to encourage you -- writers and nonwriters alike -- to join me in a little spontaneous creativity. Let's take the painting I found online (above).
One of the most important things a visual to literary artist can do is to look for the senses within a painting or photograph. To look to the obvious and then beyond the obvious. In this case, the obvious is that two young women are on a front porch, one holding a small kitten. But what is within the not so obvious. The peace lily? The tassel hanging from the front porch railing? The spaghetti strap slipping from the shoulder of the young woman who is sitting? The lace curtains in the window? The potted plants? Is the paint on the house peeling? Do you notice the floral print in the dresses? That one young woman is dressed more demurely than the other? That they both wear hoop earrings? That one wears a bangle?
Who are they? Are they sisters? Best friends? Cousins? Are they waiting for someone? Is it the beginning of a summer's day (for surely it is summer) or the end of the day? What would you do with this painting . . . in only a few words?
Here's my take:
I had painted my nails. A rich red, hoping the color would hide the tears and pulls from my constant gnawing at them. My sister never bothered with such things; she hardly bothered with anything at all. But then, her hands were picture perfect. Everything about her nicely shaped and colored, mostly by nature. Her face carried a glow that the summer's sun only dared to kiss and kiss but lightly. Her hair flowed in gentle waves, showing off high cheekbones and a perky nose and eyes so gold-flecked one wondered if they weren't best served in our mother's jewelry box.
We waited that morning, my sister wearing a dress Mama called "a bit much, don't you think?" while I had chosen a dress much like the ones I always wore whenever days like this came around. Church days. Days spent with our grandparents--Mamaw and Papaw. Or days when our daddy was scheduled to come for us.
I don't know why Clarice insisted on waiting outside. The morning was already far too sticky, the scent from the peace lily beneath the front porch railing wafting up in a breeze that caught in my hair. Sickening sweet. The aroma reminded me of the funeral home where our baby sister's casket had stood, draped in pink roses and surrounded by loved ones who wept and said things like, "These are the things we don't understand," and "You know you'll see her again in the sweet by-and-by." That may have been true, but all I knew was that in the days that preceded, Daddy had blamed Mama and Mama had blamed Daddy and then, all too soon after the funeral, after our sweet Adaline's body had been laid to rest beneath the rich, dark earth, Daddy left, only to return once a month for days like this. Days in spring and summer and early autumn when the weather permitted or insisted on our watching from the porch, the front windows opened wide so Mama could hear his car pulling up the lane, the lace from the curtains billowing softly. Slowly.
The moments ticked by. He was always late, but never by much. So as we waited, we said nary a word, my sister and I, except occasionally to Mittens, the cat Daddy had brought last month as a birthday gift for Clarice. She held him in her lap, to show him, I suspect, that she loved his present. His offering. But she would have loved a snake, had it been a present from Daddy. Because that was the way of things for us Walker sisters. The way of things for now.
So, what do you think? What would you do with this painting (I believe it is by artist Steve Hanks -- 1949-2015) were you to write a scene?