This is my friend Pura, classmate since college and all through medical school. She finished residency in Pediatrics at the Philippine General Hospital then worked on a Ph.D., shuttling periodically between London and East Africa. She works at the Science Division of WHO in Geneva, helping to write guidelines. She commutes daily to work from a town in France near the border to Switzerland. “Kundaa,” she says, is the Mandinka word for place or home, an appropriate title for a painting that reflects on how the spaces where we find ourselves are as alien or familiar as we choose them to be.
The drawing was done on May 3 and the painting was finished on May 16, 2021.
|This is the reference photograph that Pura chose. The challenge is to show transparency and lightness in her dress, even though my technique is impasto (laying down paint so thickly that it is raised from the surface).||This drawing marks positions of main shapes and lines within the frame. There is no pressure to create a likeness. I send the drawing to tell Pura that I am starting the project. From the beginning she emphasizes: eyebrows are everything!||Main outlines are marked with raw umber, but many edges are white so the best way to demarcate is to paint a dark background early. The background is a mix of titanium white, lamp black, and ivory black.|
|The canvas is filled with yellow, red, blue, black and white. The undershirt is gray (from the background) mixed with blue. The face looks strange (at this alien life-form stage), so I do not send this update to Pura.||I work with three types of brown: raw umber, burnt umber, and Italian earth. I try to find planes on the neck and main lines on the face. Paint on the undershirt is applied flat so it will not stick as much to the next layer.||This is the first attempt at likeness. Highlights on the face and neck give the figure an extra dimension. I test how far I can go with white by marking earrings and outlines of ruffles on the dress.|
|Oils take about four weeks to dry, especially if applied thickly. I paint the embroidery of the dress free-hand (alla prima) on still wet paint. There is no need for guide lines. Patterns and shapes are very clear. The point is to render an impression of the dress. There is no need to copy it exactly.||With an almost dry brush, I draw horizontal lines on the undershirt and over some embroidery. There are more pink tones on the lips and face. Facial tones are slowly pushed to the lighter side, but without losing the rich browns I had been working with since step 4.||Pura is very involved in the whole process. Her sharp eye catches important details: the shape of eyebrows, outlines of lower eyelids, and subtle shadows on the face. The next stage consists of more detail work on the dress and skin tones. The finished image is easy to visualize at this point.|