Imagined Places

I have been working on two more paintings which are based on an excerpt from Paul Harding’s book ‘Tinkers’ (see ‘Water, Snow and Ice’)

I had a strong idea in my head about what they might look like and I worked quickly so I didn’t pause to take photos along the way.

This piece below is a view of the frozen lake from afar. I wanted to include the cabin this time and a view of the lake that would include the water under the ice.

I started by sketching out the mountain shapes in charcoal and then the lake shape in the foreground. I applied the paint quite thickly in an effort to portray the ice and snow and I used a combination of blue paint and ink to describe the water. I then used gold and brown to paint the figure as it has slipped through the ice and I continued this shape underneath where it is dropping down to the bottom of the lake. I used small drops of metallic ink to describe the fish and underwater creatures and I bubbled the ink on to the paper to achieve a watery effect. I decided to leave the top part of the piece as it is – sketchy and thin, because I think this gives it an atmosphere of cold and quiet and I like the physical contrast between this and the thicker use of paint in the foreground.


Imagined Place by Deborah Watkins




This next piece below is the lake from another angle. I’ve added a tree this time and I’ve made it swirl around the lake, following the lines of the snow to give the piece a sense of movement. I started this one by painting the circular lake shape, this time taking up most of the page. Once again I’ve flattened the perspective at the base of the painting so that the underside of the ice can be seen. I’ve used the white paint thickly and contrasted this with washes of ink to describe the water and the ice where it is thin. I used golds and browns again to paint the figure as it has slipped in to the water and is carried underneath.


Imagined Place with tree by Deborah Watkins




I usually base my paintings on things I’ve seen. Working from imagination hasn’t really appealed to me before but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working on these, perhaps because this place was made so real through the writing.

Water, Snow and Ice

I’m reading a book that most of the world has read and enjoyed but which I am just discovering. It is ‘Tinkers‘ the novel by Paul Harding that won the Pulitzer prize in 2010. It is simply the most beautiful thing I’ve read in a long time and I am savouring every page. I decided that I would try to make some paintings to describe one lovely passage.

This part of the book describes the failure efforts of the protagonist’s salesman father to sell small pieces of jewelry to peasant women on his travels. The land is frozen and the women are too caught up in their own hardships to allow themselves this small pleasure.


‘He thought, Buy the pendant, sneak it into your hand from the folds of your dress and let the low light of the fire lap it late at night as you wait for the roof to give out or your will to snap and the ice to be too thick to chop through with the ax as you stand in your husband’s boots on the frozen lake at midnight, the dry hack of the blade on ice so tiny under the wheeling and frozen stars, the soundproof lid of heaven, that your husband would never stir from his sleep in the cabin across the ice, would never hear and come running, half-frozen, in only his union suit, to save you from chopping a hole in the ice and sliding in to it as if it were a blue vein, sliding down in to the black, silty bottom of the lake, where you would see nothing, would perhaps feel only the stir of some somnolent fish in the murk as the plunge of you in your wool dress and the big boots disturbed it from its sluggish winter dreams of ancient seas. Maybe you would not even feel that, as you struggled in clothes that felt like cooling tar, and as you slowed, calmed, even, and opened your eyes and looked for a pulse of silver, an imbrication of scales, and as you closed your eyes again and felt their lids turn to slippery, ichthyic skin, the blood behind them suddenly cold, and as you found yourself not caring, wanting, finally, to rest, finally wanting nothing more than the sudden, new, simple hum threading between your eyes’.

 taken from ‘Tinkers’ by Paul Harding, Chapter 1, pages 24/25 


This is how I started the painting below.


First stage of painting





The largest part of the painting is under water. I wanted to have a central shape plunging downwards and water gushing back upwards and in to the air. This is the next stage below.


Second stage of painting





I used lots of colour for the plunging shape – pinks, golds, browns, some red. I made several attempts to get this sense of movement using large brushes and lots of colour – blues first and then splashes of white for the water. It’s coming together here but I’m not happy with the top part. It doesn’t feel like a cold place yet. The next image below is the piece as I have left it.



Finished painting by Deborah Watkins




I used a broad brush, some white paint and some charcoal to work up the sky and I’ve darkened the water at the base of the painting. Now I think it feels like snow and the depths feel like murk. I’ll let the paint dry before I decide whether to add any more to it. What do you think?