Head Wind

Today’s watercolor study:

I used the same earth-tone schema as yesterday. It was fun to scrape up the rough-surfaced paper to see what would happen when I painted it. But today I just used cold pressed paper without making any changes to the surface.

I started with dry paper and drew my Van Dyke brown-laden brush across it. I like  to see the blank spots just after the brush gives up its pigment to the paper. The stroke underneath the first was yellow ochre. I continued with the orange-yellow gamboge. I overpainted this with shadow green. The space in to the left of the earth tones displays the Prussian blue tint put there as contrast.

Watercolor: Abstract - earth colors with prussian blue and shadow green on dry paper

Head Wind
9″x12″ 140# Cold Pressed Watercolor Block

I had no preconceived ideas about the subject of this study. But after I finished the strokes on the dry paper, I got the distinct impression that I had the profile of a human head. Not just a human head, but one in motion.

Portrait of my brother:

When I was taking pictures of my brother Michael, I caught him in motion as well. I just thought of the parallels between today’s painting and the photo below, which I took many years ago. My brother Mike is low functioning, nonverbal and autistic. He spent many years at Willowbrook, a State Mental Institution on New York’s Staten Island. Although it is no longer there, it once housed 6,ooo people like Mike, but that’s another story.

Blurry picture of Mike in action on dance floor

Mike photography:

Before I go any further, I should explain that during the time I lived closer to Michael, I spent a significant amount of time photographing him (see posts about that time in the archives: January through November 2013). This my was my way of trying to connect with my brother who I didn’t understand at all and who didn’t seem to understand anyone else. To this day, I don’t know if he knows that I am his brother.  I followed him around at his group home and, as you can see above, at some of the parties the staff gave for the residents.

In the picture above, Mike is on the dance floor. Whether he was dancing is not the issue. That he was there in motion was what I wanted to record. The photo captured bit of the grotesque. Although I did not intend for this to happen, its presence in the blur illustrated an aspect of the truth – the truth of my relationship with Mike the ‘other’, instead of Mike the brother. This picture is an example of the adage that says a photograph reveals the relationship between the subject and the photographer.

Is there a basis to compare today’s watercolor with the photo of Mike?

The studies in each medium both portray motion. The painting shows motion directly: the motion of my arm, as I swiped the brush across the paper. It was not an intentional portrayal of anything.

On the other hand, the photograph was intentional. I did know that there would be blurring because of the low light and the slow shutter speed. I wasn’t sure that I had captured anything however, until I developed the film and printed the print.

The common denominator of these two studies is that they were done in the moment. I made the moment with my paints, and I captured the moment with my camera.


At the start of this blog post, I didn’t realize that the arc of its narrative would take the direction it did.  Although my watercolor study began as something purely abstract – no intentional portrayal of anything, I assigned a meaning to it based on the suggestion of the profile of a human head.  During the process of writing this post, something sparked a connection to an almost-forgotten photograph of made with the intent to capture something – anything – in the moment.  Sometimes my mind works in strange ways.

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