The Voices in My Head, Stephanie Birdsall

I can’t say I’ve ever really blogged before but I’ve talked a lot about things that are important to me as an artist, things that excited me and things that have changed my life as a painter.

And the voices in my head that accompany me through every painting….some of my best friends.

One of the things that I tell my students is to “Paint it to death!” This was one of those transformational experiences for me as a painter. I paint in both pastel and oil and this affected my work in both.

When I lived in Tucson I was given a Meyer lemon tree. I’d never had a lemon tree before and this was a large and healthy one that had been moved from someone else’s property, so it was well established.

I immediately started doing plein air studies . I was in love with the tree, the growth and the color and just “lemons.” 

As hot weather chased me into my studio, I started to bring just the lemons in, sometimes a single study, sometimes a few., or I’d cut a branch. At first I was consciously painting a lemon, trying to make it look like a lemon and trying to make leaves look like leaves. And I started to see things differently…

This pushed me into a year of painting and studying leaves.  I started to see the flow and shapes that the branches created and how they would lead my eye through my setup and ultimately my painting..(Still, one of my favorite things to paint.)  

But what was happening that was so important is that I fell in love with the color yellow and all the nuances in the different yellows.   And I started to paint “Yellow”. And something was happening in my head. And then I found I was breaking the colors down into shapes. Little shapes of color ..bigger shapes… looking for beautiful shapes. I started to have a confidence and a different sort of curiosity  about it what I was painting. I no longer saw the “lemons”.

I have to admit that when I became a Putney Painter, and started actually using the color charts that Richard Schmid told me to make, my color world and the appreciation of clean color actually started to make sense.

I found myself really looking into the color to see what made it and seeing the subtle difference became a worthy challenge.

I had stopped painting lemons as pieces of fruit and I found that I’d stopped painting objects for what they are and that I now see my subjects as shapes and color. This was and is a whole new world. 

The same thing happened with leaves at that time. How many greens are there? What kind of green is it? What’s the shape of the dark between the light?

When I’m painting, I have this constant voice in my head asking me, What color is it??????????? What shape is it?????????

Once I got out of the fear and constriction of having it have to BE A LEMON, I found that I could concentrate on other parts of my painting. Such as meaningful brushstrokes and the joy that a brushstroke can have. Thinking before my brush touches the canvas, and deciding where I want the brushstroke to go. And doing my best to put  it where I intend it to be!! Do I have the color on my brush that I want? Is it saying what I want it to say? Do I want a long stroke? or a short stroke? or a twisted stroke? Thick paint or thin? I started to have more fun with the actual experience of painting. I call it, “ intentional or conscious painting”. 

It made me more thoughtful. I realized that the whole canvas is important. Does it have  beautiful shapes, throughout? Does the upper right corner have a beautiful shape?. How does it relate to the shapes leading up to it. Do I want to leave a dark shape transparent? What kind of edge do I want on this shape. I tell my students that there is no such thing as negative shapes. That they are all equally important.

Lemon Tree Very Pretty

Lemon Tree Very Pretty

I find that I’m enjoying painting the same thing again and again, still trying to get it “right” in my own head. I don’t know if i ever will. 

I have no idea how many “lemons” I’ve painted and I still have such a long way to go to get to where I’d like to be, if I ever get there..I’m intrigued in a way I never knew i would be.

And it’s so much more fun! 



To see more of Stephanie's work, visit her website


Lori Putnam3 Comments