Night Lights

Night Lights

Our friends who were in Haiti to try to re-open the hospital in Leogane told the story of coming to the United States for a couple of weeks at Christmas to visit friends and family, and buying a large supply of LED flashlights to take back to the hospital in Haiti as presents for the workers there.  The flashlights were bagged with Christmas candy and other goodies, labeled with recipients’ names, and stacked on the table in our friends’ apartment.  When there are presents to be had, word travels fast, and the day of our friend’s return at the beginning of January was filled with knocks on the door from people asking for their gifts.

A couple of weeks later, about an hour after the violent earthquake, darkness came, and who appeared in the yard of the hospital, ready to aid in the rescue of our friend from the rubble, but people with flashlights?  John, too, trapped in a small space in the collapsed apartment, found his flashlight and was able to signal his presence to his rescuers.  What serendipity to give the gift of light and then to have the light illuminate one’s own rescue!

study for "Night Lights"

For those of you interested in the inside of a brain “on art”, here is how I made the drawing:

I was so intrigued by the flashlight story that I wanted to capture it visually.  Using very heavily textured paper with wide hills and broad valleys, I made marks on it with soft pastel sticks.  The pastel stuck to the hills, but did not make it down into the valleys, therefore, the picture took on the characteristics of the paper’s surface.  I started with pastels in the tones of things seen at dusk.  I made broad, short, firm lines to signify stress.  I used pulses, like waves, in some strokes to indicate vibrations and aftershocks.  I made some lines trembly and wandering to indicate uncertainty.  Using cool shades of colors, I covered every part of the page.  Next, I took a broad, cement-colored pastel stick and made several shapes of giant slabs, working directly over my previous work.  This had the effect of blending all the colors, although lines that had been made very firmly to begin with remained visible under the mush.  I took about three different extremely dark-to-black pastels and made broad strokes over the other work in places, blending some more and some less.  I also took a pan of black cake-pastel and a brush, and I rubbed over some of my previous work.  I used three different dull colors of pastel (including caput mortuum*) to make new squiggly lines coming in from edges of the paper and pointing to the area from which John would be rescued under the collapsed building.  I’m sure that after these lines, I mushed around some more on the surface with my fingers before finishing the drawing with the flashlight colors of very light, creamy yellow, and pure white.  I mushed some pastel onto the surface of the paper, then came back in with a sharp edge of pastel to make lightning-like lines in the flash-light.  Done!  Now that I had gone through the thought process of the story and the setting, I was ready to make the mosaic.  I approach my mosaic-making just as I approach my drawings, thinking about style of line, broadness of stroke, texture, coolness or warmness of color selections, and shading.  After I cut my tesserae (little pieces of hard things), make a general compositional plan, and mix my cement, it takes me about the same amount of time to make a mosaic in this style as it takes me to do a pastel drawing.

*Since my art student days long ago, caput mortuum has been one of my favorite pastel colors.  It is a dull, medium-to-dark reddish-purple and is oh-so-useful on many occasions.  If you know Latin, you know that ‘caput mortuum’ means ‘dead head’.  I take perverse pleasure in thinking briefly of a 12-hour-old corpse before I pick up my pastel stick.  A little-known-and-best-hidden fact about my brain.  For more on the subject of perversity, see my blog by the same name from October 20, 2009.

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