ECHOES    10″ x  8″    OIL

Show of Small Works   Opening Night Reception

It is a nasty night with snow icing up the roads and windows. The gallery is mobbed, awash with winterized bodies. Like anonymous bundles from Amazon clad in all- weather packaging, they pile up just inside the door, looking stunned by the sheer press of bodies. The place is a swamp of hot air and steam … a miasma of conversation and wet wool. Only an occasional glimpse of artwork is visible over shoulders and between talking heads. It is so exciting! It is a prestigious art show and my little oil painting is here somewhere. Eventually, I locate my work about halfway down the long narrow gallery on the left side hanging high enough to be seen above the crowd. As I turn to my friend, a loud voice behind me snides, “Hey, look! They don’t have faces. What’s with that?” 

“WHAT?” I turn to see him … some random philistine … slithering through the crowd on his way to pass judgment on some other artist’s work. He’s obviously one of those people who know nothing about art but know what they like. Okay, granted, the two little girls in my piece are faceless. But seriously, is that really the only thing you see? 

Late August the year before 

Ah, at last, a full day free for the studio! Where to start. Where to start. Where to start. Just look at all that beautiful blank nubby white primed canvas, waiting for the first mark.
Let’s try working from a photograph and see where we end up. 

Early September 

Working on this small canvas is so different. But I like the drawing, so maybe if I limit the brushwork and just use washes of color, I can mimic watercolor. Oops … nah … nothing like watercolor … too dense.
So let’s just leave the drawing intact and add color to the background … no, no, no … that is so not good … the color is overwhelming the drawing. Remember, it isn’t a photograph anymore, it is a painting now. Okay leave the faces … they are great … and paint everything else … make it more monochromatic … grays and tans and black and white … not bad … sort of cool, but too flat. Color the dresses? No, that is just way too strange. 

Take a picture and work on it with my IPad ap.
Ah so … yes. There’s the problem, too much detail for the scale. Geesh, working this small is so gnarly. 

Late September 

I give up.
This piece is driving me crazy.
It was such a great drawing. Why? Why? Why did I mess with it?
I know it is a painting not a drawing … but I loved the pencil drawing of the faces, surrounded by all that color. It made them look like ghosts … or maybe memories of ghosts. Great effect, if only I had left it that way. But it was way too gimmicky.
So, okay … I tried to replicate the ghostly feeling with paint and now it is just a big blob of nothing. At least the tricycle is still in good shape … not that it was ever in good shape in real life. It really is a distinctive shape, that old cycle.
In fact, it is my favorite part of the whole painting.
Like, maybe the figures aren’t all that important.
Or maybe it is really about three characters, not two. The two of us and the tricycle … all locked into place together. Yes! That is what I like about the image … we share the space equally.
So, since it is really about the shapes, the two girls need to be shapes like the trike. No names and no details. No faces, only shapes.
Love the little grouping of shoes and wheels that tie the three together on the ground.
Now let’s get rid of everything else. Simplify, simplify, simplify!
Ah yes, that works. Now it is about the memory locked into the photo. It’s not about ghosts at all. What would I say about that?
It isn’t really about the photo, it is about how the image provides an opening into the past.
Yes, that works.
This is a safe, untouched piece of memory.
Better. Better, but not there yet. It is too still and inert.
So, take a step back and see what is missing. It should work, but it doesn’t.
Leave it. Look at it for a week or two. You will figure it out. 


I finally admit defeat.
From such a great start, and weeks of work, I am left with a mess.
The work is colorless and static. The figures are fine, the design is fine, and the overall effect is BORING, BORING, BORING!
I am so fed up with it! What a colossal waste of time. 

I begin to paint over the whole thing. I am so frustrated by the blah boring going-nowhere image that I have decided to make it go away.
But instead, as I slap on the angry red paint, I watch it start to replace all the light buff colored negative space and transform the work. 

It does something wonderful to the delicate little scene and creates a great contrast of frail and strong.
It makes the lines of the tricycle look like old bones resurrected from an archeological site. The strong contrast has transformed the ordinary into something magical. 

It has become something else … something really mine. Only mine … my memory alone … awash with my colors and lines and patterns. It has come alive with my frustration and angst. All those weeks of work are there, but now lie under the wash of red and help to energize the negative space. Now I wish I had left the red with more visible brushwork, but the addition of orange and scarlet have somewhat replicated the original spontaneity of the solid space. I want to continue to feed the success … to make it better, to add just another little bit of the red to make more magic. I am caught up in the feeling of discovery and joy. 

But I know enough to leave it alone. I tell myself to STOP! It feels correct. It is almost finished. I allow myself to work on the base line, but don’t touch the rest.
I sign it and leave it alone.
A memory at rest, at last. 


I upload the finished work to my website. I know what there is to say about it, I have been writing the blurb in my mind for weeks as I work on the piece. But, I don’ know what to call it. The title remains elusive. Just out of reach, like an itch you can’t scratch or a song you can’t remember. 

Even though the work originated from a photograph, it has evolved into a study of myself, my sister, and our old tricycle, locked together in memory. 

My sister and I were at the end of the family hand-me-down line. By the time we declared ownership of that tricycle there wasn’t much left of the spit and polish. Nor were there fenders or any rubber on the pedals. Instead there were loose bits that rattled. The back platform listed to one side and dragged a bit on high ground. The tires wobbled, but still went around and around if you pushed hard enough. Nevertheless, it gave us the illusion of speed and adventure. We put in a lot of hours on that old buggy. 

But now, the amazing thing is, as I contemplate the image I have created, I can hear the creak of the pedals and the back platform rhythmically rubbing on the wheel that is a bit askew.
While my sister learns to push herself down the sidewalk, I hear myself being bossy, stern, and in charge, yelling “Be Careful, not so fast!” I hear her ignoring me and Yippee-yip-Yipping as she bounces over the cracks and heaves of concrete. 

The sound of her shoes scuffing for traction and the slow rattle of the loose spokes creates a sound clip from another time.
I am amazed at how powerful the sound memory reverberates … like an echo from the past.
Ah ha! ECHOES … that’s it. 


  1. Loved it all! The art is wonderful and the commentary is priceless. Thank you. It has been a few moments of peace and beauty in an otherwise somewhat scrambled world.

  2. It is so insightful and great to hear about the process that creates a work of art out of the alchemy of memory and material. Thank you. Delightful image.

  3. The combination of process and product provides an unusual glimpse into an artist’s mind. I especially love how you included sound. Thanks so much, Connie.

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