Over the course of the last year I have been working on one watercolor, made up of 21 individual portraits of oyster shells. The shells were saved from restaurant meals consumed all up and down the East Coast, ranging from Florida to Connecticut. Each one commemorates a delicious meal, has been labeled with its provenance, and lovingly portrayed.
Each time I sit down to work on this painting is a small meditation. It requires me to quietly focus on the subtle color changes of an essentially white object and explore the tiny topography that makes each shell unique.
The watercolor set I am using for the painting is one that my mom, Dianne Mumm, had used. She died in April of 2018, from Alzheimer’s. Due to her disease, she had not felt like painting for the last few years of her life. She knew she couldn’t paint like she used to and didn’t want to be incompetent. Mom was a very accomplished watercolorist, always perfecting her craft. I admire her skill with this challenging medium, having never acquired it myself, and cherish her paintings that I have in my home.
Mom created her own palette by choosing individual pans of watercolor, rather than buying a pre-made set. Her color choices were bolder than mine. Her paintings of Iowa fields frequently contained swathes of purple and shadows of deep turquoise. How is it that the pan of bright orange is nearly empty? Using her watercolors means I too consider the possibility of these colors in the natural world. I have been finding myself becoming bolder in the color choices in my own artworks.
Her brushes are all high quality sable. She had gathered a wide assortment of sizes and shapes. For my oyster painting I’m generally reaching for the fine points to paint the tiny details of an oyster shell.
I don’t know to what purpose I will ultimately put this one watercolor of mine. And I already have enough shells collected that I have to start a new painting.
But this whole exercise is a precious experience that has brought me a little closer to Mom.