The power in a word

Watercolor 23″ X 19″ 300# Arches hot press

Copyright 2012 by Margaret Sloan

When I painted this picture, I remembered that Mary Whyte, in a workshop, told us to name our paintings before we made our first washes of color. I couldn’t for the life of me remember this girl’s name (the daughter of a cousin-in-law, she’s a delightful girl, but I only met her once), so I just called her princess. I don’t mean princess in a bad way—all diva and finer-than-thou—but princess in a good way, a fairytale Cinderella-sorting-ashes or brave-and-loading-bullets sort of way.

As readers of fairy tales and fantasy-fiction know, names have power. So I let the word princess guide my brush. When I was stuck for a color choice, I whispered the word: princess. The taste of the word on my tongue gave me the flavor of the color I needed to use in that passage.

My favorite part of the painting, and the whole reason I wanted to paint this, is the shadow that curls under the sunlit eye. I love the way the curve describes the roundness of the cheek. There’s something delicate and fragile in that shadow, a sweetness and hope particular to young women.

Kate Detail
Watercolor 23″ X 19″ 300# Arches hot press
Copyright 2012 by Margaret Sloan

Then suddenly, as I approached the end of the painting, I recalled that her name is, or might be, Kate. If it’s not, it’s still the name of this painted princess-girl.

3 thoughts on “The power in a word

  1. What I love about your portraits is that you capture your subjects in a “private” moment that is so real and beautiful.

  2. I love your description of your experience of synesthesia (I, too, can taste colors) and the power of naming. . . . A painting that emerges from your desire to paint “the shadow that curls under the sunlit eye”—-BEAUTIFUL rendering of the poetry of painting. Thank you, Maggie!

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