Future Memories

My wife, Joy, and I are currently staying at her cousin’s house.  I may have mentioned the other day that the house , Joy and her cousins have a long history together. I find myself sketching and painting in the back yard every day. There are wonderful rocks and iron lanterns in what is left of a Japanese Garden that her uncle installed many years ago.

After finishing the picture below, Joy’s cousin mentioned that when she sells the house (as she surely will), the paintings will bring back fond memories of her time at home. I had already told her the pictures were hers, at which time she welled up with tears. I hadn’t expected that.  To me, there are always some improvements I could have made, problems with tonal values, design or something else that could have done better.  It is somewhat shocking to know that what I create could have an emotional impact.  Now and then, I am relatively satisfied with my work, but still I see room for improvement. I often paint the same subject over and over again with the idea of correcting the faults from the previous attempts (Settling, Back to Reading).

I wonder if it is a common phenomenon that artists receive disproportionate emotional responses to their work. I believe this was one of the themes of the movie Five Easy Pieces.

Today’s experiment:

I sketched the painting below quite heavily. I used my jumbo pencil again. I started with a rough sketch with hardness HB, putting in the shadows of the rocks; I then used jumbo pencils with 4B and 6B softness to make the shadows darker. I was uncertain of the effect of applying watercolor on top of the pencil marks.

Watercolor Sketch - Another View of Rock Garden in Back Yard

Back Yard Memory
9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

The foreground is clear of detail partly because it is an outdoor carpet. Joy’s uncle used it for golf practice.  I wanted the foreground to be very dark, but the sunlight was bright on the left side of the picture. I used sap green for the lighter part and shadow green (Holbein) for the dark side. I glazed with lemon yellow, which brought out the brightness on the left but did not lighten the shadow on the right.

I used my favorite earth tones for the rest of the ground work (burnt sienna, quinacridone gold, warm sienna and yellow ochre). The rocks are a combination of ivory black, Payne’s gray and Neutral Tint (Dailer Rowney). I used burnt sienna for the ground shadows next to the rocks.

The pool basin, which lies underneath the wooden bridge, is Prussian blue, as in previous sketches. The bridge itself is mainly white tinted with blue, the shadows composed of Payne’s gray.

It didn’t seem to matter that I did not erase or brighten up the pencil marks before I started painting. However, if you look carefully, you might see a ‘B’ that I marked in a couple of areas to indicate where I should use blue paint.

4 thoughts on “Future Memories

  1. But Jack this is a beautiful idea! That whatever the recent troubles, your living through them has become a gift to Joy’s cousin. I know that not everyone believes in magic but this is a magical thing: the blessing of an artist living with you, making studies of the home you love so that you will never entirely lose it. Could they perhaps have needed you right now more than you needed them? That it was your destiny to live with them for a while and bequeath such gifts? Oh Pah I know you are a scientist and will have nothing to do with magical destiny 🙂 Interesting that you are already titling your paintings a memory – when does something start becoming a memory I wonder? Interesting observations about emotion – I have never watched that movie but I will now! Have a good day, Liz


    • Thank you, Liz. ‘5 easy pieces’ is a bit of a rough one. Jack Nicholson is the bitter, angry musician who doesn’t know his own talent and derides others for liking his work. Thought I’d tell you now so you don’t rush out and watch it on my account. It’s not that heartwarming. More later after I wake up a bit. Thanks again, Liz.


    • I think a lot of the emotion on the part of Joy’s cousin comes from the fact that her mother just died and the house will soon be gone as well. Your question about when a memory starts is very interesting. Memories are very fragile and personal. For instance, my mother remembers being chased around the piano by her mother. Her sister, my aunt told us that the piano was against a wall. Who’s memory is correct? I think memory is couched in narrative… there is always a story associated with a memory, isn’t there?


      • Hi J – I like the idea of memory as ‘fragile’. I agree. I am interested in memory because Dylan’s seems so robust 🙂 When I used the word ‘start’ I really meant how quickly after an event has happened. I have just drunk a pot of coffee. how long before that stops being something I have just done and becomes only a memory of an action? I don’t know where to draw the line between enactment and memory. Something in your post triggered that question for me…


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