Mary Ellen, Age 4, In The Birdbath

As I continue to think about trying a new medium for painting, I wanted to share the one painting I have from my college days.

I was taking an art class, and the assignment was to do a painting that measured at least 4 feet by 5 feet in size. Could be anything.

The piece of canvas I bought for it probably cost me a small fortune, but I figured I could save money on paints by doing something in black and white.

I had a small photo of my mother at age 4 or so, looking adorable and clean in her little white dress. Her grandmother would give her a bath in the afternoon, and her grandfather would sit her up in their backyard birdbath (only a foot or so off the ground) on her rocking chair so that she could watch him work in the yard without getting dirty. They lived in Louisville, KY, just a mile or two from Churchill Downs.

Mary Ellen in the birdbath photo
Mary Ellen in the birdbath photo

Knowing absolutely nothing about stretching canvases, I duct-taped a giant swath of canvas to my dorm room wall, gessoed it (I knew that much at least), and got to work.

I painted it, got my grade, and went on to other assignments. Then at some point (years later?) I was at my parents’ house and I happened to find that painting, rolled up and taking up space in a closet, so I tossed it in their back yard garbage can.

They saw it, pulled it out, and had it trimmed and framed (which probably cost them a fortune). And today it hangs on their dining room wall.

Acrylic painting of Mary Ellen, age 4, n the birdbath
Acrylic painting of Mary Ellen, age 4, n the birdbath

My photo of the painting isn’t great—glare is washing out the center of the figure a bit—but you get the idea.

So. I have painted with acrylics before, but it’s been so long ago I hardly remember what it was like. And I have a girlfriend who will let me try out her oils, which is an idea I’m increasingly interested in.

I have enjoyed painting with watercolor. It’s affordable, there are no fumes, and they clean up easily. I love when I can create something that takes advantage of their sheer, layered capabilities, but I often get frustrated at my heavy hands; delicacy is a key word in watercolors, and I seem to have little of that.

I have no intention of abandoning watercolors; I simply want to try something new and see if it’s a better fit for me.

Meanwhile, my painting of Mary Ellen, age 4, in the birdbath, reminds me that there are possibilities!

BONUS: Here’s a photo of me at that same house in Kentucky; I was about 10 months old or so, also clean and dressed in white, standing on my great-grandmother and grandfather’s birdbath in the yard of their Louisville house. I think this birdbath was in their front yard, though.

Mussie and Daddy J with baby Lisa
Mussie and Daddy J with baby Lisa in Louisville KY, c. 1966

What is it about clean little girls and birdbaths? 🙂

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