Into the Fire

One of the most creative exercises I’ve done was to paint at night. In Mississippi, where I live, winter wheat crops are often burned after the early summer harvest in order to return nutrients to the soil quickly. On a day in June, I noticed this and was drawn to paint a smoldering field late in the afternoon. By the time I had finished I was enveloped in darkness. Standing in the middle of a 200-acre field, the only light by which to paint was that being given off by the fire itself. That warm firelight completely destroyed the true colors on my palette and painting. Thus, while I could judge value, I mostly mixed and applied colors using my academic knowledge of the color wheel. I honestly didn’t know what the painting looked like and I was afraid it would be a total muddy mess. But I was surprised when I viewed it the next day in natural light that everything had fallen into place. I think of it like a pianist practicing with mittens on her hands—I had painted with mittens on my eyes. It remains one of my favorite paintings.

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